Sunak’s new war on Muslims regarded as a desperate bid to salvage election prospects

Many Muslim community leaders, his fellow parliamentary colleagues and an assortment of public figures have expressed concern at the Prime Minister’s emergency speech on Friday, delivered in front of 10 Downing Street, addressing what he described as a growing threat of extremism in Britain.

The week had begun with a catalogue of inflammatory Islamophobic comments and statements from senior Conservative Party politicians on the right wing of the party, which were recited and published in a willing collection of right wing news titles and broadcast media – all collectively accusing peaceful pro-Palestinian protesters of being ‘aggressive mobs’, ‘Islamists and left-wing extremists’, threatening our politicians and our democracy. The week ended on Friday, with the Prime Minister ominously delivering an emergency address to the nation at the lectern in front of 10 Downing Street, at which he announced his intention to trigger what has been interpreted to be a new war on the Muslim community in Britain. He said:

In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality. What started as protests on our streets, has descended into intimidation, threats, and planned acts of violence… There are forces here at home trying to tear us apart. Since October 7th there have been those trying to take advantage of the very human angst that we all feel… …about the terrible suffering that war brings to the innocent, to women and children… …to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda. On too many occasions recently, our streets have been hijacked by small groups…who are hostile to our values and have no respect for our democratic traditions’

The Prime Minister, Sunak, then attempted to equate far-right thugs with the mixed crowds of elderly women, Muslims, Christians, Orthodox Jews, families with children, people of different faiths and none, who had in their millions, marched peacefully in support of the Palestinians, calling for a ceasefire. He said:

‘Islamist extremists and the far right feed off and embolden each other. They are equally desperate to pretend that their violence is somehow justified… …when actually these groups are two sides of the same extremist coin. Neither group accept that change in our country can only come through the peaceful democratic process. Both loathe the pluralist, modern country we are. Both want to set Briton against Briton… …to weaponise the evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred for their own ends… Islamist extremists and far rights groups are spreading a poison, that poison is extremism. It aims to drain us of our confidence in ourselves as a people, and in our shared future. They want us to doubt ourselves, to doubt each other, to doubt our country’s history and achievements. They want us to accept a moral equivalence between Britain and some of the most despicable regimes in the world’

A harsh clampdown on so called extremist organisations at the behest simply of government ministers

The statement was nevertheless, widely criticised by many political pundits and commentators for being empty on meaning and bereft of any sense of offering any meaningful mechanism to promote cohesion – with some even suggesting that it was a ‘misplaced party political broadcast’ designed to draw attention away from a disastrous bi-election result in Rochdale, but which simply showed the weakness of the government.  It did however contain the overture to the Prime Minister’s more detailed plans announced the following day on Monday, to clamp down on all those who do not share ‘our values’, or as some have argued he meant the political views of his government. It has even been suggested that Sunak’s government was itself guilty of undermining democracy, that his proposals to restrict free speech and assembly, struck at the heart of fundamental democratic values. His speech hinted at a number of worrying proposals, which echoed some of the darkest days of the War On Terror. He said:

‘the government will implement a new robust framework [to ensure] that no extremist organisations or individuals are being lent legitimacy… …by their actions and interactions with central government. You cannot be part of our civic life if your agenda is to tear it down. We will redouble our support for the Prevent programme to stop young minds being poisoned by extremism. We will demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus. We will also act to prevent people entering this country whose aim is to undermine its values. The Home Secretary has instructed that if those here on visas… …choose to spew hate on protests or seek to intimidate people… …we will remove their right to be here.’

Rishi Sunak’s speech ‘marked a new low even by the standards of the present Tory party’

‘Stop the War’ founding member and Convenor, Lindsey German, spoke for many when she said:

‘The speech by Rishi Sunak on Friday night, marked a new low even by the standards of the present Tory party. He used the Rochdale by-election victory for George Galloway to denounce extremism and terrorism, to attack the protests over Gaza and to once again raise his fears over attacks on ‘democracy’…The whole thing reeks of unutterable hypocrisy. It was done to cover the fact that George Galloway won more votes than the three main parties combined and that he and the independent who came second in Rochdale garnered close to 20,000 votes between them’

There are a number of community voices who see the Prime Minister’s proposals as heralding a new dark period where an increasing number of Muslim human rights and cohesion building organisations, will be demonised, restricted in their work, denied government access and refused funding. It was just last week that news broke of the withdrawal of government funding support for the cohesion interfaith organisation – ‘The Interfaith Network’, based solely on the flawed advice of the UK based Jewish intelligence body, the Community Security Trust’.  There is an expectation that there will be an increase in referrals under the Channel de-radicalisation programme, which in 2023 alone, saw as many as 6,817 referrals – most of which came from the education sector. Shockingly, 63% of referrals related to under 20s, and 31% to young people aged 14 and under. It is worth noting that out of this number, only 657 were deemed of sufficient concern to warrant further investigation. Of no less significance, is the Prime Minister’s threat to impose tighter restrictions on universities in relation to student’s rights of protest, not least his threat to remove student visas from all foreign students regarded as publicly voicing opinions ‘not conducive to our national values’.

‘The next election will be about Muslims and will be about the taking away of civil liberties in this country’

In the hours following his official appointment in parliament, the new Rochdale MP, George Galloway, made clear his interpretation of the Prime Minister’s speech. Speaking to waiting media outside the Palace of Westminster, George Galloway was lucid in his condemnation of the plans being rolled out by the government. He said:

‘It’s clear to me that Sunak has identified Muslims and Gaza as the proximate center of that wedge issue that he intends to use as perhaps his only hope of re-election. It’s quite clear that there’s going to be a raft of measures that will take away still further freedoms from the British people. Freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, freedom to protest and to demonstrate and if they had their way, freedom to elect people that the establishment doesn’t like. That was also the meaning of his rather embarrassing impromptu performance outside number ten. And what do I mean by wedge issue? They want to force Starmer either to stand up and defend the democratic rights of the British people, including the rights of its religious and ethnic minorities – and if he does that I am a Dutchman, or to engage him in what will turn out to be a Dutch auction of nastiness. If he chooses, as I suspect he will, the latter, that’s going to allow us and independent candidates to pick up potentially millions of votes from those who treasure the free rights that we have enjoyed since the Second World War in this country and who wish to defend the Muslim communities in Britain. Either way, that suits Rishi Sunak. So that’s what I’m predicting here. The next election will be about Muslims and will be about the taking away of civil liberties in this country. It’s Sunak’s last hope. I pray for the social peace of our country that it’s a forlorn hope.’

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