Why Donald Trump’s Muslim ban is terrifying

On Friday 27th January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order which bans the citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from applying for a visa to enter the United States. The seven countries are: Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The worldwide reaction to this unprecedented policy has been shock and disbelief. Online, the hashtag #MuslimBan has been trending on Twitter, with celebrities, politicians, and citizens voicing their views.

The policy will last for 90 days only until a more permanent solution is imposed. No refugees can enter the US for 120 days and, most shockingly, Syrian refugees are blocked indefinitely from entering the US. The order also prevents those of dual nationality, whose second nationality is from one of the banned countries, from entering the United States.

Following enactment of the policy, Sally Yates, now former Deputy and Acting Attorney General, was dismissed by Trump for standing up against the immigration ban, as she highlighted the fact that the proposals were in fact illegal under international law which states “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law.”

As a result, in airports across the US are in chaos with people who have landed and arrived from one of the affected countries detained for hours and airport staff unclear as to what they should actually do. On Saturday, 109 people across America were detained as they arrived in the US. This included a five-year old child arriving from Iran, and a woman from Iraq who had been granted a green card. Although the policy has been partly blocked by law, it will still go ahead. This will cause undue stress to families who are separated and to those hoping for refuge in the US. Due to mixed communication from the US government the order initially even stopped citizens of the United States who had a green card from entering the country and it is still unsure whether the policy applies to green card holders are now allowed to enter the US.

Tens of thousands of people are protesting at airports across the US and worldwide there has been widespread condemnation from prominent figures. Activist Malala Yousafzai has stated that she is “heartbroken” by the law and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has publicly criticised the policy, stating that the policy “flies in the face of the values of freedom and tolerance.”

London saw thousands of protesters voicing their concerns at a demonstration outside 10 Downing Street on Monday. Another protest in the UK is planned on the 18th of March, on UN Anti-Racism Day. If you would like to take part, visit this link. A petition that has already gathered over 1.5 million signatures calling for PM Theresa May to cancel President Trumps planned state visit has been circulated. Even former president Obama, in a move that is highly unusual for an ex-president to do, has spoken out against the measures.

When signing the order, Trump stated that “We don’t want them [radical Islamic terrorists] here.” And in a statement released later, he wrote “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting, this is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

However, this is stereotyping millions of people. We at JAN Trust condemn such a policy and hope that the will of the people can make President Trump change his mind. Our Prime Minister Teresa May must also make a stand against such a policy that fosters such hatred and islamophobia.

We need Britain to make a stronger stand to show that other nations will not accept turning away refugees and stigmatising Muslims. Many have been sharing statistics which show that an American is far more likely to be shot by another American than killed by Islamic terrorists. It is a racial and religious profiling that stereotypes all Muslims to be potentially dangerous.

This policy is divisive and terrifying. It will lead to more problems rather than less, and has already done so. There has already been a terrorist attack in Canada with the murder of 6 Muslims in a mosque. This is where the irony lies. More American citizens have died at the hands of other American citizens than from a foreign terrorist threat and a policy like will only create further divisions in the US along ethnic lines. The protest on the 18th of March will show that citizens are united against racism and islamophobia.

Posted in Active citizenship, british, Campaigning, Citizenship, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Hate Crime, hijab, Inclusion, International, International Affairs, Islam, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Lobbying, Middle East, Muslim, Politics, Prime Minister, Racism, Society, Terrorism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Muslim women we need to know in 2017

Lina Khalifeh – SheFighter

The first female self-defence studio, called SheFighter, was set up in the in Jordan back in 2012 but has gained a lot of attention in the last year. The group helps to empower women to protect themselves and has proven to be a huge success. Khalifeh has a background in Taekwondo but began the studio after her friend was attacked by her father and brother.

Why she is an inspiration is that helping women to defend themselves is not just a physical act of self-defence  against violence such as honour-based crimes but also a way to give women a sense of empowerment

The studio does not just teach self-defence but is also a safe space where women can speak freely about their experiences. Khalifeh has received threats for this. President Obama described her as a ‘leader of social change’. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experience physical and sexual violence in their lifetime. Her organisation has trained around 12,000 women. Even Emma Watson took a class at a studio to raise awareness about the initiative. You can learn more about her organisation here.

