Commentary Magazine


No “Islamophobia”

For years now, pundits, journalists, and community leaders have warned against the rise of so-called “Islamophobia” in Great Britain. Given the presence and increasing visibility of homegrown radical Islam, it would not be surprising to discover that the British public is growing fearful of the Muslim minority in its midst. After all, race attacks against Asians—British Muslims are overwhelmingly from the subcontinent—were reported to have increased exponentially after the 2005 July bombings in Central London.

There have been plenty of triggers for an anti-Muslim backlash in Britain. Britain is home to some of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations,such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The country gave shelter to radical self-styled Imams, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the leader of now-disbanded al Muhajiroun. And Britain was the scene of the first European instance of homegrown Islamist mass-murderous terrorism. It has since witnessed more outrages, like the failed plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, and the recent failed Glasgow and London attacks. When the Muhammad cartoon censorship campaign began, Londoners witnessed angry mobs agitate in the streets of their capital, calling for the beheading of anyone who insulted Islam. As for foreign policy, Britain went to war against two Muslim regimes in the last five years—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq—and was accused of refraining from saving Muslims from ethnic cleansing in the early 1990’s.

It is plausible to assume that, against this background, a significant portion of Britons may feel—unexcusably, to be sure—that Muslims can be suspected of dual loyalties, and that their identity is irreconcilable with being British. And it may be equally plausible that some Muslims genuinely will feel conflicted about their loyalties—especially when part of the British-Muslim elites encourage this linkage in their rhetoric, accusing foreign policy of being the root cause of extremism.

A recent poll now offers us a new perspective on this issue. The good news is that, according to the Harris Interactive/Financial Times survey, the majority of Britons—59 percent—thinks that “it is possible to be both a Muslim and a Briton.” The bad news is that 29 percent disagrees. Still, given the circumstances, one can interpret these data to mean that Britain remains, overall, tolerant. Of Muslims, that is. But when asked to respond to a similar proposition about Jews in a recent Anti-Defamation League sponsored poll (“Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Britain”), 50 percent of Britons answered yes.

This is strange, to say the least. Jews have had no problem integrating in the UK. As for Israel, its sound and solid relation with Great Britain derives from a commonality of interests and values. Jewish extremists have not blown themselves up in the London tube. They do not advocate the establishment of a global Jewish theocracy to dominate the world—as Hizb-ut-Tahrir does—and when they get angry or offended at depictions of their beliefs and habits, Jews will at most write angry emails and letters to the editors, not call for the beheading of those who insult Judaism. Nevertheless, half of England doubts their loyalty.

British attitudes to Muslims could, and should, be better. But it is British attitudes towards Jews that truly expose intolerance.