Anti-Muslim rhetoric from right-wing politicians fuels hate crimes – I’ve experienced it myself | Tasnim Nazeer

“Gand out of our country, you fucking Muslim. Return to Palestine. You deserve to be killed, along with all your children,” were the words a man shouted at me as he threw a glass bottle in my direction. He narrowly missed me and pumped his fists in the air as I rushed towards Piccadilly Circus tube station. When I got home, I hugged my children. With the heartbreaking loss experienced by Gaza’s parents in mind, it was difficult to hold back my tears. This worrying incident, which occurred just three weeks after the start of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, was unfortunately not isolated.

Last week, Tell Mama, an organization that monitors anti-Muslim hatred, found that hate crimes against Muslims had increased by 335% since October 7. In more than 65% of cases, women were the targets of such attacks. It is therefore deeply disturbing to see public figures spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric. Tory MP Lee Anderson may have lost his whip, but his claims on GB News that London and its mayor, Sadiq Khan, are under the control of “Islamists” will cause lasting damage. Meanwhile, in a column in the Telegraph last week, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman claimed that “Islamists are forcing Britain into submission” and that the influence of “eccentric Islamists and left-wing extremists” was found “in our justice system, our legal profession and our universities”. This kind of rhetoric – which labels pro-Palestinian protesters like me as shady but powerful “Islamists” – only fuels more hatred against Muslims.

This is not the first time Braverman has expressed such sentiments: his history of anti-Muslim remarks demonstrates a dangerous trend. When incidents of burning and desecration of the Quran broke out last year, including the tearing up of a copy at a Yorkshire school, she turned to the pages of the temperature to assert: “We have no blasphemy laws in Britain and we must not be complicit in attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be respectful to any religion. In October last year, Braverman called legitimate protests against the killing of civilians in Gaza “hate marches.” This kind of rhetoric risks targeting thousands of Muslim demonstrators. Braverman even went so far as to accuse senior police officers of “play favorites” and described pro-Palestinian protesters as “mobs” despite wanting the protests to stop on Armistice Day. His comments served to embolden far-right groups, who caused significant unrest by targeting demonstrators with songs such as “We want our country back” and “England until I die”.

It’s clear that Braverman’s comments reflect right-wing panic over pro-Palestinian marches – many see them as a symbol of uncontrolled immigration and the growing presence of Muslims in society. But Muslims are not the only ones calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The demands come from a broad spectrum of society, including those of Jewish, Christian, Hindu and various other faiths, as well as those with no religious affiliation. In the latest survey66% of the British population want an immediate ceasefire.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric has real-world consequences that have a real impact on British Muslims like me. I recently spoke at a Muslim primary school in London which had received threats aimed at children and staff at the school – the person who made the threat referenced Israel’s war on Gaza as the justification. However, this incident benefited from coverage in only a few media outlets, and there has been a notable absence of any expression of support from the government. Some Muslim women told me they felt more fear when they went out in Islamic dress because they had been attacked in broad daylight – and accused the government and some media of fueling division and hatred.

Words have immense power – and right-wing politicians use them cleverly to satisfy and excite their audiences. But what we need instead is compassion – and a willingness to confront Islamophobia head on. Politicians must prioritize inclusive language and policies that promote unity over division. The government should take concrete steps to combat Islamophobia instead of denying its existence, including providing support to victims of Islamophobic hate crimes. It is imperative that we work collectively to create a society where all individuals are valued and respected, regardless of their faith or background. For my part, I cannot forget that true strength lies in our ability to accept diversity and fight against hatred in all its forms.

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