Rakib Ehsan

The establishment has not been robust enough against Muslim antisemitism

The existence of ‘parallel societies’ in our country must be treated with the utmost seriousness


BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: A general view over Blackburn in northern England where Texas synagogue hostage-taker Malik Faisal Akram is reported to be from on January 17, 2022 in Blackburn, England. Malik Faisal Akram, 44, from Blackburn, was shot dead after a standoff with police in Colleyville, Texas, where he took hostages in a synagogue. The hostages escaped unharmed. U.S. police said Mr Akram arrived in the country via New York's JFK airport two weeks ago. Yesterday, two teenagers were arrested in South Manchester as part of the investigation into the incident. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

January 19, 2022 11:15

The dreadful scenes over the weekend at Beth Israel synagogue in Texas should be a watershed moment for the UK.

It is understood that the gunman, Malik Faisal Akram, from Blackburn, was on the radar of MI5. For some time I have raised concerns over the relatively high levels of antisemitism in British Muslim communities when compared with the general population. A 2017 Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) study found that while anti-Jewish views about supposed superiority, wealth, power and the exploitation of victimhood are not necessarily commonplace among British Muslims, they are certainly more prevalent when compared to the wider public.

Building on the JPR study, my August 2020 report published for the Henry Jackson Society discovered that levels of antisemitism are especially high among British Muslim respondents who are part of more socially segregated networks.

This is especially pertinent when one considers that Akram’s hometown of Blackburn remains one of the most segregated towns in the whole of Britain. It is an industrial northern town with limited prospects for the meaningful integration of its currently divided communities.

Blackburn has history when it comes to Islamist extremists planning to carry out terrorist attacks abroad. Back in October 2015, a Blackburn teenager who plotted to behead police officers at an Anzac Day parade in Australia was sentenced to life imprisonment. Convicted at fifteen years of age, he cited Osama Bin Laden as his hero.

More recently in May 2021 we witnessed another horrific incident, which appeared to show antisemitic abuse against British Jewish women by pro-Palestinian demonstrators driving through St. John’s Wood in North London. The four men charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words, or behaviour, with intent, likely to stir up racial hatred were from Blackburn.

For too long the political establishment has failed to take a robust approach to antisemitism in British Muslim communities. Back in July 2012, married couple Muhammad Sajid Khan and Shasta Khan were both jailed after having explored Jewish targets in Greater Manchester while planning acts of terror. Another married couple, Ummarayiat Mirza and Madihah Taheer, were both sentenced to prison in December 2017 for plotting a terror attack in Birmingham. Targets scouted included the city’s central synagogue.

Anti-Jewish Islamist terrorist activity involving British citizens is not new – but much of the British public can be forgiven for never hearing of these convictions.

A localised multi-agency approach – involving educational institutions, good-faith civic associations, social services, and local police forces - is required to combat antisemitism in British Muslim communities. This includes challenging unfounded antisemitic conspiracy theories which have the potential to undermine the safety of Jewish people.

A somewhat under-reported element of the Colleyville terror incident is that Akram is said to have asked the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel to contact a rabbi based in New York to secure the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui. Why was Akram led to think that a rabbi in New York had the power and influence to organise the release of an inmate at a United States federal prison? Antisemitic conspiracy theories relating to New York’s Jewish leadership may have played a part.

It is these kinds of unfounded conspiracies which are more likely to take root in the intensely segregated sections of the British Muslim population. The existence of ‘parallel societies’ in Britain carries significant social risks which must be treated with the utmost seriousness by the UK government.

As a society, we should not be selective in the kinds of antisemitism we tackle on the basis of our own personal backgrounds and political affiliations. Irrespective of the ideological source – Islamist-inspired, far-right, or far-left – it must be acknowledged that contemporary anti-Jewish hatred remains a serious threat in modern-day Britain.

I am proud to be a patron of Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS), an interfaith charity that works to cultivate stronger Muslim-Jewish relations in the UK. These are the kind of organisations that require more public backing and support.

For some time, community voices which prioritise narrow group interests over broader social cohesion have been given a disproportionately high level of influence under Britain’s model of state multiculturalism. This is not a sustainable state of affairs from a community-relations perspective. We should be looking to empower anti-Islamist British Muslims who can play an integral part in helping their country to develop a more resilient counter-extremism infrastructure.

The dreadful events which unfolded in Colleyville last weekend must serve as a serious wake-up call for British citizens of all faiths and none to challenge antisemitic hate in our communities.

A failure to do so will further compromise the safety and security of Jews - both at home and abroad.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a Patron of Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS) @rakibehsan 

January 19, 2022 11:15

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