Invoking “British values” is a racist and Islamophobic tool of exclusion

Marginalised groups including Muslims, migrants and trans people continue to be scapegoated by the Government and media, and turned into targets of hate. The latest iteration of this came in the form of a Sky News interview with Nigel Farage on Sunday 26th May 2024. He claimed there are a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to ‘British values’ and “in fact loathe much of what we stand for.” When pressed by the interviewer, he confirmed he was talking about Muslim communities. 

The colonial rhetoric of Islamophobia

His comments are Islamophobic, and an example of how to whip up sensationalist headlines in order to paint Muslim communities as a “threat”. This dehumanisation is used to greenlight further violence and oppression against marginalised communities. This pattern is not new: it is part of a long history of colonial, orientalist rhetoric that continues to paint racialised communities as “uncivilised”, “savage” and “barbaric”. Today, it is used to link Muslims with “terrorism”.

Farage’s comments are part of a wider demonisation of Muslim and migrant communities. Examples of this include the former Home Secretary’s comments on grooming gangs, her disparaging remarks about pro-Palestine protesters, and her demonisation of people seeking asylum as an “invasion”.  Farage’s comments also clearly indicate how normalised racist, divisive language has become in mainstream politics and media, especially language that pits marginalised groups against each other. 

“British values” are a form of internal border

We have previously spoken about how the language of “integration” functions as an internal border, but the same can be said for the language of “British values”. So-called “British values” are seen to be an inherent and innate part of White British culture, and racialised communities and their cultures are seen to be eternally opposed to these “British values”. Racialised and migratised communities are painted as having innately different value systems that threaten societal “cohesion”, and so are cast as perpetual outsiders, who are constructed as never being “British” enough. The creation of a perpetual threat seemingly justifies the implementation of authoritarian counter-terrorism measures against marginalised people.  

The politics of distraction

Invoking “British values” is a racist and Islamophobic tool of exclusion but it is also a distraction. It is used by many parts of society, including the media, to divert attention away from how the Government repeatedly fails to honour these “values” that it purports to uphold: values of liberty, democracy and respect for the rule of law. Time and time again, we have seen the Government violate the basic tenets of these values by ramping up surveillance, detention and violence against marginalised communities, both at home and abroad- a key example of this is the Prevent mechanism. Prevent is a form of state surveillance that disproportionately impacts racialised, especially Muslim, communities. It leads to thousands of people (mainly Muslims) being treated with suspicion on the basis they are assumed to be more likely to commit or support an act of terrorism.

The threat to our collective dignity and safety are hateful narratives like those set out in this interview, and reinforced by harmful Government policies and media headlines. The key to challenging deep injustices in society is understanding our shared struggle- one that links all marginalised communities including migrants, Muslims, Jewish people, queer people, disabled people and the working class. In standing together, we can tackle the harmful norms and narratives that oppress us all. 

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