The US has stopped a British Muslim family from going on holiday – we can’t look the other way

This is more than a sad consumer affairs story about missed gate numbers or paperwork problems. The official who stopped a British Muslim family travelling to Disney World was from the US Department of Homeland Security – and in the ensuing furore other local residents have come forward to say that they, too, have been summarily refused entry to America.

What is the one thing these stories have in common? Religion. A growing number of UK Muslim citizens say they have been similarly treated. This raises troubling questions well beyond how to diffuse the heartache of small children unable to meet Elsa from Frozen. Indeed, if the US thinks it has good grounds for stopping people going there, we cannot be contented that the UK does not take any action to follow this up here.

It is not just the family themselves who are livid. The vacuum created by a refusal to provide any context for these decisions is fuelling resentment and debate. Online and offline discussions reverberate with the growing fear that UK Muslims are being “trumped” – that widespread condemnation of Donald Trump’s call for no Muslim to be allowed into America contrasts with what is going on in practice. Faced with such claims, our concern should be to offer more than a critique of American Republican primary political positioning. Because this isn’t happening in the US. It’s happening on British soil, at our airports and involving our citizens and challenging their sense of place in our society too.

Just a week ago, parliamentarians were united in agreement that Trump’s views were abhorrent. Now we should do more than shrug our shoulders at secretive American security policies that leave our constituents in such limbo. If the embassy won’t answer to the family’s MP, it should answer to their prime minister and he to us about what he is doing to ensure that no British citizen is being discriminated against for their faith on our shores.

A message to British Muslims – keep calm and carry on

Two pigs’ heads were dumped outside a Muslim school in Blackburn in the same week as a similar vulgar act was committed near some graffiti in West London. More and more, Islamophobes seem to believe that this malicious act is the best way to anger Muslims and show them that they are not welcome.

But our society has normalised these uninformed attitudes about Islam: more than half of Britons (56%) regard Islam as a threat to the UK. Some might say that this attitude relates only to the religion and is not about Muslims per se. However, attitudes to Muslims are no better: 37% would support policies to reduce the number of Muslims in the UK, and 31% of young children think Muslims are taking over England.

It’s not just attitudes: British Muslim children have been feeling the backlash in bullying and abuse post-Paris attacks; job discrimination against Muslims is rampant; and hate crimes against Muslims have soared by 70% in the past year, according to the police in spite of significant under-reporting.

On the one hand the message of forgiveness and care for the other in the face of discrimination is important. When the EDL protested outside a mosque in York, the Muslim congregation invited them in for tea and biscuits and played a game of football with them; and when four men threw a pig’s head into a mosque in Blackpool, the Imam pleaded with the Judge to be lenient.

Muslim communities are out there working for the common good and to build a stronger, more cohesive society: whether it is helping the flood victims in Cumbria; handing out roses to promote peace in Luton; giving homeless people Christmas presents; or arranging to go to the local church for Midnight Mass for the 7th year in a row.

But such positivity only goes so far. When more and more Muslim children are being referred to counter-terrorism as part of the Prevent duty in schools; when going on a holiday to Disneyland becomes problematic as more and more British Muslim families are denied entry to the US; and when Islamophobia has reached socially acceptability – it is normal life that is becoming difficult for more and more British Muslims.

We need to work together to pressure this government into acting: no longer should its inaction be acceptable, as Chris Allen and Matthew Goodwin have highlighted as they resigned from the working group on anti-Muslim hatred due to the lack of support from the government.

Above all, we cannot let the far-right extremists win by letting them strike fear into the hearts of all. Whilst we work hard together to tackle Islamophobia, we must also continue going about our normal business, keep calm and carry on – that is the British way.

The Limits of British Values

The UK Government recently announced its Counter Extremism Strategy, a document which refers to ‘British values’ 54 times. Within this report, extremism is defined as ‘the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ These are certainly fine values — which British governments have consistently failed to support.

Britain has been responsible for the undermining of democracy, turning a blind eye to abuses by its allies, using extraordinary rendition to get around the rule of law, passing over the denial of individual liberties to dissidents, and the evasion of the dismal situation for religious minorities. Ironically, David Cameron’s first act after the unveiling of this act was setting trade deals with China, hardly notable for its democracy, rule of law, individual liberty or tolerance for different faiths. This was followed by a rock star reception for Indian PM Narendra Modi, whose rule has seen a shocking increase in Hindu supremacist ideology and attacks on minorities.

