Islamophobia is still a problem for us all

    Islamophobia is still a problem for us all

    Back in 1996, the Runnymede Trust established the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (CBMI) and its report, ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’, was published the following year by Home Secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw.

    The report defined Islamophobia as ‘an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.’ It also assessed that anti-Muslim prejudice was growing rapidly, at a rate similar to anti-semitism in 1930’s Europe, so invidious had the problem become. It’s been around for ages, suspicion of different cultures has always been a trait of humankind throughout history and worldwide, but for the UK, the nation which often trumpets its tolerance and inclusivity, to be wrestling with Islamophobia at the turn of the 21st Century is hardly edifying.

    And we aren’t just talking about the skinhead, doc martin wearers who still think we are living in 1980. British Muslims have been excluded from and have struggled to cling onto the margins of public and political debate about their place in modern Britain, and the level of Muslim participation in the far reaching areas of media and football remains woefully low as voices remain unheard. And all too often Muslims are afraid to express their religious beliefs for fear of exclusion from work opportunities.          

    Those fearful of Muslims point to the recent fall of Kabul to the Taliban to highlight cultural differences, and early September turned our thoughts to where we were on the 11th day of the same month 20 years ago, as we watched aghast as the World Trade Centre crumbled before our very eyes. We didn’t really understand the magnitude of the disaster but as more news came in the true horror became clear as 2,753 people died in New York that day. It was a horrific tragedy and a cowardly act of terrorism… but what did it mean to the rest of the world?

    Well, US President George W Bush, declared his ‘War on Terror’ on September 16th and announced that Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden was ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ in true wild west fashion. In those days of high emotion few disagreed with him, but the tone of the narrative was not helpful for Muslims around the globe, as millions continued to live peacefully while seeing their ambitions and rights stifled.

    The 20 year anniversary of the twin tower attacks has been covered widely on western television networks, and exhaustively in the US, where last week British boxer Amir Khan says he was kicked off a flight for no reason, following a row about face coverings. The fighter was trying to fly to a training camp from Colorado to New York, but after someone complained that his friend’s face mask was not high enough the two colleagues were kicked off the flight, leaving Khan disgusted and heartbroken by his alleged treatment, adding the hashtag #notallterrorists. The US, as a self proclaimed world leader in customer service, has work to do; and the airline customer relations team is ‘reaching out to Mr Khan to learn more about his experience.’

    They can reach out all they like, and while we don’t know the full facts of the case, it serves as a reminder that suspicions and tension are never far away.

    And this affects us all. Unconscious bias stifles the job prospects of many Muslims, while, as we at HDN know through our work in board diversity, any organisation in the private or public sector will only thrive the more diverse its board becomes.

    Six per cent of the English population is British Muslim, contributing over £31bn to the UK economy, with spending power of over £20bn while donating over £100m to charity every year, making them the highest giver among all social groups. So why don’t we see a better representation in football and the media? It makes a big difference. Since Liverpool’s signing of Egyptian striker Mo Salah, Islamic hate crime has reduced by 18 per cent across Merseyside.

    Salah is no more ‘one of our own’ than the three million Muslims in the UK…he just scores goals!

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