 

Ilhan Omar – Representative

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American legislator in the United States when she was elected to the House of Representatives in Minnesota in the 2016 election. She is also the Director of Policy at the Women Organizing Women Network. Omar was born in Somalia, and left with her family at the age of nine during the Somali civil war, only to spend four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. Once they emigrated to the US, she integrated quickly, learning English in only three months.

Her election garnered worldwide coverage. She stated that her “Victory was for all women who are struggling”. It is all the more inspiring to see an immigrant elected considering the current backdrop of anti-immigrant feeling within the US. In response to the President’s divisive comments on immigrants she has been outspoken, stating that immigrants are what “make America great.”

She makes these comments in defiance, as she herself has experienced Islamophobic attacks whilst in America; the most shocking being in 2014 when she was attacked at a public meeting, leaving her with a concussion and bruises. Most recently she was called ‘ISIS’ and ‘filthy’ whilst in a taxi.

Many are excited to see how she will use her political platform in 2017.

 

Mehreen Baig – Actress

Mehreen Baig was one of the women who joined the BBC’s controversial documentary Muslims Like Us, where ten British Muslims with contrasting views live in a house together. Her views expressed on the programme became very popular, for example she stated that: “When people think of Muslim women, there’s a stereotype of us being repressed and submissive. Someone like me doesn’t come to mind – a normal girl, with a career who watches X Factor and fasts at Ramadan. We are the majority, and unfortunately our voice is unheard. My presence in the show challenges that stereotype. I’m independent and educated, yet my life is very much moulded by my religious values. I’m proof that there can be, and is, a balance between both.” Mehreen’s website is a forum which provides a safe space where Muslim Asian women can share their views on what being Muslim means to them.

 

 

Warsan Shire – Poet

Warsan Shire’s visibility has exploded since being featured on artist Beyoncé’s latest album. She is a Somali-British poet, who won the Young Poet Laureate for London at only twenty-five years old in 2014. She explores many topics in her poetry, from relationships to the place of the migrant within society: the ‘surrealism of everyday immigrant life – one day you are in your country, having fun, drinking mango juice, and the next day you are in the Underground in London and your children are speaking to you in a language you don’t understand’. When her relatives visit, she records their stories so she can accurately portray them within her poetry. She published one collection of poems in 2011, so there is much anticipation for the next collection.

 

Nura Afia – Brand ambassador for CoverGirl

In November, Nura Afia, a Lebanese-American, was chosen to become the brand ambassador for American company CoverGirl. This is a monumental achievement as she is one of the first ever brand ambassadors to wear a hijab. She has a strong social media following. In an interview she stated “A lot of people were intimidated and scared when Trump was elected and the response I saw to the campaign was very positive… everyone is happy that we’re getting represented in a positive way instead of just bad all the time”.

 

The JAN Trust gains inspiration from these women on the public stage who empower themselves through the arts and through politics.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, Campaigning, Citizenship, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, hijab, Inclusion, International Affairs, Muslim, Muslim women, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Honour-based crimes and why they are incompatible with Islam

Honour-based crimes have come to be associated with Islam. The term ‘honour’ refers to the belief that a daughter or wife has brought shame upon the family and surrounding community by committing an “immoral” behaviour. The  horrific nature of this crime still garners much attention from the media -the latest being the murder of a 16-year old girl in Pakistan by her family members after marrying someone her family did not approve of. Another horrific incident in Pakistan occurred in which a man electrocuted his sister to death for marrying someone of her choice. As a result of increasing awareness of the prevalence of these crimes in Pakistan, law was passed against ‘honour killings’ in October but legislative changes are only half the battle, much more has to be done, especially to change attitudes.

In the UK honour killings are particularly shocking, with up to 12 occurring every year. One such case was that of Banaz Mahmod in 2006, who was murdered by her father and uncle for leaving her arranged marriage and beginning a relationship with another man.

