Are British Muslims, as Nigel Farage argues, “conflicted in their loyalties” to Britain? It is a statement that drew wide political condemnation; but somewhat misses the point. The statement has two clear aims: to suture the wounds of embarrassing financial revelations and reassure supporters that Farage shares their anxieties towards Muslims, their faith, cultural identity and immigration.
In a speech to a eurosceptic rally in Hampshire, Farage again referenced a “fifth column in this country”. In the fallout of the Paris atrocities in January, Farage warned of a “fifth column” operating within Britain. Rhetoric that mirrors the language of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Farage repeated the “fifth column” claim in March 2015.
That Hampshire speech again reinforced the idea of a “Judeo-Christian” culture – a statement Farage also made after the first Paris atrocities in January. Yet the idea of this shared religious and cultural experience owes more to myth than fact. Farage also wants all faiths institutions to declare their funding in an effort to root out radicalisation.
On November 16, Farage tweeted “It is deeply worrying that after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, 27% of British Muslims in a poll found some sympathy with the killers.” Perhaps, a reflection of the character limit, but in actual fact, the poll found that 27 per cent had some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Yet two-thirds rejected violent reprisals for those who publish cartoons of the Prophet. Is the poll reflective of opinion or an outlier? Without a comparable it becomes harder to determine trends – as a measure of sympathy often did not translate into justifications of violence. A vast majority also declared loyalty (95 per cent) to Britain and its laws (93 per cent).
Nor are anti-Muslim statements a recent phenomenon for Ukip’s hierarchy. In 2010, Nigel Farage called for a burqa ban because it symbolised an “increasingly divided Britain”. That statement then turned into a policy pledge for the election that year. But in 2013, Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall confirmed the party had abandoned that policy.
Despite never forming party policy, one of its most senior MEPs Gerrard Batten, commissioned the ‘Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding’ that asked British Muslims to sign a special code of conduct that rejects violence. Batten also suggested it is a big mistake for Europe to allow “an explosion of mosques across their land”. The author of Batten’s ‘Muslim Charter’ has linked up with the larger Islamophobia network in the United States.
Following the Paris atrocities in January, Batten renewed calls for British Muslims to sign his code of conduct renouncing violence. In the same month
In a discussion with Fox News host Sean Hannity on ‘Radical Islam’ Farage made several inflammatory statements including: “In parts of Northern England, we’ve seen the sexual grooming scandal of underage girls, committed by Muslim men in the majority”.
Accidental or not, Farage recycled a popular Islamophobic trope that equates Muslims with paedophiles and sexual groomers (when there is scant evidence of religious motivation). But Farage later retracted claims about ‘Muslim no-go areas’ in Britain on Radio 4’s Today programme.
In an interview with the Scottish Daily Mail, Ukip MEP David Coburn compared the Muslim SNP minister Humza Yousaf to convicted terrorist Abu Hamza.
When pressed for comment, Farage rejected cross-party calls to remove Coburn from Ukip and claimed the remark was simply ‘a joke made in poor taste’.
Magnus Nielsen, who stood in both the 2010 and 2015 elections, sent a 15,000 word manifesto to local press and supporters that suggested Britain is being ‘dominated’ by Islam with the ‘silent and invisible certainty of carbon monoxide poisoning’. Nielsen was filmed alongside another failed Ukip candidate Anne-Marie Waters at a rally making Islamophobic statements.
During the General Election campaign, Farage made the apocalyptic prediction that “half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilisation.” This rhetoric continues to appear in more recent statements:
A YouGov poll commissioned shortly after the Paris atrocities in January found that 77 per cent of Ukip supporters (246 out of a sample of 1684) held a ‘wholly’ negative or ‘mainly’ negative view of Islam. Yet, there some important caveats to consider (outside the small sample): that Islam is not beyond scrutiny and anxieties around Muslims do not always lead to Islamophobic statements or actions.
Both data sets offer a window into a discussion on the wider anxieties around Islam, terrorism, and Muslim communities in the age of globalised migration. Previous research from academics noted that a cross section of Ukip and BNP supporters appeared ‘absolutely convinced’ that Islam poses a significant threat to Britain.
Farage knows how to speak to his supporters, reflect their anxieties and offer solutions. Condemnation will not work as the message intends to secure party support and speak to individuals who share similar anxieties.