Should someone be sentenced to prison for throwing a bottle at a police officer in a political demonstration? That is what Yahia Tebani, a Muslim Brit, is facing when he is sentenced this month. Tebani is one of 78 protesters, young men in their 20s and almost all Muslim, who are being charged with public order offenses. This story goes back to the Israeli attack on Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009.
In January of 2009, a demonstration was held outside the Israeli embassy in the UK where about 50,000 people, from various religious backgrounds and political orientations, were protesting the strikes on Gaza. The demonstrations were heavily policed and some demonstrators threw sticks and bottles. Since that demonstration, protesters have been arrested and some are receiving harsh punishments–a year in prison for throwing a bottle–to serve as examples to others. The problem, however, is how the police have arrested some of them through nighttime raids on their homes and the fact the majority arrested are Muslims, even though many others were at the demonstration. As a result, there is a fear that there is more to this story than administering justice; that in fact there is intentional targeting of Muslims.
This story raises some issues for me. First, it is always problematic and a cause for concern when a pattern like this is established. If 50,000 demonstrators were present, how come of the 78 arrested most were Muslims? That seems like an unusually high percentage to me. Should Muslim citizens be worried?
Second, these demonstrators were acting on their rights as citizens to express their frustration and anger, so their religious affiliation should not be a factor in if and how they are punished. If they are punished, the punishment should be according to the law and not to make examples of anyone.
Finally, it is worth noting that many people around the world were angered by the Israeli attack on Gaza and saw that there was disregard for Palestianian lives, so this was not just a “Muslim” issue.
In Europe, a trend is emerging where Muslim citizens are becoming the targets of bias and their loyalty to the nation challenged. We have seen this with Switzerland’s ban on minarets and France’s attempt to ban the niqab, for example. All these nations espouse egalitarian principles that call for the equal treatment of their citizens, regardless of their religion; thus, none of these demonstrators should face this kind of punishment for their beliefs.
What do you think of this story? Do you think that there is a growing anti-Muslim attitude in Europe? Do Muslim citizens have the same rights as others? Please share your comments below.