Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Hate breeds more hate – that's why we need to stand up to all forms of prejudice

The normalisation of divisive rhetoric has created a world in which everyone's freedom and safety are at risk

Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, has made controversial remarks about Muslims. Oli Scarff / Getty Images
Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, has made controversial remarks about Muslims. Oli Scarff / Getty Images

In recent months, the UK has been consumed by a row over claims the Labour Party is a hotbed of anti-Semitism. The party leadership has been accused of failing to address these ongoing allegations.

The Sunday Times has reported that 863 complaints of anti-Semitism were received against Labour party members and councillors. Critics say that, at best, the party leadership is in denial, and, at worst, is actively stoking prejudice. The matter has now been referred to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to investigate.

Alongside this, the UK’s Conservative party has been facing mounting pressure to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia within its ranks, after more than 200 allegedly Islamophobic incidents. The outgoing prime minister Theresa May has rejected proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia. And despite promises on national TV from five potential Conservative prime ministerial candidates – including the favourite Boris Johnson – to support an inquiry, there has been plenty of mealy-mouthed backpedalling from all of them. In fact, Mr Johnson has been accused of Islamophobia, commenting that Muslim women who wear niqabs looked like bank robbers and letterboxes.

Both the alleged anti-Semitism and Islamophobia under scrutiny in British politics are a reflection of a wider society in which hate crimes, discrimination and incidents of racial and religious violence are on the rise. A UK survey by Opinium published in May found that 71 per cent of people from ethnic minorities say they have faced racial discrimination, compared with 58 per cent in January 2016. Meanwhile, the NSPCC reported that racial abuse and bullying of children had risen by one fifth since 2015-2016.

The normalisation of prejudice stretches far beyond the UK. Last month, the UN secretary general spoke of a visible and violent “tsunami of hatred” gathering speed across the world. US President Donald Trump has long perpetuated the basest and most old-fashioned racism – only this week, he told non-white congresswomen to “go back home”.

Studies clearly show that where there is rising anti-Semitism there is also rising Islamophobia

The rising tide of hatred is not just drowning one group, it is engulfing all of us.

Into the fray in the UK has stepped Trevor Phillips, former chair of the EHRC, with an intervention that can only be described as back-to-front logic. In the Financial Times, Mr Phillips recently wrote that the EHRC should “ignore protests that the Conservative party should also be investigated for Islamophobia”.

His reasoning? That the call for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative party is an attempt to distract attention from the anti-Semitism enquiry and to get the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “off the hook”.

The reason that this is back-to-front logic is obvious: hatreds are connected. Where one hatred is legitimised and rises, the same happens with other prejudices.

Studies clearly show that where there is rising anti-Semitism there is also rising Islamophobia. It’s a longstanding connection. We also know that violent extremists – the vast majority of whom are men – typically have a history of domestic violence against women. The racist alt-right provides an object lesson in how white supremacy and misogyny are intertwined.

A YouGov poll commissioned in the UAE earlier this year looking at national attitudes towards different faith groups demonstrated clearly that the more unfavourably one particular minority faith group is seen in a country, the more unfavourably other minority faith groups are also seen.

Simply put, hate breeds more hate. It sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but as Mr Phillips clearly demonstrates, this fundamental connection is often overlooked.

If we want to tackle the many different varieties of racism and religious prejudice, the first step is to realise that they are all inextricably linked. This means that our understanding of how they operate and the way we tackle them must be wide-ranging and interconnected, too.

As the poet John Donne wrote: “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

Updated: July 18, 2019 06:06 PM

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