The recent Legoland incident has led to a series of on-line debates and discussions and shrill pieces like the Daily Mail’s Littlejohn article. The Daily Mail was followed by a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain which 27 other organisations signed showing their disgust at the ‘Jolly Jihadi Boys Outing’ article in the Daily Mail.
The Legoland incident had two colliding factors that raised the shrill levels. These included the involvement of Haitham Al Haddad who has been allegedly associated at times with comments purported to be anti-Semitic and anti-gay. These comments, (we are aware of his position on the gay community), need to be challenged since he has a public platform and his comments have included suggesting that gay people are evil. (We also have to add that the Christian right have identical comments to Haitham Al Haddad and scratch the surface of bigoted Far Right sympathisers and out come the bigoted gay bashing views of such people).
The second colliding factor was the assumption that Muslim families were getting some form of special treatment through exclusive access to Legoland, which was not the case. (This assumption that Muslims get special treatment is a particularly strong narrative that underpins the views of people who look at Muslims as being problematic or troublesome. A discussion with people holding such views usually leads to a conversation in which Muslims, according to them, seem to be hell-bent on taking over the UK, being scroungers, wanting to spread Sharia or breeding too much. Believe it or not, they actually believe this nonsense).
So what is the impact of these events that are meant to be community days out and which were picked up by extremist EDL and other Far Right networks who started to raise the shrill level. Apart from Littlejohn suggesting that young boys attending the Legoland event were future ‘Jihadi’s’, what else do they do?
A community conversation with over 25 Muslim women on the Legoland affair which we conducted over the last few days is telling. Views ranged from, “why should we bother to try to feel a part of this country when even a simple outing is splashed across the papers.” Another said, “so our children are now Jihadis because they come with us to a place where the family can just have a day out. Is this what they think of us.” A third stated, “they actually want us to be Jihadis. The press puts us into a place mentally where they paint a picture of us and when we get fed up, then they say, you see, they are all barbarians.”
What was interesting was the use of the term ‘they’. Women at the discussion group were starting to take mental positions that placed them apart from other communities and wider society since they perceived being outsiders; that a simple day out which was turned on its head to be a Jihadi outing was a signal that they and their families were not wanted, that they were unwelcome in a broader sense.
The long-term impacts on cohesion of such events is unknown. However, a glance at the threats to Muslims and to Legoland below and the polarised views that some Muslim women were raising in our discussion session, does not bode well for the future. If this is the result of groups like the EDL then there is a great deal of work to be done. Those who think that they can shirk their past actions by starting afresh better take a long and hard look at the legacy of their work and this also goes for those who place themselves in positions of being preachers. If you decide to take the public platform and place yourself in a position of influence, then you had better take a long hard look at yourself and ask whether your involvement and your actions will help communities develop positively so that they play a constructive role in society or will your engagement taint the very communities that you seek to serve. Stop and think!