Is a reasonable discussion about the Equality and Human Rights Commission and racism in political parties even possible? Honestly, it seems doubtful. The EHRC has been weaponised in the endless battle of ‘your racism is worse than ours’ between the Conservative government, the Labour opposition and their respective supporters. That the commission has investigated Labour for antisemitism but will not investigate the Conservatives for anti-Muslim hate has been used to undermine the antisemitism probe, painting it as part of a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. This is not merely bleak in its own terms. It also makes it harder to raise the question of Conservative Islamophobia and what can be done to tackle it.
On Sunday, 27 May, supporters of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) gathered in the centre of Berlin. Founded in 2013, the AfD has quickly amassed sizeable support. Were an election held today, the party would probably get 14 per cent of the vote. The parallels between the AfD and Ukip – or, rather, Ukip before its sudden, post-Brexit decline – are striking. Like Ukip, the AfD has its roots in nationalist, anti-EU sentiment. It opposes the perceived dominance of Brussels and the bailout of the banks. Like Ukip, it combines social conservatism with more or less explicit xenophobia and racism. Like Ukip, it contains openly fascist elements. And, like Ukip, it draws energy from the sense of abandonment, resentment and despair bred by neoliberalism and austerity.
Like Neal Ascherson, I recently revisited Gdańsk. The last time I was there was in August 1983, three years after the Gdańsk Agreement, the Communist Party’s abortive deal with the Solidarity trade union movement. Protests were expected. I was 19, and still had a few weeks left before university. It seemed sensible to lend a hand. I was detained several times by the ZOMO riot police, and once found myself marching beside Lech Wałęsa. But it was a lull in the action that came to mind most often last week. At one point in 1983, as protesters around me contemptuously tossed złoty coins towards ZOMO officers, a wall of shields advanced and we were all swept into a subway. Smiling nervously at a priest who ended up next to me, I heard him murmur something like a prayer. When I explained that I spoke only English, his eyes widened. ‘England?’ he repeated. Reaching for my wavy black hair, he pressed a curl between his fingers. ‘But you are … nigger?’
After Donald Trump’s travel ban went into effect, Justin Trudeau addressed refugees on Twitter: ‘Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.’ The next day a man opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, murdering six people and injuring 19 just after the evening prayer. According to initial media reports, which later proved mistaken, there were two shooters, one of them Muslim, who allegedly entered the mosque shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ – as if only Muslims could commit this sort of crime. That's presumably why the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, mystifyingly claimed that the Quebec attack justified Trump’s anti-Muslim policies. The Muslim ‘suspect’, it later turned out, was trying to help the victims. The man charged with the crime, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French-Canadian, is a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen. He apparently wanted to signal that, despite Trudeau’s messages, Muslims are as unwelcome in Canada as in the US.
Four armed police officers approached a Muslim woman on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice yesterday and demanded she remove some of her clothes. According to some news reports she was wearing a ‘burkini’, but she was in fact dressed in leggings, a tunic and a headscarf. As newspapers published photographs of the incident, L’Obs ran an interview with another woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Siam. She was asked to remove her headscarf on the beach at Cannes last week. She refused. Some fellow beachgoers took her side, but others shouted ‘go home’. She is a former flight attendant from Toulouse, whose family has been in France for three generations. She said that she had felt humiliated in front of her daughter and family, and described the incident as 'racism, pure and simple’.
In No Name in the Street, James Baldwin describes how, not long after he settled in France in 1948, he ‘had watched the police, one sunny afternoon, beat an old, one-armed Arab peanut vendor senseless in the streets, and I had watched the unconcerned faces of the French on the café terraces, and the congested faces of the Arabs.’ With a ‘generous smile’, Baldwin's friends reassured him that he was different from the Arabs: ‘Le noir américain est très évolué, voyons!’ He found the response perplexing, given what he knew of French views about the United States, so he asked a ‘very cunning question’:
Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for families, children and women’s rights, was asked on Wednesday by the radio station RMC for her views on the recent trend among Western fashion houses to produce clothes, such as the ‘burkini’, aimed at observant Muslim women. She said she thought it was an ‘irresponsible’ decision that encouraged ‘the imprisonment of women’s bodies’. But didn’t some women choose to dress that way? Yes, and ‘there were also American nègres who supported slavery,’ she said.
