Hijacking of religious symbols by extremists intensifies rifts and tensions suggests academic

The ‘hijacking’ of religious symbols – such as beards, clothing and phrases - by extremists sullies their original use and intensifies rifts and tensions, according to Dr Saeeda Shah (pictured) from the School of Education.

Dr Shah has written an article for Think: Leicester, the University’s platform for independent academic opinion, highlighting how political exploitation of religions and associated symbols by different groups is becoming increasingly evident – and causes people to associate these symbols with negative messages.

In the article she writes: “Religious symbols which for ordinary people may serve as identity-markers and the basis of self-esteem are being hijacked by vested interests, sullying their original use and associating negative signals and messages with them.

“When cultural and religious symbols are ‘hijacked’ by extremists, they often become associated with the messages and signals for which they are being deployed, which sullies their original use to the extent that it is almost obliterated. Once they are used for extremist views, these symbols are effectively ‘ruined’. The popular negative associations become powerful through media and all rational efforts to explain these are unfortunately often destined to fail, intensifying the rifts and tensions.”

Throughout history a number of cultural symbols have been misappropriated by extremist groups, including the Celtic Cross by white supremacists, the swastika by the Nazis and the Union Jack by football hooligans.

An interview with Dr Shah discussing the 'burkini' ban is available below: