Britons pride themselves on the fact that they gave the world the Magna Carta (meaning the “great charter” that was signed in 1215ce between quarrelsome knights demanding more benefits from the king), and regard their country as the cradle of constitution and democracy. Britain, however, has been the scene of numerous incidents in recent years that are incompatible with claims to constitutional democracy. Statistics for recent years indicate negative signals for a country that claims to promote understanding, but in fact indulges in creating differences between various segments of the population.
Hostility toward foreigners, racism, and extreme rightwing ideas are on the rise in Britain. Racist crimes and violence committed against ethnic minorities have risen ten-fold over the last decade. A report drawn up for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland (www. ofmdfmni.gov.uk/racism) indicates that racial violence is not limited to incidents in the streets but that cases of racial harassment may even occur in the workplace. Examples of cases of racial harassment and violence cited in the report include violence against members of minorities and letters containing abusive language.
According to the “European Commission against Racism and Intolerance” affiliated to the Council of Europe, racism and discrimination against refugees and asylum applicants in particular still persists in Britain. A bulletin published by the UK government on October 13, 2015 recorded that there had been 52,528 hate crimes identified by the police in 2014/2015, an increase of 18% from previous year’s total of 44,471.
Acts of racist violence constitute 82% of hate crimes in Britain. There has been a 70% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the last year in London alone. The nationwide “Tell Mama” project in Britain places anti-Islamic activities under the microscope. It reports that 60% of incidents have been committed against fully covered Muslim women (that is, women wearing the niqab). In short, some people with racist views and also groups with extreme rightwing tendencies are targeting the Muslim minority in Britain.
The UK government is taking a variety of measures against this. One such measure involves the setting aside of £5 million this year to build a national network including civil society in a struggle against “all forms of extremist ideology.” These funds will be handed out to groups that represent an alternative to the propaganda of groups described by the government as “dangerous.” Expected measures include training in social media, the setting up of websites and support for specific projects. An “Extremism Analysis Unit” will be set up in the British Home Office (Interior Ministry). Support in the fight against extremism will be provided for government bodies and the private sector through this unit. Local authorities will have increased powers to close down places thought to be supporting pro-extremist activities. In the same way, changes will be brought in to allow the radio and television regulator (OFCOM) to intervene against pro-extremist programs.
The UK government revealed the importance it attaches to measures against discrimination through a Hate Crime Action Plan Progress Report. According to the report, anti-Islamic attacks are strongly condemned by the government on every occasion, 24-hour police patrols are posted to certain high-risk areas, efforts are made to prevent hate crimes before they happen, and the anti-crime operational system is being expanded as the public hotline system is being strengthened.
The measures being taken against extreme rightwing and racist groups will obviously be useful in preventing hate crimes. However, it is also likely that the package that is prepared to prevent young Muslims from joining radical groups will encourage discrimination against Muslims in society.
This package includes measures such as the banning of groups thought to be supporting the encouragement of hatred, closure of places that foster radicals, including masjids, and OFCOM being given greater powers to take harsher measures against television and radio stations that are considered to encourage extremism. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the largest Muslim civil society organization in the country, is critical of this measure, which is backed by British Prime Minister David Cameron. MCB Secretary General Dr. Shuja Shafi has warned that these measures will increase discrimination against Muslims in Britain. Shafi said that, “These measures could be seen more as a means to address the anxieties a minority of people may have against Muslims and their religious life, rather than the scourge of terrorism itself.”
Understanding and education, not police methods, have to be at the forefront of the fight against extremism. The exposure of superstitions and bigotry that had subsequently been added onto Islam, using scientific methods, can represent the first step on this path.
It is not unreasonable to expect the citizens of a country that lays claim to being the cradle of European democracy to behave in a civilized manner. People must be free to espouse ideas they believe to be right, but they must not treat those who hold different views because of their lifestyles with hatred. They must not seek to put that hatred into action in order to do harm. Everyone must be able to freely express their opinions and even to criticize, but must not be allowed to impose such ideas by force. Extremism always serves the purpose of provocateurs and enemies of ideas. People who wait in the shadows use such actions for their own ends, and may even organize them personally. Measures based on repression and hostility have generally encouraged radicalism.
A safe and prosperous society can only be established if conflicts, disputes and disagreements among people are resolved through dialogue. Every opportunity must be utilized to explain that it is not naïve to encourage mutual respect, unity, help, and compassion. Repression and hostility can never provide a solution. On the contrary, the damage they wreak on society and the individual can be devastating. Such damage must be evaluated through statistical data and kept track of in order to address it in an appropriate manner. Only through such steps can elements that breach the peace and cause disorder in society, such as racism and extreme right-wing groups, be eliminated.
In a world where the spiral of violence is neutralized in this way, children will be able to play safely in the streets, women will be able to walk through even the darkest places without fear, and children will no longer be orphaned nor spouses widowed. The hundreds of billions of dollars spent on weapons allegedly for self-defense can then be spent on benefiting people instead, and scourges such as war, poverty, hunger, and ignorance will no longer plague the world.