British Muslims are being silenced as Israel destroys Gaza

Palestine & Prevent: Justifying the silencing of British Muslims over Israel’s crimes
5 min read

Afroze Fatima Zaidi

07 November, 2023
The British government's conflation of terrorism & Palestine solidarity makes Muslims prime targets of repressive counter-terror policies. Through this, Braverman & her ilk are undemocratically suffocating avenues of dissent, argues Afroze F Zaidi.
In the wake of escalated attacks from Israel on Gaza, what we are witnessing is an association between terrorism and support for Palestine that is both deliberate and thorough, writes Afroze Zaidi. [GETTY]

While Israel continues to carry out a genocide in Gaza, British authorities appear to be doing everything in their power to keep people from calling attention to it.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has labelled demonstrations calling for a ceasefire “hate marches”. Meanwhile, Metropolitan police head Mark Rowley warned that police are going to be “absolutely ruthless” when dealing with pro-Palestine protests specifically.

While this would be concerning in itself, the risk faced by Muslims is amplified when considering that both Braverman and Rowley have made reference to the terror threat level in the UK when discussing support for Palestine.

In the wake of escalated attacks from Israel on Gaza, what we are witnessing is an association between terrorism and support for Palestine that is both deliberate and thorough. And as ever, the brunt of counter-terror surveillance and policing will be borne by Muslims in particular.

Thus we have the creation of a triangle where the Palestinian struggle is linked to terrorism, which is linked to Islamophobia, which in turn links back to Palestine. And so it follows that as long as support for Palestine is conflated with terrorism, any and all crackdowns on such shows of support, despite targeting Muslims disproportionately, are deemed not just legitimate but also necessary.

It began with restrictions on flying the Palestinian flag and arrests of protesters. But anyone familiar with the way policing of dissent works, particularly among minority communities, will know that it doesn’t stop at demonstrations.

In London, police have begun snooping around schools, liaising with school staff for the purpose of “intelligence and information-gathering”. Counter-extremism commissioner Robin Simcox has also said the “scale of Iranian-backed activity in this country and the extent to which Iran attempts to stoke extremism here” had not been fully appreciated.

What this “Iranian-backed activity” looks like is anyone’s guess, and the counter-extremism commissioner is apparently not obliged to provide details or back up his claims. As long as the name of a Muslim country and the word ‘extremism’ appear in the same sentence, British authorities get a free pass to do whatever they claim is necessary in the name of national security.

Of course, police presence in schools comes in addition to calls for neutrality or outright silence from school management staff, as well as the statutory duty of school staff to report suspected extremism.

As Jun Pang from human rights organisation Liberty pointed out: “School should be a place where children and young people are able to express themselves, discuss the difficult issues of the day, seek information, and potentially explore feelings of grief or anger about, for example, what the British government may or may not be doing.

“Increased police patrols and surveillance creates a chilling effect that stops these important conversations from taking place.”

So neither via protests nor in education settings do British Muslims have the freedom to express their political views. And what authorities are failing to consider is that for fear of Muslims veering towards extremism, they are blocking Muslims from voicing legitimate concerns over Israel’s human rights violations, war crimes, and flagrant disregard for international law.

Never mind room for radical social movements that are openly antagonistic towards the state. Muslims, including Muslim children, no longer have the space for even the tamest forms of democratic political expression. Integration is demanded, but on the condition that Muslims abandon all independent thought and become drones who uncritically support the state.

Even before someone can be labelled a ‘terrorist’, the Prevent strategy defines ‘extremism’ as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy [and] the rule of law”. Let’s leave aside for a moment that this doesn’t take into consideration that laws are not always just, and critical engagement with legislation and policy is in fact a foundation of truly democratic political engagement.

But the absolute irony here is that generations of Asian immigrants in particular internalised the idea that colouring within the lines, obeying the rule of law and engaging with electoral politics is the way to advocate for their rights and interests. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the Muslim Council of Britain’s guidance on Palestine.

The reality is that counter-terror measures in the UK thrive within an anomaly where terrorism is called antithetical to democracy while being tackled with over-zealous counter-terror practices which are inherently anti-democratic. These counter-terror practices continue to quash justice-based movements and increasingly suffocate legitimate avenues of dissent.

Moreover, initiatives like Prevent and witch-hunts like the Trojan Horse scandal have only served to alienate Muslims, achieving the opposite of the purported aims of counter-terror bodies. This means such initiatives are failures even on their own terms. But so deep-seated is the anti-Muslim racism of the British state that it will continue pushing these initiatives despite their demonstrable futility.

Without room to speak out and express themselves politically, British Muslims have become effectively voiceless. Moreover, if the British state is suffocating all legitimate, democratic avenues of dissent, we must face the reality that it isn’t a democratic state at all.

And when this suffocation applies disproportionately to black and brown people, it isn’t a stretch to conclude that Britain’s white supremacist colonialism is still thriving, even within its borders. No wonder, then, that it continues to do everything in its power to support Israel’s colonial occupation of Palestine.

Afroze Fatima Zaidi is a writer, editor and journalist. She has a background in academia and writing for online platforms.

Follow her on Twitter: @afrozefz

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.