I was in the Houses of Parliament at the launch of Facebook’s global guide, produced in partnership with Faith Associates, to tackle online hatred against Muslims when I first heard about Donald Trump’s retweet of Britain First’s inflammatory postings.
Although the far-right group’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, was over the moon with the retweets, the rest of the world has been horrified – and with every justification. Words such as shock, horror and disbelief cannot do justice to the emotions that overcame me at that moment I saw this post on social media.
Here I was sharing a platform with MPs from across the political spectrum, all speaking out against the rise in anti-Muslim hatred and warning of the consequences of Islamophobia, and here was the most powerful man in the world irresponsibly promoting fascism, racism and bigotry.
All of us who spend time on social media have probably retweeted people we might not be aware of – or not been fully aware of their extreme views on certain issues.
Yet, by responding so provocatively to Prime Minister’s own tweet in which Theresa May condemned Trump, the President of the United States has shown that retweeting the far-right group was not an error in judgment but a calculated move on his part to stir up intolerance and hatred against Muslims.
By not backing off, Trump is wantonly undermining a key strand of Britain’s anti-extremism and anti-terrorism strategy.
If we have a US President who believes in an Islam versus the West “clash of civilisation” policy, it is really important that our politicians reject falling into this Isis trap.
Groups like Britain First, or even populist leaders like Trump, do not want people like me – those of different colour, religion, background and views – in the West. That much is clear.
Trump is the logical and most grotesque expression of a variety of trends which we have allowed to fester against ethnicities.
But the unanimous contempt towards Trump’s ludicrous, abhorrent statement across political and religious divides makes me proud to be British.
Britain First has been instrumental in preying on vulnerable communities, inciting intolerance and radicalising right-wing extremists.
I have seen Britain First march through our towns shouting abusive anti-Muslim slogans, intimidating women with headscarves, telling lies such as that Britain is going to have “sharia” law unless Muslims are thrown out of the country.
I have neither forgotten the murderer of Jo Cox MP, who shouted “Britain First” as he attacked the Batley and Spen MP, nor the killers of Mohammad Salim and Muhsin Khan – the elderly gentlemen who were murdered by the far right as they walked back from their mosque.
Like Isis and its affiliates, Britain First exploit religion to promote their hate-filled and bigoted views. They carry the Christian symbol, the cross, and use parts of the Bible to legitimise their fascist views.
All major church denominations across the UK have rightly denounced their actions and must continue to do so.
Dr Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said yesterday in an act of reassurance: “Britain First does not share our values of tolerance and solidarity. God calls us as Christians to love our neighbour and seek the flourishing of all in our communities, societies and nations.”
Britain First is a vile far-right group which undermines our values by inciting hostility towards Muslims and immigrants. We must not let hatred against Muslims be legitimised in our country.
The threat posed by those who have been radicalised by far-right extremism must be recognised.
It is much more than a political irritant – Muslim communities not only feel threatened by Isis affiliates but also by far-right sympathisers. In fact, Muslims feel more vulnerable now than ever before.
When populist leaders, including the President of the United States, make it acceptable to hate people, or bar people from entering the US merely on the grounds of their religion or identity, it is not surprising that Islamophobia is on the rise.
Trump’s politics of hate towards Muslims stir dark echoes of the Holocaust and the genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica. Genocides do not happen overnight. When intolerance goes unchallenged, the chambers of death are prepared to swallow minorities.
The senseless violence caused by terrorists, slowly-creeping fascism, politics of hatred and toxic ‘them against us’ narrative can only be defeated by sharing our views and concerns, standing together, protecting each other’s liberties – and striving for the flourishing of humanity.
Qari Asim is a Leeds imam and member of the Government’s anti-Muslim hatred group. He can be reached at @QariAsim