In 2014, police across England and Wales recorded 26,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument. Yet on Saturday 5 December the Met was quick to announce that a stabbing at Leytonstone Tube station was being treated as a ‘terrorist incident’ because of reports that the culprit had said ‘this is for Syria.’ A bystander told him: ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv.’ The phrase was quickly picked up from mobile video footage of the incident and trended across social media, even being parroted by David Cameron. Muhaydin Shire has been labelled a ‘terrorist’, a ‘jihadi’, ‘no Muslim’, ‘barbaric’. He is accused of attacking not only the people he sent to hospital, but Britain as a whole, in a politically motivated assault on Western freedoms. According to his family, however, Shire was no radical, but a young man with mental health problems, including paranoia.
‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall,’ the deputy High Court judge Richard Mawrey said as he ruled that Lutfur Rahman’s re-election as mayor of Tower Hamlets on 22 May 2014 was void. Mawrey found Rahman guilty of a series of corrupt and illegal practices, including bribery, undue spiritual influence, payment of canvassers and falsely accusing his Labour rival of being a racist.
On 22 October, the French journalist and LGBT activist Caroline Fourest was convicted of slandering a young woman called Rabia Bentot during her weekly slot on France Culture, a public radio station. She has said she will appeal.
‘There are two Trappes,’ Myriam said. ‘There’s the nice bit you’ve seen – with individual houses and gardens – and the bit where we live. If you ever want to come back I can show you around.’ Trappes is a suburban town 30 kilometres west of Paris. Last week, around a hundred women and men marched there in protest against islamophobia. A few days before, a 16-year-old girl wearing a hijab had reportedly been attacked by two men.
In August, Paris is empty. The roads are empty, the metro is empty, a few stoical employees are left to run offices where the phone doesn't ring. Le 15 août, the feast of the assumption, is a national holiday. Journalists worry they will run out of stories. On 5 August, Le Monderevealed that the High Council for Integration had recommended to the Observatory of Secularism that a headscarf ban be extended to French universities, ‘as a result of numerous disputes in all sectors of university life’. Le Figaroreported on its front page three days later that ‘78 per cent of French people oppose the wearing of the veil in university’. Manuel Valls, the interior minister, said that he found the HCI propositions ‘worthy of interest’. But the mission on secularism of the High Council for Integration, created by Nicolas Sarkozy in April 2010, has been dismissed.
On their Twitter stream, the English Defence League announced that they’d be meeting at the Lord of the Moon pub on Whitehall before marching to Downing Street, but the Moon didn’t want them and closed for the day. Instead they gathered at pubs around Trafalgar Square (including Halfway to Heaven: ‘loads of patriots here,’ someone tweeted – did they realise it's a gay bar?). As I passed the Silver Cross on the corner of Whitehall and Craig’s Court, a group of EDL marchers were chanting ‘who are you?’ at a busload of tourists, who were taking photos. Football casuals and hardened racists drank in the sunshine. There were cries of ‘Sieg Heil!’ from the crowd as the police pushed them back onto the pavement.
At the end of last year, Israel’s Ynet News ran an article headlined ‘Hezbollah's cocaine Jihad’. Eldad Beck, reporting from Mexico, described Chiapas as ‘a hub of radical Islamist activity’. The piece was quickly taken up by Pamela Geller and other like-minded commentators.
Arguments about Islam are liable to generate more heat than light wherever they take place, but one of the unlikelier hotspots over the last year was the state of Oklahoma. In 2010, a group of its Republican lawmakers proposed that local courts be forbidden from taking account of the sharia, and 70 per cent of voters backed a draft constitutional amendment to that effect. The law, known to supporters as the ‘Save our State’ amendment, was justified as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ against an imminent ‘onslaught’. Similar initiatives were soon spawning elsewhere, and by late 2011 they had been tabled in 24 legislatures, from Alabama to Wyoming.
