A knee-jerk response is the last thing we need

The following article by Sabby Dhalu attacks the Islamophobic campaign being whipped up following the Paris terrorist attacks. It was originally published in the Morning Star

The terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut were chilling, and the first response of the anti-racist movement is solidarity and sympathy with all those affected.

However, the anti-racist movement is now sadly accustomed to the other responses that come fast in the wake of every terrorist attack.
Usually this is two-fold — a clampdown on civil liberties by the state particularly targeting Muslim communities, and a rise in anti-Muslim hate crime on the streets.

The Paris attacks have added a new dimension to this. Even though some of those responsible for the attack have been identified as French nationals, stories spread like wildfire that the perpetrators of the attack had entered France as refugees.

This prompted a knee-jerk response by politicians to “close or strengthen the borders.”

This year Europe has experienced the biggest migration of refugees since the second world war.
That said, less than one million refugees are expected to arrive in the whole of the EU by the end of this year.

Turkey has taken two million refugees, and Lebanon — a country approximately the size of Cornwall — has taken over one million refugees.
Less than one million across 28 of the world’s richest countries in the EU is not a lot by comparison.

What is described as a “crisis” is only a crisis because of the refusal by the majority of EU countries to take a fair proportion of refugees.
Instead we see an inhumane approach to people fleeing war, terrorism, climate change and poverty — refugees are left without proper shelter, warmth, sanitation and food.
“Fortress Europe” has emerged, with barbed wire fences erected, a breakdown of the Schengen agreement (which brought in passport-free movement across most of the EU’s internal borders) and often bare-faced racism and Islamophobia — for example Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban saying Muslim refugees threaten Christian Europe.

After the second world war and the horrors of the Holocaust, the whole world said: “Never again.”
Yet today European governments are busy conceding to far-right and fascist parties on refugee policy and the response to terrorism.
France itself is one of the most notable examples, with support for the Front National topping the polls this year at 30 per cent.
The Paris attacks now give European politicians a convenient excuse to pursue the course they were already taking regarding refugees, but one which will do nothing to combat terrorism.

Austerity and the resulting fall in living standards not seen since the 19th century means that refugees are the latest scapegoats and distraction.
False arguments counterposing investment in social housing and reducing homelessness with providing help for refugees have already been advanced over the last few months. Now the threat of terrorism has been added to this anti-refugee narrative.

This ignores the fact that the refugees arriving in Europe are fleeing the same terrorists that carried out the Paris attacks.
At the same time all Muslims are scapegoated for the actions of a tiny number who kill and murder in the name of Islam, despite the overwhelming condemnation of such attacks by Muslims in general.
Muslims are always portrayed as the perpetrators of terrorism, despite the fact that globally they are the main victims of Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaida terrorists.

This Islamophobic narrative leads directly to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes.

According to the West London Muslim Cultural Centre, just the day after the Paris attacks a Muslim woman was attacked with a glass bottle.  

Blaming all white people for Anders Breivik’s 2011 attacks in Norway would seem ridiculous, but this is exactly what happens when terrorist attacks occur in the name of Islam.
Indeed, terrorist attacks committed by white racists are often played down, treated as “lone wolf” attacks and not a widespread phenomenon.
For example, in April 2013, one month before Lee Rigby was murdered, 82-year-old pensioner Mohammed Saleem was murdered by a Ukrainian fascist.
This fascist went on to bomb mosques in the West Midlands and became known as “The Tipton Bomber.”
The victims were Muslim. The perpetrator was white. However these incidents did not receive anywhere near the level of coverage as Rigby’s murder.
The media fails to make the link between Breivik and other European fascist groups, despite their high levels of electoral support across Europe, whereas correctly Isis or al-Qaida attacks are always linked to one another.

The government will use the Paris attacks to justify the forthcoming Extremism Bill. A draft Bill has not yet been published, but we can expect the biggest clampdown on civil liberties we have ever seen, mainly directed at the Muslim communities for whom David Cameron has already said obeying the law will not be taken as proof of rejection of “extremism.”
Moreover, the loose definition of “extremism,” which the government itself struggles to define, means all those on the centre-left and left who disagree with government policy could be targeted.

This is on top of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act which includes measures such as imposing a legal duty on schools and other education institutions to implement Prevent, to “stop youngsters being drawn into extremism,” but which in reality will leave innocent young children and their families feeling persecuted.

An objective assessment of Prevent and various legislation must consider that such measures, compounded by a rise in Islamophobic attacks — the majority of which are on Muslim women — are actually counter-productive in eradicating extremism and instead contribute to a sense of isolation and the feeling that Western liberal democracies do not care for their Muslim citizens.
Instead, the response should be to take on the concerns of the Muslim population, act against hate crime, recognise Muslims themselves are the main victims of terrorism and take our fair share of the refugees fleeing the sort of attacks we saw in Paris and Beirut last week. This would challenge the narrative used by those like Isis and al-Qaida rather than feed it.

Sabby Dhalu is a Stand Up To Racism organiser and Unite Against Fascism Joint Secretary.

Stand up to Racism has organised a public meeting in Parliament in response to the Paris attacks and to discuss the implications of the Extremism Bill on Thursday November 26 at 7pm, Committee Room 10, Parliament.

The article was originally published here in the Morning Star.