It increasingly appears so here in Britain. Last week, The Sun newspaper published a front page headline claiming “One in Five British Muslims Sympathize with Jihadis.” Alongside the headline was a picture of the infamous ISIS executioner,”Jihadi John,” making it quite clear what The Sun meant by “jihadis”.
It was a typical smear. One in five British Muslims do not support ISIS, of course they don’t, but The Sun knew such a sensational headline would sell a great deal of newspapers. It later emerged that the survey results The Sun had based their headline on had not mentioned the Islamic State once, or even the word “jihadi.” Respondents had simply been asked whether they sympathized with British Muslims going to fight in Syria, without specifying who they were going to fight with. Given Britons travelling to Syria have gone to fight with the Kurds, the Free Syrian Army or moderate Islamists, the one in five figure looks a little less surprising.
“Sympathizing” was also criticized by polling experts as a highly ambiguous term. The survey attracted a record number of complaints to Britain’s press regulator. The Sun refused to apologize. It remains Britain’s biggest selling tabloid newspaper with the power to make or break elections. Would it have conducted a smear like above against Jews? I think not. The day after The Sun published their headline, yet another British mosque was attacked by far-right thugs.
The rise of the far right is concerning, as is the effect of this media-propagated Islamophobia on Britain’s attitude towards Syrian refugees. Polls have consistently showed public opposition to Syrians being let into Britain since the crisis began. The government has in response all but closed her borders. The media has played a crucial role, a phenomenon we have seen before.
In the years preceding, during and after The Holocaust, Conservative and Labour governments actively restricted the number of Jews entering Britain. This is not commonly known in Britain today. The Anglo-Jewish community was told to cover the refugees costs themselves, with no assistance from the taxpayer. Many Jews were interned in camps on arrival, and told to minimize signs of their Jewish culture on release. It was hard for Jews to find work. As the numbers of arrivals began to rise and the war drew closer, the government introduced our first ever visa system, designed to restrict further Jewish immigration. We didn’t kill Jews like Hitler, but we certainly didn’t treat them well.
In 1938, the British government responded to the Anschluss escalation not by opening the borders for refugees, who were now in near panic, but by reducing the of numbers of visas available to Austrian Jews. The counter-intuitive policy was designed to reassure anti-Jewish elements in the British public the government was not going “soft” on immigration, nor offering cowardly “appeasements” towards a community many Britons suspected of sedition. Whether Jews were killed or not was immaterial. The Jewish community was accused by the media of infiltrating British institutions for financial gain, or of conspiracies to shape government policy. Jews were later collectively blamed for
terrorist attacks perpetrated by Jewish extremists in the Palestinian Mandate.
We see nearly identical and equally accusations being made today against Britain’s Muslims. Winston Churchill, his letters later revealed, was keen not to present the European conflict as a fight for the Jewish people for fear of upsetting voters. Right-wing media barons had put pressure on the British government by swaying their readership against Jews. This was mainly done by thinly veiled Judaeophobic commentary.
1. Leading the charge was the Daily Mail, a major British newspaper today, whose
headline “German Jews Pouring into this Country” reported on a British judge who condemned high levels of Jewish immigration as “an outrage”. The report noted that,
2. “In these words, Mr. Herbert Metcalfe, the Old Street magistrate …. referred to the number of aliens entering this country “through the back door“, a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.”
It’s hard to estimate how many of Jews might have been saved from Hitler’s ovens had newspapers like the Daily Mail not been publishing these anti-Jewish screeds so frequently in the years leading up to the Second World War. Would the government have felt pressured by a pre-war electorate if it hadn’t been brainwashed and biased against Jews? It’s grim arithmetic is worth considering.
The Daily Mail retains a huge readership today. It has been in the vanguard of attacking Muslims and Muslim immigration, and the government has responded as they did before the Second World War, by pulling up the drawbridge.
This is not just about shutting out needy refugees. Mosques are being attacked increasingly frequently, while women wearing the hijab are frightened to walk out in the street. I was depressed to hear a Muslim community leader in South London give his bleak assessment. “People never talked about this before. I mean, the countries where they’d go. Should the government just kick us all out? Maybe Malaysia or Indonesia?”
It’s not serious discussions, but it’s the first time I’ve heard people speaking like that. I hope he was exaggerating.