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16 Years of the War on Terror and Islamophobia Continues to Rise

Islamophobic hate crimes are at unprecedented levels but are continually played down by the state and its officials says Maz Saleem

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"The FLA is trying to portray the entire Muslim community as a terrorist community. When in fact we are the victims of terrorism."


Last weekend saw up to 4,000 racist Islamophobes from the Football Lads Alliance and Democratic Football Lads Alliance march through my hometown of Birmingham, a multi-cultural city that thrives on its diversity. They had predicted 20,000 would attend, so it was a far cry from the numbers they hoped for. Nevertheless, they still marched in their thousands whilst the anti-racists demonstrated in their hundreds.

The numbers of anti-racists was far too small. This is partly due to the confusion as to who the FLA are and what they are all about. They have not been taken seriously enough. A recent article in the Guardian states:

The Football Lads Alliance, the group behind marches against what they call 'Islamist extremists', uses a secret Facebook page full of violent, racist and misogynistic posts, targeting figures such as Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott, as well as playing down the crimes of the Finsbury Park mosque attacker, Darren Osborne.

The group claims to be a movement uniting "the football family against extremism". But the English Defence League (EDL) founder Tommy Robinson joined the FLA march and was live-streaming the events under the title “Football Fans Unite against Islam”.

Robinson and his friends made it clear it was a demonstration against Islam, not "all forms of extremism". The FLA's main speaker was Anne-Marie Waters, who was too racist for UKIP and now leads the far-right For Britain party.

Meanwhile, the DFLA march featured UKIP leader Gerard Batten and was joined by UKIP MEP, Bill Etheridge. This group is launching a series of protests in Telford this week under the slogan "Vote Labour, vote for child rape". Their Facebook event says, "For too long Labour has been selling our children to the sex slave trade for votes. Covering up the despicable gang rape and trafficking of our vulnerable children for votes in their local council elections."

The FLA is trying to portray the entire Muslim community as a terrorist community when in fact we are the victims of terrorism. Look at the recent “Punish a Muslim day" letter and the unprecedented levels of Islamophobic attacks today on UK streets, including my father’s terrorist murder on the streets of Birmingham.

It is coming up to the fifth anniversary of my father’s death next month and we haven’t learned any lessons, especially when Islamophobia is pushed so hard by groups like the FLA and by more mainstream forces. Have we already forgotten Zac Goldsmith’s Islamophobic Mayoral campaigning against Sadiq Khan or the deplorable Islamophobic Brexit campaigning by the Conservative government scapegoating refugees, migrants and Muslims?

Most people in the UK oppose racism and the far-right in Britain is much weaker than other countries across Europe but this could all change if we continue to ignore the FLA and its offshoots. The FLA want a popular PEGIDA-style movement here in the UK. The failure of UKIP is just what they need to build and mobilise on. They continue to use Islamophobia as well as scapegoating refugees and migrants.

Islamophobic hate crimes are at unprecedented levels but are continually played down by the state and its officials.

Last night, myself and National Education Union President Louise Regan paid our respects and met the devastated family of Mariam Moustafa Abdel Salam in Nottingham. The 18-year-old Italian-born student was brutally attacked by a gang of six young women in late February.

Following what the family have said was a racially motivated assault, she went to the hospital but was released a few hours later, despite the gravity of her injuries. Just days later she fell into a coma and died from a cerebral haemorrhage.

There were allegations that Mariam and her sister were called terrorists, bombers and other Islamophobic names by the gang who allegedly attacked her.

The wave of Islamophobia unleashed by the War on Terror is continuing to increase. Each year we remember the victims of 9-11 and quite rightly so. But we must also mourn the often forgotten victims of the Muslim community targeted in the never-ending wars and draconian counter-terrorism policies of the past 9-11 world.

The laws and policies of the War on Terror have created a culture of fear and divisiveness that treats Muslims as the ‘other’. This has got worse under Trump but it’s not something that started with him. The Bush administration built the violent infrastructure of the War on Terror, Obama expanded it and Trump uses Islamophobia on a daily basis to stay in power.

Trump signed two executive orders known as the ‘Muslim Ban’, which banned the issuing of visas to people from seven and later six predominately Muslim majority countries. The orders came amid a surge of hate crimes against Muslims across the world which include the brutal Islamophobic murders of Makram Ali, Muhsin Ahmed and my father Mohammed Saleem on UK streets.

The War on Terror was supposed to make the world a safer place, instead it has scapegoated the entire Muslim community and the rising levels of Islamophobia and racism in this country mean that we have to challenge it every step of the way.

The numbers the FLA gathered were thankfully not what they hoped for but we still we have to realise that these are serious racist mobilisations. It is time we faced facts and recognised that ignoring Islamophobia is costing lives – we must step up our efforts to challenge it in every way possible.

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