British politicians and the media have been singing from the same Islamophobic song sheet following the murder of British soldier, Lee Rigby, in Woolwich. This has fed a wave of racist attacks and a frightening revival of the far right.
Extremist Muslim clerics are “poisoning” the minds of young people “with sick and perverted ideas” argues British Prime Minister David Cameron. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, wrote a piece arguing, “there is a problem within Islam…And we have to put it on the table and be honest about it”.
The entire Muslim community is expected to take responsibility for the attack. Any Muslim leader that dares question this “radical cleric” narrative is rapidly denounced. Meanwhile the usual demands for the “integration” of British Muslims and their need to assimilate superior “Western values” have surfaced.
Their solutions for combating terrorism give the police more power to monitor and harass Muslims. British Prime Minister David Cameron has established a task force to look into Muslim extremism and wants to “drain the swamps”. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is investigating ways to deny radical clerics access to the airwaves. London’s Mayor Boris Johnson has called for university Islamic societies to be more tightly monitored.
The “war on terror” and its role in provoking more attacks is never mentioned. Yet before Tony Blair signed Britain up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there had been no “Islamic terrorist” attacks in Britain.
The standard reply to this argument is to say “the 9/11 attack came before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq”. But 9/11, too, didn’t come out of thin air. It was a response US imperialist policies like support for the brutal state of Israel and the murderous sanctions on Iraq. Osama Bin Laden cited these as reasons for 9/11.
Iraq and Afghanistan have only added more fuel to the fire. Close to a million people have been killed in Iraq and more than four million displaced. Afghanistan has seen hundreds of thousands killed. The West continues to spread its “war on terror” into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia via drone strikes. Torture, renditions and imprisonment without trial have all been justified as part of the “war on terror”. Mixed with the demonisation of Islam and the attacks on civil liberties, it’s little wonder people are becoming radicalised.
Michael Adebolajo, one of the murder suspects of Lee Rigby, even cited the killing of Muslims abroad by British troops as his motivation.
Yet the authorities are still in denial. It’s not about “Iraq or Afghanistan” says British Colonel Richard Kemp, but hatred of “our liberal, democratic society”.
For them it’s important to deny this link because they want to keep the focus on the Muslim community and not on their own actions abroad. “Radical clerics” are a useful scapegoat. Attacking a lone British soldier with a meat cleaver will do nothing to stop this imperialist horror. But it’s important to understand what drives individuals to take such drastic actions.
The far right
The Islamophobia being pushed by mainstream politicians is music to the ears of Britain’s far right. It gives them legitimacy as they try to capitalize on the tragedy and direct hatred and violence toward Muslims.
Fascist thugs from the English Defence League were on the ground in Woolwich within hours of the murder attempting to provoke a race riot. Twelve mosques have been attacked since the murder and individual attacks on Muslims have jumped dramatically. Petrol bombs were thrown at a mosque in Grimsby while people were inside praying—but were luckily soon put out.
Both the English Defence League (EDL) and the fascist British National Party (BNP) have been organising rallies and marches—their largest for some time. In the days after the attack the EDL brought out 1000 people in London and 1200 in Newcastle.
But anti-fascists haven’t been complacent. When a mosque in York was threatened with an attack, the doors were opened and a community tea party was organised and over 200 people came.
A diverse range of unions and other groups have been drawn into counter mobilisations. Anti-fascists had a significant victory on Saturday 1 June when they confronted a planned BNP march from Whitehall to the Cenotaph war memorial. More than a 1000 anti-fascists locked arms and blocked their path chanting, “We are black, white and Asian and we’re Jews” and “There are many many more of us than you”. Outnumbered ten to one, the BNP march was abandoned with their leader Nick Griffin saying it would be “suicide to march today”.
While it is important to stand on the toes of the fascists every time they raise their ugly faces, it’s also important to fight the mainstream Islamophobia that gives the far right its oxygen.