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No, Humza Yousaf, Britain is not ‘Islamophobic’

His scare-mongering is totally at odds with the real experiences of British Muslims.

Rakib Ehsan

Rakib Ehsan
Columnist

Topics Identity Politics UK

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Humza Yousaf may no longer be Scottish first minister, but he hasn’t changed much since stepping down. He is still eager to peddle the same identitarian rhetoric.

In a comment piece for the Guardian this week, Yousaf boasts about being the first Muslim leader of a Western democracy. Yet at the same time, he bemoans how ‘Islamophobia’ has ‘poisoned’ politics in both the UK and in continental Europe. He refers to the ‘mainstreaming’ of ‘anti-Muslim hatred’ in British politics and strikes parallels between this and the rise of right-wing populism in the latest European Parliament elections. Yousaf specifically refers to Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands – all of which made huge gains with European voters earlier this month.

It is true that there have been several clumsy interventions recently by politicians in the UK when it comes to discussing British Muslims. Yousaf mentions each by name. Earlier this year, former home secretary Suella Braverman claimed that Islamists are now in control of Britain. Newly defected Reform UK MP Lee Anderson similarly accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of being in the pocket of Islamists. Finally, Anderson’s party leader, Nigel Farage, recently suggested in a Sky News interview that young Muslims do not ‘share British values’.

These comments may be both unpleasant and untrue, but Yousaf is fooling himself if he really believes the UK is blighted by racial unfairness and anti-Muslim prejudice. Yes, anti-Muslim bigotry certainly exists in the UK, but it is a gross over-exaggeration to suggest that a couple of off-colour comments by politicians equate to institutional discrimination. Life is by no means bad for British Muslims. And despite what Yousaf might think, Britain actually comes out significantly better on this score when compared with the rest of Europe.

Unlike on the continent, the UK is far more tolerant when it comes to religious freedom. In France, a rigid model of secular republicanism means that ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols – including hijabs and abayas – are banned in public schools. Infamously, ‘burkinis’ are banned at beaches. Similar, albeit less severe, restrictions also exist in Germany. Such bans were introduced by mainstream parties – not by the right-wing populists Yousaf is warning about. Besides, the aim of these rules is to promote secularism, not to codify bigotry against Muslims.

The reality is that Britain is an objectively good place to live as a Muslim. It comfortably outperforms major EU member states when it comes to anti-discrimination protections on the grounds of race, ethnicity and religion. This is a country whose current monarch has openly praised Islamic contributions to history and whose government has committed over £117million to protecting mosques, Islamic faith schools and other Muslim sites. Far from being hostile to its Muslim populations, as Yousaf seems to imagine, the UK has largely welcomed them with open arms.

Just ask British Muslims themselves. A recent report by the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life found that over four in five British Muslims believed that, when compared with other European countries, the UK is a better place for Muslims to practise their faith while being involved in wider public life. On the whole, British Muslims have an overwhelmingly positive view of the country they call home, seeing it as a place of opportunity and improvement.

For all its flaws, Britain is easily one of the best places in the world to live as a Muslim. It is a shame that so many of our most prominent Muslim political figures would rather be part of the ‘Islamophobia’ grievance industry than tell this simple truth.

Rakib Ehsan is the author of Beyond Grievance: What the Left Gets Wrong about Ethnic Minorities, which is available to order on Amazon.

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Topics Identity Politics UK

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