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Can British Muslims trust Theresa May?

Can British Muslims trust Theresa May?

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This is the third in a series of guest posts on reactions from religious communities toward the newly appointed British prime minister Theresa May. You can read the other contributions to this series here.

It may seem churlish to offer a Muslim perspective on the ascension of Theresa May to the highest political office when such a commentary could well be regarded as parochial within the wider context of the more urgent considerations of Brexit and the leadership contest it propelled to bring us a second female Conservative leader in Number 10.

However, there are many aspects of her long tenure as Home Secretary that had a direct bearing on the present state British Muslims find themselves. Overall, policies on counter-extremism have had a negative impact on British Muslims. This, to a degree, informs the anxieties felt by British Muslims who ask themselves whether the new Prime Minister's leadership launch speech about “delivering serious social reform” and “uniting the country” was more style than substance.

Of particular concern for Muslims are the examples of extradition cases  abroad, compared to white Britons, who are seen to have been met with leniency and extenuating circumstances. Or, examples of British Muslims being stripped of citizenship, sometimes while on holiday, only to meet their demise in a drone strike.

There’s also the display of her bravado at party conference over her successful deportation of Abu Qatada, only to see him be acquitted of terrorism charges by a Jordanian court. Still, the conference speech went down well and yet another iron lady showed her mettle in a male dominated world.

Then there’s the notorious ‘go home’ vans synonymous with the harshness of the public discourse on immigration- one that facilitated the deportation of some 50,000 international students.

Citizenship stripping, deportation cases, extradition cases, not one, but two draft Snooper’s Charters, banning individuals from entering the country while prioritising "Fundamental British Values" and lauding free speech…the record  is hardly glowing. These play into a wider discourse of demonising immigrants, minorities and of talking up the threat of Islamist terrorism, all of which have taken their toll on Muslims as the sharp rise in post Brexit hate crimes suggests.

Last February, a ComRes poll for the BBC revealed that nearly half of all British Muslims believe prejudice against Islam makes it difficult to be a Muslim in the UK. The figure was shocking then. I do wonder what a PM who has spent the past six years telling Muslims that there is no conflict between being British and Muslim thinks now.

It is the area of counter-terrorism policy that Ms May’s relationship with British Muslims has been most fractious.

On announcing the Prevent review in November 2010, many Muslims had hoped that the failed experiment of cultivating a docile British Muslim identity would end under the new Conservative government. But the experiment mutated into something more sinister than the observed efforts of the preceding Labour government “to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam [by] promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model.”

The policy of engagement with British Muslims effectively became a policy of “disengagement”, with the greater part of the Muslim population sidelined and dialogue with Government held out as a carrot for the conformists only, instead of the democratic right of a majority law-abiding British Muslim population.

Will Theresa May now attempt to engage with British Muslims widely and openly? This  has been a challenge with no sign, in six years, of improvement. Will her new mandate to lead a country already so deeply divided change some of this for the better? I sincerely hope so.

The views in this article are held by the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Theos or its associates.


Shenaz Bunglawala is head of research at MEND

Image obtained via UK Home Office on Flickr available under this Creative Commons license


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