15 September 2010

Understanding Islamophobia - in the context of global systemic crisis

New Left Project (NLP), the innovative new website which above all aims to lift the level of progressive discourse and analysis, has just published the transcript of my lengthy interview with NLP's Samia Aziz on the nature, causes and future of Islamophobia in the UK and the world.

The conversation was quite wide-ranging, and included a detailed discussion of key issues such as the disproportionate marginalization of Muslim communities from mainstream social, cultural, economic, and political structures; questions surrounding immigration; anti-terror laws and securitization; and the wider systemic context of Islamophobia, including the global economic recession, the unequalizing structure of neoliberal capitalism, as well as the convergence of ecological and energy crises of which the recession is ultimately merely an early warning sign. We also discussed some of the counterproductive responses internal to Muslim communities themselves.

Overall, the interview sets out one of the key arguments of my new book, that the so-called 'Clash of Civilizations' is not an objective condition of international relations - rather, it is a construct, an ideological framework, projected precisely in response to the acceleration of the protracted, systemic collapse of the neoliberal global political economy that is now well underway. And the danger is that as this process of acceleration continues, we may see an increasing legitimization of far-right politics, 'Otherization' and political violence which already contains logics that appear tendentially genocidal.


The term ‘Islamophobia’ has only become part of common political vocabulary in the last two decades. First of all, can you tell us what this word means?

Islamaphobia refers to a state of mind or a set of beliefs which characterise Muslims in a regressive and derogatory way, resulting in them being discriminated against. That’s putting it very simply. First of all, it’s the targeting of Muslims as a specific group. Furthermore, it’s a set of ideas about them, which are usually mistaken, inaccurate and can be harmful. These then lead to forms of behaviour which are discriminatory in the social, political, economic and cultural realms, manifesting itself in a number of ways.

In what ways does Islamophobia manifest itself?

Islamophobia can manifest itself in lots of ways. Firstly, there are latent, institutional ways, which are sometimes difficult to detect. These can be seen in economic statistics about the conditions of Muslims. Approximately 69% of South Asian Muslims live in poverty in Britain, which is undoubtedly an extraordinary figure. It is the result of inequitable social structures, which don’t just affect Muslims, but affect a number of communities, such as the white working class, and asylum seekers. This significant figure is not something that can be put down to conspiracy. In Western societies particular ethnic communities tend to face the brunt of these inequitable structures, and are thus marginalized. It is commonly referred to as institutional discrimination. Even though as a society we have renounced racism, we still find large sections of the ethnic minority populations being socially excluded as they lack access to the same goods and services that other members of society do.

Read the rest here.

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