My heart is in my throat. For the last few years (as I’ll demonstrate below) I’ve seen real hatred take root and both Europe and the US. As I wrote a Daily Beast piece about the horrific killing of an off duty soldier in London last week, I was expecting it. But the hundreds of nasty, ignorant hateful comments underneath only confirmed something I’ve seen for years now – phrased less execrably on respectable blogs, by respectable oommentators:
The crass generalities and cultural stereotypes of Islamophobia have become a normal and acceptable form of current discourse in most public debate.
Words lead to actions. In the aftermath of the killing of Drummer Rigby by two Brits with Nigerian backgrounds – there have been over 200 attacks on Muslims, Mosques and threats of violence
There was nothing like this in 1982, when the IRA killed 16 soldiers in the Mall. There was nothing like this in France, when a lone gunman killed shot French soldiers a few years ago.
A politically acceptable form of bigotry, whipped up the the papers, and given validation by countless intellectuals is now spilling over in backlash much worse than the inciting incident.
Below the follow I’ll link back and quote to some of the previous pieces I wrote on this terrifying phenomenon over the two years ago. I urge all responsible progressives to fight this new tide of hatred – combat its lies and exaggerations – before it’s too late.
In the selections below you’ll find a consistent and worrying theme: the amount of intellectual credibility Islamophobia has received from writers, thinkers and artists who should know better
Here’s the problem. Fascism and Islamic fundamentalism have little if anything in common. Fascism is – by definition – a form of extreme nationalism which shades, in its Nazi version, into radical theories of racial superiority and competition.
For all their many evils, extremist Islamic jihadist movements are by definition not nationalistic. That’s their point. They are often para-state movements directed against national states, and aim for a transnational unification of the ummah, the global population of believers.
As for the racial component, one of reasons Islam spread so quickly across the globe from 500-1500 was that it had virtually no ethnic component. One only has to look at the internationalistic nature of Al Qaeda in its heyday to see that ethnic purity was hardly a key qualification.
So what does this matter?
1. In international affairs, the term created a false link between the genuinely fascist elements of Ba’athist or Nasserite nationalism with their fundamentalist opponents such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Al Qaeda. It gave credence to the now provably false propaganda that Saddam Hussein was an ally of Bin Laden. We know how well that ended…
2. On a domestic level, it united an eclectic mixture of anti clerics, atheists, old new lefties, conservatives, racists and neo-cons could all unite against the Islamic threat as if they were a popular front replay of the 1930s.
4. And of course, it is a crime by association for 1.1 billion believers…
From A Brief History of Islamophobia: Daily Kos and Motley Moose August 2011
For different motives, some of them almost honourable, modern Islamophobia grew out of a strange confluence of four very different currents; old fashioned xenophobic racism, atheist anti-clericalism, socialist nostalgia, and a Neo-con belief in reshaping the Middle East.
Just as modern Jihadism in the form of Al Qaeda came out of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, so too I believe Modern Islamophobia was born from the end of the Cold War (for its older incarnation check out Edward Said’s Orientalism).
The same year the Cold War ended was the same year that Ayatollah Khomeni issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses – 1989. For many liberal intellectuals, this was a sobering moment. Just as the Berlin Wall was coming down, another was erecting itself in people’s minds. Instead of Communism, perhaps religion – particularly fundamentalist religion – was emerging as the new enemy. Many thinkers turned their eyes from the dissidents fighting totalitarian repression in the Warsaw pact, and to the autocratic Arab states in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, though hidden under the rock of Communism for decades, nationalist and xenophobic feelings emerged intact in much of Central and Eastern Europe.
It’s impossible – or at least very difficult – to remove the racial component from Islamophobia. Though no one would recognise my Bosniak or Kosovar friends as Muslim when they walk down the street, the truth is, for most of Europe, Muslims are recognisable by their colour as much as what they wear or what beards they sport.
So there’s an underlying racist component to Islamophobia, and groups like the EDL (despite having a Sikh among their leadership) exploit this to the full.
But intellectually, they draw some cover from surprising sources.
I remember Senior Tories, while debating why Britain shouldn’t do anything in Bosnia, explaining how Islam would be the next major global struggle after defeating Communism. In this they were merely reiterating what Sam Huntingdon described in his Clash of Civilisations: a new conflict, a New World Order, pitting liberal values against against the intolerance of an unreformed Islam. Unfortunately, this kind of apologia was also echoed on the New Left who mourned the death of non-aligned Socialism, and saw the West ‘manufacturing consensus’ for intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Islamisation was, to some, the secret plan of Western capitalism to destroy actually existing socialism.
