Modern Britain has a problem with Islam. This may not come as much of a surprise to some readers. For many in Britain, Islam is considered an isolating force, and its followers are somehow externalised from British identity, regardless of their birthplace or what passport they hold. Indeed, being both British and Muslim is now being painted as a potentially impossible identity. If Britain First, the spawn of the far-right hate group, the English Defence League, and their propaganda are to be believed, perhaps the two identities are mutually exclusive, and thus there can be no such thing as British Muslims.
Such a statement however, is a falsehood. This problem lies not with Islam, nor with Britain's 2.8 million Muslims. It lies with Britain itself, and our ever increasing xenophobic, Islamophobic discourse. It lies with our media, whose continual and aggressive baiting of faith and community leaders ostracises one of Britain's most marginalised minorities. The problem lies too with our politicians, whose anti-terror acts and wilfully divisive methods of rule and rhetoric are encouraging the British public to turn on a community who are already vilified and reviled by many within their own country. Islam is seen as an isolating force, not because Muslims cut themselves off from Britain and its culture, but because its followers are grouped into one camp. Across Britain and Europe, Islamophobia and xenophobia are on the rise: Every Muslim is demonised as a possible terrorist. A threat to Britain and our security.
The fact of the matter is that the number of extremist terrorists who support and or commit the atrocities currently occurring in the territory now controlled by ISIL in Iraq, Syria and the Levant is a tiny blip in the total figure of Britain's Muslim population. This is not to remove guilt from such a minority. Truly, no-one is attempting to remove blame from them, or cast doubts over their agency as individuals. The problem also lies irrefutably with this tiny fringe minority of ultra violent extremists, and those who choose to follow such ideologies of hate. However, to paint their actions as representative of the consciousness of the entirety of British Muslims is not only a gross generalisation, it is inherently racist and xenophobic.
Ever since the "War on Terror" began, itself a modern crusade of violence whose remit is both without borders and which apparently operates outside of international law, the fight has not only been East vs. West, but indeed the supposedly "Liberal" West vs. a Backward Barbaric Islam. This continual rendering of division, and its suppressing of the subaltern Muslim community worldwide is deeply flawed. The West's own atrocities are numerous: from Obama's drones which have taken the lives of countless innocents across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and more, to our merciless bombing campaigns in Iraq and Libya. These campaigns have had thousands of victims, and affected many thousands more. Yet we in the West are cast as liberators, as a positive force of good in the region. The white western saviour complex is so deeply ingrained into our perception of our international standing. It must be expunged. Rarely are Western Powers daubed with the shame of their true actions; Tony Blair, George Bush and the administrations responsible for an illegal war remain absent from the Hague for their crimes.
Recently, two representatives of Cage, an organisation which denounces the War on Terror and acts as an advocacy for those demonised by British security protocol that deliberately targets and harasses marginalised Muslims, were interviewed on national television. Repeatedly, it was demanded that they denounce the acts of depravity carried out by ISIL. Both Asim Qureshi and Cerie Bullivant had their humanity questioned in a deliberately provocative manner which wilfully obfuscated from the nuances of the discussion. Of course, the despicable beheadings of aid-workers and innocent civilians is reprehensible, and should rightfully be condemned. But we must stop demanding that all Muslims condemn these actions as a validation of their British or Western identity. No-one asks Jon Snow or Kay Burley whether they condemn such actions, it is considered a given. Yet when Muslims are interviewed on these subjects, time and time again it is insisted that they personally condemn these actions, as though they remain culpable through a forced, orientalist homogenisation of the wider Islamic community.
We must stop this divisive rhetoric. A huge part of Britain's social and cultural capital lies in our co-ownership of the wealth of our nation's diversity. It is perhaps the one thing that no bank, corporation, government or individual can ever hope to monopolise and own outright. We must work together, with organisations like Cage and the British Muslim Council to help prevent vulnerable people from turning down paths from which there may be no return. Britain and the West must stand up to this brand of Us vs. Them politics, which has so infected our national discourse. This perpetual barrage of dichotomy must end. British Muslims are British too, and many are proud to call themselves so.
Let us not descend into a patronising moralising hierarchy, which so excludes British Muslims from our shared British identity. Let us not divide Muslims into a binary of either 'moderate' or 'extremist', of 'with us' or 'against us' - to do so only raises further barriers between our socio-cultural communities. Divided, we will only crumble further into cultural decay, splitting into factions and eventually towards a governing form of ostracising, extremist fascism reminiscent of Europe's 20th Century nightmare. Together, we can hope to stand against the truly despicable nature of violence the world over, enacted by individuals, extremist groups and states alike. A united front, representative of our diversity is the only way we can hope to defeat such acts of terror.