Islamophobia – more than hate crime, state ideology


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Local police officer and worshippers following the Islamophobic terror attack in Finsbury Park

Islamophobia – anti-Muslim racism – is being described on much of the broadcast media as a form of “extremism” or of “hate crime”.

But there is something distinct about Islamophobia. Not distinct in that it is in some way worse to be the victim of anti-Muslim violence compared with, say, anti-gay violence.

It is distinct in that Islamophobia has been central to the policy and legitimising ideology of the again expanding “war on terror” and of every major state and government in Europe and the US.

It operates in two ways. The first is open and direct, as when right wing politicians claim that Muslims as a whole somehow create an “extremism” or “tolerate extremism” or are incompatible with the “liberal values” which we are told underpin our societies.

The second is not so direct.

In 2005, the British government of Tony Blair did not actually set out to fan anti-Muslim racism, in the way that last year the Tory party of David Cameron and Theresa May did in the London mayor campaign.

But when it was confronted by the very consequences of the war on terror that many people from MI5 to the anti-war movement had warned of – that it would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Britain – it faced a choice.

It could accept that those consequences had indeed been predicted. But that would mean having to change the war policy, which was a product of the special relationship between Britain and the US, and of the big power interests of both states in the Middle East and the world following 9/11.

And it would have to accept that opponents of the disastrous “war on terror” had been right.

To do that would have spelled the immediate end of Tony Blair. And it would have probably meant that the kind of political surge we have now around Jeremy Corbyn would have happened then – over a decade ago – on an even bigger scale than it did.

It would also have called into question the underlying militarism of the British state, and deepened the social feeling for a radically new course.

So it could not do that. Nor have successive governments been able to. Because they hold those militarist and corporate power interests central.

So it had to come up with something else. It had to locate the 7/7 attacks in Britain as being in some way the fault of Muslim communities.

It did not set out to create a climate where Muslims would be attacked on the street.

But because it could not admit to the true explanation, it had to come up with a false one – and that is why it went further down the road of Islamophobic racism.

Instead of rationally trying to understand and break out of the cycle of war and terror, it maintained that cycle and tried to explain away terrorism as the product of irrational Muslims who in some way or another incubated terrorism.

And so there is a uniqueness to Islamophobia in Britain.

It is that British governments committed to imperialist interventions alongside the US must generate Islamophobia.

And once generated it becomes a political tool in its own right. It becomes more crafted – through policies and large state mechanisms such as the Prevent strategy.

It becomes used more directly – whether by the far right or by Tory politicians trying to win elections. And then there is an auction between the two.

It moves from the default, fake, racist justification of the failed war on terror to permeate the state and the political interventions of the right and – in much of Europe – large parts of the centre left as well.

It becomes cruder too. Tony Blair’s career sums that up. Gone are his artful formulations of 2005 after the London bombing. Now he is as explicit as one of the far right Trump ideologues – there is a war of civilisation against an evil problem which he says is specific to Muslims and their culture.

And, as many of us warned 16 years ago, Islamophobia becomes the cutting edge for the growth of other forms of racism, also serving fundamentally as false ideologies to mask real problems – low pay = blame migrants.

We all want hate crimes investigated and perpetrators caught.

But Islamophobic racism is not just a hate crime – as when some thug attacks a woman wearing a hijab.

It is centrally driven by the state, defending corporate capitalist interests through militarism, war abroad and authoritarianism at home.

And in it we see why despite decades of anti-racism, racist ideology is continually refreshed in new forms and reinvigorated old ones by the capitalist system and state we live under.

That is why in uniting against Islamophobia and racist division we need movements and politics which oppose imperialism, war and capitalism – one of whose central ideological props is now anti-Muslim racism.

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