20 years from 9/11: the Afghanistan War and its Impact on British Muslims
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Saturday September 11 2021
After a 20-year occupation in Afghanistan, the last US military flight left Kabul airport on 31 August 2021. The withdrawal marks the end of the contentious ‘mission’ of the global War on Terror that began in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 11 September 2001. The overt focus on Muslims and Islam during the ‘War on Terror’ as the ‘other’ energised Islamophobia. It enhanced the precariousness of the Muslim experience in Britain in all aspects, including psychologically, culturally and through the lens of national security. Undoubtedly, the impacts of the invasion continue to persist and will be long-lasting unless confronted and tackled.
Firstly, the War on Terror has constructed Islam and Muslims as an ideological threat to Western values and security. Since 9/11 and 7/7, media coverage has frequently depicted Muslims as associated with extremism and terrorism. Studies reveal that more than 1 in 3 of all articles misrepresented or generalised Muslims – amongst which 59% of articles associated Muslims with negative behaviours. Such negative portrayals of Muslims extended into media coverage during the ongoing global pandemic, with certain outlets falsely showing Muslims as key contributors to the spread of COVID-19. Conservative MPs such as Craig Whittaker were quick to blame Muslims for breaching lockdown rules and contributing to the rise of Covid cases. Concerningly, the damaging public discourses about Muslims have become normalised with the media and rhetoric of politicians having amplified such negative attitudes and stereotypes about Muslims.
Meanwhile, the War on Terror agenda has also given nations intrusive autonomy to securitise and indiscriminately target Muslim minority populations. The PREVENT programme, one pillar in the broader CONTEST counterterror strategy, enforces a statutory duty as part of the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 on public bodies to have due regard to signs of potential radicalisation. The implications of the PREVENT strategy, which has operated for over a decade, has worked to enable the on-going demonisation of Muslim communities in the UK. This has translated into a culture of over-referrals and excessive scrutiny of mainly Muslim children – with 1,504 children under the age of 15 in the recent statistics – reported as at risk of being “radicalised” and drawn towards terrorism. Consequently, the Government has continued to use the language of the War on Terror and national security to justify the over securitisation and targeting of Muslim communities in the UK.
The continuous casting of Muslims in Britain as potential terrorists and a suspect community, in turn, motivates anti-Muslim hate crimes, which have been steadily on the rise. In the year ending March 2020, half (50%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted at Muslims (3,089 offences). That number is likely to be higher, as the British Crime Survey showed significantly increased levels of under-reporting for hate crimes. Politicians and the media have a significant role in fuelling anti-Muslim sentiments. As such, systematic Islamophobia has been used to suppress dissenting voices and erode civil liberties, such that an indifference to Islamophobia is widely apparent. Hostility and hate-fuelled violence are ‘everyday’ experiences for thousands of Muslims in Britain. This highlights the devastating emotional and physical damages caused by these acts, as they are forced to live in a vicious cycle of fear and isolation.
Whilst the war on Afghanistan has ended, the effects of the long War on Terror are far from over. Its detrimental impacts continue to be deeply embedded in our society. An effective means to tackle the effects is to recognise how such an occurrence has detrimentally impacted mainstream British Muslims. Consequently, it is crucial to understand and define Islamophobia in the legal sphere for progress to be made in eradicating hatred and prejudice against British Muslims.
Therefore, MEND urges the Government to commit to adopting the definition of Islamophobia produced by the APPG for British Muslims: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, and apply this definition in conjunction with the guidelines that MEND has produced.