Endemic Islamophobia?

Anti-Muslim graffiti in Mitcham, South London, after Woolwich attack
Source: This is Local London
I don’t like the word “Islamophobia” for several reasons – the idea that it is a phobia makes it both natural and pathological; the “Islam” bit creates a blur between dislike of Islam (which can be T perfectly legitimate) and dislike of Muslims (which is racist). But the anti-Muslim racism which it is used to name is nonetheless a stark reality. Just as a man who walks the streets of Britain wearing a Jewish kippah will soon discover that antisemitism is far from dead, a woman who walks the streets of Britain in a hijab will receive torrents of verbal abuse.

In the wake of the horrific slaughter of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in the summer, there was a huge spike in abuse.* Some of this was violent. Mosques were fire-bombed; people attacked; an elderly man in the Midlands was murdered by a Ukrainian fascist just for being Muslim. Not all of the abuse was violent: there was graffiti, shouting of taunts, and huge amounts of obscenity on-line. It came from every section of British society; Guardian reading liberals are more careful in the way they express revulsion at Muslims than Mail reading Tories, but I don’t think it’s much less common among them.

Some Muslim community leaders and professional anti-racists played up the recent spike – just as Jewish community leaders sometimes overemphasise the danger of antisemitism. Some commentators, such as Andrew Gilligan (cited and re-cited by Jacobin), have sought to diminish the seriousness of the abuse by pointing out only a small proportion of it is actually violent, just as many leftists downplay the threat of antisemitism with similar arguments. But anyone who has experienced racial harassment (or indeed other kinds of bullying) will know that words can leave deep scars. Most British Muslims today live in fear.

We also know that, as with domestic violence or workplace bullying, a very low percentage of such incidents (especially the non-violent ones) are ever reported or counted. Thus, in one way at least, Chris Allen is right to put the Tell MAMA “numbers” in scare quotes: they undercount the reality by a huge margin. (Allen doesn’t discount statistics in favour of perception, he just says the statistics are inadequate.)

The existence of the EDL was never responsible for pandemic anti-Muslim racism. But their provocative marches increased the fear for British Muslims. The EDL’s articulate leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known by one of his pseudonyms, Tommy Robinson) gave voice to and disseminated a particularly vicious strain of anti-Muslim racism. The tag #EDL, like the daubed slogans PJ (Perish Judah) in Mosley’s day, KBW (Keep Britain White) in Powell’s day, or NF in my youth, served as watchwords for racists, giving them confidence while spreading fear among Muslims. Any discussion of the EDL and its founder that ignores this reality is worthless.

I wrote this post to clear some ground before launching into discussion of Yaxley-Lennon’s rebranding, which I do in the next post.
Previous post: The Tell MAMA Working Definition of Anti-Muslim Prejudice.


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