Last week Chantal Brunel, the right-wing UMP deputy for Seine-et-Marne, told the press that it was time to stick immigrants back in the boat. She was thinking of the large numbers, mostly Tunisian, who came ashore on the Italian island of Lampedusa in February. But her real worry was the fizzing popularity of the Front National – a champagne bubble bath lovingly filled by the pollsters for the party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, in which she’s continued to bask as the rest of the political class queue up for cold showers.
I was watching The Colbert Report the other night when a picture of my local mosque flashed across the screen. Colbert was covering a story that the Murdoch-owned New York Post had broken a few days earlier: a man had barged into the mosque during a service, cursed at the congregants, pissed on their prayer rugs. 'No one can pray now,' someone had told the paper. 'The rugs are completely soiled. It was disgusting.' So far, so bad. But Colbert (who isn't a journalist) didn't know that the Post journalists (it had taken three of them to file the 168-word story) had got it almost entirely wrong.
In the election in the Netherlands in June, Geert Wilders’s far-right Freedom Party got 15.5 per cent of the total vote – a 10 per cent increase on its showing in 2006. It now has 24 seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament, making Wilders an influential powerbroker. He is a state-of-the-art populist. He doesn’t need to rally a crowd: his incendiary one-liners are disseminated on the internet and recycled by the Dutch media, day after day. Everyone follows his antics, whether or not they agree with his politics. On 11 September he will be in New York protesting against the proposed construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.
Last Monday, the Belgian prime minister handed in his resignation to King Albert II and another Belgian government fell. The cause: the withdrawal of a small Flemish party from the Christian Democrat Yves Leterme’s five-party coalition. New legislative elections have yet to be called but in the meantime Belgian politicians have managed to find something they can all agree on. On Thursday, the lower house of parliament voted almost unanimously (136 deputies out of 138, with two abstentions) to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil, or niqab, in public places. The legislation doesn’t anywhere actually mention the veil – merely forbidding 'all clothing completely or mainly hiding the face' – but no one has suggested that it’s aimed at motorcycle couriers or people whose idea of a good night out is a masked ball.
There's a story in the Times about the far-right islamophobic organisation of British ex-football hooligans who call themselves Casuals United. The piece ticks the box for evenhandedness, ending with a quote from a spokesman for United Against Fascism, though it's not clear why the Casuals deserve a whole page about them in a national 'quality' daily. Online, the piece is illustrated with a portrait of the group's leader in a heroic pose, backlit and shot from below, and a picture of the Casuals marching through Birmingham, confrontational but not – yet – violent.
It's been a slow summer for shark attacks in Florida, so American cable TV news has had to content itself by filling its hours with the 'birther' movement, which is less organic than it sounds: the belief that Barack Obama was not born in the USA, and is therefore ineligible to serve as president. Despite some evidence to the contrary – such as a birth certificate validated by the Republican governor of Hawaii and its Department of Health, as well as birth announcements in two Honolulu newspapers – the birthers have managed, according to the latest poll, to convince a majority of Republicans that Obama is as foreign as his name, and part of some Kenyan (or something) conspiracy to turn the White House red.
The New York Times Book Review prides itself on its objectivity: no known lovers or sworn enemies are allowed to review each other. In actual practice, this means that the author of a novel about getting divorced in Pennsylvania will extravagantly praise the author of a novel about getting divorced in Connecticut. A political ‘moderate’ will air and then dismiss the ideas in a book by a left-winger; a right-winger will express some mild reservations about an ultra-right-winger; and a left-winger will only be asked to review something without contemporary content (e.g. a feminist on the biography of a suffragette). Edited by Sam Tanenhaus (biographer of Whittaker Chambers and, in progress, William F. Buckley), the NYTBR is predictably softcore right-of-centre.