As Honour killings largely occur in Muslim countries or within Muslim communtiies this has been misinterpreted to mean that Islam condones such actions. However, n the Quran it states:

Whoever kills a believer intentionally, their reward will be Hell, to abide therein forever, and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon them, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for them.” (4:93).

Clearly it is a misconception that Islam condones honour killings. In Islam the murder of women is not condoned under any circumstance.

In the UK many women are scared to report such instances and when they are reported there is an extremely low rate of prosecution. From 2011 to 2016 there were 7,048 reports made to police of honour-based crimes and just 3% of these actually resulted in charges. This is due to a lack of appropriate support for women in these situations. In fact, in the UK there is no specific legislation against honour-based crime, it can fall under murder, rape and other charges, which arguably fails to recognise the specific nuances of this crime and difficulties that women may face in coming forward or bringing charges.

These crimes are abhorrent and should be recognised in society as a clear abuse of human rights. In order to do this attitudes need to change. The JAN Trust provides training on Honour Based Violence (HBV). If you are interesting in attending or arranging training please contact the trust on info@jantrust.org. Honour-based crimes can also be linked to forced marriages, our website Against Forced Marriages offers support for vulnerable women.

Posted in british, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, forced marriage, Forced Marriages, girls, Hate Crime, Islam, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Real Housewives of ISIS – why the sketch creates a dangerous perception of Muslim women

The BBC has come under fire for one of its programmes, Revolting, airing a sketch called ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’. The programme, which depicts four women who have left the UK to join ISIS, was first published online on BBC3 on 5 January. In the show, the four women, in hijabs, interact and joke about the gifting of suicide vests by their husbands. The two-minute clip has been controversial, with many viewing it as satire while others view it as mocking the plight of women under ISIS.

The sketch portrays Muslim women as having manipulated views of Islam, in which violence, not peace, is the answer. And it creates further division as the women seem to be British citizens and used to live in Britain, implying that Muslim women must all have intolerant views and are not willing to integrate into society. The name of the sketch, ‘Real Housewives of ISIS’ further trivialises the issue, comparing life in Syria and Iraq to popular reality shows.  Some say that the sketch criticises the women who have voluntarily chosen to leave the UK and join ISIS. However, what is not recognised is the plight of women and those who are groomed online to join ISIS and that we must be sympathetic in understanding why these women have decided to join in the first place and try to understand what has been offered to them to convince them to join.

Furthermore, there is the overlooked aspect that many women have been forced against their will to join ISIS, many are emotionally and physically abused, and traded as sex slaves. One of the creators of the programme, Jolyon Rubinstein, stated that the target of the satire was ISIS and that it aims to make viewers aware of the servitude of Muslim women to ISIS: “The target is online grooming, it’s about people who are vulnerable to these kind of approaches.” However, it seems that the aim of the sketch has been lost as it just comes across as offensive to those who have lost family members as a consequence of the strength of online extremist communities.

The fact that the sketch is part of a BBC programme is even more shocking considering that the BBC is funded by the taxpayer and the government, and that it should, in theory, remain balanced. This sketch has created further division and bigotry within British society as some may find it difficult to differentiate between Islamic extremists and moderate Muslims.

At JAN Trust, we aim to help mothers who fear for their children’s safety online with our Web Guardians© project. The project helps mothers to prevent and prevent online radicalisation of their children. Many families have been destroyed by ISIS, the women and men who have joined are victims of a very sophisticated online network that uses lies.. JAN Trust is helping in the struggle against homegrown radicalisation, which is being set back with sketches such as these which further isolates and marginalises Muslim women within British society.

If you are interested in finding out more about Web Guardians© go to http://webguardians.org/.

Posted in Daesh, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, hijab, ISIS, Islam, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Jihadi Brides, Middle East, Muslim, Muslim women, radicalisation, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

JAN Trust’s View on the Integration Report

The Integration Report, released on Thursday by the Integration All Party Parliamentary Group, was based on previous findings of the controversial Casey Review which highlighted worrying levels of segregation in British society.

