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As Britain begins to prepare for life after lockdown, the prospect of a return to a sense of normality is being enthusiastically welcomed. Some traditions, however, have remained unaffected by the virus. The UK media’s unbridled Islamophobia is unfortunately one of them.
The latest episode involves repeat offender the Daily Mail, which ran a story claiming there are British towns that are ‘no-go areas for White people’, because of supposed Muslim intrusion and ergo dominance.
The article was based on a recent book by author Ed Husain that alleges communities in Britain have become divided, with a specific focus on Muslims. Reviewers have described the book as a “frankly sinister” piece of work replete with “sweeping conclusions”.
One is indeed entitled to wonder whether Husain is the most suitable candidate to discuss Muslim affairs in Britain. His doctoral studies on Western philosophy and Islam were under the direction of the late English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, who was sacked by the government in 2019 for incendiary statements such as his claim that Islamophobia had been “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue”.
Not to mention the recently defunct Quilliam Foundation, co-founded by Ed Husain, which over several years produced ‘research’, particularly on Muslim grooming gangs, that was so damaging and sensationalist that even Priti Patel’s Home Office felt compelled to dispel the myth, promoted by Quilliam, that offenders were predominantly of Muslim heritage. Husain’s input on Islam and Muslims is thus perhaps not the most balanced and non-partisan of views.
It would not have taken much for the Daily Mail to consider these facts before regurgitating his claims. A quick dive into its own archives might have been equally beneficial. A few weeks ago the Mail ran a piece on the “top 10 areas in the UK for home buyers” which included Didsbury, an area described as “posh and leafy” with “plenty of pubs,” and which had apparently turned into a Muslim “no go-zone”. As it happens, the 2011 Census shows Didsbury West was 84.1% white and Didsbury East was 77.9% white.
But why engage in basic research and fact-checking when you can disseminate hyperbolised and imprecise statements? Basic journalistic principles – fairness, objectivity, truthfulness – are seemingly not relevant when it comes to Muslims, especially if it means amplifying misconceptions.
This is not without consequences. The media’s relentless mudslinging means that eventually something always sticks. Research shows a third of British people believe the myth of “no-go zones in Britain.” Nearly six in ten Conservative party members think “there are no-go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.”
Alarmingly, the Mail’s article and its misrepresentations reflect the norm, rather than the exception, within Britain’s media apparatus.
An independent investigation into the Batley Grammer School in West Yorkshire, where a teacher showed Year 9 pupils a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad during a class on religious studies, recently published its findings. The executive summary of the investigation, conducted by Batley Multi Academy Trust, confirmed that “using the image did cause deep offence to a number of students, parents and members of our school community”, adding that “The Trust deeply regrets the distress this has caused.”
This was a vindication of the concerns of Muslim parents who protested the use of the cartoon. Yet throughout the saga in late March, they were widely demonised by the media as it went into another all-too-frequent moral panic. Media outlets across the political spectrum, usually only in agreement about never agreeing on anything, were unanimous in their opprobrium of the parents, who denounced the “epic cowardice” that was allowing “dangerous fanaticism to flourish” according to the Express. A column in The Times decried the “chilling effect on open debate” represented by the protest. Meanwhile over at LBC, there were suggestions that “young people should be taught about blasphemy using examples” and that the suspension of the teacher was “ridiculous”.
The media’s unanimous condemnations were followed by a total silence when the results of the investigation were released. Those who did report it could not help but throw in jibes. The Spectator’s described the findings as a victory for a ‘mob’ abetted by institutions who “caved in to intolerance.” The reaction had the findings gone in the opposite direction is not hard to imagine.
The British media displayed profound intolerance in its coverage of the Batley Grammar School story, providing yet more compelling evidence of the deep-seated ‘othering’ of Muslims within its ranks.
A problem does not appear to be subsiding either. Paul Dacre, formerly editor of the Daily Mail for 20 years and now editor-in-chief at its parent company, the Daily Mail Group, is being considered for the position of head of Ofcom, the UK’s statutory regulator of broadcasting. For a sense of Dacre’s editorial philosophy, research by the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring that examined articles from October to December 2018, showed the Mail on Sunday ranked very highly when it came to publishing pernicious stories against Muslims, with 78% of its articles portraying Muslims or Islam negatively. To have someone with Dacre’s record at the top of Britain’s media regulator is the equivalent of throwing the Muslim community to the wolves.
Reports suggest that despite a campaign from figures in Whitehall to stop Dacre’s candidacy, he remains the government’s favoured choice, which speaks volumes about how legitimised Islamophobia has become recent years.
