Sunday, 7 March 2010
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: British Muslims are running out of friends
Monday, 8 March 2010
The Independent, UK
I am but Muslim lite, a non-conformist believer who will not be told what and how by sanctimonious religious sentinels for whom religion is a long list of rules to be obeyed by bovine followers. Readers know I am often critical of Muslim people and nations. Bad things that happen to us cannot all be attributed to "Islamophobia", a nebulous and imprecise concept that, like anti-Semitism, can be used to besmirch and sully and silence criticism.
But this week even I, even I, can see that for the British establishment Muslims are contemptible creatures, devalued humans. As I prayed before starting this column I felt tears stinging my eyes and my face was burning as if I had been slapped many times over. Do they expect me to turn the other cheek? Millions of other Muslims must have felt what I did. And some may well go on to do things they shouldn't. Their acts will intensify anti-Muslim prejudices and will be used to justify injustice. The cycle is vicious and unrelenting.
Once again at weddings and birthday parties, in quiet, tranquil mosques, at dinner tables across the land, including those of millionaire Muslims, I am hearing murmurs of trepidation and disquiet – voices kept low, sometimes vanishing into whispers, just in case; you never know if they will break down the door. These people are, like myself, well incorporated into the nation's busy life. Some own restaurants and businesses, others work in the City or law firms and chambers. At one gathering a frightfully posh, Muslim public school boy (aged 14), an excellent cricketer, said in his jagged, breaking voice: "I will never live in this country after finishing my education. They hate us. They'll put us all in prison. Nothing we do is OK. Do you think I am wrong Mrs Yasmin?" No I don't, though his hot young blood makes him intemperate.
Where do I start? Well, with the PM who takes himself to the moral high ground at every opportunity, to orate and berate as he did when called in by the placid Chilcot panel. The son of a preacher man, John Ebenezer Brown, Gordon has the manse gene. Unlike the shape-shifter Blair, he is authentically himself, driven by embedded values, and I admire that. But, like his predecessor, he is shockingly indifferent to the agony of the people most affected by the Iraq war, a war Brown still says was "the right" thing to do for the "right reasons". His only regret? They should have thought a bit more about what to do next after they had defeated Saddam and pulled down his statues.
Not a word about the countless Iraqis killed when we bombed indiscriminately in civilian areas, no word of sorrow, however hollow or feigned, about the dead children or those now born in that blighted land with two heads and other grotesque abnormalities. John Simpson's recent BBC report described the rising number of such births in Fallujah, picked for the cruelest collective punishment by America.
Are they not children, Mr Brown? You still cry for your own baby, who died so young. For Muslims, that only confirms native Iraqis are grains of sand to those who executed the imperial war. Martinique intellectual and liberationist Aimee Cesaire wrote: "Colonisation works to de-civilise the coloniser, to brutalise him ... to degrade him." We saw how with Brown, whose empathy is withheld from Iraqis, Muslim victims tortured with the connivance of our secret services and perhaps from all citizens who pray to Allah.
Meanwhile at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge John Denniss is industriously sentencing demonstrators who gathered near the Israeli embassy to rail against that state's attack on Gaza, one of the worst acts of state terrorism in recent history. Our government said nothing then, and were therefore complicit. Protesters came from all backgrounds but the vast majority of those arrested were young Muslim men. Dozens are being sent down for insignificant acts of bravado. Some were about to go to university, to train as dentists and the like. Their homes were raided, families cowed and terrified. Joanna Gilmore, an academic expert on public demonstrations, says never before have such disproportionate sentences been handed out, not even with the volatile anti-globalisation protests. Denniss intends his punishments to be a deterrent. To deter us from what? Having the temerity to believe we live in a democracy and are free to march?
And then the crypto-fascist, Aryan Geert Wilders, is invited into the Lords by UKIP and crossbench peers to show his vile anti-Islam film in the name of freedom of expression. Freedom my arse. It is just another entertaining episode of Muslim-baiting. I dare the same peers to now invite David Irving, the Holocaust denier, to share his thoughts freely in the Lords, and get Omar Bakri over from the Lebanon with films of himself making fiery speeches on what to do with infidels. Again Muslims are made to understand that different standards apply to others. We are on trial, always, and always must expect to lose.
I am here accusing the most powerful in government, parliament and the judiciary, not those individual MPs, peers and judges who try to do the right thing. To them we are immensely grateful, and to the extraordinary lawyers, activists, journalists, artists, writers and ordinary Britons fighting ceaselessly for our liberties. We just witnessed Helena Kennedy in court passionately defending Cossor Ali, accused of providing active support to her convicted terrorist husband. The jury, scrupulously fair, bless them, acquitted the young woman. Muslims involved in crime and violent Islamicism must be tried and punished. But their acts do not give lawmakers and law keepers of this land licence to strip the rest of us of our humanity and inviolable democratic entitlements.
During the dark days of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Irish in Britain were often treated unjustly by parliament, police, judges like Lord Denning, and vast sections of the media. Under Thatcher, miners and trades unionists were mercilessly "tamed", too. But this time, with Muslims, the establishment has surpassed its previous disgraceful record. They steal our human and civil rights and don't even try to behave with a modicum of honour during and after war. The same people call upon us to be more "British" but treat us as lesser citizens. Deal or No Deal? You tell me.