Ms May is playing a dangerous game exploiting #FinsburyPark attack
As expected, many have parachuted into the aftermath of the Finsbury Park attack this week to exploit or control narratives surrounding it. It is important now more than ever for those committed to truth and justice to resist this.
Many of us were up late on the 24th night of Ramadān glued to social media feeds of brothers and sisters on the scene of what is now being called an alleged terrorist attack. 47-year-old Darren Osborne was alleged to have targeted and ran over crowds of Muslims after tarawīh prayers, before which, according to witnesses, shouting “I’m going to kill all Muslims… I’ve done my part.”
The reaction from the vast majority of the British public I observed—in the “real world”, ignoring twitter Islamophobes—was very positive and constructive. The reaction from the Muslims local to the area, including those who were themselves injured, was exemplary (māshāAllāh) and continues to inspire many. The actions of one of the Imams of the local community impressed a wide spectrum of society from bringing J K Rowling to tears, to even being hailed as a “hero Imam” by the same right wing newspapers that would any other day jump at the opportunity to smear him.
The following morning Theresa May delivered the usual speech, which impressed some, surprised some and no doubt outraged others. Some were surprised, for example, that despite her and her party’s record, she was finally seen to utter the word “Islamophobia” in a seemingly intentional sense. However, many Muslims and non-Muslims alike reacted with a palpable sense of scandal to what has been described as her “exploiting” of the tragedy, of which we saw echoes in the Queen’s speech. I believe if we are not very careful right now, then our horror, anger and frustration provoked by the rising and increasingly violent tide of Islamophobia will be misused against us.
Misappropriation of “Islamophobia”
“As I said here two weeks ago, there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years – and that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia.”
Many have expressed an understandable cynicism with Theresa May of all people talking about Islamophobia, whilst others have seen its inclusion into the ‘extremism’ and ‘counter terrorism’ paradigm particularly deliberate and very worrying. She is, after all, someone who has increasingly been seen as partly responsible for the spreading and mainstreaming of Islamophobia in the first place.
This is a person whose party has been studiously ignoring Islamophobia for years despite a senior member calling it out. This is the former Home Secretary who “refused to engage” with a cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group which led to the resignation of prominent academics, one of whom said the fight against Islamophobia was “going backwards”. This is the same person that continually pushed for draconian policies which led to an irrational suspicion of Muslims based on pseudoscience and a systematic ignoring statistics and academic research. This is the leader of the party that manufactured and sustained a false continuum between orthodox Islamic beliefs (as benign as inheritance) with the likes of ISIS and terrorism, and normalised metaphors like “swamp”, “crocodiles” and “trojan horse” to describe non-violent, law-abiding Muslims with beliefs they disagree with.
Almost axiomatically, such a person should not be afforded the privilege to define how we talk about and respond to Muslim suffering.
But even if one were to ignore all of that, and presume that the Tories were to have epiphanically repented for their sins, there are serious negative consequences of spinning narratives surrounding Islamophobia into the tangled web of “extremism” and “counter terrorism”.
For a start, it is likely to prevent the structural and institutionalised nature of Islamophobia being exposed and challenged. It will almost certainly be used to absolve the political elite of their responsibility in the scapegoating of Muslim-ness based on disinformation, stoking irrational and statistically insignificant fears, and feeding the already obese counter terrorism apparatus, which an increasing number of academics blame for the rise in Islamophobia, calling it one of the “five pillars of Islamophobia”.
Where will the blame instead go?
May’s dangerous chess game of divide and rule
Instead of shining a long-overdue spotlight into the structural and institutional spheres of Islamophobia (and racism generally for that matter), placing it into “extremism” and “counter terrorism” box is already severing its centuries old roots and, as Dr Chris Allen suggested, will likely cause Islamophobia to be instead seen as a reaction to Muslim “terrorism”. Indeed, one does not need to look far to find an ignoramus that would refer to the Finsbury Park attack as a ‘revenge attack’ but would throw a fit if someone referred to something like 7/7 or the Lee Rigby murder as such, despite being explicitly-stated by their misguided perpetrators.
Not only that, but as some have pointed out, the image projected of the quintessential Islamophobe is not the blazered middle-class demagogue from the Henry Jackson Society or Quilliam Foundation who provides the carefully crafted fallacies and ideological tinder for Islamophobia on national prime time television. It is rather the lowest, despised “hooligans” of the white working classes that make up the ranks of the EDL or Britain First.
In doing so this perpetuates not just the class war that has been happening since long before Islām arrived on these shores, but Islamophobia itself. Those “peasants” that have been stolen from, disempowered, exploited and left to starve for decades if not centuries by their elite will continue to be conditioned to blame their problems on scapegoats—including Muslims and immigrants—rather than the real causes of their unhappiness. Some may not like to admit this but a large number of those put into the stereotypical “far-right racist” demographic probably have far more basic needs and interests in common with the Muslims they are taught to hate than with the elite that are conditioning them to hate.
Attempted resurrection of the failed “extremism” bill
In her speech May mentioned Islamophobia once, Muslims three times and Extremism seven times. Many had anticipated the exploiting of the Finsbury Park attack to try to revive the perennial failure that is her Counter Extremism Bill proposals. Attempts to make this law have consistently failed because legal experts and members of parliament kept bringing up inconvenience of the vacuous and arbitrary definition of “extremism” itself, which May seemed to be trying to get around by calling for a new “Commission for Countering Extremism as a statutory body” in her speech. She also stated,
“It is why we will be reviewing our Counter-Terrorism strategy and ensuring that police and security services have the powers they need.”
