Anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racisms have become a global common sense
There are two articles here about a conference on the analysis and naming of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish prejudice today. The first by Nira Yuval-Davis is a concise account of the main questions at the conference; the second is a strong opinion piece by Rumy Hassan in which he rejects the idea that there is a problem of Islamophobia in Britain and vents his anger on Muslims and their defenders who use concepts of democracy and individual choice to defend practices which stem from customs which respect neither democracy nor individual choice. Third is a news report about the rise of reported hate-crimes against Muslims in the UK during 2013, as discovered by PA through a Freedom of Information request. Notes and links, including response from Jacqueline Rose, at foot.
Even the English Defence League makes a show of targeting only ‘Islamic extremists. Birmingham 2009, photo from BBC
Both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racisms have become part of daily ‘common sense’ constructions everywhere in time of global crisis, expressing insecurity and hostility against ‘the Other’, ‘the terrorist’, ‘the usurper’. The Palestine/Israel question has helped to encourage these conflations and racialisations. Conference report.
By Nira Yuval-Davis, Open Democracy
December 24, 2013
On December 17, a small conference dedicated to the above question gathered at London School of Economics. It brought together people with related interests and expertise to try and understand in what ways anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms are related and in what ways the Palestine/Israel question affects and is affected by them
The first panel in the conference examined the issue historically (focusing on Europe, the Global South, Palestine and the Middle East). The second examined the issues from philosophical, legal, race relations and sociological perspectives and the third focused on specific contemporary political issues such as ‘New Antisemitism’, the ‘New Right’, Salafism and ‘the Global war on Terrorism’ Inevitably, part of the discussion focused on definitions. The notions of ‘Anti-Jewish’ and ‘Anti-Muslim’ racisms was deliberately chosen over those of ‘Antisemitism’ and ‘Islamophobia’ in an attempt to emphasise that the focus of the day was on racism against people rather than an uncritical acceptance of any political, religious or cultural ideologies and practices that certain people and groupings happen to believe in. For example, whether critique of some aspects of Jewish or Islamic ideologies and practices amounts or not to racism against Jews or Muslims and to what extent critique of the state of Israel or the Palestinian leadership can be reduced to issues of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms.
Inevitably, some of the participants differed in the ways they defined racism. These ranged from the position of Rumy Hasan who denied the possibility of racism against Muslims as they are not a race (he was prepared to consider Jews as such), to Nasar Meer who insisted that processes of racialisation need to be seen as operating beyond phenotypical appearances,to Chetan Bhat who rejected the notion of racism against Jews and Muslims altogether and talked instead about xenologies, because attitudes towards Jews and Muslims echo with a variety of racialised, cultural, religious and other discourses and it would be too simplistic to label those as racisms.
Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis, however, insisted that names and definitions are not important as long as we focus on people’s experiences of discourses and practices related to a particular social category of people which construct immutable boundaries between collectivities. These are used to naturalize fixed hierarchical power relations between them.
Any signifier of boundaries can be used to construct these boundaries from the colour of the skin to the shape of the elbow to accent, mode of dress or religious affiliation. Racism has ultimately two logics – that of exclusion – the ultimate form of which is genocide; and that of exploitation, the ultimate logic of which is slavery. However, in most concrete historical situations these two logics are practised in a complementary way.
Racisms against Jews and Muslims, therefore, would be based on ideological, cultural, religious, economic, violent and other kinds of social constructions of inferiorization and subjugation which would facilitate the exclusion and/or the exploitation of Jews and Muslims. There was much discussion at the conference, especially around David Feldman’s, Brian Klug’s and Maleiha Malik’s presentations on the subject of to what extent anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms share similar traits. There was common agreement, however, that when defining racisms against Jews and Muslims, this does not include automatic acceptance and agreement of any religious beliefs or particular political and normative values and projects which consider or introduce themselves as representing the ‘true’ Jew or Judaism, the ‘true’ Muslim or Islam.
Part of the discussion during the day, therefore focused on the ambivalences and contested meanings of the notion of the ‘new antisemitism’ which often conflates racism against Jews and critiques of Israeli occupation or the Zionist project. There was also a discussion on the ambivalences and contested meanings of the notion of ‘Islamophobia’ which often conflates racism against Muslims and critique of racist and sexist positions and practices promoted by Islamists. Tony Lerman and Sami Zubaida led the discussion on those topics.