Alongside its findings, the report includes twelve recommendations on how to improve integration in British society. The first recommendation emphasises integration though education at the community level – supporting  the emancipation of women,  providing them with better employment opportunities and  creating space for socialising opportunities –and  is based on  precisely what JAN Trust has long recognised and has been working towards since 1989, with little government funding. The recommendations were in fact based on a visit Dame Louise Casey took to our centre in 2015; the conclusions she has come to were influenced by talking to us and meeting our beneficiaries and hearing about their experiences and needs.

The need for greater provision of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) lessons as a means of promoting integration and inclusion is particularly highlighted. That speaking the language of a country is a key part of being able to properly integrate, find employment and feel part of the society in which you are in is not a shocking concept, of course.

What is shocking, though, is that the UK budget for ESOL classes has been consistently cut in recent years. The government pledge in January last year to provide £22million for ESOL classes came just months after funding had actually been cut by £45 million. Overall ESOL funding has been slashed by almost 50% since 2009.

At JAN Trust our provision of ESOL classes to vulnerable and marginalised women is based on our   understanding that many women face a combination of barriers, including lack of English, which can create a vicious cycle of low self-confidence, isolation and poor awareness of the options open to them, all of which not only prevent them from being able to integrate and contribute to society but also leave them open to harmful cultural practises such as FGM or domestic violence. We have worked tirelessly with women at the community level to challenge this vicious cycle and promote integration since our inception.

Over the past three decades, we have helped thousands of women to not only improve their English, but to regain their confidence and improve their job prospects, through skills classes. Women such as Sarla, originally from India, who said: “Before, I had no confidence to speak and write English but now I write and I’m using the computer as well. My daughter has bought me a small computer now.” Or Jurgita, originally from Lithuania, who took one of our tailoring courses and now says: “I would like to do something more with these new skills I have gained – maybe open my own business or get a job.”

Our classes not only enable women on a personal level to further their careers and gain skills. They also support social inclusion in a supportive atmosphere and sense of empowerment that can even help women to prevent domestic violence, forced marriage, FGM and radicalisation, all of which are among the government’s top priorities.

Our Web Guardians© course, pioneered in 2010, provides a further help for mothers, with education in using the internet, understanding online dangers, including radicalisation, and gives them the ability to protect their children. It is the only course of its kind in the UK.

Just some of the feedback we have received from our Web Guardian© programme is:

“I found this course excellent and it should be given to all mothers.”

“There’s no other programme like this.”

“You have really made me aware of the internet and its dangers.”

While long overdue, we hope the findings and recommendations from this report show that the government is finally ready to take steps that allow everyone to integrate and contribute to our society, and we hope that as a vital resource in this process, JAN Trust will be will be one of the recipients of the funding to enable us to continue our increasingly important work in local communities. We have decades of expertise in this area and, ultimately, make a real difference to the society that we all live in.

If you are interested in finding out more about the services we offer, visit http://jantrust.org/projects

Posted in Active citizenship, Education, Ethnic Minorities, Forced Marriages, Inclusion, Islam, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Radicalisaton, Representation, Society, Violence Against Women, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Mothers fighting radicalisation

Just before Christmas, we completed a number of our Web Guardians© programme across the UK educating Muslim mothers about extremism and the dangers of the Internet. Our aim in the Web Guardians© programme is to empower mothers to prevent radicalisation and online radicalisation in their own families and communities.

We’re happy to say, yet again, that the programme throughout the country was a great success! Each week we had a fantastic turnout, and we watched with pride as the mums became more engaged in the discussion week-on-week.

Many spoke of concerns about their children ranging from the internet, through to bullying, through to Islamophobia. This was their safe space where they could speak up and receive not only help from JAN Trust, but the understanding and empathy from mothers in similar situations.

Getting used to this open conversation is key to our battle in fighting extremism before it takes hold. If children do not feel as though they can air their views openly to their mothers, they may feel isolated and confused, leaving them prey to online radicalisation.

Below is a selection of the great quotes the mothers came up with:

“The teaching of Islam is beautiful. If there is unity in the house with the children, then after they die this unity will continue.”

