Islamophobia: the facts
The growth of Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism, has been dramatic throughout Europe and North America in recent years. There have been increased attacks on Muslims, on their mosques and community centres, and a series of laws targeting Muslims have been passed. The War on Terror, launched in 2001, boosted Islamophobia. Although at first governments were keen to stress this was not about Muslims, that rapidly changed as first Afghanistan then Iraq were invaded and occupied.
Theories espousing a ‘clash of civilisations’ have become more widespread, and Muslims have become synonymous in the eyes of some politicians and the press with ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’. As the war has spread to countries such as Libya and Mali, this attitude has become more widespread. Now, Muslims are expected to apologise for any act of terrorism or wrongdoing carried out by other Muslims, regardless of how unrepresentative of Muslims such actions are.
Stop the War Coalition argued in 2001, when we were founded, that the war would have these consequences. Waging war on mainly Muslim countries means demonising the populations of those countries, claiming that they subscribe to different values. After the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, attacks on Muslims grew and the racist EDL organised demonstrations whose main theme was anti-Muslim. There have been multiple bomb and arson attacks against Mosques and Islamic community centres. Politicians have been virtually silent about these criminal acts. It is the wars waged by the US and EU governments that have helped to create this racism.
The threat of Islamophobia from far right groups like the EDL are very real. But it also comes from mainstream politics. A report by the European Muslim Research Centre showed that physical attacks on Muslims are linked to the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the government and the media. Replace the word ‘Muslim’ in numerous newspaper articles with the word Black or Jew, and such articles would be widely and rightly condemned as racist. Islamophobia is one of the last ‘respectable’ forms of racism in Europe.
Some mainstream figures who make Islamophobic statements claim they are not being racist but upholding liberal values and criticising religion. But they overwhelmingly concentrate their attacks on Islam, when Muslims make up just 4.8% of the UK population. The growth of anti-Semitism in the 1930s was a racism based on religion, and the comparisons are alarming.
Muslims were famously active in the anti-war movement of 2003. In response, successive governments have attacked Muslims’ democratic rights. A report by the Institute of Race Relations showed that the state’s strategy for targeting “extremists”, called Prevent, is part of this attack. Prevent has been used to spy on and de-politicise young Muslims. Opposing the wars is considered tantamount to ‘extremism’. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding is directed toward groups like the Quilliam think-tank, who downplay any link between terrorism at home and wars abroad.
As long as western governments wage war in the Middle East, south Asia and parts of Africa, Islamophobia will be a key part of their ideological defence. It is a part of their war propaganda. Anyone who opposes war should also oppose this racist backlash. Likewise, key to ending the mass surveillance and criminalisation of the Muslim community and building a more equal and tolerant society at home is fighting against disastrous Western foreign policy.