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How English Do Muslims Really Feel?

How English Do Muslims Really Feel?

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday July 28 2021

Following the England national football team’s heroic loss in the European Championship final, there has been concern over the spike in racial abuse faced by BAME communities. After Marcus Rashford, Jordan Sancho, and Bukayo Saka missed crucial penalties, a minority of England fans began directing a barrage of racial abuse to both players and BAME fans via social media. Some gestured with offensive emojis, while others pushed out tweets attacking BAME fans. Concerns were also raised over footage showing an Asian fan being punched and kicked by a group of White England fans at Wembley Stadium.

Concerningly, racial attacks may be linked to comments by political leaders, who fuel divisive rhetoric by attacking anti-racist movements and dismissing legitimate allegations of institutional racism. Whilst undoubtedly disappointed by the outcome of the match, many Muslim and BAME English fans seemed quick to anticipate what was to follow. In the aftermath of the recent incidents, England manager Gareth Southgate picked up on these concerns, stating: “Why would you want to choose to abuse somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin? Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.” 

Historically, significant elements of far-right fascism in England have been closely aligned with football hooliganism. For many years, such movements have notoriously propagated notions of pushing back against migration or so-called ‘Islamisation’. Consequently, the England flag has often been associated with extreme far-right movements, such as Britain First and the EDL – the logos of such groups linking the England flag to narratives of “Reclaiming England”. This has cast Englishness as a narrow, exclusionary form nationalism, highly intertwined with race.

This England team, however, has offered a challenge to many of these narratives. The current football team boasts of more than ten players from a predominantly black background, displaying a diverse representation of English society. The efforts from the players on and off the pitch, in particular, to express the need to tackle racial inequality has seen an increasing number of English people from BAME backgrounds relating more positively to the England football team.

As a result, in comparison to previous years, it seems fans from BAME backgrounds felt more comfortable in expressing their English identity due to the diversity of the current England team and the efforts of the footballing hierarchy to champion racial equality. However, racism and online hate remains a significant issue amongst some England fans, as was bitterly evidenced following the torrid abuse directed towards Black English players and BAME fans following England’s defeat in the Euro championship final.

Such attacks and hatred demonstrate the problematic nature that many BAME and Muslim communities feel towards the concept of ‘Englishness’. Muslims have regularly had their English identity questioned, despite statistically being more patriotic than their white counterparts. A BBC poll conducted in 2015 showed that 95% of British Muslims felt loyalty towards Britain, while a Channel 4 commissioned ICM poll in 2016 showed that 86% of British Muslims felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain – higher than the national average of 83%. However, many Muslim and BAME people may find it difficult to express their English identity due to the association of their flag with divisive rhetoric and racism. But the example set by the diverse England football team shows that, with collective effort to fight racial inequality, it may be possible to forge an English identity that is less exclusionary.

Our society and  Government need to do more to stop racial abuse towards BAME members of English society, as noted by both Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville in their recent criticisms. The support given by Priti Patel and Boris Johnson to England fans jeering players taking the knee, counter efforts made by civil society organisations for equal opportunities and rights, and grant leeway for hatred and abuse. It further embeds systematic racism in legislation, institutional practices and customs, which harms BAME groups’ participation in public life – as shown in a recent report by the Runnymede Trust.

The Left has often struggled with the issue of reconciling patriotism with internationalist values, resulting in a disproportionate representation of the far-right around discussions of nationalism. Our Government, public institutions and workplaces alike must show that England can be about diversity and inclusion, and that English identity can be expansive. This can be achieved through the investigation and eradication of Institutional Islamophobia and racism in public institutions, as well as by decolonising educational curriculums. Actions such as this will serve to educate and champion the efforts of ethnic minorities who have helped to build contemporary English and British society.

Ultimately, the actions of these fans represent merely a fraction of supporters – and organisations such as the EDL or Britain First, a tiny minority of English voices. The majority must stand united in countering these toxic and hateful narratives. We must work to champion diversity in England, support efforts to tackle institutional racism and Islamophobia, and fight for an English identity that is inclusive. Consequently, MEND urges both the Government and society to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against racism, Islamophobia and all forms of hatred and campaign for racial equality in all its forms throughout society.


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