During a casual conversation inside a store on a swanky shopping street located a short distance from London's fabled Kensington Palace a twenty-something retail clerk said she feels a strange sense of discomfort that she's never felt before in London, the city where this native of Algeria has lived most of her life.
She traces this alienating discomfort to the sharp increase in Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is generally defined as dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims.
This London resident is an identifiable target for Islamophobia because she wears a modest headscarf that is traditional in her culture and religion - Islam. (She does not wear a full-face covering burka.)
For her and others, Islamophobia ranges from disdainful stares and caustic comments to physical assaults. A few assaults have ended in fatalities. And then there are British government policies like 'Prevent' -- the professed counter-terrorism program that seemingly is targeted solely at Muslims. Prevent enlists citizens to report actions and attitudes deemed suspicious.
Vakas Hussain (far left). Seated Suresh Grover of The Monitoring Group (center) and Rotherham 12 defendant Abrar Javid. LBW Photo
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The Muslim community in Britain "has been targeted against the backdrop of hostility buttressed by the War on Terror," stated a report issued by the London-based Institute of Race Relations in 2013. This report warned that racial violence across Britain is not "something consigned to history" citing police force statistics from 2011/2012 documenting over 100 racially or religiously aggravated crimes per day.
Islam is the second largest identified religion in Britain behind Christianity. Half of the twenty communities across Britain with the largest Muslim populations are located in London. Muslims comprised five percent of England's population with the majority having ancestral roots in Pakistan and Bangladesh not Arab countries.
Ugly Islamophobia ran rampant during the recent mayoral election in London that ended with the historic victory of Sadiq Khan, a London born lawyer and liberal Labour Party Member of Parliament who is now the first Muslim to head any major Western capital.
Top members of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, including Prime Minister David Cameron, along with minions in the news media, pointedly painted Khan as a person who eagerly embraced Islamic extremism despite Khan's record of condemning extremism. Khan, during that mayoral campaign, tacked increasingly rightward in advocating militarized responses to terrorism.
Britain's Defense Minister, Michael Fallon defended Conservative Party campaign attacks on Khan as merely the "rough and tumble of elections" during a media interview. Yet the former co-chair of Britain's Conservative Party, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, castigated her party colleagues for unleashing an "appalling dog whistle campaign." Even the sister of Khan's Conservative Party challenger used the word "sad" to describe the tactics utilized during her brother's mayoral campaign.
Much of the news media coverage of Khan's historic election referenced the Islamophobic attacks unleashed on that man whose working-class parents immigrated to London from Pakistan. Yet that coverage omitted wider references about Islamophobia beyond noting pledges of presumptive U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump to bar Muslims, like Khan, from entering the United States. (Trump has flip-flopped saying he would not bar Khan.)
A few weeks before Khan's historic victory, Mubeen Hussain, founding member and spokesperson for the British Muslim Youth Association, criticized Islamophobia during his presentation at a conference on political policing and state racism in the United Kingdom. Hussain said many Muslims are now obscuring their religion to avoid discrimination.
"I have problems with the way the Prevent strategy is deliberately directed against the Muslim community because it links religiosity with extremism," Hussain said during that conference in London.
"This Us versus Them projected in the media feeds a polarization that affects perceptions across society. If things keep going the way they are we will become the society we are trying to prevent."
The Prevent program, according to a British government document, seeks "to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism." That document declares that no evidence exists to support claims that Prevent programs "have been used to spy on communities.
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