Where previously the media and the politicians used terms like ‘extremists’, ‘Islamic terrorists and ‘fundamentalists,’ now it is ‘Islamists.’ Anyone with a Muslim background or who, like Jean Charles de Menezes, ‘looks’ like a Muslim is fair game for the new police death squads. Over recent weeks, surveys have shown that two thirds of British Muslims have considered moving out of the country.
Welcome to this civilised country where those suspected of terrorism without any evidence are shot dead in the back, eight times. The police and politicians state that this is only the beginning, and that there will be more shootings. The officer responsible for pumping bullets into the back of an innocent man has been rewarded with a free family holiday. Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair said that over the past few weeks there were 250 cases which could have ended up like that of the hapless Brazilian electrician. There were seven occasions when the police almost opened fire. British minorities, especially Muslims and in particular young men, are now faced with police death squads, who shoot first and ask questions later.
The racist hysteria has resulted in 86 per cent of the population supporting the shoot to kill policy. Fascist organisations like the British National Party and marauding gangs of racists buoyed on by Tony Blair’s speeches, whose anti Muslim venom is only just hidden in words carefully crafted by his army of spin doctors, unleashed a wave of violence that has already resulted in at least one recorded death, that of Kamal Raza Butt, who came as a visitor this country only to end up battered to death in Nottingham. Around 1000 racially motivated incidents have been recorded since 7 July. There has been a 500 per cent increase in these attacks. Gurdwaras as well as mosques have been set alight. Muslim women wearing Hijab have been refused entry onto buses. An Arab woman, whose brother treated many of the London bomb victims, was attacked for singing in Arabic whilst pushing her baby in a pram. Underground carriages have emptied when Asian’s or ‘Muslim looking’ men have got on.
There is much in the racist backlash to the London bombs that has echoes to what happened decades ago in the country. During the 1970s and 1980s Britain was faced with a wave of racist violence. This included racist ‘Paki’ bashing gangs, often of drunken white youth, for whom ‘Paki’ meant any Asian. Many people were murdered, including taxi drivers, students and restaurant workers. Mosques, Gurdwaras and temples were attacked. Fascist organisations like the National Front, often protected by thousands of police officers, tried to march through Asian areas. Asian youth of that period began to organise, and fought back against the racists. In this process they came into conflict with the police.
I was among the many hundreds of youth who organised. I learnt that the reason I was in England was because of a colonial history. That the reason we were poor was not due to religion. That the poverty of my family was born out of the fact that we had been robbed over hundreds of years by British colonialism. That we were here, in the UK, because they were there, in the countries of our origin. We had to learn many lessons not least that we were Asians only in the West. There were no Asian’s in Asia, only people belonging to different nations and countries.
The media then, following the lines thrown down by the politicians, blamed angry young men for fermenting trouble in the community and blamed Asian generally for not ‘integrating’ into the British way of life. During the 1970s and 1980s a whole host of self appointed community leaders, many of whom gave unintelligible statements on behalf of the ‘community’, condemned the extremists particularly amongst the youth. The issue in the 1970s and 1980s was not of integration and it is not one today.
Notwithstanding the garbled apologies of the ‘community leaders’, youth of the 1970s and 1980s pointed out that the issue was racism. We pointed out that ‘integration’ implied there was something inherently wrong with us. But the problem is with the deep rooted racism of British society.
We all lost life
Tony Blair has created an ‘Us and Them’ situation in this country – ‘Us’ being white people and ‘Them’ being ‘Us’ from the rest of the world. But he is doing this through a clear targeting of Islam. Any questioning of his foreign policy he condemns outright. He told a Labour Party meeting on 16 July, ‘It plays on our tolerance and good nature; it exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world …It is founded on a belief, one whose fanaticism is such that it can’t be moderated. It can’t be remedied. It has to be stood up to.’
The British media has been ramming home the linkage between Islam and terrorism. This has been justified by a whole host of self appointed ‘Muslim leaders’ who have been popping up on the television screens and in newspapers apologising on behalf of Muslims for the carnage of London. Luton mosque organised an ‘Islam against terrorism’ conference, other Muslim groups are planning marches and resolutions along the lines of ‘Muslims against terrorism’ or ‘Not in Our Name.’ All of these are implicitly accepting the linkage of Islam as well as Muslims with terrorism, that there are ‘good true’ Muslims and ‘bad Muslims, who are not real Muslims.’ This is feeding directly into the racism of British society and the political agenda of the Labour government.
The apologies of these Muslim ‘leaders’ for what happened in London is like bowing in front of a devil because of the actions of a demon. Barbarism has bread barbarism. Muslims should not apologise as Muslims for what has happened on the streets of London. Religion does not determine any community’s humanity. Any apology implies an acceptance of Blair’s dictum – ‘them and us’. It means, ‘we’ are sorry for the loss of ‘your’ life – when we all lost life.
Lest we forget, if we put all those who died at the hands of those who have been called terrorists by the Anglo-American governments over the last hundred years, they could not match the three million deaths caused by the Americans in Vietnam alone.
Whilst the current wave of racist hysteria and paranoia is set against the background of invasion and occupation of Iraq, the British police have been killing people with impunity in custody since 1969. Since then over 1000 people have been killed in police custody. Some of these have been found by juries to have been unlawfully killed, but no police officer has ever been convicted for any death in custody. This was before the official sanctioning of the shoot to kill policy.
In 1981 I was arrested, along with 11 others, and charged as a terrorist on conspiracy to cause explosions and endanger life. We said we were not terrorists but victims of terror. Many people said the only conspiracy was police conspiracy. At that time people came out in their thousands to defend us. We were all acquitted. Now if people talk in support of those the police declare as terrorists, they can be arrested, and locked up indefinitely without trial and without even the knowledge of the evidence against them – in this very civilised of societies.
Even before the bombs of 7 July, basic human rights in this country were under severe attack. Apart from curtailing human rights in this country, the ‘war on terror’ and in particular the London bombs are being used to delegitimise the just struggles for national liberation across the world. Already over 20 organisations, including Palestinians and Tamils, have been banned. The ‘war on terror’ is being used as a smokescreen to deny people living in this country the right to support struggles for justice. The government is now planning to make it a crime even to support the struggle of Palestinians by making any form of support direct or implied for ‘suicide bombers’ unlawful. But as Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London pointed out, ‘if a young Jewish boy in this country goes and joins the Israeli army, and ends up killing many Palestinians in operations and can come back, that is wholly legitimate, but for a young Muslim boy in this country, who might think: I want to defend my Palestinian brothers and sisters and gets involved, he is branded as a terrorist. And I think it is this that has infected the attitude about how we deal with these problems.’
We now need to stand up to the racist Labour Party and the war mongers. Those who voted for the Labour Party at the last general election, even its anti-war MPs, should re-examine their position. A vote for Labour or Tory, or any party that did not actively oppose the invasion of Iraq, is support for the destruction of Iraq a death of tens and thousands of Iraqis. Iraqi life is no less important that the life of westerners. All people in the UK, irrespective of their religion or background, should demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
Why talk of integrating into the British way of life when it is becoming increasingly unsafe even to walk on the streets? We must not live here in fear. As in the past, people who are attacked have the right to defend themselves. But we cannot do so on our own. Muslims need to organise themselves but also work with others. The lessons of the past are that only by organising together, irrespective of race, colour or religion can we hope to build a better world. This is true today more than ever before.