As I sat down this morning and switched on my computer. I couldn’t help but notice the headline in the Spectator, ‘The Islamophobia’ problem. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the author was Douglas Murray. In his latest tirade of anti-Muslim scaremongering, Murray was contemplating the roots of Islamophobia. For Murray, Islamophobia – in his words – was created by fascists. I’ve been called a lot of things but never a fascist.
It’s hard however to be critical of Murray since he only seems to following the right-wing script. Another Spectator author Rod Liddle for example, has questioned how moderate Muslim’s really are? And, to reach for a more far-fetched example, Melanie Phillips believes Islamophobia is part of the Harry Potter fantasy franchise, i.e. it is all fiction or as Harry Potter would say its’ part of a magical spell called Animagus – where academics like myself have the ability to change ourselves from a human being to a rabbit. At Hogwarts, they may be able to cast such spells, but in reality victims of Islamophobia just want to break the spell and be treated equally and fairly.
So as the detractors start to come out and begin whipping up fear, let’s remember that this is a momentous occasion in the history of British politics. After giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims about the need to forget semantics and start defining what we mean by Islamophobia, I was thrilled to see their Islamophobia Defined report – published on Monday -stated that:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
On a personal note this definition is significant, because it resonates with research that Dr Irene Zempi and I have published into the effects of Islamophobia on those people with a perceived Muslim identity, i.e. individuals from the Sikh community. It also represents another important milestone, in that it interprets Islamophobia as a ‘new’ form of racism, whereby Islam, tradition and culture are seen as a ‘threat’ to the British/Western values.
Islamophobia is the umbrella concept used – in its broadest sense – to describe incidents motivated by hate, hostility or prejudice towards an individual’s identity. Despite the rise of Islamophobic attacks across Europe, from being verbally and physically attacked, threatened and harassed as well as their property being damaged. These incidents usually happen in public spaces, on trains, buses, and shopping centres, our research has shown that the impacts upon victims include physical, emotional, psychological, and economic damage.
Despite all this, there are still those who wish to crush any mention of the word Islamophobia in the English lexicon. Indeed, Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League and someone who openly holds anti-Muslim views, recently told the media he did not care if he incited fear of Muslims.
In light of popular debates about British values and national identity, immigration and community cohesion, biological racism has ceased to be acceptable; nevertheless, a racism which emphasises the ‘Other’, alien values of Muslims has increased. Moreover, this shows us that the notion of racism is largely rooted in frames of inclusion and exclusion, specifying who may legitimately belong to a particular national, or other community whilst, at the same time, determining what that community’s norms are; thereby justifying the exclusion of those who’s religion or culture assign them elsewhere. From this premise, there is such a strong attachment to ‘our’ way of life that creates boundaries between ‘them’ and ‘us’ founded upon difference rather than inferiority.
As the latest hate crime statistics show us, Islam and Muslims find themselves under siege. Muslim men have emerged as the new ‘folk devils’ of popular and media imagination, being portrayed as the embodiment of extremism and terrorism, whilst Muslim women have emerged as a sign of gender subjugation in Islam, being perceived as resisting integration by wearing a headscarf or face veil. Such stereotypes provide fertile ground for expressions of Islamophobia in the public sphere. Following this line of argument, Islamophobia manifests itself as an expression of anti-Muslim hostility towards individuals identified as Muslims on the basis of their ‘visible’ Islamic identity.
Following trigger events such as Brexit, we commonly find Muslim individuals and communities being the victims of racist attacks. In the UK, this was often described by perpetrators as ‘Paki-bashing’ in the 1980s and part of the global war on terror post 9/11. Islamophobic victimisation, however, quickly became understood as a ‘new’ form of cultural racism on the basis that there was a shift from race to religion. While the ‘old’ racism was based on an explicit belief in biological superiority, the ‘new’ racism is based on notions of religious and cultural superiority. ‘Paki-bashing’ has been replaced by ‘Muslim-bashing’ as a new dangerous street phenomenon. Whereas ten years ago perpetrators might have focused on black and Asian people as potential targets, now their sole focus for attack are Muslims. In light of the recent racist attacks, experiences of Islamophobic victimisation feels like ‘history repeating itself’.
Vocabulary is important and the consequences of not having a definition can have direct impacts on those who are deemed vulnerable. Using the correct terminology is important and being able to absorb and use this within the framework of racism allows this to be merged alongside freedom of speech. In essence,it requires that language and behaviour that display hatred against Muslims and those that are perceived to be Muslim are now taken much more seriously. The Islamophobia Defined report therefore helps us arrive at a new national understanding of how to identify anti-Muslim hatred in our midst in twenty-first century Britain.
Professor Imran Awan is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and Professor in Criminology at the Centre for Applied Criminology in Birmingham City University. See his profile at:
© Imran Awan. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).