For me this was a chilling echo of her swift call for a public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire, instead of an inquest which, according to solicitor Sophie Khan, was indicative of her trying to control the outcome or prevent the fairer, transparent and open scrutiny that an inquest would offer victims and their families. Khan told the BBC,
“I’m very concerned as to why Ms May came out so quickly to say, ‘public inquiry’. What is there, that she knows, that needs to be hidden?”
Who is the “we” that will be reviewing the Counter Terrorism strategy? Is Ms May trying to get away with an internal, superficial revamp of the failed and now publicly toxic PREVENT strategy instead of the complete, transparent, accountable and public review that is so desperately required? Is she going to allow—for once—the wisdom of peer reviewed academic research to guide how we approach “terrorism” in this country, or continue to give undeserved, undemocratic and unaccountable free reign for those with a vested ideological or economic interest in telling the public who they should be afraid and suspicious of?
Also not unnoticed was her diverting attention away from the real and oft-repeated resource needs of austerity-starved police forces up and down the country. The last thing they need are even more powers to arbitrarily restrict people’s rights and destroy community cohesion and policing by consent.
The mob must resist its thirst for blood
It is natural sometimes for those harmed by others to harbour a sense of revenge or retribution. This primal rage is what has been exploited historically for governments to gain more powers after a terrorist attack, and this is precisely what Theresa May stands accused of doing. As satisfying to the nafs (lower self, ego) that may be, Muslims do not have the option to respond to an injustice with injustice.
Instead of desiring that non-violent Islamophobes and their families have to suffer the same humiliation and demonisation that scores of Muslims have suffered, or desiring that their families and friends’ homes are raided (referred to as “terror networks” later released without charge after the damage has been done), or that their children are taken away from them; we should take this opportunity to call for no one to be subjected to the inherently discriminatory, “two-tier justice system” that is the counter terrorism circus. History has shown that state suppression of ‘radical’ political views or grievances actually ignites some towards violence as it restricts their choices for peaceful protest. But more importantly than that, the main reason we should not be fooled into tolerating the failed PREVENT policy once angry white people start to suffer from it is because we have a divine obligation.
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allāh, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allāh is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allāh is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allāh, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allāh; indeed, Allāh is Acquainted with what you do.
As tempting as it is to demonise and silence Islamophobic Neanderthals and their ideologues at any cost, our desires have to come second to the obedience of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). We all have to be a manifestation of the small group of believers—who no doubt some call ‘Islamist extremists’ or whatever pejorative—who protected the very man who killed their loved ones on the night of the attack, in obedience to the sharia of Allāh and the prohibition of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) for anyone to be punished without a fair hearing—at a time where mob justice and Trial by Ordeal were the dominant “British values” of the day.
Holding media to account
Finally a similar level of restraint needs to be shown when we expect mass media outrage and rolling coverage of the increasing number of crimes against Muslims. Of course there is an abhorrent disparity in the way in which crimes are reported based on the ethnicity of the perpetrators and/or victims. However when it comes to the hysterical news coverage of so-called “terror attacks” that has led to mass panic and irrational suspicion of “Islamic extremists” or terrorism generally (which kills fewer people in England and Wales every year than bathtubs do,) we should not demand that hysterical rolling news coverage should follow every white murderer, but that there should be no sensationalised coverage of any crime for a simple reason. As Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz scolded BBC Newsnight years ago:
“Everytime we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”
And indeed, since the Finsbury Park attack East London Mosque was subjected to a bomb scare, and two people have been arrested on consecutive nights at Regents Park mosque allegedly trying to harm worshippers. Just as we criticise the “mainstream” media’s hysterical (and often lionising) depiction of ISIS (which many even advertise to Muslim psychopaths with the undeserved noble title of “Islamic State”) and acts of senseless violence commit by deranged and often suicidal Muslims, we should not ask for the same reckless coverage of serious crimes committed by others because, as psychologists warn, this contributes to an increase in those crimes,—a destructive cycle we have also seen with crimes committed by Muslims using mind-altering drugs, sadly sensationalised all too quickly as “terrorism”.
We must act and take leadership
In summary, I believe we should be resisting attempts from outside the Muslim community and within to apply similar unfair and destructive treatment to those who harm or annoy us. We should hold those in power to account in general and in particular call for Theresa May’s “review” of the counter terrorism strategy to be done under the scrutiny of public accountability. Whilst we should not succumb to supporting draconian policies against non-violent Islamophobes (or their families), we certainly must still speak out and refute the lies, disinformation and propaganda, and hold the media to account, as well as continue to push for a Levison-compliant, truly independent press regulator to make a more responsible and fairer press possible.
We have a divine obligation to resist injustice, take charge of our own narratives and be steadfast. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has given us an important reminder regarding the plots of those that hate us:
If good touches you, it distresses them; but if harm strikes you, they rejoice at it. But if you are patient and fear Allāh, their plot will not harm you at all. Indeed, Allāh is encompassing of what they do.
 Al-Qur’ān 4:135
 Al-Qur’ān 5:8
 Al-Qur’ān 3:120