Reviewing 2019

Safya Khan-Ruf - 13 12 19

Today, the UK woke up to a man who said, “Islam is the problem”, mocked veiled women and denied the systemic anti-Muslim hate in his party, as their new Prime Minister. British Muslims watched as Boris Johnson, a man who questioned their loyalty after the London bombings, was given a landslide victory by their fellow Britons. Many, like me, must feel disheartened, if not for his policies, than for the casual Islamophobia in his party that he has failed to deal with.

Repeated investigations this year highlighted the Conservative party’s inability or lack of willingness to identify and deal with anti-Muslim hate within, from quietly reinstating members who were exposed and suspended for posting anti-Muslim content online to casual Islamophobia spouted from the very top. Just this morning, Stanley Johnson, Boris Johnson’s dad, appeared on Channel 4 to say that female fighter jet pilots should not wear burkas.  He will not be the last to take Johnson’s win as permission and British Muslims will not be the only minority bracing themselves for the backlash, just as they did after the 2016 referendum.

On a more positive note, the Islamophobia definition created by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has gained the support of more than 750 Muslim organisations, several political parties and many local councils.  It was rejected by the Conservative party, who instead promised to produce their own definition – but seven months later, nothing has materialised.

Taking a step back, far-right political leaders have been united in calling Islam a major threat to Europe before and after the European elections this year. The HNH team tracked the most dangerous, anti-Islam and far-right parties to watch out for. Meanwhile, in France we’ve reported on how the government’s counter-extremism efforts are worsening the stigmatisation of its Muslim citizens. Journalists and politicians have also spent the last two months embroiled in another headscarf debacle, sparked by a far-right politician ordering a woman to take off her veil on a school trip. On the flip side, it led to the first protest of its kind, with thousands marching against Islamophobia in Paris and other cities.

In America, US President Donald Trump continued to feed anti-Muslim narratives throughout 2019, often linked to attacking Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. We’ve also reported on how Kremlin-exported anti-Muslim ‘news’ are used as a tool to amplify Islamophobic parties and far-right organisations in Europe and North America.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes continued to rise in several Western countries this year, and while better recording of hate crimes may be a contributing factor, the political climate and rhetoric have no doubt worsened the number of crimes, which ranged from a man viciously assaulting a pregnant Muslim woman in Sydney, to the Christchurch attack where a white supremacist burst into a mosque during Friday prayers and gunned down 50 men, women and children. The Christchurch shooting led to a 593% increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes reported across Britain in the following week.

Meanwhile, China’s brutal repression and “cultural genocide” of its Uighur population remains the worst and unchallenged human rights abuse of the decade as they reportedly detain more than a million Muslims in reeducation camps. Information on what is happening in the camps is limited but ex-detainees who have fled China describe being forced to renounce Islam, sing praises of communism and learn Mandarin. Some reported prison-like conditions, with cameras and microphones monitoring their every move and utterance. Others said they were tortured and subjected to sleep deprivation during interrogations. Women have shared stories of sexual abuse, with some saying they were forced to undergo abortions or have contraceptive devices implanted against their will. Some released detainees contemplated suicide or witnessed others kill themselves.

China is ramping up a global campaign to promote its own vision of human rights, inviting the likes of North Korea and Syria to a forum on the topic and drafting other countries to back its policies at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, India appears to be aping China’s information blackout after revoking the special status accorded to Indian-administered and predominantly Muslim Kashmir in its constitution. Hundreds have been arrested since the clampdown began, including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as journalists. There is mounting evidence of a “healthcare and humanitarian crisis” including torture and severe curtailment of freedom of opinion and religious freedoms. Earlier this year, India’s government also declared 1.9 million people stateless after a citizens registry audit, mostly Muslims, forcing them into detention camps.

Despite the grim state of anti-Muslim hate across the world in 2019, there is also a constant wave of people from all walks of life working to combat the hate and that serve as inspiration. Whether it’s the young man who escaped both neo-Nazism and Islamist extremism to run de-radicalisation programmes in Germany, or the racial justice lawyer combatting discrimination in the US, or even the group of Muslim women in the UK who published a book that shares the plurality and varying identities they embody as they call out their community and their country for its failings.

Now it’s time to take a breath, recharge and get ready to rejoin the fight against all levels and all types of hate in 2020.

Happy Holidays everyone.  


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