The paranoia around ‘entryism’, defined as ‘extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas’, has a particularly rich irony, when many extremist individuals have been invited to Number 10 for tea. For decades, extremists have had no need for deception. Britain has supported theocrats and dictators as long as it served British business interests, whether under Tory or Labour rule. This list includes Muhammad Zia ul-Haq and the Taliban, primary architects of the Islamisation of South Asia; Muammar Gaddafi, and so forth. Saudi Arabia’s repression of its people and its disrespect for human rights is almost identical to that of the Daesh Islamic State. It is also the major source of toxic Wahhabi-generated propaganda that has been so influential in fomenting extremism. Britain’s long trade relationship with this state is a flagrant exhibition of double standards.

Beyond the shocking videos, Islamophobia is a daily reality for many British Muslims

A video has been circulating on social media that shows Hanane Yakoubi, a pregnant Muslim woman, being verbally abused on a London bus by a black woman. It reminded me painfully of my own experience some years ago: a white woman in her 50s verbally harassed me, saying: “You Muslims, you’re disgusting. I’m going to kill you. You Muslims. I’m going to kill you.” She said this over and over again, and while this was hardly comparable to Yakoubi’s experience, it left me feeling frightened and humiliated in my own country. An Asian man eventually came to my defence, telling the woman: “No one wants to hear your nonsense.”

I was shocked that this had taken place in London, arguably one of the most diverse cities in the world – but recent figures have shown that hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise here, increasing by 70% in the past year, according to the police. I asked Muslim people in my own circle if they could recount just one experience of abuse, and the answer was quite often yes.

What is being highlighted by this video and others (another has recently emerged, in which an elderly disabled Muslim is apparently verbally attacked by a young black man) is that these attacks do not always involve the stereotypical far-right white, male skinhead, but come, disturbingly, from a broader cross-section of society.

Yet Masud, from Buckinghamshire, believes that apart from members of groups like the English Defence League, British people are generally not prejudiced; rather they are genuinely afraid – and some politicians are choosing to stoke that fear rather than dissipate it. His main concern is the “casual Islamophobia” that becomes an acceptable, everyday part of conversation.

Sunni Shia Squabbles amongst British Muslims

By the bloody standards of Middle Eastern sectarianism, it is a slight affair. On the fourth day of Ramadan, dawn worshippers in Bradford found the wall of their husseiniya, or Shia mosque, daubed with the word “KAFIR” (infidel). But flare-ups, once rare, between Britain’s 400,000-odd Shias and 2.3m Sunnis are on the rise.

Safdar Shah, one of the husseiniya’s founders, says that 30 years ago, when most of the city’s Sunnis and Shias arrived from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, they often prayed together. But over the past year leaflets denouncing Shias have circulated on city buses, and Sunnis have launched a boycott of two Shia-owned takeaways in Little Horton, a neighbourhood where over half the population is Asian. A flurry of tweets enjoin Sunnis to “stay away from Shia”. Community elders fear the identity politics sweeping the Middle East are seeping into Britain’s school playgrounds, prisons and mosques.

Opinion is divided over the cause of the surge in identity politics. “When people are unhappy, have no jobs and are disaffected they need a pastime,” says Nussrat Mohammed, a Labour councillor. Unlike the gleaming glass towers of nearby Leeds, Bradford’s squat skyline of sandstone seems stuck in the time-warp of the Industrial Revolution (bar the minarets). Residents accuse

The crescent and the cross. Getty Images
The crescent and the cross. Getty Images

the council, the government and above all Britain’s sometimes histrionic media for portraying the city as a trough of extremism.

Others say preachers stoke the division. Most of the country’s 27 Muslim seminaries are Deobandi, a purist form of South Asian Islam. Once a minority among Pakistanis in Britain, with the young this puritanical tendency is gaining ground against the Barelvi tradition, whose colourful customs reflect the popular religious practices of Pakistan.

Sectarian battles in Pakistan and the Gulf ripple back to Bradford. Outside the town hall, Sunnis and Shias have staged protests against rival factions in Syria’s civil war. “The politics there are played out here,” says Amjad Pervez, a leading local businessman, who worries that Kashmiri politicians join the campaign trail in Bradford’s elections. “The monsters fed from abroad have grown too big to be handled by one organisation—even the British government,” he says.

