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History repeating itself

History repeating itself

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday June 24 2014

Owen Jones in his Guardian column yesterday reflected on the death of Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, and compared the anti-Irish prejudice of the past that made miscarriages of justice possible with present day Islamophobia asking whether the threat posed to Muslim civil liberties by widespread social antipathy will find future civil rights’ champions.

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were wrongly imprisoned for the Guildford IRA pub bombings of 1974. Jones notes Conlon’s past article in the Guardian in which Conlon spoke of the devastating impact of his incarceration on his health and highlighted how history was repeating itself with Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, enduring similar treatment many years later.

Owen’s comparison of past anti-Irish prejudice and present day Islamophobia reinforces research conducted on these “suspect communities” by Professor Mary Hickman of London Metropolitan University. In a wide-ranging study which investigated media representations of Irish and Muslim subjects as well as policy development on tackling IRA terrorism and the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, the study concludes that “Despite anti-discrimination legislation, Muslim communities today are subjected to a similar process of construction as ‘suspect’ as Irish communities in the previous era.”

In a similar vein, the Runnymede report published last year, “The New Muslims”, drew parallels between present portrayals of Muslims with past portrayals of Jews.

Jones goes on to compare discriminatory and unequal treatment of Muslims as exemplified in the extradition cases a couple of years ago. Home Secretary, Theresa May, excused white Briton, Gary MacKinnon while extraditing British Muslim citizens, including Syed Talha Ahsan who suffered from a similar medical condition, Asperger’s Syndrome, which warranted MacKinnon’s exemption.

Geoffrey Bindman QC argued in an article for OpenDemocracy, about the discriminatory treatment of the Muslim men saying “It is hard to believe the McKinnon decision was not cynically delayed until after the five Muslims had been safely delivered into the hands of the US authorities… The disparity in treatment is too stark to be coincidental.” 

Jones also draws on research on media representations of Islam and Muslims noting the negative bias in media output on Muslims shown by a Cardiff University study which analysed 1000 articles between 2000 and 2008. A more extensive study carried out by academics at Lancaster University, analysing over 200,000 newspaper articles written about Islam and Muslims between 1998 and 2009, affirmed the prevalence of a negative slant in the reporting of Muslims and Islam with researchers concluding, that “Explicit references to extremism were also found next to the word Islamic 1 in 6 times across all the newspapers – indeed it is likely that Islamic is now difficult to use in a neutral way as it is so heavily laden with negative overtones and disapproval.”

The aforementioned Runnymede study further notes the dominant representations of Muslims in the media as focused on three themes: “gender (hijab/forced marriage/honour killings), triad gangs and grooming, and terrorists/extremists.”

Evidencing polling data from the British Social Attitudes survey and the study by the Freidrich Ebert Foundation on negative popular attitudes towards Muslims, Jones questions the consequences of recent statements by David Cameron and Metropolitan Police Counter-terrorism officer, Cressida Dick, on the potential threat posed to Britain by Muslims radicalised abroad on the civil liberties of innocent British Muslims.

Jones writes, “Last week, David Cameron informed the House of Commons that Britain faced the threat of terrorism from British jihadis returning from Syria and Iraq. The Met’s Cressida Dick – who oversaw the police operation that shot dead the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 – has this weekend backed up his assertions. Some will cast a wary eye back to the cast-iron intelligence that Iraq posed an imminent security threat to Britain. And set against a background of frighteningly widespread anti-Muslim bigotry, the threat of miscarriages of justice like that suffered by Conlon is surely real and will in turn serve as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalist extremism.”

The Runnymede report in its review of the impact on Muslims of counter-terrorism policy argued, “…the suspension and increasing retraction of human rights and civil liberties under the War on Terror pushed for public comment on who could be treated with complete impunity, or even on who might be considered human.” The theme is further explored in Arun Kundnani’s new book, The Muslims Are Coming!

Jones traces the treatment of Irish communities to historical and more contemporary developments through which “the Irish were portrayed as subhumans and animals”. At a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is rife, Jones raises the spectre of innocent British Muslims suffering similar miscarriages of justice as experienced by the Irish in the past.



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