In Our Response to Brussels, We Must Ensure All Communities are Included

As another terrorist attack rocks Europe and in the heart of Brussels, the reality is that Daesh or IS are sending a set of signals to us all. The first is that they can hit back in a European city and create huge fear and apprehension which causes significant ripples and impacts for the life of a major city like Brussels. The second is that by killing fellow citizens, Daesh believes it can split and drive a wedge between communities.

We know that Daesh promote the narrative that Europe does not accept Muslims and according to them, humiliates Islam. It suggests that Muslims should leave Europe for Iraq and Syria and this is a cynical and toxic narrative which ends up with Muslims being used as cheap cannon fodder for this nihilistic group. None of these narratives are true or accurate, yet, anti-Muslim responses to terrorism and the fuelling of it by far right networks who promote anti-Muslim bigotry, play into the hands of Daesh. So, communities as a whole are caught in-between different competing dynamics.

All of us are at risk of terrorism and families have lost loved ones whose lives have simply been taken away in an instant. There are therefore instantaneous impacts on communities, reactions against those communities which share characteristics with the perpetrators and longer term grievances that are created.

For example, after Charlie Hebdo, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby and the Paris terrorist murders, the rise in anti-Muslim hatred was measurable and palpable as we found through the Tell MAMA project that I founded. It was also recorded through police statistics.  What has become clear through the work we do in Tell MAMA, is that terrorism is one of the major drivers of anti-Muslim hatred and with that, such spikes also re-enforce the narrative of Daesh. Terrorism therefore has multiple impacts across the board.

Over the last 2 years, we have seen incident after incident, both at a national and international level that has spiked anti-Muslim hatred and with an increasing amount of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric at a street, political and online level. Anti-Muslim bigotry is particularly problematic as it further alienates a whole group of people, many of whom may be settled citizens in a European country. Such language may not only further alienate the more Conservative elements in Muslim communities, those easily identified as Muslims and who have strong feelings of being marginalised and targeted for prejudice, it also alienates the more liberal parts of Muslim communities. When this takes place, Daesh does not need to throw the net to draw in young disaffected souls, anti-Muslim bigotry simply plays into its hands.

These are difficult elements to comprehend as Daesh strikes again into Europe and into the heart of our communities. The pictures and the anger that follow are understandable and are a natural and normal reaction to the brutal murder of so many innocent people. The response however, needs to steer away from anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric which has become so much of the norm online and in some parts of Europe. This does not mean that people cannot question religion, but much of the anger is not about religious or theological differences, much of the anger is driven by a growing sense of antagonism towards Muslim communities.

Let us also hope that in the coming days, press headlines do not place ‘Muslims’ as the keyword which they know sells papers. By re-enforcing this term in press headlines, the impression given is that ‘they’ (Muslims) are against us (the rest of society). Instead, headlines should re-iterate the collective fight against extremism, Muslim and non-Muslim, black, white and brown. Such subtle changes in language may seem irrelevant, but they have huge impacts on the future security and cohesion within our countries.

Statement by the Director of Faith Matters – Fiyaz Mughal OBE