In relation to the Palestine/Israel question, there was more or less a common agreement in the conference that Zionism needs to be understood as a nationalist movement which sought to so called ‘normalize’ the Jewish people, and thus solve the racialization of the Jews in European modern history. To do this, however, the Zionist movement used the strategy of a settler colonial project in Palestine as the main instrument for achieving for the Jews a state that claimed to represent the Jews all over the world.
Settler society projects differ from other colonial projects in that their basic racialized mechanism of governability is via the racialised exclusion of the local population from the new nation-building project rather than incorporating them as exploitable labour power into the new society and state. As was discussed by Avishai Ehrlich and Dina Matar, Zionism, like all settler society projects has had its own specificities, the two main ones being firstly, that unlike other western settler societies, the Zionist movement didn’t have one clear ‘mother country’ but rather sought alliance with whatever imperial powers controlled Palestine at the time and secondly, that unlike other settler projects dominated by religious aspirations to build ‘new Jerusalems’, the Zionist movement sought legitimation in claiming ‘new Jerusalem’ territory by claiming Palestine as the homeland of their ‘Old Jerusalem’.
This proved to be a forceful motivational power for mobilizing Jews to immigrate to their ‘Altneuland’ (old-new country, to use Herzl’s name for the utopian society he dreamed of building in Palestine). It also acted, in its common sense link, to Christian evangelism, as another source of legitimation of Zionism in the western world, in addition to the naturalization of European colonialism and later the Holocaust. The dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinians, let alone their deprivation of an independent nation state, were almost completely invisible at the time in the west and to a large extent are still in the process of gaining recognition. The Palestinian national movement was aimed, as were other Arab national movements, against both the Ottoman empire and the British colonial power before focusing on Zionism and Israel which gradually became a symbol of both western colonial and Judeo-Christian oppression and invasion to the post-colonial South.
One of the questions that needed to be explored was the extent to which the critique of the local, regional and global role of Israel has been transformed to racialized attitudes towards Jews, wherever they are and whatever their engagement was with the Zionist project, globally but especially in the global South. Another question was the extent to which a similar emotional and perceptual reductionist chain of collapsing Palestinians to Arabs to Muslims has played a role in the construction of Muslims-as-terrorists long before 9/11.
During the day of the conference, several important points on the relationships between anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms and the Palestine/Israel question emerged that need to be explored further. One such point was the way new extreme right organizations in Europe gain political capital and legitimation by supporting Israel, extracting themselves from possible accusation of Antisemitism, a major characteristic of the ‘Old’ Right, while focusing on Anti-Muslim racism. It was pointed out, however, that often, under such a veneer, old anti-Semitic positions also emerge. Moreover, the supposedly pro-Israeli positions of the Christian Right, often cover up explicit antisemitic attitudes. While part of their belief is that a condition for the second coming of Jesus is the gathering of all the Jews in the ‘Holy Land’, it is also part of their belief that once this happens, some Jews will convert to Christianity and the rest should perish.
Another such point of interrelationship has been the international cooperation between pro-Israeli lobbies and organizations with pro-Hindutva [Hindu extreme right] organizations in a global diplomatic and social campaign against Muslims and Muslim states. It was pointed out that the USA and other western countries have been playing an ambivalent role in this as they have been both cooperating closely with Islamist states (like Saudi Arabia) and organizations (like the Taliban during the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan) as well as with the anti-Muslim ‘global war on terrorism’. Israel, in this respect, is seen both as a close ally and as an embarrassment (something which was recently expressed in relation to the anti-Iranian campaign).
Reuter’s caption and photo: ‘World outrage: Demonstrators display an anti-Israel banner as they march to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur today, to protest against Israel’s storming of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on Monday.’ Is there a clear dividing line between outrage about Israeli policies towards Palestinians and antisemitism?
However, this also needs to be seen in context. As was pointed out by Chetan Bhatt in relation to Salafism, pro-Israeli lobbies often single out only the antisemitic elements in Salafist propaganda when these appear in much wider hate discourses in which Israel and Jews are but one element in their tirade. Absurdly, when the main target of antagonism is of the Sunni Salafis against the Shia, Israel and the USA are mentioned as part of the global Shia axis of geopolitical power bases, starting from Iran.
In other words, both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racisms have become part of legitimizing discourses in the global ‘civilisation’ clashes between the west and the south, Islamist and other religious political projects and even in clashes within Islamist political projects. They have also become, in different ways, part of daily ‘common sense’ constructions everywhere in time of global crisis, expressing insecurity and hostility against ‘the Other’, ‘the terrorist’, ‘the usurper’. And the Palestine/Israel question has helped to encourage these conflations and racialisations.
