There are several reasons why anti-Islamic sentiment, better known as Islamophobia, has escalated in the twenty-first century. “Trigger” attacks such as 9/11 and 7/7, the European migrant crisis, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the terrorist attacks they have perpetrated across the globe have all contributed to an increase of Islamophobia in Western discourse. Although Islamophobia is not an exclusive feature of the far right, as movements that stretch across the political continuum are also responsible for advancing Islamophobic sentiment, the far right stands out because of the scale and scope of their Islamophobic worldview. Therefore, transforming Islamophobia into the heart of both its discourse and political agenda.
In what follows, I shall assess whether the far right’s Islamophobic worldview is complicit in perpetrating testimonial injustice that Muslim people suffer. Doing so will provide further insight into the seeds of division and hate that the far right sow and contribute to the responses deployed to tackle the far right.
Testimonial injustice is a particular form of epistemic injustice, an injustice that someone suffers when they are unfairly undermined in their capacity as a knower. In other words, they are mistreated in relation to knowledge, understanding and participation in communicative practices. Specifically, testimonial injustice relates to communicative practices, when someone’s articulation is either ignored, rejected or disbelieved because of prejudice associated with their social identity. For instance, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson’s testimonial-claim that he did not rape Mayella Ewell is disbelieved and rejected by the Alabama courtroom because of prejudice relating to his social identity as an African-American man that casts him as a liar who should not be trusted around white women.
The Islamophobic worldview of the far right associates several prejudicial stereotypes with the social identity of Muslim people. For instance, the accusation that Muslim people are intolerant of sexual minorities and adverse to the emancipation of women is commonplace amongst the far right. This depiction of Muslim people is stretched further with Muslim men accused of favouring paedophilia, with Islamic law alleged to mandate the sexual exploitation of non-Muslims. Nevertheless, the prejudicial stereotype associated with Muslim people that my analysis shall focus on is the idea that Muslims are allegedly prone to acts of extremism and terrorism. According to the Islamophobic worldview of the far right, Islam is a totalitarian doctrine akin to fascism and Nazism, with the Quran often being compared to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Their portrayal of Islam as a totalitarian doctrine that allegedly renders Muslims to extremism is substantiated by their claim that extremist elements within Islamic doctrine are seemingly fundamental to the religion and culture, predisposing Muslim people to extremism and acts of terrorism. Although far-right groups often claim they oppose militant divisions within Islam and only contest Muslim extremists, they routinely fail to distinguish between extremist and moderate interpretations of Islamic doctrine, taking an example of a small number of Muslim extremists and extending it to an understanding of all Muslims. Furthermore, members of far-right movements often maintain that the distinction between extremist and moderate interpretations of Islamic doctrine is a mere distraction from the problem that they allege Islam and Muslim people to pose to Western society. Therefore, associating the social identity of Muslim people with this prejudicial stereotype that depicts them as prone to acts of extremism and terrorism.
This prejudicial stereotype associated with the social identity of Muslim people according to the Islamophobic worldview of the far right can cause testimonial injustice to ensue. To illustrate, suppose that a Muslim person articulates to a member of the far right that they are not an extremist and that the majority of Muslim people do not consent to an extremist interpretation of Islamic doctrine. In response to this prejudicial stereotype associated with the social identity of Muslim people according to the far right’s Islamophobic worldview, they will ignore, reject or disbelieve what is being articulated to them. In other words, mistreating the Muslim interlocutor during this communicative process of conversing with others, causing them to be unfairly undermined in their capacity as a knower and suffer testimonial injustice. For example, when Muslim activist Ali Dawah confronted far-right figurehead Tommy Robinson and questioned him about this prejudicial depiction of Muslim people as extremists who are all prone to terrorism, Dawah’s testament was met with hostility by Robinson and rejected on the basis of this prejudicial stereotype that runs throughout the far right’s Islamophobic worldview. Therefore, unfairly undermining Dawah as a knower and causing him to suffer testimonial injustice.
The testimonial injustice that Muslim people suffer can also cause several extrinsic secondary harms to surface. For instance, Muslim people may endure the practical harm of being harassed by far-right activists because of their Islamophobic worldview that associates extremism and terrorism with Islam and all Muslims. For example, Munazza Munawar and her two young children, the sister-in-law of Sajeel Shahid, who is said to have arranged weapons training for the 7/7 bombers, were harassed at their home by far-right activist Paul Golding and Britain First because of their Islamophobic worldview that associated all Muslims with extremism and acts of terrorism.
Furthermore, Muslim-initiated community projects may receive backlashes from those who support the far-right’s Islamophobic worldview that such initiatives are fronts for extremists and terrorist-related activity. To illustrate, Stop Islamisation Of Europe (SIOE) and Sikhs Against Sharia (SAS) protested the proposed construction of a Mosque in Cambridge (UK) because they alleged that along with other Muslim-initiated projects, it was “a front for terrorism”.
Additionally, Muslim people can be victims of racially motivated hate crimes and attacks due to the wrongly perceived link between Islam, extremism and terrorism. For instance, in their report on Islamophobic hate crimes in London, Githens-Mazer and Lambert established a link between this prejudicial stereotype and the motivation behind the perpetrator’s action(s), affirming that in several cases the perpetrator was motivated to attack their Muslim victim because they associated their faith with extremism and terrorism.
In light of this analysis, I recommend that three steps be taken. Firstly, we must recognise that prejudicial stereotypes associated with the social identity of Muslim people are standard devices used by the far right to mobilise supporters and offer a veneer of credibility to their agenda. In response, we must endeavour to displace prejudicial stereotypes associated with Muslims both in the far right and within broader societal discourses. This leads to the second step. That is, political and media depiction of Muslim people requires revising to avoid facilitating the mainstreaming of Islamophobic sentiment in public discourse that causes testimonial injustice to occur. And finally, the testimonial injustice that the far right perpetrates against Muslim people calls for the development and deployment of a specific response that can tackle this form of injustice they cause. In other words, we must appropriately address the testimonial injustice that the Islamophobic worldview of the far right causes, in the same vein that other injustices they cause require specific responses to tackle them.
Callum Downes is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter. See full profile here.
© Callum Downes. 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).