“If you think killing one person will take you to paradise, you’re not just killing one – you’re killing their family and everyone they leave behind. This isn’t from Paradise.”

“I will teach my children the true teachings of Islam and of Jihad – and what that actually means.”

Inspirational words! We’re excited to pick up in 2017 where we left off in 2016 – encouraging dialogue, raising awareness about the dangers of extremism and empowering mothers to spread counter messages of hope and peace within their communities.

To find out more about our Web Guardians© programme, please visit our website: http://webguardians.org/

Posted in Daesh, Diversity, Education, Erbil, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Far right, ISIS, Jan Trust, Muslim women, Radicalisaton, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized, Web Guardians, women | Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Women of Daesh

Even though the volume of people leaving Europe to join Daesh in Syria and Iraq has fallen,the proportion of these who are women is rising – very dramatically in France. Their online recruitment activity still presents a very real danger here in the UK and reinforces the need for preventative work.

This is why JAN Trust holds regular workshops to enable women to detect the early signs of radicalisation in their families and communities. Our Web Guardians© programme has helped women to push back against extremist messaging and confound Daesh recruiting efforts.

It’s difficult to imagine why any women would be convinced to join the terrorists. They have enslaved, raped and murdered women in the territory they seized from Iraq and Syria. The role they designate for women who travel to join them is as domestic slaves “secluded” from view. Worse, women and girls who have ended up in Daesh territory now find themselves being forced to fight to the death as the territory under Daesh control crumbles away.

Yet, there are women who are prepared to either leave for Syria or contemplate attacks in the west. Why is this? One reason is that the terrorists have sold a lie of empowerment. They present being a terrorist as some kind of liberation. The reality couldn’t be more different. This is a terror gang that treats women in a barbaric way. Beaten for infringing Daesh dress codes, stoned on charges of adultery or murdered for raising their voice.

Another reason women might consider joining Daesh is the myth of a tightly knit sisterhood. Glasgow born Aqsa Mahmood left for Syria and used Tumblr to present life with Daesh as something resembling a summer camp. The reality of what was going on was betrayed in letter posts where she gloried in the murder of Britons and fellow Muslims. As her own parents noted, Aqsa Mahmood had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Daesh preys upon vulnerable people through deceptive and manipulative language. It’s important to take measures to prevent this, reaching out to marginalised groups and spreading awareness of the reality behind the rhetoric of extremism and supporting people in identifying the process of radicalisation.

We owe it to every women and girl at risk of succumbing to Daesh to give them all the protection we can. By being super-informed about the threat from the terrorists, we can tackle them effectively. Knowledge if power. The more you know, the better able you are to answer questions from somebody who is in the process of being manipulated by Daesh.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

The Louise Casey review: JAN Trust’s Response

A report reviewing integration of ethnic minority communities in the U.K., authored by Dame Louise Casey, was published this week. The report concluded that local communities were becoming divided and minority communities were increasingly segregated from wider social life.
This report identified the vital need for greater ESOL provision for minority communities, a recommendation which The JAN Trust has been at the forefront of advocating for.

The pledge to improve English language provision by appropriately prioritising the adult skills budget is a proposal which we at JAN Trust welcome. We have seen the positive effects of investing in language provision at first hand as a result of our free ESOL classes for marginalised women in the local area.

JAN Trust formed in 1989, providing a range of classes for minority ethnic women and addressing the issues affecting them by creating a safe environment where service users can voice their concerns freely and openly. From its inception, JAN Trust has recognised that lack of language skills can lead to low self-confidence and isolation, and we have worked tirelessly to challenge this vicious cycle. This has resulted in scores of success stories. We have seen women evolve from isolated individuals with no confidence, to empowered women armed with qualifications, moving on to successful careers or further study. A small investment in classes for the community can reap considerable rewards.

As one JAN Trust user commented:

A big thank you to JAN Trust who has helped me gain new skills and confidence. They supported me in opening my own fashion business which is proving to be successful. JAN Trust has inspired me to continue with my business and support my family out of poverty.”