The conference, was organized by the University of East London’s Centre for research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, the Runnymede Trust, the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights and the Open University Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change. The conference programme and the recording of the conference will be available on the website of CMRB from mid January.
Professor Yuval-Davis is Director of the Centre for Research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB) at the University of East London
This might seem an anti-Muslim protest. In fact it is a protest by Islamist Muslims in an unnamed location in Britain. No liberal veneer. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Beware of Islamism with a liberal veneer
A furore has broken out in the UK over whether it is permissible for public meetings on university campuses to be sexually segregated. In their claim to exercise this as a right Muslim fundamentalists are hypocritically exploiting liberal principles they do not themselves adhere to.
By Rumy Hasan, Open Democracy
December 23, 2013
The recent outcry among British politicians and the London press over gender segregation in universities has shone a light on a relatively new phenomenon: the recourse to the foundational principles of liberal democracy by Islamists in pursuit of their agenda. This approach appears to be working as is evidenced by Universities UK’s (UUK) policy guidance (now withdrawn) on gender segregation at events organised by Islamic Societies. In very reasonable language, UUK advised:
“Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system”.
A thoroughly reactionary, sexist, practice was justified on the basis of rights – specifically the right of Islamist speakers and Muslim women to have segregated seating. This demand is thought reasonable because of the importance afforded to religious beliefs – non-religious beliefs are not granted this privilege. Indeed, in an interview on BBC Radio 5, a member of the Islamic Education and Research Academy thought his society was being reasonable and liberal-minded by their allocation of segregated and non-segregated areas within the lecture theatre at a debate they organised in March at UCL. One of the invited speakers, Prof Lawrence Krauss, responded with admirable principle by strongly objecting to the segregation and stormed off.
Protest in Keighley organised by the EDL, exploiting the public horror at the news of girls in Rochdale being groomed for sex.
It is curious – and revealing – that similar ‘liberal-minded’, ‘reasonable’, ‘freedom of choice’ arguments are not invoked for segregation on the grounds of race or ethnicity along the lines of the judgment – that set out the doctrine of ‘separate and equal’ facilities for races – of the US Supreme Court in the notorious Plessy versus Ferguson case of 1896. But, pray, why are so many who would rightly denounce this doctrine on the grounds of race, apply it on the grounds of gender? To this question no satisfactory answer is provided; a simple appeal to respect for religious belief suffices.
Now imagine if Brahmin Hindus applied UUK’s guidance on the grounds of caste, a core aspect of their religion. Would this be acceptable to ‘liberal’ apologists for gender segregation? If not, then on what grounds would it be rejected? Brahmin’s would doubtless consider opposition to the practice as ‘Hinduphobic’.
The General Secretary of the LSE’s Student Union, Jay Stoll, provided a simple answer to the outrage felt by UUK’s policy guidance: on Channel 4 News he baldly asserted that this was a manifestation of ‘Islamophobia’. He naturally hoped that such ‘analysis’ would quell the critics and end the debate. Now Mr Stoll has some form on this: back in October at the Freshers Fair, his Students Union forced two members of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to remove their ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts on the grounds that this constituted ‘harassment’ of Muslim (not Christian) students (hence was Islamophobic but not Christophobic). Thankfully, after vigorous campaigning and threat of legal action, Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE – but not the Students’ Union – has apologised to the two students. One should, therefore, not be unduly surprised if the LSESU gives support to requests by Islamic societies for segregated audiences at meetings they organise on campus; and helps with its enforcement.
A more sophisticated argument was, however, provided by the Islamist scholar and activist Tariq Ramadan who opined:
“Depending on who is organising and when they are asking me, I don’t have a problem talking in universities, in rooms and public venues where the people are together men and women … If every time there is segregation I’m not going to talk then I’m not reaching the people that I want to reach and for them to listen.”
Tariq Ramadan is a master of using liberal rhetoric for his fundamentalism, that is to say, the demand for liberal tolerance for intolerant beliefs and practices. But his true beliefs were provided in a recorded speech cited by Ian Buruma in an article for the New York Times in 2007: “I will abide by the laws, but only so insofar as the laws don’t force me to do anything against my religion”. It is for good reason that he is also renowned for his ‘double speak’.
