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‘Why We Must Stand Up Against Those Fanning the Flames of Hate’

Labour MP Naz Shah received a wave of hatred and abuse after resigning as one of Keir Starmer’s Shadow Ministers over the issue of a ceasefire in Palestine

Labour MP Naz Shah addresses a rally outside Parliament in 2017. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

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The last few weeks have been challenging, to say the least, both politically and personally.

Politically, by voting for an immediate ceasefire, a matter of great importance to me and my constituents, I gave up my position as part of Labour’s front bench.

Personally, I’ve had to make a number of complaints to the police due to the abuse and hatred I have received as a result of that vote.

The irony of receiving so much Islamophobic abuse during Islamophobia Awareness Month is not lost on me.

However, it is also no surprise given the unprecedented level of dog whistle politics that the former Home Secretary Suella Braverman brought to the forefront, a stark reminder of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The only difference being at least some thought of Enoch Powell as an intellectual heavyweight, albeit a bigoted one, while this was a pathetic and dangerous attempt from a woman in a position of huge power to deflect from her own incompetencies and further pursue her political ambitions by fanning the flames of hate.

Since taking public office in 2015, sadly, I have become accustomed to Islamophobia. However, the increase in divisions amongst people since 7 October is something we neglect at our peril.

This hate is real, it is growing, and it needs to stop.

It is growing because in this tornado of hate, good people have remained silent; there is an absence of leadership, which is creating a void; a void in which those who feed on hate have arisen to take the podium.

As a society, we must, each and every one of us, play our part to contribute to community cohesion, to help heal the wounds of division, and to strive for a society that eradicates the cancer of hatred.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the offices of fellow parliamentarians vandalised, homes desecrated, worshippers intimidated, and communities feeling hurt and frightened, be it those leaving a Mosque or a Synagogue.

None of this is acceptable.

The antidote, which may seem clichéd, is love, peace and empathy. This requires us not only to call out hatred but also to have the courage to have brave conversations amongst ourselves, our colleagues, our friends, our families, our communities and across society. As well as having the courage to listen to those with whom we may not always agree.

This bravery and courage is also required when all of us deal with our own communities and with individuals who get it wrong.

Just as Muslims appreciate the few who call out the blatant Islamophobia we have seen from some politicians and newspapers, it is also incumbent upon us to call out the gross Antisemitism spewed during sermons within some Mosques, even when amongst those who are exposing such hatred are themselves bad-faith actors using such parallels to pit further division and hate.

When I receive texts from both Muslim friends and Jewish friends highlighting issues of both Antisemitism and Islamophobia, we have to lead despite the inevitable blowback from those whose narratives we challenge.

For those in positions of influence, it is only by putting our heads above the parapet that we can claim we are upstanders and not bystanders.

The need today is like never before. Today’s leaders are competing not with intellect and experience but with social media influencers, the type that thrive on the division that gives them relevance, which they otherwise could not earn in traditional ways through learning, experience and the hard work of building bridges which provide hope and lead to peace.

Equally, we mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, and we must call upon those influencers who do use their platform in genuine ways to raise awareness about inequality and injustice wherever that may be happening; luckily for us, they are greater in number.

This is a responsibility that we cannot and must not shy away from.

In the age of misinformation and instantaneous news cycles, we must double down on verifying the sources from which we get our information and share to build peace, not hatred and division.

Communities are hurting, people, including me, feeling helpless and doing what little we can to try and play our part in building peace. People of faith and no faith, people in the Holy Land and people beyond, all feeling pained by what we are witnessing.

But here’s the thing in all of this, faced with the bigots who can afford to paint everyone with the same brush, reason and intellect tell us otherwise. Just as I will never accept anyone holding me or my fellow British Muslims responsible for the actions of Hamas, I will not accept anyone holding British Jews for the ongoing killings of Palestinians.

Our human values demand of us that we do better and better we must do.

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