Standing together against what divides us

Sunday 23/07/2017

I attended London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Trafalgar Square Eid event on July 2. It was a gathering of thousands of people of all faiths to celebrate Eid al-Fitr but it was also about something else after the events of the past few weeks.

Khan told the audience: “There are some people who want to divide our communities; there are some people who want to fuel division.” Then he asked: “Are we going to let them?”

“No,” was the resounding reply.

Two weeks earlier, I attended a More in Common event: A multifaith iftar in south London that brought British Muslims and people of other faiths or no faith together to break the Ramadan fast. The event was designed to honour the legacy of assassinated Member of Parliament Jo Cox and to reflect on what joins us together rather than forces us apart.

Cox, a Labour Party MP for Batley and Spen, died a year ago after being shot and stabbed mul­tiple times by far-right extremist Thomas Muir.

Next to the iftar event was a small carnival with bands and people enjoying a beautiful summer evening. A few revellers popped into the iftar event to eat and chat. Conversations were had and people hugged as they made their way home.

A few hours later somebody broke the bonds of solidarity and citizenship that had been on display and drove a van into a crowd of people near the Finsbury Park mosque in London, killing one person and maiming other worshippers after prayers.

The suspect, who has been charged with terrorism-related murder, was reportedly heard say­ing: “I want to kill all Muslims.”

Across the Atlantic, Nabra Hus­sein, a 17-year-old girl was killed in the US state of Virginia. Little is known of the reason for this at­tack but the victim’s mother said: “I think it had to do with the way she was dressed and the fact that she’s Muslim.”

These incidents are not con­nected in any coordinated way but are the result of the barbaric ter­rorism of Islamic State (ISIS) and the rhetoric of hate from far-right commentators and politicians.

Groups such as ISIS want to create a war between Muslims and non-Muslims. When they attack a pop concert and kill teenagers it’s because they detest the thought of people enjoying themselves in what they would call a decadent and un-Islamic manner.

The attacks in London, Paris and Manchester were meant to incite non-Muslims to demand action against Muslims and ultimately engage in acts of ter­ror against them. Of course, ISIS hopes that Muslims will see the error of their ways and run into the waiting arms of the caliphate. For ISIS, the death of a 17-year-old Muslim girl or a worshipper after Taraweeh prayers is something to be welcomed as much as the death of those the militants call crusad­ers.

Politicians and commentators from the right seem content to ratchet up the rhetoric against all Muslims. Playing exactly into the ISIS game book, they accuse Muslims of not doing enough to denounce acts of terror and of fail­ing to cooperate with authorities to root out the terrorists who, it is claimed, live among them freely and with their acceptance.

The vacuum that exists because of a lack of knowledge about peo­ple of faith, particularly Muslims, in the West allows such simplistic thoughts to be peddled. When they are mixed with a right-wing political and news agenda, these thoughts do the job that ISIS wants.

The rhetoric is nothing new. In 2011, former British government minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi claimed that anti-Muslim hatred had become Britain’s last socially acceptable form of bigotry and that prejudice against Muslims had “passed the dinner table test.”

Islamophobic attacks on peo­ple and buildings have risen in Britain and in the United States, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said. Acts of van­dalism, violence and aggression towards mosques have doubled compared to 2016.

Poignantly, just 48 hours before the attack near Finsbury Park mosque, its general-secretary, Mohammed Kozbar, made an im­passioned plea for people to work together to stop atrocities such as the assassination of Cox and re­cent ISIS attacks in Britain. At the More in Common event, he said: “Both extremists do not represent us, do not represent our commu­nities, do not represent our faiths. They are a tiny minority, a bunch of murderers who only represent hatred, division and racism.”

Now he and his congregation are dealing with the consequences of division. Perhaps the rationale behind the More in Common ini­tiative and the mayor of London’s Eid celebrations are more impor­tant for everyone to heed. Let us not give ISIS the division that it craves so much.