Impacts of Islamophobia on Some Muslims in Two Western Countries

From the wide range of studies, reports and publications, from such bodies as SETA[1],[2] and academics [3](many of them CARR Fellows), it is evident that Islamophobia in both Britain and Europe has accelerated over the past 15 years to the extent that is has become as normalized in society as has anti-Semitism. Normalization is as much a moral damnation as the fear and hatred themselves, for it subtly suggests that Islamophobia (and anti-Semitism) are somehow justifiable if not sanctified.

This article provides an initial report summarizing the formulation of on-going personal research into what impacts Islamophobia has had on one group of Muslims in Britain and another group in Cyprus. This longitudinal study in an ethnographic style seeks, in grounded theory mode, to generate theory in relation to the perspectives of the Muslims themselves and their coping strategies in the face of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia. Is it Just a Fear?

The word ‘Islamophobia’ implies fear of Islam and Muslims, but it has come to mean a broader spectrum of negative beliefs and emotions about Islam and Muslims, including discrimination against them and more extreme positions such as revulsion, hatred and anger and even violence towards them. The difficulties in arriving at a definition of Islamophobia that would satisfy all interests, parties and shades of opinion e.g. APPG (2018)[4] has been articulated clearly by Allen (2020, 6-7). Personally, I struggle to accept any definition I have seen thus far. For example, all of them seem to (1) skate over the fact that the term ‘phobia’ necessarily implies an irrational fear [yet the word ‘fear’ rarely, if ever, appears in such definitions – they talk instead of  ‘racism’, ‘racist discourse’ and ‘negatively evaluated meaning’], (2) erroneously imply that such [unacknowledged] fear automatically causes or leads to antipathy, hatred and anger [note: fear more usually induces greater caution and defence within the fearful rather than hatred and anger, which are risk-taking precursors[5]], and (3) fails to identify envy as the deeper source of antipathy, hatred and anger within Islamophobia, a characteristic already recognized as salient in anti-Semitism[6] [e.g. such prejudices as: ‘they’ve got all that oil and live in luxury, yet they still think they can come and sponge off us’ and ‘Muslim men are hypocrites who  get the best of both worlds – they drink alcohol and fornicate with Western women while uttering self-righteous Islamic rhetoric and keeping their sisters, daughters and  multiple wives under repressive restriction’ and ‘they have loads of kids, live off benefits and then jump the queue to get a four-bedroom council house while we’ve been on the waiting list for years’]. Some anti-Muslim individuals are fearful and some are envious. Those who are both fearful and envious of Muslims present an especially toxic combination.

Research Scope and Sampling Frame

Rather than investigating and debating the range of definitions, ascribed meanings and nuances regarding Islamophobia, I am more interested in how Muslims themselves interpret negative and egregious narratives and conduct towards them, both as an identifiable ethno-religious minority and in their individual experiences.

I have selected for study Iranian Muslims who have emigrated to or become resident in two European countries – Britain and Cyprus. The reason for selecting these particular groups is primarily one of opportunistic access, as someone who has lived among and engaged closely with these communities over the past 30 years. This kind of ‘relaxed’ sampling strategy fits well with the ethnographic style of this qualitative study in grounded theory mode[7].

At iteration 0, it is anticipated that the sampled informants will initially comprise ten individuals in Britain and ten in Cyprus. Data collection will include 1:1 personal interviews and group interviews, using open-ended focussed questions, as well as ad hoc conversations and observations.

Some Early Thoughts

As a participant-observer, one thing I have noticed early is that the individuals in the subject groups all appear to have adapted well to living in the West and, at least outwardly, appear to have adopted a ‘when in Rome’ stance. While all report some instances of experiencing anti-foreigner and ethno-religious sentiment, they appear to have internalised it and seem reluctant to display any sign of it damaging their lives. Whether this stiff upper lip presentation masks deeper emotions, perceptions and judgements remains to be seen. There is also their ethnic heritage as Iranians and long imperial history as a regional power to consider, as well as more than a century as a highly educated and industrialized nation which pitches their self-image as being Western in outlook, attitudes and aspirations. How these Muslim cohorts see themselves on multiple dimensions in relation to their Western hosts is likely to be crucial to how they respond to Islamophobia in the broad sense I indicated above.

At an appropriate stage (or stages), I will report again on progress and findings.

Dr Alan Waring is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus. He is author of several books on risk, including editing and contributing to the two-volume anthology The New Authoritarianism: A Risk Analysis of the Alt-Right Phenomenon (2018, 2019 Ibidem Verlag).

© Alan Waring.  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).

[1] Bayrakli, E. and Hafez, F. (eds), (2018). European Islamophobia Report 2017. Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA). (Istanbul: SETA).

[2] Kallis, A. (2018). Islamophobia in the UK: National Report 2017. In European Islamophobia Report 2017, edited by E. Bayrakli and F. Hafez, 672-706. Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA). (Istanbul: SETA).

[3] Allen, C. (2010). Islamophobia. (Abingdon: Routledge); Allen, C. (2020). Reconfiguring Islamophobia: A Radical Rethinking of a Contested Concept. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan); Blumi, I. and Hacisalihoğlu, M. (2015). ‘Introduction to the Special Issue: Islamophobia in Europe’ in Halit Eren (ed), Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, IRCICA Journal Vol III, Issue 6, 2015, 13-28; Feldman, M. and Allchorn, W. (2019). ‘A working definition of anti-Muslim hatred with a focus on hate crime work’, paper presented 15 May 2019 at CARR Conference on Islamophobia 15-17 May 2019, American International University, London; Lukynich, E. (2015). ‘Patriotism as the modern justification of Islamophobia’ in Halit Eren (ed), Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, IRCICA Journal, Vol III, Issue 6, 2015, 123-153.

[4] APPG. (2018). Islamophobia Defined: The Inquiry into a Working Definition of Islamophobia. All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, 3rd Report November 2018. (London: APPG).

[5] See Waring, A. and Paxton, R. (2019). Psychological aspects of the Alt-Right phenomenon. In The New Authoritarianism Vol 2: A Risk Analysis of the European Alt-Right Phenomenon, edited by A. Waring, 53-82 (67). (Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag).

[6] Duarte, J.L. (2015). The Role of Envy in Anti-Semitism. PhD dissertation. (Phoenix, Az: Arizona State University).

[7] Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Aldine; Birks, M. and Mills, J. (2015). Grounded Theory: a Practical Guide, 2nd edition. (London: Sage); Urquhart, C. (2012). Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: a Practical Guide. (London: Sage).