Another example comes from a recent conference I was invited to present a paper at (coincidentally at the LSE) with the title ‘Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim Racisms and the Question of Palestine/Israel’. I was somewhat reluctant to partake given that I do not believe that these two types of ‘racisms’ are of much concern. Moreover, I have robustly attacked the notion of Islamophobia (in chapter 4 of my 2010 book Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths). The idea that Muslims are a race is patently absurd – a category error; moreover anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia is a distinction without difference.
My concerns were soon proved correct: it seemed that pretty much all the 50 or so attendees (in the main from a Jewish or Muslim background, by invitation only) bought into the notion that Islamophobia/anti-Muslim racism existed and was a serious problem. It is as if a conference of the Flat Earth Society starts under the assumption that the earth is flat and proceeds from there. No interrogation of the phenomenon is undertaken nor rigorous evidence provided as to its validity.
In the presentation made by Maleiha Maliki [sic] (a law professor at Kings, London), she brazenly asserted that matters in Europe are “much much worse” than is commonly thought (meaning by those who subscribe to the Islamophobia phenomenon). She gave as an example how in some EU countries what she terms “far right” parties are polling at about 20 per cent. She then proceeded to castigate the French parliament for passing a law banning the full face veil (burka/niqab) describing the Communist MP who instigated the bill as a “useful idiot for the far right”. Islamists and their apologists have taken this law for scrutiny to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of violation of religious freedom. But Ms Maliki also vented fury at the judges examining the law as she worries that they will rule in favour of the French parliamentary system; that is to say, uphold a democratically passed law on the grounds that the veiling of women is oppressive and which runs counter to France’s strong secular values.
Now what is interesting and relevant to this article is that she bemoans the burka-ban law as a failure by the French polity and ECHR to adhere to liberalism and the tenets of a liberal constitution. Again, such chutzpah is a clear manifestation of an Islamist attempting to utilise liberalism to undermine secular, liberal values – in order to defend the most appalling misogynistic beliefs and practices (my reasons for this view of veiling are provided in chapter 5 of my 2010 book cited above).
Ms Maliki provides a classic example of how Islamists with a liberal veneer operate. For Islamists, democracy is acceptable only when their demands for religious privileges are met; otherwise it is held in contempt. The fact that an overwhelming majority (80 per cent) of the French population supports the law that was unanimously passed and supported across the political spectrum is of no concern to her and her Islamist allies. It barely needs reminding that it is extremely rare that such strong consensus is reached in parliamentary democracies. An adage that Islamists excel at is apposite: why let facts and reason get in the way of our ideological stance?
Jacqueline Rose, of Independent Jewish Voices*, showed approval of Malheiha Malik’s arguments by stating that her group recognises the harm that has been done to other people, notably to Muslims from Islamophobia. Now I have great respect for groups such as IJV who have bravely spoken out against crimes committed by Israel. But this is a variant of ‘we who have suffered also feel your pain’; and is dangerous because it can lead to a race to the ‘victimhood’ bottom. Doubtless Islamists will nod with approval – and other religious groups avail themselves of the opportunity to play their own ‘phobia card’.
A blunt truth needs pointing out: if it were the case that Europe was becoming a hot-bed of ant-Muslim racism/Islamophobia, why are so many Muslims from around the world clamouring to get in? Surely we should expect them rushing for the exit door in their droves to the 56 Organisation of Islamic Conference countries? Lest one forgets, in the supposedly ‘Islamophobic decade’ of 2001-2011, the Muslim population of Britain (England and Wales) increased from 3 to 4.8 percent, that is, a 60 per cent increase. Such irrefutable facts do not register on the radar of purveyors of Islamophobia.
Young Muslim women in Britain gathered in 2006 to read about a proposed ban on burqas and other religious veils. The idea resurfaced last week [March 2010] in Parliament. A posed photo for the AP File? Dave Thompson/AP/File
Whilst recognising that Islamists in Muslim-majority countries – from the Wahabbi House of Saud to Sunni Pakistan to Shia Iran – are contemptuous of liberal, democratic, values, many Islamists in the west now realise that this rejectionist approach is counterproductive to their cause. Hence they are skilfully resorting to arguments coated with liberalism. It is, therefore, imperative that those concerned by the corrosive values of Islamism: gender segregation, attack on freedom of expression, and veiling are only three instances – should see through this liberal veneer to reveal the reactionary agenda underneath and to put up robust opposition to their demands.
Rumy Hasan is a senior lecturer at Sussex University and author of Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths (2010) and Dangerous Liaisons: the Clash between Islamism and Zionism (2013)
Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.
