‘You see a peak in violence straight after an Islamophobic statement’
Fear and hatred of Muslims are rising rapidly to the surface in the United Kingdom, Assistant Professor Tahir Abbas writes in his new book. British politicians and journalists play an insidious role in this, he says.
In your book Islamophobia and Radicalisation, you write about Islamophobia in the Western world. Do you think it has increased in recent years?
‘Yes, I think it has. There have always been far-right ideologies, but it has been a long time since these have taken up as much space as they do today. It feels as though we’re living in a poisonous environment in which the extremists have taken over. The centre ground seems to be disappearing, when this is what has traditionally held us together.’
It says on the back of your book that Islamophobia and radicalisation are caught in a vicious circle. Can you explain how?
‘Immediately after an Islamophobic statement by a politician or other leader, you see a peak in violence. That was the case when Boris Johnson compared women who wear the burka with letterboxes in August 2018. The number of anti-Muslim incidents rose by 375% in the week that followed. However, it also increases the likelihood of violent reactions from the Muslim community. Islamophobia and radicalisation thus feed each other’s hate.’
A sizeable part of your book is about Great Britain. Why?
‘I was born there, as a third-generation immigrant with Kashmiri roots. In the foreword, I link my personal background to the history of Islamophobia and radicalisation. My father, who’s now 81, recently told me that Great Britain was a much better place 50 years ago. People were friendly. They brought you to the bus if you didn’t know the way. A certain curiosity about the other seems to have been replaced by fear.’
What is the cause of the increasing Islamophobia?
‘I think that economic changes are an important underlying cause. Over the last decades, British governments have dismantled a significant part of the welfare state and given the market plenty of room instead. This has led to more competition and less solidarity between people. The economic divisions lead to social divisions, which then feed into theories about the white population being replaced by immigrants and minorities – as if there had never been mixing between the civilisations and their peoples over the millennia’.
You say that the British press also plays an insidious role in this process. Could you tell us a bit more?
‘In the run up to the Brexit referendum and afterwards, the tabloids released numerous fabricated, manipulated and repeated lies into the world. They churned out stories demonising minorities, EU leaders and immigrants, and the Daily Mail even called the British judges whose ruling would make Brexit more difficult, “Enemies of the People.” But what many people don’t know is that these papers are owned by billionaires who have their own interests in Brexit. They will probably pay even less tax once Britain has left the EU.’