Add to this already toxic mix the slow-burning Intifadas in Israel’s occupied territories, Hamas suicide bombers, Likudite obstructionism after the assassination of Rabin, and a perfect storm was brewing….
Then 9/11 came along. After the mind-shattering attacks on the World Trade Centre all nuance was lost. The enemy was blindingly clear: the death-loving, mass-murdering, medieval fundamentalism of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In hindsight this traumatic over-reaction was probably inevitable. Gone was the characterisation of Islam as a multifaceted religion of 1.6 billion adherents, with its own major schisms between Sunni and Shia, or Alawites, Ismailis or Sufis. Everyone – TV pundits, newspaper columnists, novelists, playwrights – became experts on the extreme doctrine of Salafist Wahabis. The backlash was set….
Theologically, there’s nothing in Islamic teaching which I can’t find in other closely related Abrahamic religions: if you think stoning is bad, just try reading Leviticus or some of the verses of the Torah. Socially, there’s no doubt that several Islamic states enact barbaric homophobic and misogynistic practices, but there is as much homophobia in ‘Christian’ Africa or the Caribbean, and Hindus have their own forms of ‘honour killings’. Repression of women, homosexuals, denial of rights of free speech and assembly, all these are signs of social backwardness and in no way the exclusive property of Islam. And how do we counter such evils by merely emulating them?
Of all the dangers posed by Islamophobia, perhaps the immediate political effect is the most urgent. Every time a British politician waves a burka in our face, or an American politician threats to burn a Koran, they fulfil the message of the Salafist extremists who formed Al Qaeda. That organisation was always primarily focussed on toppling other Muslim leaders. The terrorist attacks never really threatened the survival of Western states. Instead, they were designed – as most terrorism is – to invoke a violent backlash against Muslims which would then help swell the ranks of the extremists.
Our Islamophobia therefore fulfils the terrorists biggest war aims. Their main struggle (and the majority of their victims) has always been other non-extremist Muslims. Every statement by Geert Wilders or the EDL gives Al Qaeda a free recruitment message:
“See. We told you. They really hate you. It’s a crusade. You have to take sides. Join us”
in Europe, obsessed as it is with Islamist demons, convinced of its own secular moderate rectitude, we’ve forgotten how easily the thin skin of tolerance is broached. In France, they ban niquab. In Switzerland, they ban minarets. Holland includes an Islamophobe bigot in its ruling parliamentary coalition. The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel talks about how ‘multiculturalism’ has failed. In Britain, the biggest threat to public order in the last few years has been hard line Islamphobic English Defence League which now targets Muslims (though Jews, Blacks and Gays are next in line).
Even the Prime Minister of Britain – itself a multinational, multiethnic, multi-denominational state for hundreds of years – David Cameron has joined this fashionable chorus of which somehow blames ‘multiculturalism’ as the cause of the rise of Islamist extremism.
Now these alarms have reaped their bitter harvest. With 92 people dead, the vast majority 16-19 year olds at a Labour summer camp, there is no doubt of the political aspect of Anders Brehing Breivik’s crime.
In the last ten years I’ve seen a spectre return to haunt Europe, the spectre of racism, hidden under the guise of Islamophobia. The phobia existed long before the attacks of 9/11 or the growth of Salafist extremism. It was present in the Bosnian war, mainly among Serb Nationalists. It caused the Kosovan War. It underlined much Neocon thinking, especially when Sam Huntingdon’s theories of civilisational conflict provided a new global enemy once communism had waned. It also informed the war in Iraq…
In the US, especially around the phenomenally misnamed ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ Islamophobia is much in evidence. But in Europe, perhaps because of the proximity of the Mashriq and Maghreb, perhaps because Europe always sees immigration as a negative thing unlike the US, Islamophobia has taken root. It unites old fashioned racists, anti-clerics, intellectuals and neo-cons alike.
For the last few years, I have been appalled to see the casual racist statements made about Muslims (and their liberal enablers) in real life, in the media, and even more online where, in the UK, I find myself constantly combating statements about Islam which, if the word ‘Jew’ ‘Christian’ or ‘Buddhist’ replaced ‘Muslim’ would be apparent in their abhorrent hatred.
The spectre of racism is haunting Europe again in a way it hasn’t since a hundred years ago, when anti-semitism was rife. But this time, it’s mainly directed towards Muslims, and any philosophy of tolerance or secularism. The Utøya Massacre and the Oslo bombing is just the ultimate expression of this hate.
Words matter. Ideas motivate. And now we know where the apocalyptic language of the right can lead, even in tolerant Norway