Young British Muslims declare jihad against ISIS

A group of young British Muslims have declared their own “jihad” against Isis and all other terrorist groups. The Muslim Youth League UK announced an ideological holy war against the Islamic State at a conference in Glasgow on Sunday, saying militants had “no link with Islam or the Muslim community”.

It is concerned that recruitment by the group is on the rise in the UK, targeting teenage girls and boys with gory propaganda videos and social media accounts boasting of life under the “caliphate”.

The league also announced that it rejects Islamophobic “labelling” of Muslims as extremists or terrorists by politicians, the media and public. They and other groups are fighting back against its propaganda online and through engagement work in schools and communities.

Why Britain’s universities produce so many radical Islamists

If Theresa May is in the running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, as no less an authority than David Cameron believes, she will have to avoid missteps like the latest one over universities and free speech. Mrs. May had wanted to order universities to vet all outside speakers for extremist views; student unions would have had to tell the authorities who was coming in advance. That struck the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrats and several Conservative ministers as intolerably illiberal, and the home secretary backed down. Yet she has a point.

Islamic societies, which emerged in the 1960s, have long had links to conservative and political forms of the religion. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies, an umbrella organisation, once had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. In the 1980s and 1990s the Saudis lavished money on university groups, says Parveen Akhtar, a sociologist at Bradford University, imbuing many with a strong flavour of salafism, a fundamentalist strain of Islam. Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir have always had student outfits in their sights.

Britain seems to be unusual. In Germany, for example, home-grown terrorists tend to come from troubled backgrounds (they often have prior criminal convictions) and few have gone to university. But that does not necessarily mean that British universities are causing radicalisation. One possible reason lots of British Muslim zealots have gone to university is simply that lots of British Muslims go to university. The country is peculiarly successful at educating immigrants and the children of immigrants, points out Jytte Klausen, a political scientist at Brandeis University.

In any case, Mrs May’s abandoned policy would not have tackled radicalisation at its root. Those who invite radical preachers have already been convinced. And Islamist lectures are widely available online, even if their disseminators are banned from giving them in person.

First Interview with Lady Warsi on Palestine and why she left her position

"“There is a lack of political will and our moral compass is missing,” says Lady Warsi. (Photo: Paul Cooper/Rex Features)
“There is a lack of political will and our moral compass is missing,” says Lady Warsi. (Photo: Paul Cooper/Rex Features)

The tipping point for Sayeeda Warsi came in the aftermath of one of the most notorious incidents of this year’s Gazan war: the killing of four Palestinian children by Israeli shells as they played football on the beach. Warsi hoped that David Cameron would condemn the attack as beyond the pale. Instead, she heard only the dry language of diplomacy. She insists her resignation was not a knee-jerk response and makes clear that she is far from an isolated voice within her party.

 

On domestic issues such as extremism and the government’s approach to counter-radicalisation, Warsi refuses to be drawn. “My argument is that extremists are more of a threat to British Muslims than the community as whole; not only do those people cause us harm like everybody else – they’re indiscriminate – but also the backlash. It’s a double whammy. British Muslims have more incentive to rid society of extremists.”

 

For her, the issue is how will Islam evolve and overcome an atmosphere of mistrust and misunderstanding towards it. “What will British Islam look like for my kids, grandkids? Chinese Islam is very different to Saudi Islam; the challenge for our times is how we find this place.”

British Muslims help raise $50,000 for Alan Henning’s Family

The killing of Alan Henning, a British hostage held by extremist group Islamic State, has caused anger and turmoil for many who knew him, and many who didn’t. Notably, many of the most prominent voices of anguish have come from Britain’s Islamic community.

 

There are at least two separate online accounts dedicated to Henning. One fund was set up by Shameela Islam-Zulfiqar, a doctor who accompanied Henning on his trip, and currently has £24,216 in donations ($38,832). “News of his murder has left us all enraged and distraught,” Islam-Zulfiqar had said this week. “In the face of this atrocity, we all need to stand together as Muslims and non-Muslims. We should not let this divide us.”

 

Islam-Zulfiqar says that the page was set up with permission from Alan’s wife. “A project will also be set up in Alan’s name eventually to benefit those that Alan died trying to help in Syria,” the page also states. A separate fundraising page has £8,736 ($14,008), while a third account is raising money for the charities Henning supported.