You might have heard the term no-go zones, a vague concept often used to describe the idea of an unsafe part of a community. Often, the term is used to discuss an area which should be avoided by those outside the Islamic faith. While there is little to no evidence outside of hearsay for these areas existing, the idea is a popular way to stoke a racist fear of Muslim communities.
We saw the term discussed recently in The Mail Online where a book was featured that described towns in the UK were unsafe for white people to enter. The book in question was ‘Among The Mosques’ by Ed Hussein a professor at Georgetown University who travelled throughout the UK visiting mosques around the country. Despite the claims made in the book, Georgetown’s own Bridge Initiative have rejected the idea of no-go zones.
One of the towns that was mentioned in the article was the Manchester suburb of Didsbury. While the area does have a Muslim community, the 2011 census recorded just 5.07% of Didsbury West as Muslim in comparison with 43.93% of the population as Christian. This information, combined with backlash from local community members quickly made a mockery of the articles claims.
The article displayed a picture of the Mosque in Didsbury, and discussed a sign seen within for the ‘Sharia Department’. This is a supporting factor in the myth of no-go zones, that these zones are subject to Sharia Law. While this is designed to stoke fear of a parallel legal system, operating outside the laws of the UK itself, the existence of Sharia Councils, while factual, is something very different than the imagined threat.
Sharia Councils do exist within the UK, but their purpose is the same as a Catholic Consistory Court or Jewish Beth Din. They exist to help couples work through issue via arbitration and authorize divorces, and in these functions, their existence is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. In all respects, however, none of these religious councils have the right to override anything that is enshrined in UK law.
The question remains however, if it’s so easy to disprove this myth, why has it gained such a strong hold?
No-go areas as a concept have existed for years. In the 1950s the Triad gangs were said to have complete control of Kowloon and it was at that time, inaccessible to law enforcement. The same can be said of ‘Free Derry’ in Northern Ireland which was off limits to the British Army who were occupying the territory. These historical examples are based on conflict or criminal interest, the associations with Muslim communities however are much more recent.
An article published in the New York Times by David Ignatius talked about areas of Paris that were unsafe for non-Muslims at night. The concept that Ignatius discussed in his article was adopted by the writer Daniel Pipes and other right wing and white nationalist figures such as the manifesto of Andres Breivik. By 2015 the concept had moved into more of a mainstream field, being discussed on Fox news by Steven Emerson. The self-described ‘Terrorism Expert’ told Fox that many areas in the US and Europe had Muslim only no-go zones, he also claimed that the City of Birmingham in the UK was completely unsafe for non-Muslims.
His claims were false and provoked a significant backlash from political figures such as David Cameron who was then the UK Prime Minister, and Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor threatening to sue Fox News for broadcasting the misinformation. Although both the news network and Emerson himself issued a apology for the claims, they were quickly repeated by a candidate running for president the next day.
The idea has since refused to leave the public consciousness, with Hope Not Hate’s ‘state of hate’ report finding that 37% of the population of the UK believes that Muslim no-go zones, controlled by Sharia law exist. Although this may seem like a large number of people for a claim that has been disproved several times over, it shows the effectiveness that narratives such as this have in creating distrust.
The UK’s home office has helped to build this fear by promotion of its own ‘Hostile Environment’ policies. Dawn removal raids, increased difficulty in accessing healthcare and punitive measures for employers seeking to bring workers into the country all help to send the message that immigration should be seen as a negative. This is despite evidence to suggest that ‘economic’ migration is a net benefit to the UK and may well be a key in supporting a post-Brexit economy. When this is combined with the criminalizing language that looks to link the word ‘illegal’ to the word immigrant despite longstanding alternatives being recommended, it becomes easier to see why something that is essentially a conspiracy theory, can be so believable.
Ultimately, there should be a shared duty for all of us to challenge myths that threaten our communities. If a lie of this nature is allowed to be seen as a truth, it serves only to benefit those who wish to foster hate and division. Groups such as Britain First, National Action and the EDL rely on myths like this to spread their messaging and recruit new members. If we fail to work against them, we will always lack the unity needed to make a country great.
Tom Huggins-Teasdale is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.