For months the turning point in British – and European – history was being anticipated; would Britain remain in the European Union, or leave in order to further its own regulations and restrictions?
Prominent politicians joined and changed sides in the debate, marketing campaigns were started afresh, debates took place in and out of Parliament, and updates were broadcasted on media in the months running up to the referendum.
This was all following negotiations regarding Britain’s place in the EU summit, in which Prime Minister David Cameron secured a deal on February 19th that would, among other agreements, allow the UK exclusivity from the demands placed on other EU members. Despite the deal being relatively successful, the referendum was still to go ahead as promised, with Cameron amusingly putting the decision in the hands of the public.
And so when the vote was cast on June 23rd, the results seemed to be a 50/50 split with the Remain party taking a lead and expecting to win. When the results were announced and the Leave campaign won the vote; however, the whole country, and indeed the whole of Europe was in shock.
The pound currency was immediately devalued, markets crashed, and one of the biggest political experiments since the last century was left at a loss. Britain, which was a main player in the Union and was certainly no Greece, would be the first member to leave the EU since its creation in 1950.
The reaction across Europe was for the most part that of regret; French President Francois Hollande called it “a tough test for Europe,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that it is “a blow to Europe and to the European unification process.”
Much has been said regarding the impacts Brexit would have on the British economy, regulations, and political standing; of which has partly been proven true with the immediate fall of the pound’s value, and the drop of the British passport’s rankings in the Quality of Nationality Index.
But what about the Muslims of Britain? Brexit’s impact on us has hardly been touched by the mainstream media.
British Muslim opinion and impacts
Before the referendum, the overall stance of British Muslims on the concept of Brexit was as varied as the rest of the population; mainly because Muslims are indeed integrated citizens (as unbelievable as it may seem to the far-right).
Unlike the rest of the population, however, they had two factors to take into consideration: The political and economic risks as common citizens, and the threat of increasing discrimination as Muslims.
This second factor had us stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The EU’s open border policy meant the constant influx of eastern Europeans and their popular anti-Islamic sentiments for starters, but more importantly the risk of Islamophobic legislations that have been developed by the governments of many European states, and which would be likely to eventually influence Britain to take up similar measures.
Take, for example, Switzerland’s ban on minarets, Italy’s ban on the building of new mosques, the ongoing debate in the Netherlands on the legality of Islam, and Austria’s prohibition of foreign funding to mosques, and even limitations on using Arabic in religious sermons.
Add to all that the numerous bans on the niqab, burqa, and hijab throughout Europe, of which has already started a similar debate in the UK. All of these risks have been at the forefront of the concerns of British Muslims who voted to leave (in case you’re wondering why they may have done such a thing).
That was just the rock. The hard place is that even though the UK might have broken free from the ever-increasing Islamophobia of Europe, we now face our own far-right political parties in Britain, namely the likes of UKIP and Britain First. Leaving the EU was the cornerstone of their campaign, but it was also their first triumph, meaning they have gained a significant foothold in British politics, which would open the doors to further opportunities and a higher standing, particularly among the white working class majority in the Brexit heartlands of the north and west of England. This has given them more space, freedom, and time to turn their gaze on issues concerning immigration and Islam. They have four years to prepare for their next campaign, after all.
Overall, among all of the differing views on how Brexit will impact the British economy, limit trade, strengthen the far-right, and change the political scene, there is one perspective that is far more dramatic – the collapse of the EU and the breakup of Europe.
Britain’s exit from the EU has already triggered reactions from numerous political figures and parties across Europe (again, from the far-right) expressing their desire to leave the Union, and has brought along with it the fear of a fragmented Europe, which first united with the intention of peace and solidarity after the horrific events of World War Two.
Nationalists in those countries see the EU as an obstacle to their freedom to make their own decisions. They believe that as long as they are shackled by regulations made by eurocrats in Brussels, they will not be truly independent. They see themselves like a group of children under a restrictive father, aching to be free and to make their own choices. Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey Nurettin Canikli worded it perfectly: “The fragmentation of the EU has started. Britain was the first to abandon ship.”
Could it be that the European Union is a sinking ship, heading towards an eventual collapse? Will the far-right across Europe succeed in plunging the continent into a pit of division and rivalry? And did Britain leave the EU to pursue its own plans unhindered?
Whatever the cause and intention of Brexit, there is no doubt that this is the start of a new era for Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world.
Written by Muhammad Javed.