20 March 2017

Technology and I don’t seem to get on very well. But whether it’s the coffee machine, the steam iron splurging out water, the DVD player frozen mid-movie or my iPhone on autopilot randomly calling people as it sits in my handbag, my solution is usually turn off, reset, restart.

As a country, as a society, as policy-makers, as politicians and as a community it’s time we started to look at what went wrong and how to start to make it right.

Since the Brexit vote, Britain is an increasingly hostile place. The worrying rise in hate crime has also seen an increase in anti-Muslim hatred, and whilst the easiest reaction from Muslims would be to retreat, now more than ever we, ‘the Muslims’, need to step up and step out.

This is our country, we are an intrinsic part of it and have been so for generations. Its future and ours are as intertwined as our histories.

Let’s start by visualizing what British Muslims could be a decade from now. For me it’s a confident, successful community which both acknowledges the reality of the challenge we face and is prepared to invest the time, energy, money and patience to overcome them. It’s a community that doesn’t shy away from the debates, that is proudly patriotic and isn’t afraid to say so. A diverse community, a non-sectarian community, a non-judgemental community, an outward-looking community, optimistic about its place both in Britain and the wider world. A community that is prepared to face up to the challenges that lie within and out. A community entirely comfortable in practising its faith in its country, neither fearing life in Britain nor seeking favour in treatment. A community that owns the language of its faith and isn’t reacting to the definitions given by others: from ‘ummah’ to ‘jihad’, from ‘Sharia’ to ‘fatwa’ and others – terms that have become lazy tabloid words and lost positive and visionary centuries-old meanings. A community in line with the great tradition of Islam expressing their faith for these times, their very own British Islamic identity.

Politicians have much to be proud of. It was political will that made the case against fascism, saw the need to lead the war efforts in the first half of the twentieth century and establish the NHS and a welfare state. It was political will which in the end abolished slavery, gave women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, homosexuals the right to be treated with dignity and shaped a Britain where all were equal before the law.

But we have also made many mistakes along the way, many in recent times regarding policy on ‘British Muslims’, where some policy has simply proved counterproductive because the how and why of policy-making has been flawed.

For example, the question of whether or not to leave Europe has plagued British politics, and the Conservative Party more acutely, for decades. So the referendum in 2016 was a once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunity to settle the question. Although the debate had its fair share of exaggerated announcements on both sides of the argument, which predicted doom if voters were to vote one way or the other, for me the most startling revelations were from Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s long-term friend, godfather to his children and chief strategist for over seven years. The first revelation was this: that the numbers being used by government, most specifically the Treasury, were simply ‘made up’; he knew this, he said, because he’d done so in the past, simply made them up. And the second revelation was the claim that David Cameron was a closet Brexiter, and had he not been prime minister he would have voted leave. The allegation was, of course, denied by the prime minister, but the comments fed into a broader view that firstly politicians simply ‘make things up’ so the evidence fits their narrative and secondly that politicians don’t actually say what they truly believe, or indeed even do what they say.

Do we say what we believe? Do we do what we say?

Sayeeda Warsi article

As politicians and as a community it’s time we started to look at what went wrong and how to start to make it right.

A decade ago ideas such as a ‘Muslim register’, a database to track Muslims, ‘a complete and total shutdown’ of Muslims entering a country, Muslim-specific immigration bans and Muslim internment camps were the preserve of conspiracy theorists. Today they form the policy platform on which US President Trump was elected.

Democracy, an oft-cited British value, is the bulwark against arbitrary power, the place where extreme views are flushed out by the good sense of the people, ‘the considered view of the crowd [that keeps] the mob from the gates’, and which ensures we all continue on our journey towards liberal values.

But the narrow miss in the Austrian elections in May 2016, when the far-right Freedom Party came within 1 percentage point of winning, the rise of far-right party Jobbik as an electoral force in Hungary, the electoral success of the Front National in France and the election of Donald Trump all show democracy in the West is enabling, not stifling, extreme views. And Denmark, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden and Poland are a growing group of countries where the far right are starting to take their seats in the nation’s parliament.

These elections demonstrate that democracy doesn’t always deliver results in tune with our stated ‘British values’. The fact that we have in Britain politicians who are prepared to overlook all of this and praise such victories is itself a defeat for ‘British values’, and a reminder that a simple reliance on ‘our values’, our innate good sense and even a belief in our laws no longer provide enough of a safety net to protect all within our nations.

The fog of fascism is once more spreading across our continent, xenophobic views are drifting in from the east and west of us and beyond. It starts with words, and if the ‘respectable’ justification of hatred is left unchecked it ends with actions.

How Britain responds to this new environment will determine whether we succeed in remaining a tolerant, diverse, liberal inclusive democracy, and the canaries in the coal mine are British Muslims.

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