Your support keeps us publishing. Follow this link to subscribe to our print magazine.

Zarah Sultana: Islamophobia Is Being Used to Demonise Palestine Solidarity

The use of Islamophobia to depict peaceful protestors as violent mobs isn't just an attack on Muslims — it's an attack on all of our democratic rights.

(Credit: Getty Images)

‘Get the f*** out of my country. You don’t belong here. No Muslims do.’ That was the opening of an email I received the other day. I have had to get used to things like this. My first death threat came through just a few weeks after I became the youngest ever Muslim MP. So I have more reason than most to take MPs’ safety seriously. And to be crystal clear, no-one should have their safety threatened or be subject to unacceptable abuse.

But I am concerned that the debate about public engagement with MPs is being used by some as a pretext to demonise the Palestine solidarity movement, whipping up Islamophobia in the process. After the farce in Parliament last Wednesday, Suella Braverman wrote that ‘Islamists are now in charge’ of Britain. Later that day, Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons that ‘we have allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists.’ And Lee Anderson took to the airwaves, saying ‘Islamist have got control of Sadiq Khan, they’ve got control of London… He’s given our capital away to his mates.’

When these Conservatives depict the Palestine solidarity movement as ‘Islamist’, they seek to portray it as violent and extreme. They suggest this unprecedented public mobilisation for Palestine is alien and undemocratic. Unfortunately for them, the demands of the Palestine solidarity movement an immediate ceasefire and an end to the slaughter in Gaza are supported by a large majority of the British public, as opinion polls repeatedly show.

And contrary to what they suggest, the hundreds of thousands of people who have exercised their democratic right to demonstrate in solidarity with the Palestine people come from all walks of life. Muslim and Christian, Jewish and Hindu, black and white, young and old, gay and straight people from Britain’s diverse communities have been marching side-by-side in solidarity with the Palestinian people, horrified at Israel’s bombing and besieging of Gaza.

Yet those overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrators are now depicted as a violent ‘mob’, prompting some to even call for more repressive anti-protest laws. Everyone who cares about civil liberties should be clear: This is an attack on the Palestine solidarity movement specifically and on our democratic rights more broadly. 

And the danger doesn’t stop there. Those demonising the Palestine solidarity movement are using Islamophobia as a weapon, spreading fear and hate about supposedly all-powerful ‘Islamists’. Now a Conservative MP has said there are ‘no-go areas’ in Birmingham and east London, repeating an Islamophobic, far-right talking point. These absurd claims feed into far-right ideas about Muslims ‘taking over’ and being ‘an enemy within’. I see this reflected in the racist abuse and threats I get every day.

It is not new for Conservative MPs to peddle Islamophobia, nor is it necessarily costly for them. Boris Johnson compared Muslim women who wear the niqab to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ prompting a 375 percent increase in Islamophobic incidents the following week and was then elected as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. This time the Conservatives have dumped Anderson under intense pressure, but the Deputy Prime Minister has refused to call his remarks racist and the Prime Minister put out a long statement condemning prejudice but without once mentioning Islamophobia.

And it is not just politicians peddling hate. I have previously written about the way Islamophobia is stoked in the media, noting a 2021 report that found that articles antagonistic to Muslims outnumber supportive articles by a ratio of 7:1. More recently, a newspaper editor said ‘much of Muslim culture is in the grip of a death cult’ and just last week a major investor in GB News where Anderson was talking was revealed to have repeatedly engaged with extreme right-wing Islamophobic material.

This drip-feed of hate from politicians and the powerful filters down. Statistics published on Thursday show Islamophobic incidents are up 335 percent since October. And it’s not just Islamophobia on the rise. In that same time, there has also been a frightening rise in antisemitism. These two evils are sometimes talked about as if there is a trade-off in combating them. But they are not competing causes. The fight against Islamophobia and the fight against antisemitism are part of the same struggle.

That’s the fight to build a world where everyone Muslim and Jew, Christian and Hindu, those of all faiths and none can live with freedom and dignity. That’s a world where no one has to worry about wearing a hijab, kippah, or turban in public, where everyone has liberty to lead a flourishing life.

That is a universal call for freedom and we mustn’t lose sight of its most urgent demand. As the bombs continue to fall on Gaza and the world’s eyes turn on Rafah, we can’t let their Islamophobia distract or divide us. Clearer and louder, undimmed and unbroken, we must continue to call for a free Palestine.