ESOL provision and skills classes run in the community do not merely work to support women’s social and professional development, they also facilitate women’s access to support in cases of domestic violence and other forms of abuse, such as forced marriage. Casey highlighted the fact that a lack of English language skills was “hampering understanding of rights and services available and the ability of service users to respond,” as well as a widespread sense of social isolation acting to prevent women suffering from abuse from seeking help. The report identified that in the case of a reliance on a husband’s English language skills, it is made almost impossible for women to escape abusive situations. The JAN Trust recognises these issues, and the fact that in these situations, the classes that we run are not merely empowering for the women; they can make the difference between life and death. We have evolved as an organisation to address the issues which affect our service users through campaigning work, but also work at the grassroots to create an environment where cases of abuse can be raised and addressed.

The issue of Islamophobia is similarly an issue highlighted by Casey as one of serious concern which is disproportionately targeted at women. JAN Trust raises awareness of this issue both locally and nationally. We encourage our service users to report instances of hate crime and racist abuse and support them through this process. The potential for community groups to create a supportive, secure environment for these issues to be adequately addressed, as well as providing the language skills necessary for engagement with police and other services, is critical in tackling Islamophobia. JAN Trust is proud to set an example as a leading community group which takes its wider responsibilities seriously.

In the report, Casey rightfully decries the efforts of far right and Islamic extremists to attempt to show Islam and modern Britain as incompatible as ‘wrong.’ But it’s also up to British society to make a concerted effort to demonstrate this – by investing in the skills and services which will enable minority ethnic communities to become involved in wider society and address the challenges they face. JAN Trust takes its responsibility to do precisely this very seriously. We hope that our organisation will be one of the recipients of the increase to ESOL funding, enabling us to reach out and support even more women in the communities we serve – preventing the segregation the report highlights as such a damaging force in modern British society.

Posted in Citizenship, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Muslim, Muslim women, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Resistance to Extremism Starts at Home

In October 2013, five young men fled the UK to go to Syria to fight for the Islamic State. The boys were recruited online through manipulative use of social media and well-produced recruitment videos. They were caught on CCTV whilst boarding a flight to Turkey on the onward route into Syria, where they planned to fight for ISIS.
Not one returned, as they were killed in fighting and captivity. Each of the boys was a son, a grandson, a brother, a member of their community.
JAN Trust understands that this is a real issue that affects real communities. It affects real families. That is why we work with Muslim mothers, holding regular workshops to prevent radicalisation through our Web Guardians© programme. We are over half way through our programme with this group of women, where we have worked to equip them with the skills and confidence to prevent radicalisation in their families and communities and to empower them to act for change.
The critical nature of this work was drawn sharply to our attention by one of the women in the room, who bravely told us her story. In her native Bengali, she recounted her own proximity to extremism and to the group of boys who fled for Syria.
“My grandson, he was one. He was 24.”
Through tears, she told us how her young grandson had left the UK to join ISIS. He had told the family that he was going for a job interview in order to obtain a passport. She told us how they had felt pleased, happy that their son would finally break free from the unemployment trap so widespread today.
They assumed his rapid behavioural changes were good things. He started attending religious meetings, showing more interest in Islam, dressing piously, staying up late at night and spending hours online. Much of this new devotion was hidden from his family, and he changed his group of friends. In actuality he was being brainwashed indoctrinated into an extremist mind-set. The family only discovered what this meant when one day, he left for Syria. Five families were destroyed. This grandmother spoke of the shame faced by her family in the aftermath, and the fear instilled in the community.
In a steadier voice, the grandmother then spoke up about how important it was to not shy away from this sad reality; “I don’t want to hide from it. You can prevent it from happening; we need to talk about it.” JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme is an innovative way of working in communities like this, where families are being directly affected by extremism, and areas are losing their young people to ISIS. As one of the mothers told us, Web Guardians© is needed “to protect our children.”
To support our work, please visit http://jantrust.org/about-us/support-us, and follow us on twitter or Facebook

Posted in Daesh, Education, Extremism, ISIS, Jan Trust, Radicalisaton, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s talk about the far-right.

