Britain’s problem with racial slurs

Darren Osbourne, the Finsbury Park mosque attacker, was sentenced to life imprisonment last week; with orders that he serve a minimum of 43 years. This underscores the seriousness of PM Theresa May’s pledge that Islamophobia be recognised as a form of extremism.

Naturally, this is an important if not overdue first step. And, of course, much more needs to be done.

During Osbourne’s trial, certain quarters of Britain’s media sought to paint him as a lone wolf of sorts; an ignorant drunkard from Wales who chose to view all Muslims through the terror prism. And this same media refused to see any link between the north London attack and the right-wing propaganda it orchestrates against Muslims and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europeans.

But the problem of Islamophobia is more widespread than the odd tale of retributive (un)justice. After all, when London Mayor Sadiq Khan gave everyone a heads-up regarding his recent trip to this country — he soon fell foul of Twitter trolls. Many of whom told him to go back and stay where he had come from. While others warned that he would bring back more terrorists with him.

Yet even more alarming are the disclosures by Anas Sarwar, a Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP), who latterly stood for leadership of the Scottish Labour Party (a sub-national section of Jeremy Corbyn’s set-up). Sarwar has recently spoken of how a senior party councillor contended that a “brown, Muslim Paki” would not get his vote. Needless to say, such language is unacceptable and can’t be dismissed as mere ‘pub banter’. Sarwar’s father — better known here in Pakistan for his brief stint as the Governor of the Punjab (2013-2015) — became the first Muslim to serve British Parliament back in 1997. Yet twenty years on the same racial slurs are being used. And then there is the equally abhorrent verbal abuse that Dianne Abbot continues to receive some 30 years after she became the first ever black woman parliamentarian.

And while we support men and women like those mentioned above — we remain mindful that we are speaking as a nation that has no right to call out bigotry unless and until we first get our own house in order. From the shame of forcibly expelling some 2.5 million Afghan refugees to racially profiling and limiting the freedom of movement of Pathans within Pakistan’s borders. To the marginally more insidious:such as the constitutional barring of non-Muslims from holding either the premiership or the presidency. This is to say nothing of the prohibiting of non-Muslims from directly electing their own parliamentary representatives. Or, indeed, the state taking it upon itself to declare the Ahmadi community non-Muslim; which is persecution by every single name.

Thus instead of our political leadership patting themselves heartily on the back for the anticipated second-ever transfer of civilian power — we, as a nation, must commit ourselves to making this a pluralistic and open Pakistan. And we should lobby our parliamentarians to make it so. For unless we are all truly treated as equal citizens — we have no business calling ourselves a democracy.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 7th 2018.