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Dangerous Us and Them thesis

26th Feb 2016
Dangerous Us and Them thesis

“There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” It is a frequent saying attributed to Benjamin Disraeli by American author Mark Twain among others. Though there is nothing to substantiate that the former British Prime Minister was the originator, the phrase underlines the persuasive power of numbers, particularly in being abused to bolster weak arguments. But what about politicians in general who so often seem free to make all kinds of allegations as if they are inalterable truths.

Over the last few years, Muslims have faced barrage of unfounded accusations, tarnishing all with the same malicious brush. It has left the bogus image that every Muslim is a potential terrorist, if not already a suicide bomber. One of the most contemptible and damaging techniques has been the use of the so-called “Us and Them” thesis to divide the world up into opposing groups.

The latest to accuse Muslims of being somehow different from the rest of society has been the former head of equalities watchdog Trevor Phillips. He picked one of the most appropriate venues, the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank to mouth what can only be described as such despicable views dangerously expressed as though it is fact. It coincides with Prime Minister, David Cameron’s attempt to link the failure to integrate with an increased risk of becoming terrorists.

Despite the growing attempts to give a distorted picture of Muslims, surveys for the past decade or more have shown it to be a complete fallacy. One of the most recent was a study by the University of Essex in 2013 that found Muslims actually identify with Britishness more than any other group of Britons. It is certainly not the case of such perceptions assuming that Muslims struggle with their British identity and divided loyalties

Up to 83% of Muslims were ‘proud’ to be a British citizen, compared to 79% of the general public, 77% strongly identify with Britain while only 50% of the wider population do. Some 86.4% of Muslims feel they belong in Britain, even slightly more than the 85.9% of Christians.

Phillips, who was also a former Labour member of the London Assembly, may have a particular axe to grind having previously warned that Britain’s current approach to multiculturalism could cause Britain to “sleepwalk towards segregation” during his tenure as Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Chair which was dogged by controversies and internal dissent.

What is most damaging is the drip-feed of constant negative depictions of Muslims that has led to huge growth in Islamophobic attacks as the community is being projected as such a potentially dangerous enemy within.

Muslims are integrated, feel at home in Britain and are quite simply as British as the next person, even though this does not quite match the sensationalised cynicism that some enjoy indulging in. Politicians should hope that the opposite does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


[Photo: Trevor Phillips. Photograph by Heinrich Böll Stiftung/Creative Commons]


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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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