Islamophobia has become socially acceptable in Britain, according to the co-chairman of the ruling Conservative Party.
Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim woman to serve in the cabinet, is to tell an audience at Leicester University that dividing Muslims into ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ categories only helps feed misunderstanding of Islam among British citizens.
In extracts of her speech published in The Telegraph, Warsi claims that Islamophobia “has passed the dinner-table test” and that prejudice against Muslims is no longer considered a controversial issue.
It is opinion shared by Anis Khaled of the Islamic Society of Britain, who told euronews:
“Most people who’ve had any experience of this will tell you she’s absolutely spot on. The last thing we want the community to be doing is acting as the victim. However, these things have to be told and I think it’s clear that it’s possible to target the Muslim community in a way that other communities can’t be targeted.”
Warsi also warns of the dangers of categorising Muslims into ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’.
“It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate Muslims’ leads,” she said. “In the factory where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees ‘Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim’.
“In the school the kids say ‘The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad’. And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burqa, the passers-by think ‘That woman is either oppressed or is making a political statement’”.
Again, Khaled agrees.
“This labelling is ridiculous and we’ve said that from the start. Ever since the words ‘fundamentalist’, ‘extremist’ etc. appeared, all these negative connotations, every story in the Muslim community is often followed by these negative connotations,” he says.
The media stands accused of sometimes being part of the problem, rather than solution. Warsi deplores the “patronising, superficial way” in which faith can be discussed in newspapers and the audiovisual media. Khaled gives an example:
“If there is a problem with forced marriage in a particular part of a community, in a particular district in England, it’s branded everywhere as an Islamic issue. When actually it’s got nothing to do with Islam, it’s absolutely wrong. It would not be seen as a Sikh problem or a Hindu problem.”
Warsi also urges the Muslim community itself to be proactive in tackling Islamophobia by being clearer in condemning violent acts carried out in the name of Islam.
She has promised to use her position in the cabinet to fight an “ongoing battle against bigotry” in a sign that the new Conservative-led coalition may be more hands-on when it comes to faith matters than the former Labour government.