We should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief after learning that UKIP won zero seats in last week’s general election. Our reaction should have been positive: this should have been the end of UKIP and an indication of a progressive shift in public opinion. Unfortunately, this is not the reality.
In truth, a significant minority of our country remain solely concerned with preventing foreigners from entering the UK, doing away with certain human rights and banning the niqab. It begs the question as to where these people placed their vote and whether we can have any hope in diminishing the alarming rise in Islamophobia in the UK.
It is no secret that since taking office in 2016, Theresa May pandered unashamedly to the far right. Her speeches as Prime Minister propagated immigration myths, belittled the Human Rights Act and echoed the sentiment of tabloid press and social media trolls. It is almost as if her advisors spent a lot of time trying to decipher the public mood and misguidedly relied on the comments section of the Daily Mail website as their source.
May’s desperate attempts to rally UKIP voters to her side were obvious and although her strategy did not work out quite as well as she hoped, it did work nevertheless. She won back the biggest portion of UKIP voters.
Moreover, a deeper cause for concern is the Conservative-DUP alliance. The former leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson stated regarding Muslims, that he “wouldn’t trust them if they are devoted to Sharia Law”. He stated that he didn’t consider not trusting one section of society amounts to a hate crime and that if this was the case, the police should investigate those who say they don’t trust politicians.
Robinson made these remarks while defending Islamophobic comments made by Pastor McConnell. The Pastor declared that he didn’t trust good Muslims and he stated, ‘Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.” The current DUP leader Arlene Foster took over after Robinson and Muslims should be wary of her echoing her former leader’s Islamophobic sentiment.
The fact that the DUP remain to be a political party credible enough to join a Tory alliance, displays how insignificant Robinson’s comments were in the eyes of the general public. This is further proof that we are witnessing Islamophobia becoming progressively mainstream, so much so that Islamophobic remarks carry little or no repercussions. We should dread to think what kind of effect the DUP will have on a political party which is already too receptive to far-right rhetoric.
It is no wonder then that Muslims have largely rejected the Tory party in favour of Labour. Corbyn vowed to fight Islamophobia if Labour took power and he has been outspoken in favour of the Palestinian plight – issues the Tory party have failed to even acknowledge. It brings hope to Muslims therefore, to know that Labour achieved its biggest vote increase in a long time with Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. A man once dismissed as a far-left extremist and continuously vilified by all sections of the media, received 13 million votes. This should translate as a positive message of hope to Muslims – not only that New Labour is dead but that the general public are savvy enough to see right through media distortion.
It is important that Muslims work to maintain this political shift in our favour as there is still a danger of Islamophobia becoming the norm again. The far right and tabloid press have always been anti-Muslim but we know we are truly in trouble when left-wing press such as the Guardian begin to echo the same Islamophobic rhetoric. We must do everything we can to prevent this.
But let us remain optimistic about the Tory-DUP. To demonstrate how Muslims can benefit from having an Islamophobe in power, parallels can be drawn between Tory leadership in the UK and the Republicans in the US. Consider the Hilary Clinton campaign which had showcased seven different Muslims throughout and carried an overall pro-Muslim tone – would this have been the case if Trump had not targeted Muslims so overtly in his campaign? It is doubtful. We know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and the vilification of Muslims will likely ignite a more pronounced expression of support for Muslims from the left. Muslims should be aware of the benefits of oppositional politics and we should absolutely take advantage of this.
Safe in the knowledge that public opinion is steadily shifting further left to counter the rise of the far-right, we must step up our efforts as Muslims to assertively air our grievances and lobby the government to make the changes we need to see. The general public are becoming increasingly aggrieved by Tory policies and there no better time for Muslims to work on creating a unified Muslim voice which makes clear our objectives and concerns. Our aim should be to drag Islamophobia back to where it belongs: the fringes of society. This is a time when optimism and determination are our best weapons and we will no doubt see the fruits of this approach in the near future, inshaAllah.
Juveriah Alam is a full-time mother and a graduate in LLB Law from the University of Central Lancashire. Her interests include politics, current affairs and has a keen interest in Islamic Law.