How Did The Muslim ‘No-Go Zones’ Myth Get Started Anyway?

Bobby Jindal and the myth of the Muslim "no-go zones" in Europe.
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) was widely ridiculed Monday when he slammed so-called Muslim “no-go zones” during a speech to a conservative London think tank. He made the statement even after the term had forced Fox News to disavow it no less than four times.

A terrorism expert for the network, Steven Emerson, had injected the term into the national and international conversation earlier this month when he said “there are actual cities like Birmingham [England] that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” The backlash was swift and Emerson issued an apology.

It would take Fox News a week to issue four separate corrections for its coverage of so-called Muslim “no-go zones” and admit there was “no credible information” to support the notion that there were areas in Europe that excluded anyone based solely on their religion.

So where did Jindal’s debunked, anti-Islam talking point come from? Here’s a brief history of the myth.

The Washington Times

The term “no-go zone” has been pervasive among anti-Islam commentators on the right for years despite a lack of evidence. The conservative Washington Times has run several articles since 2002 referring to “no-go” areas in Europe, including an op-ed titled “Experiencing asylum insanity.”

The writer, Marian Kester Coombs, ridiculed a British reporter who overheard a resident of Burnley, England say that it wasn’t a nice place to walk around at night.

“Why don’t you? Because Asian gangs spawned by generations of immigrants squeezed into local ‘council estates’ will beat your head in for you if you’re white, that’s why,” she wrote. “And during the day, should you approach one of the [overwhelmingly Muslim] ‘no-go’ areas in dozens of British villages, towns and cities, you risk facing, at the very least, waves of hostility that are turning life in this once pleasant land into a misery for its native inhabitants.”

Islam critic Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes, a critic of Islam, wrote an article in 2006 that used the phrase “no-go zones.” He used the term to describe France’s “Zones urbaines sensibles,” a designation given by the government to more than 700 neighborhoods with high poverty and high unemployment.

Pipes added several updates to that article throughout the years to keep track of the latest reports of the supposed proliferation of those areas throughout Europe. One of them was another Washington Times piece, published in 2008, that used the acronym for “Zones urbaines sensibles” and equated France’s Muslim community with the mafia:

The ZUS exist not only because Muslims wish to live in their own areas according to their own culture and their own Shariah laws, but also because organized crime wants to operate without the judicial and fiscal interference of the French state. In France, Shariah law and mafia rule have become almost identical.

But Pipes updated his same piece in 2013 to say that he’d visited some of the suburbs in question and regretted giving those neighborhoods such a dubious distinction.

“In normal times, they are unthreatening, routine places,” he wrote. “But they do unpredictably erupt, with car burnings, attacks on representatives of the state (including police), and riots. Having this first-hand experience, I regret having called these areas no-go zones.”

Former Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali

The first serious discussion of the term “no-go zone” among government officials appears to have been sparked in 2008 by a senior Church of England bishop.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the former head of England’s Diocese of Rochester, wrote an op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph that lamented Britain’s increasingly “multifaith” society, in particular the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer.

Nazir-Ali argued that the rise of Islamic extremism both alienated young Muslims from the rest of Britain and created physically separate “no-go” areas where adherence to the ideology of radical Islam “become a mark of acceptability.”

“Those of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live or work there because of hostility to them and even the risk of violence,” he wrote. “In many ways, this is but the other side of the coin to far-Right intimidation.”

Nazir-Ali’s father converted from Islam to Christianity, and Nazir-Ali himself hailed from Pakistan, according to The Telegraph. In the op-ed, Nazir-Ali characterized the broadcasting of the Muslim call to prayer as an attempt to “impose” an Islamic calendar on certain areas.

Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister at the time, challenged those comments.

“I know that there are pressures in many areas of the country but I don’t accept that there are no-go areas,” Gordon said.

The former prime minister added that he wanted those who live in multi-faith communities to come together in dialogue rather than remain isolated from each other.

Certainly, there are neighborhoods in European cities where outsiders feel uncomfortable, either because of high crime, differing cultural sensibilities or other reasons. The same applies to most large US cities.

England’s independent police inspector, Tom Winsor

What’s harder to reconcile in the notion of “no-go zones” is the idea that police don’t enter them, or refuse to enter them.

In two separate follow-up interviews with CNN, Jindal declined to name any particular “no-go zone” in Britain. He instead said that he’d met with elected officials on the matter and cited a local police chief who told press there are areas where police are less likely to go and where women feel the need to wear veils.

It’s unclear whether Jindal was referring to Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, who told the Daily Mail on Saturday that some minority communities didn’t make any calls to police. Those communities took care of complaints within their own makeshift justice systems, Windsor said.

“There are cities in the Midlands where the police never go because they are never called,” Winsor told the Daily Mail. “They never hear of any trouble because the community deals with that on its own.”

“It’s not that the police are afraid to go into these areas or don’t want to go into those areas,” he added. “But if the police don’t get calls for help then, of course, they won’t know what’s going on.”

Windsor did not specify which minority he was referring to, nor did he specify any of the names of the cities and neighborhoods in question.

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