Speak out against racism and Islamophobia - One Society Many Cultures Conference, 11 December
Thursday, 11 November 2010 13:10
By Ken Livingstone, Chair, One Society Many Cultures
The economic downturn and deepest cuts to public services in decades will not only do enormous harm to our society. It is also creating fertile conditions for reactionary ideas to thrive.
Across Europe we are already witnessing a frightening rise of racism. There is a constant drumbeat of bashing immigrants and, in particular, the Muslim communities. The expulsion of Roma during the summer in France underlined just how repulsive the climate is becoming.
Much of this intolerance is being inflamed by mainstream governments who, in part, seem determined to deflect attention and blame from the recession.
A particular focus of much of the scapegoating is on bans to prevent the wearing of religious clothing and other forms of religious expression.This year alone, the French Senate has passed a bill making it illegal for Muslim women to wear face-covering veils in public. The Belgian lower House of Parliament voted almost unanimously to do likewise, with the legislation now awaiting further approval. The main opposition conservative party in Spain proposed a ban in the Spanish Parliament that was narrowly defeated, though several local authorities have passed such laws. In this country Conservative MP Philip Hollobone tabled a private members bill on banning "certain face coverings" in public.
As a result of this toxic climate fostered by mainstream politicians, explicitly racist parties have been boosted and have entered government or are exerting considerable influence on mainstream governments.
Contrast the difference today, with a decade ago. In 2000 when the Austrian far-right Freedom Party took part in a coalition government all other EU members then broke off co-operation with the Austrian government. Now far-right parties are in government – as in Italy where one Minister, Roberto Calderoli, once walked a pig over land earmarked for a mosque – or they are driving government policy.
Just last month racist Dutch politician Geert Wilders became a key player in the formation of a new government. Wilders has previously called for a ban on the Koran, which he equated with Hitler's Mien Kampf, for taxes on Muslim women wearing the headscarf, an end to immigration from Muslim countries and bans on new mosques. In exchange for supporting the formation of a minority government his influence will see a ban on the wearing the veils in public buildings and a “very substantial reduction” in the number of non-western immigrants.
This atmosphere emboldens the far-right. Violent protests against mosques and other religious centres are becoming more common.
In this country, the EDL’s attempt to demonstrate in multicultural areas with large Muslim populations, like Tower Hamlets, and protests outside mosques takes us back to when fascist thugs marched against Jews and their places of worship in the 1930s.
The only possible meaning of such protests is to intimidate all Muslims and denigrate Islam – a religion followed by more than a billion people. Such demonstrations are aimed at creating violent disorder.
This scapegoating needs to be challenged head on. While posing a particular threat to Black, Asian and Jewish communities, this climate also undermines the values of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and cultural expression which allow us all to live our lives as we wish.
These universal rights form the basis of a liberal, open, diverse society. To allow these rights to be threatened or attacked for any one group in our society inevitably undermines their universality for the whole of society.
They are increasingly weakened by the legitimacy given to intolerance in the mainstream political and media, by the election of racist extreme-right representatives and by racist demonstrations on the streets.
With that in mind, it is necessary for democrats, of all faiths and none, to come together to defend these fundamental freedoms, which are the cornerstones of liberal and democratic society. Join us at the One Society Many Cultures conference in December.
Saturday 11 December, 10am–6pm
Mary Ward House
5/7 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SN