In the wake of Woolwich, the racists are coming to our streets later this month. Yet as ANDREW FISHER reports, even one of Labour’s candidates in the Croydon Central parliamentary selection has accepted the endorsement of an “anti-sharia campaigner”
Croydon is one of the most diverse and integrated boroughs in London, and like many residents I love it for that very reason.
I’m also passionate about opposing those who seek to divide our community for political ends – as some tried to do in the Croydon North by-election last year.
In the last month, the Tory-led government that is dismantling and privatising the NHS has been whipping up fears about foreigners, with propaganda about “health tourism”. The reality is that “foreigners” put far more into the NHS than the 0.01 per cent of resources that they use. Nevertheless, with UKIP daily winning defectors from the Conservative party, this little-Englander xenophobia is effective as a distraction. But it is dangerous for whipping up division.
Our borough and our city have a strong record of rejecting division. The horrific events in Woolwich have failed to ignite the “clash of civilisations” that the English Defence League or British National Party have attempted to make them.
Later this month, on July 27, a splinter group from the EDL called the “English Volunteer Force” will be protesting in Croydon against “Islamification” and “mass immigration”. They will be targeting the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate building at Lunar House and a nearby mosque.
A rainbow coalition of local religious groups, the Labour party, trades unions, the Green party and anti-fascist campaigners are likely to outnumber the racists in a counter-demonstration, and show that our community will not be divided.
The reason for the failure of such groups is perhaps obvious – the vision for England they wish to defend is one that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of English and British people. Strangely, such groups on the far right have more in common with the fanatics they rail against than they do with the mainstream of British opinion. They support political violence, reject an integrated society and share the same perverted analysis of Islam, recognising only the interpretation of a tiny minority of fanatics that are totally divorced from the beliefs of the vast majority of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims.
But such analyses are not limited to the members of the EDL or EVF. There is also a vocal minority of people who wrap their Islamophobia in the veil of secularism and the values of “western civilisation”. Western civilisation, as Gandhi said, “would be a good idea”. But the likes of the EDL claim that Islam is inherently violent, homophobic and sexist.
Of course, there are examples of such behaviour among some Muslims – just as there are among some Christians, Jews and atheists. But to ascribe such sentiments as peculiarly, or even particularly, Islamic is absurd. You may as well judge Christianity by the behaviour of the zealots of the Westboro Baptist Church in the United States. Such shallow analyses – wrapped in the language of academia and enlightenment – are no less poisonous or ill-informed than the rantings of Nick Griffin.
Ogilvy gets backing of “anti-sharia campaigner”
In fact, they can be even more dangerous due to the veneer of liberal credibility. Disappointingly, Catriona Ogilvy, the former Lambeth activist who is a candidate for the Labour selection in Croydon Central, has chosen to have the endorsement of self-styled “anti-sharia campaigner” Anne-Marie Waters on her campaign leaflet.
Waters, wrapping herself in the cloak of liberal secularism, vociferously makes the sort of ridiculous and divisive allegations that you might expect from the far right, including bizarre claims that Islam is “new to Europe”.
As Owen Jones, the Labour activist and Independent columnist, has argued, “Islamophobia is the secularism of fools”, merely a scrubbed-up version of the divisive arguments of the BNP and EDL. Of course Ogilvy herself may not share her supporter’s views, but if she wouldn’t want the endorsement of the EVF, why would the endorsement of someone who holds similar views be acceptable?
Sexism, homophobia and violence all need to be argued against – in all cultures – but essentialising such views to Islam is not only inaccurate, it is unlikely to strengthen those many Muslims who are challenging such views within their faith. Instead it feeds the “clash of civilisations” narrative that the right-wing fanatics of race hate and religious fundamentalism both thrive upon.
Thankfully, the majority of people who live, work and socialise in our increasingly integrated society reject such division.
But bigotry wrapped in the cloak of liberalism is no better than that wrapped in the swastika.
Previous columns by Andrew Fisher:
- Gavin Barwell, benefits and a whole load of old b…
- Racism, immigration, false stats and Councillor Pearson
- Barwell, the “race card” and some uncomfortable facts
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