By Mike Rowley
The racist rhetoric of the 2005 election is already leading to violent attacks. Devon and Cornwall police have made a public statement about "election-related racism" inspired by far-right parties.
The far right in Britain are concentrating their bile on people of Muslim background. The BNP's party political broadcast was shown by the BBC last week, despite its explicit incitement to racism against "Iraqis and Afghans". Meanwhile, the presence of a National Front candidate in Bicester has led to physical harassment of local black and Asian people by fascist canvassers bussed in from different parts of the country.
The problem of "Islamophobia" is not a new one, although it undoubtedly received a boost from the reaction of western governments to the September 11th atrocities. As early as 1997, the anti-racist Runnymede Trust produced a report on anti-Muslim prejudice.
This report recommended, among other things, the redefinition of criminal prejudice: "A legal term such as ˜religious and racial violence' is needed. ˜Racial violence' is no longer adequate on its own." The report also called for state funding for Muslim schools and the inclusion of a question about religion in the census, both of which have now been adopted. A Bill containing a new offence of "incitement to religious hatred" has been tabled, but there was no time to debate it in the last Parliament.
This is the wrong approach to fighting racism. The line of policy recommended by the Runnymede Trust and adopted by the Government encourages the people to feel divided and compartmentalised into various "communities" according to what religious beliefs they have or their ancestors had. It is a policy which seems to accept, or at least shrinks from fighting, the racist "clash of civilisations" idea which the Runnymede Trust so much deplore in the report quoted above.
This is particularly the case in education. In places with significant minority communities, to set up a "Christian" and a "Muslim" school is effectively to set up white and Asian schools by different names. Children do not meet people of other cultures in their formative years, except in the occasional cursory "multicultural" lesson, and inevitable a "them and us" mentality develops.
The approach could lead all the way to the fascist's dream of a society completely divided: white anti-Asian racists, Asian anti-Jewish racists, Jewish anti-Arab racists.
The pressure of racist politicians, racist media and racist religious groups is already promoting the divisions, to an increasing number of attacks on mosques, synagogues and minority community centres.
The problem is one of racism and racists, and no amount of legislative redefinition will change that. What do we need instead?
Serious anti-racist action at all levels of government and society. Mal Hussain, the Asian shopkeeper who suffered fourteen years of racist abuse and violent attacks in Lancaster, said recently that "I feel betrayed and failed by the institutions who are supposed to protect those who suffer in the hands of racists". Mal Hussain was attacked for being "Asian", for being "Muslim", for being "black", and for having a white partner.
We need a government that is prepared to defend the victims of racism at all costs, that will cut at the roots of racism - inequality, social separation and exploitation. To get that government first we must organise the labour movement to fight in defence of the victims (if necessary by organising physical self-defence), and against the social roots of racism.