Invariably, it is ordinary Muslims across Britain who will pay the price for this. Just last month, Muslims attending a mosque in East London were pelted with eggs and stones. Asked about the incident, Ahmed Nahwaz, director and secretary of the centre, simply replied “we’re used to it.” It is a distressing state of affairs when worshippers have to acclimatise to verbal and physical abuse amidst a growing culture of hatred.
Until Britain’s media accept responsibility for their inflammatory and irresponsible framing and discourse around Muslims and Islam, Muslim communities across Britain will continue to be on the receiving end of prejudice, resentment and worse.
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- Dr. Monica Gandhi on the Origins of COVID-19, Vaccine Equity, the Debate over Masks & More
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Over the last two weeks, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in a brutal bombing campaign that has destroyed homes and had a devastating impact on Gaza’s already vulnerable health infrastructure. Thousands of people have been displaced, but are unable to leave what is one the most densely populated spaces in the world.
In contrast, Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. Its ‘Iron Dome’ defence system has a success rate of over 90% when it comes to intercepting rockets. The Israeli military is backed by an advanced and increasingly high-tech arms industry, and ranks among the world’s largest arms exporters.
It is also a major arms importer, with the Biden administration having approved a $735 million deal only a week prior to the ongoing bombardment.
Where Israel gets it arms
Even prior to Biden’s announcement, successive US governments have shown a consistently strong and often uncritical political and military support for Israel, with Democrats and Republicans following very similar policies. It is complicated, and perhaps not possible, to put a total value on US arms sales to Israel, but, according to the US State Department, it includes $3.3 billion worth of foreign military aid every year. Analysis by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that it accounts for roughly 70% of the total value of Israeli military imports.
A number of European countries sell arms to Israel, including Germany, Italy and France, although it is also hard to get robust figures for the total value of these exports. However, SIPRI’s research shows that Italy is the world’s second largest exporter of arms to Israel. Last week, port workers in Livorno, Italy, refused to load a ship carrying weapons to Israel, after being notified of the contents of the cargo by human rights monitoring groups.
Since 2015, the UK has licensed at least £400 million worth of arms to Israel. This does not include weapons licensed under the opaque ‘open licencing’ system, which allows an unlimited number of transfers to take place. As such, the real total will be far higher. This does not include licences for components for F-35 stealth combat aircraft. Around 10-15% of every jet sold has been made or developed in the UK. At present, Israel has 27 of these aircraft.
Israeli military relations
The military relationship between Israel and the US is a close-knit and intimate one. The two governments work together on the development of weapons and joint military exercises.
The UK, too, has a close military relationship with Israel, including regular training sessions and exercises, and a recent military cooperation agreement that aims “to further deepen our military cooperation.” Research from Declassified shows that the courses in question have included ordnance design and amphibious warfare.
In 2019, Israeli forces joined UK, German and Italian counterparts for Exercise Cobra Warrior, a three-week-long series of military exercises. That same year the UK Navy was among those that took part in the largest ever naval exercises hosted by Israeli forces.
The Israeli arms industry
The Israel government is a major arms dealer in its own right, with an advanced arms industry that specialises in drone technology. Much of this technology is marketed as “battle proven”, which is a garish and grotesque euphemism for it having been used on Palestinians. Reliable figures are not published, but analysis from the UK Ministry of Defence suggests that Israel is the 7th largest arms exporter in the world.
Israel’s most controversial arms export customer is arguably Myanmar, where they have dealt with leading military figures associated with the genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya population. Recent sales to Myanmar include naval patrol boats fitted with remote weapons stations, which continued to be delivered as the Myanmar armed forces were being accused of war crimes.
In 2016, an Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, in conjunction with Thales UK, completed delivery of 54 Watchkeeper WK450 drones to the UK Ministry of Defence, as part of an £800 million contract. Elbit has also provided drones for UK ‘border security’ as part of the government’s campaign to harass and demonise refugees crossing the Channel.
What effect would an embargo really have?
These arms exporting governments are among Israel’s closest political friends and economic allies. The signal sent by any of them imposing an arms embargo would be a very strong one and would encourage similar actions from others.
The announcement on Thursday night of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is welcome news, but whatever happens in the days ahead, the longer that arms sales are allowed, the greater the likelihood that they will be used again on Palestinian communities. Even a return to ‘normality’ will only allow for an unjust, unfair, and intolerable status quo to be resumed, but with a far greater rebuilding job for Palestinians. Unless there is a major change from the international community, especially the US, the injustice against Palestinians will continue.
Every government has a role to play in trying to bring about a just solution and an end to the years of blockade, repression, and violence. By continuing to arm and support Israel, Biden and other governments aren’t just failing to build peace, they are actively working against it.