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By Jason Michael
ON THE COACH TO BELFAST some months ago I had the great misfortune to meet a true anti-Semite. Our departure was at a quarter to four in the morning from Busáras in Dublin and we were the only two passengers. So, naturally, being two fellas waiting on a bus in the middle of the night, we struck up a conversation. The chat at the station was all about Brexit. It was immediately apparent he was in support of Britain leaving the EU, which surprised me somewhat as he had described himself as an “Irish nationalist” – a term broadly identifying someone here in Ireland as Catholic and perhaps Republican. What he actually meant, which I didn’t discover until we were well on the way up the road, was that he was a nationalist – a blood-and-soil ethno-nationalist.
At some point in the journey he tied “the Jews” into his rant about Britain and Ireland’s need to protect themselves from the “globalists” of the European Union. He had a few scoops on him and no doubt this helped loosen his tongue. But the fact he felt the need to incorporate Jews into a discussion on the European project – which he described as a “new imperialism” – peaked my interest. Before this, I will admit, I was hoping he’d shut up and fall asleep, but my morbid curiosity got the better of me the moment his soliloquy took this rather sinister turn. “Don’t you think…” I attempted to interject, before he cut across me and took it upon himself to educate me.
This was a fascinating and deeply worrying experience. This young man, not any older than thirty-five, explained how it is the Jews who are always banging on about equality, migration, and “so-called human rights.” Their goal, he said, was to destroy the white race by “turning it beige.” He was quite emphatic in his insistence that “they aren’t really white, they’re not Caucasian – like us.” The Jews of his imagining were a mongrel race “from Khazaria” engaged in a millennia-old race war with white Christian and European civilisation. By the time he had moved on to the chimneys at Auschwitz being built by the Russians after the war and the constant bumping up of the numbers I was infuriated, and the feelings of hate and pity that swept over me when he got off at Newry were considerable. How, I have been asking myself, has this spiteful bullshit survived into the twenty-first century?
Yesterday, another conspiracist nutjob, the once almost respectable journalist, Gemma O’Doherty, took to Twitter to announce she’s standing for election in the European elections to represent those who do not want Ireland to “become an Islamic state under Sharia law.” Now, to put this slack-jawed jabbering nonsense in perspective, there are over twice as many Protestants living in the twenty-six counties than there are Muslims. We are in more danger of being dominated by the Mother’s Union and forced to eat cucumber sandwiches than we are of being subjected to Sharia, but O’Doherty has of course decided that the real threat to our way of life is from Islam. O’Doherty, I’ll wager a pound to a penny, knows as much about Islam as she knows about Protestantism – nothing. Sure, she’d be able to go full Jayda Fransen and list off a few choice quotes from the Qur’an, but that’s not knowing a religion. The Bible has few humdingers. But we all know what the difference is. We all know why people like Gemma O’Doherty hate Islam – the colour of its adherents’ skin.
Islamophobia, like antisemitism, is a particular brand of racism. Islamophobic hate groups will tell us that it’s about “a religion of hate,” they will wrap it up in an attempt to disguise their racism in layers of pseudo-intellectual codswallop about the Prophet Muhammed being a paedophile, about the Qur’an’s statements on “kuffar (non-believers),” and Islam’s attitude towards women and so on to “Muslim grooming gangs.” They will never see the contradictions. Christian women (nuns and many Middle Eastern Christian women) wear the veil. Christianity has an appalling record on its treatment of women. Popes sanctioned the Crusades and the wholesale slaughter of innocent Muslims in their own homelands. And the Virgin Mary was most definitely underage – by modern standards – when she was married to St. Joseph and fell pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Ancient religions have a lot of baggage, but this often-embarrassing baggage has almost no bearing on how religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews live their lives and practice their faiths in the here and now.
The babble about Islam from these people hides nothing but anti-Muslim racism. Antisemitism, even of the most virulent kind, is real. The poisonous antipathy towards the Jewish people – as a race and as a religion – that led to the pogroms and the Holocaust still exists, but it is not tolerated at all in public life. Quite rightly, antisemitism is called out when and where is raises its obnoxious head in politics, in the media, and in every sphere of public life. So effective has this public resistance to antisemitism become, frustratingly, that, as a spurious accusation, it has become a favoured political weapon for many in the mainstream of British politics.
Such is not the case with Islamophobia. Dressed up as concerned citizens against bad religion – or white men protecting brown women from brown men, Islamophobia has become an acceptable racism. Politicians in the United Kingdom routinely go unchallenged by the media for using anti-Muslim tropes, entire campaigns – like Brexit in 2016 – have utilised Islamophobic ideas, slogans, and imagery, and not a single day passes without the British tabloid media presenting Islam and Muslims in the worst possible light. While there are people raising their objections to this acceptable racism, it is acceptable precisely because it has not been made unacceptable by the most powerful social, political, and media voices. This has resulted in Muslims and Muslim communities – with some of the poorest and most disenfranchised communities in Britain – being isolated, identified as other, and victimised.
It is never good that this happens. There is never a good time for racism. Yet, while scapegoating and racism generally increase during economically tough times, this present assault on Islam and Muslims is happening at the worst possible time. Brexit has emboldened the racist far-right in England, and as the UK spirals out of control, deeper into social and political uncertainty, hate speech and violence directed towards Muslims is rising steeply. The mechanisms of a majority white society, rising poverty and competition between the poorest, and the media’s role in shielding the political establishment and the social elites are conspiring to brew up a calamitous storm against British Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiment is growing over the entirety of the western world, giving Muslims few avenues of escape.
Other than leaving the country in which many of them were born and raised and “going home,” Muslims in England are trapped in a toxic and dangerous environment that is getting worse by the day. The deterioration of a moderate Brexit, and without hope of the revocation of Article 50 or a People’s Vote, is stimulating an acceleration in Britain’s lurch to the right. Right-leaning libertarian political parties like UKIP and the Brexit Party are actively recruiting the alt-right into their ranks, and they are gaining rapidly in the polls. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Britain is fast heading into a far-right authoritarian nightmare – and this is being fuelled by the stoking of the flames of anti-Muslim racism. Given the worst possible conditions – which we appear to be seeing, this might well finish up with pogroms.
We may pretend that this could never happen here, but mass murder was thought out of the question in Srebrenica. The reality is that this can happen here, and it will happen here if we do not find a way of stopping the temperature rising. Already we have reached boiling point. All that is holding the old order in place is the democratic habit of a few generations, but this is eroding. It seems perfectly clear to me that we have reached a critical moment. We have a choice; we can either keep our eyes closed and walk blindly into a hellish nightmare that will blight our society for the rest of history, or we can choose another route. We can choose not to allow this to happen and begin the hard work of cleaning up politics and ensuring every kind of racism is made forever unacceptable.
The truth about hate crime and Brexit
4 thoughts on “Another Srebrenica”
You touch on one of the scariest elements hidden in Brexit.
Once you throw everything up in the air….you can’t control what forces from the wings emerge.
I.e. once the hierarchy change so fundamentally, the previous ‘normal’ is not guaranteed to remain dominant…
No one knows what forces Brexit will release. Heck- every shady element in the UK will be tempted at the potential of those insanely powerful Henry VIII powers…combined with the army already on the streets.
Jason, another scary article that rings with truth. I just hope that you are wrong. But I fear that you are right.
A good piece of writing. jp