The parallel lives of anti-Muslim and Muslim activists are remarkable. They reside in different rooms of the same house: only the furniture is different. They read from the same script; only the actors are diverse. The conspiracies they take to heart are the same; only the protagonists are unique.
For anti-Muslim activists, Stephen Yaxley Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, finds himself incarcerated not for contempt of court, but as part of a vicious plot to silence all dissenting voices. It is an evil conspiracy on the part of the political establishment, to take down those who speak the truth to power; to undermine a prominent voice of the voiceless working class. There is no freedom of speech, lament his supporters, for critics of the establishment.
For Muslim activists, Tariq Ramadan finds himself held in pre-trial detention, like nearly 20,000 others, not for allegations of sexual abuse, but as part of a vicious plot to silence all dissenting voices. It is an evil conspiracy on the part of the political establishment, to take down those who speak the truth to power; to undermine a prominent voice of voiceless Muslim immigrants. There is no freedom of speech, lament his supporters, for critics of the establishment.
Listen to either camp, and their arguments are the same: that the mass mobilisations protesting for the release of their beloved in the past week were completely ignored by the mainstream media; that the silence of the establishment on both cases is apparently resounding; that both are held in solitary confinement, although the authorities deny it; that the attempts to silence all discussion of critical issues is profound.
Even the causes of each camp utilise the same template. For anti-Muslim activists, the honour of their women is key, hence the focus on rape gangs, grooming vulnerable women for abuse. For Muslim activists, the honour of their women is key, hence the focus on attacks on hijab-wearing women. Both groups conflate a minority of actors with the whole. For anti-Muslim activists, the grooming gangs are a symptomatic problem of those who practice the Islamic faith: an awful conspiracy perpetuated by a foreign force intent on establishing a caliphate in our midst. For Muslim activists, Islamophobic attacks are an enduring legacy of hundreds of years of prejudice against those who practice the Islamic faith: an awful conspiracy aimed at undermining any attempt at self-determination in Muslim lands.
And both camps have their prodigious heroes, bringing new order to the world. For anti-Muslim activists, President Trump is their political saviour, vanquishing all the world with his no-nonsense advocacy for the forgotten and down-trodden. For Muslim activists, President Erdoğan is is their political saviour, vanquishing all the world with his no-nonsense advocacy for the forgotten and down-trodden. To each their strongman hero, speaking the truth to the old elites, and hated by liberals everywhere.
These two camps — the anti-Muslim and Muslim activists — are kindred spirits. They are like blood brothers, sharing the same DNA. Perhaps they have spent too much time in each other’s company. They read and interpret the news the same way, presenting facts which conform to their agenda, while ignoring all the rest. Propaganda is par for the course. Wallowing in their permanent state of victimisation is mandatory. The politics of identity is everything. Populist sentiment is its driving force.
Spend too much time in the presence of either or both of these two camps, and you will begin to inhabit their world, believing that their presentation of the facts is flawless. Yes, soon you will see those conspiracies all around you: the silencing of dissenting voices; the institutional bias and prejudice against your people; the attack on your way of life. But ponder more deeply, or take in the facts they forgot to tell you, or rub shoulders with the other: then you will begin to notice how alike these two groups are, and how separate from the reality of the rest.
Where are our intelligent ones, who will prevent these two sides of the same coin from setting our agenda for years to come? Where are the servants of nuance, of considered investigation and probing research? Where are those who will rub their eyes and see beyond the politicised rhetoric of identity? Someone needs to take on that mantle, if we are to avoid the descent into the polarised world of us and them again, brought to life to such horrific effect throughout the twentieth century. Someone needs to come between the populist rabble rousers, so intent on remaking the world in their image. If you’re looking for a cause to believe in, let that someone be you.