By Tomas Jivanda, The Independent
December 27, 2013
Islamophobic hate crimes across Britain have risen dramatically this year, new figures have revealed.
Hundreds of offences were perpetrated against the country’s Muslim population in 2013, with the Metropolitan police alone – Britain’s largest force – recording 500 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 336 incidents in 2012 and 318 in 2011.
March for Lee Rigby, killed in Woolwich S.London, in Eston NorthYorkshire
A large number of forces across the country reported a particular surge in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London.
In May, the month in which Fusilier Rigby was killed, Scotland Yard recorded 104 anti-Muslim hate crimes, followed by a further 108 in June.
The figures were obtained by the Press Association which sent Freedom of Information requests to every police force in England and Wales.
However of the 43 forces, just 24 provided figures on the number of anti-Muslim crimes and incidents recorded – with some forces admitting they do not always record the faith of a religious hate crime victim.
It is therefore likely that the actual numbers of incidents of hate crimes against Muslims perpetrated in 2013 was much higher.
Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it has dealt with some 840 cases since just April – with the number expected to rise to more than 1,000 by the end of March.
This compared with 582 anti-Islam cases it dealt with from March 2012 to March 2013.
Fiyaz Mujhal, director of Faith Matters, which runs the Tell Mama project, said reaction to the murder of Fusilier Rigby had caused the number of Islamophobic crimes to “significantly jump”.
“The far right groups, particularly the EDL (English Defence League) perniciously use the Internet and social media to promote vast amounts of online hate,” he added.
Branding guidelines by the Crown Prosecution Service to monitor social media as “not fit for purpose”, Mr Mujhal said tougher sentencing was needed to tackle Islamophobic crime.
“They raised the bar of prosecution significantly,” he said. “Now unless there is a direct threat to somebody on Twitter or Facebook, the CPS will not prosecute. The CPS is just plainly out of sync with reality.
“We also need more robust sentencing. In one case, a pig’s head was left outside a mosque and the perpetrator came away with a community sentence. When you target a mosque, you are targeting the whole community.”
Tell Mama also called for police forces to introduce a system which improves monitoring and recording of Islamophobic crimes, ensuring the faith of a religious hate crime victim is recorded.
“There are three problems we come across,” Mr Mujhal said.
“Firstly, there is a lack of understanding of the language of Islamophobia thrown at victims in any incidents.
“Secondly, there is very little training on how to ask relevant questions to pull out anti-Muslim cases.
“Thirdly, recording processes are not in line with each other. One force will allow an officer to flag an incident as anti-Muslim, another force will flag it as religious hate crime. There is no uniformity.
“There must be guidelines for all forces so we can know the level of the problem.”
A CPS spokeswoman said that for online communications, only those that are “grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false” are prohibited in order to “preserve the right to free speech”.
“Online communication can be offensive, shocking or in bad taste. However, as set out in CPS guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media, content has to be more than simply offensive to be contrary to the criminal law,” she said.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has previously said over five days after Fusilier Rigby was murdered 71 anti-Muslim incidents were reported to its national community tension team.
Superintendent Paul Giannasi, Acpo’s spokesman on hate crime, said: “The police service is committed to reducing the harm caused by hate crime and it is vital that we encourage more victims who suffer crimes to report them to the police or through third party reporting facilities such as Tell Mama.
“We would obviously want overall crime levels to reduce and to see fewer victims, but we welcome increases in reported hate crime, as long as they are a sign of increased confidence of victims to report.
“We are working with local police forces, to help improve the way we respond to hate crime and to provide robust and transparent hate crime data.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “These are despicable crimes that devastate lives and communities. The courts already hand out tougher punishments where race or religion are found to be aggravating factors.”
“The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for these appalling crimes is higher than ever before.”
Additional reporting from Press Association
Notes and links
* Asked for her comment on Rumy Hasan’s representation of her argument, Jacqueline Rose responded: “Hasan suggested that to talk of Islamophobia is to give succour to Islamists, indeed in the case of Malheila, to be one. I then said, more or less, that there was a serious problem of logic involved. If criticising Israel does not define someone as anti-semitic, then speaking out against anti-semitism does not define someone as a Zionist. By a similar token, to speak out against Islamophobia does not make you an Islamist and that Hasan’s so impugning Malheila was unjust. I then made a separate point about recognising injustice across the board, alluding to the Declaration of IJV as stating:
`We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out.’
There was nothing about shared victimhood, but a point about justice and human rights.”
Islam and English law
by Maleiha Malik / Prospect magazine, June 19, 2013