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The anti-Muslim rhetoric of rightwing politicians is fuelling hate crime – I’ve experienced it myself

<span>‘Lee Anderson’s claims on GB News that London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan, are under the control of ‘Islamists’ will do lasting damage.’ </span><span>Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters</span>
‘Lee Anderson’s claims on GB News that London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan, are under the control of ‘Islamists’ will do lasting damage.’ Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

“Get out of our country, you fucking Muslim. Go back to Palestine. You deserve to be killed, and all your children,” were the words a man hurled at me as he threw a glass bottle in my direction. He just missed me and threw his fists in the air as I hurried into Piccadilly Circus underground station. When I got home, I hugged my kids tightly. With the heartbreaking loss experienced by parents in Gaza at the front of my mind, it was difficult to hold back the tears. This disturbing incident, occurring just three weeks into the Israel-Gaza conflict, was sadly not an isolated one.

Last week, Tell Mama, an organisation monitoring anti-Muslim hate, found that hate crimes against Muslims had risen by 335% since 7 October. In more than 65% of cases, women were the target of such attacks. It is therefore deeply troubling to witness public figures spout anti-Muslim rhetoric. The Conservative MP Lee Anderson may have had the whip removed, but his claims on GB News that London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan, are under the control of “Islamists” will do lasting damage. Meanwhile, in a column in the Telegraph last week, the former home secretary Suella Braverman asserted that “Islamists are bullying Britain into submission” and that the influence of “Islamist cranks and leftwing extremists” can be found “in our judiciary, our legal profession and our universities”. This kind of rhetoric – which characterises pro-Palestine protesters like me as shady yet powerful “Islamists” – only serves to fuel further hatred against Muslims.

This is not the first time Braverman has espoused such sentiments: her history of anti-Muslim remarks demonstrates a dangerous pattern. When incidents of Qur’an burning and desecration emerged last year, including the tearing of a copy at a school in Yorkshire, she took to the pages of the Times to assert: “We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion.” In October last year, Braverman labelled legitimate protests against the killing of civilians in Gaza as “hate marches”. This kind of rhetoric risks putting a target on the back of the thousands of Muslim protesters. Braverman even went as far as accusing senior police officers of “playing favourites” and described pro-Palestine protesters as “mobs” when she wanted the protests to stop on Armistice Day. Her words served to embolden far-right groups, who caused significant disruptions by targeting protesters with chants such as “We want our country back” and “England till I die”.

It’s clear that Braverman’s comments speak to a rightwing panic over the pro-Palestine marches – many see them as a symbol of uncontrolled immigration and the growing presence of Muslims in society. But it isn’t just Muslims who are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The demands are coming from a wide spectrum of society, including those of Jewish, Christian, Hindu and various other faiths, as well as those with no religious affiliation at all. In the latest polling, 66% of the UK population want an immediate ceasefire.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has real-life consequences that have a genuine impact on British Muslims like me. I recently spoke at a Muslim primary school in London that had received a threat targeting children and staff of the school – the person who issued the threat referenced Israel’s war on Gaza as justification. Yet this incident received coverage in only a few media outlets, and there was a notable absence of any expression of support from the government. Some Muslim women have told me they feel more fearful when going out in Islamic dress due to having been attacked in broad daylight – and hold the government and some media organisations to blame for stoking division and hate.

Words wield immense power – and rightwing politicians are using them cleverly to cater to and whip up their audience. But we need compassion instead – and a willingness to confront Islamophobia head on. Politicians must prioritise inclusive language and policies that promote unity rather than division. The government should take concrete steps to address Islamophobia instead of dismissing its existence, including providing support for victims of Islamophobic hate crimes. It’s imperative that we collectively work towards creating a society where all individuals are valued and respected, regardless of their faith or background. I for one cannot forget that true strength lies in our ability to embrace diversity and stand against hatred in all its forms.

  • Tasnim Nazeer is a journalist and freelance TV reporter. She is a Universal Peace Federation ambassador for peace

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