“Britain first, Britain will always be first” and “I am a political activist,” are the words which burst forth from Thomas Mair’s mouth as he stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox; a humanitarian, campaigner and mother of two children, to death in the street in Birstall, West Yorkshire.

These words make unequivocally clear what was initially under debate when the story first emerged in the midst of a referendum campaign fraught with emotive political mud-slinging, fallacious information and rampant racism: that Thomas Mair was a political actor, and his act of murder was underpinned by far-right ideology. It is this week, as the case comes to trial, that the significance of these words has finally been registered.

The fact that the political impetus which prompted this attack was initially under question is an indicator of both the mainstream media’s determination to adhere to a narrative that political terrorism can only be committed by minority groups, particularly Muslims, and its utter failure to register the political forces at play beyond the elite metropolitan epicentre.

I’ll start with the first point – the perpetuation of the narrative that terrorism is a ‘Muslim’ problem. The initial discourse surrounding Jo Cox’s murder, that Thomas Mair was a ‘loner,’ with a ‘history of mental illness,’ utterly erases the existence of far-right nationalist ideology which, like any form of extremism, can be utilised to justify acts of murder as serving a ‘higher’ social purpose.

Of course, it is likely that Thomas Mair did suffer from significant mental health problems, and in many ways he is a pitiable figure who was radicalised by ideologies of hate and fear of the other. This is no different from many perpetrators of Islamic terrorism, many of whom have had a history of mental illness (Mohamed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel, the man behind last year’s Nice attacks, and Michael Adebowale, one of the murderers of soldier Lee Rigby are two such examples). Yet in the reportage of the latter two events, the role of Islamic extremism was foregrounded from the beginning. By contrast, in the crucial first stories which covered Jo Cox’s murder, Thomas Mair was described as “quiet, polite and reserved” and “not a violent man.” Through this display of compassion and understanding towards white violent extremists, whilst their Muslim counterparts are portrayed as monsters, the media further entrenches cultural stereotypes in the Western world that terrorism is a uniquely ‘Islamic’ problem, othering Islamic culture as inherently dangerous. By offloading the very real issue at play – that extremist narratives are increasingly gaining traction – as a ‘foreign’ culture’s problem, the media fails to recognise the grave threat which is posed by far-right and white nationalist movements, which in turn prevents serious, concerted efforts to challenge and prevent their rise in power.

The second issue, that the media’s temperature check on what’s going on in British society is skewed due to its proverbial eyes being turned inwards towards social life in the capital, is one which I registered immediately, reading the breaking news story in an office in central London as a northerner in exile. The fact that Jo Cox hailed from a socially deprived, post-industrial town in West Yorkshire meant that she was undoubtedly aware of the profound impact that the xenophobic, anti-immigrant messages have had amongst communities which have been economically starved by neoliberalism and the decline of manufacturing. Groups such as the EDL, the BNP and Britain First, far too often dismissed scathingly as objects of ridicule by commentators based in the capital, have made huge gains in these areas. Educated, economically privileged and London-centric groups which dominate the media and politics fail to recognise the terrible ramifications of their casual scapegoating of immigrants to explain the punishing effects of an austerity programme which has ripped apart communities in the regional north. It happened with Brexit, and the horrifying wave of hate crimes which followed, and it happened here – with Jo Cox’s tragic murder. This rhetoric is not simply political theatre; it panders to and strengthens the far right.

Aside from the terrible fact that Jo Cox’s family and friends have been deprived forever of someone they love, there is profound tragedy to be found in the fact that Jo Cox probably understood more than many of her fellow MPs in Westminster the social forces at play in post-industrial towns like Birstall which have bestowed ideologies of hate and extremism with the power they seek. If we want to remember Jo, and the messages of hope and love she articulated throughout her life, then we must take the threat of the far right seriously. This begins by taking preventative steps.

At JAN Trust, we work with mothers and in schools to educate, inform and prevent extremism – whether this is from far-right movements or from Islamic extremism. We acknowledge and understand the danger of extremist language wherever it appears, and in whatever shape it assumes, and we work hard to prevent it from taking hold – so that we might prevent future tragedies.

Posted in Far right, Politics | Tagged , , , , , ,