Islamophobia has hit the headlines again.

First it was a report from the Quilliam Foundation calling for the term Islamophobia to be replaced with ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’, ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ or ‘anti-Muslim hatred’. Despite having been part of the social and political lexicon for almost a decade and half now, Quilliam suggest this change is necessary because of the widespread confusion about what ‘Islamophobia’ means and how it should be used.

Then, Baroness Warsi – using Quilliam’s newly preferred terminology – made a speech stating how she will use her position in the Government to tackle ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’. This was necessary, she argued, because anti-Muslim prejudice had passed the ‘dinner-table test’. It had become socially acceptable.

Fact is that Warsi’s comments tell us nothing new.

Since the publication of the influential Commission for British Muslims & Islamophobia (CBMI) report in 1997, Islamophobia has been recognised as being a part of the fabric of everyday life in Britain. That report added that Islamophobia was becoming “more explicit, more extreme and more dangerous”.

A few years later and my research for the European Monitoring Centre on Xenophobia and Racism (EUMC) into Islamophobia in the EU in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 noted something quite different. Following 9/11, Islamophobia – a diverse and extremely broad range of anti-Muslim, anti-Islam attitudes, expressions, prejudices and discriminatory or exclusionary practices – was identified as becoming increasingly ‘normal’. Whether explicit or implicit, with normality also came acceptability and respectability. As the EUMC summary report put it, “a greater receptivity towards anti-Muslim and other xenophobic ideas and sentiments has, and may well continue, to become more tolerated”.

A decade on and my book, “Islamophobia” (Ashgate, 2010) confirms this. Instead of becoming ‘more explicit, more extreme and more dangerous’, quite the opposite has occurred: Islamophobia has become “understood to be natural and normal and therefore also logical, rational and justifiable”. To use Warsi’s words, Islamophobia has most definitely passed the dinner-table test.

And no matter what Quilliam says to the contrary, it is Islamophobia.

Quilliam’s argument for rejecting the term is that it is confusing, hampers legitimate and valid criticism of Islam and Muslims, and has made it difficult to recognise or identify genuine Islamophobic incidents. At times, all of these are true. But the same would be true quite irrespective of whether the term ‘Islamophobia’, ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’ or indeed anything else was preferred. Putting the wolf in sheep’s clothing might make it look friendlier but it doesn’t make the wolf any less dangerous.

Without addressing what is required – the need for a clear definition and understanding of what is and what is not Islamophobia – the same confusion, misuse and so on will continue. And what will be even worse is that once again, tackling the real problem will be overlooked.

As my book argues, a new definition of Islamophobia needs to be recognised and utilised. For me, this would mean differentiating between Islamophobia as an ideology that informs and shapes our speech, attitudes and thoughts, and an Islamophobia which results in exclusionary and discriminatory practices including violence and abuse. If the Government is genuine in its commitment to tackle Islamophobia, then this latter point is particularly crucial.

Some questions about Quilliam’s motivations also need to be asked. I contest its statement that Islamophobia “hands a propaganda coup to Islamists”. In over a decade of research into Islamophobia, I have found no evidence whatsoever that ‘Islamists’ – a descriptor that many Muslims and non-Muslims find highly contentious – are using the term to their own ends. None. Maybe for Quilliam, suggesting this fits more with their own political and organisational agendas than anything else.

Conflating Islamophobia with ‘Islamist extremism’ is also extremely dangerous. Doing so can indirectly legitimise the lazy stereotypes that equate all Muslims as terrorists as well as feeding into the messages of those such as the English Defence League. Such associations are unnecessary and unwanted and if the phenomenon is to be properly addressed, then it is time we moved beyond the naïve and immature assumption that Islamophobia will disappear if and when the threat and reality of ‘Islamist extremism’ is eradicated. As the 1997 CBMI report proves, Islamophobia pre-dates 9/11, 7/7 et al.

Taking Islamophobia seriously – of which anti-Muslim prejudice is a part – is long overdue and so Baroness Warsi’s comments must be welcomed.

Suggesting that we unnecessarily replace the term and that we do this in order to tackle ‘Islamism’ I would suggest must not.

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3 thoughts on “Anti-Muslim Prejudice? It’s just Islamophobia in sheep’s clothing – reflections on Baroness Warsi & Quilliam’s comments

  1. I am the editor of English Defence League Extra, the EDL’s secondary website:

    http://httphttp://theenglishdefenceleagueextra.blogspot

    According to you, the Quilliam Foundation has called for people to adopt the term ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ as a substitution for ‘Islamophobia’. The Quilliam Foundation believes that the term ‘Islamophobia’ has played into the hands of Islamists who now use the term indiscriminately. Allen denies this. He believes that Islamophobia is not a response to either Islamism or Islamic extremism – it is actually a response to ordinary Muslims and mainstream Islam (more of which later).

    Allen demands a ‘clear definition’ of a term invented a couple of decades back. Will the clear definition also be the true or correct definition? Is Allen’s prime concern here semantic or political? When he says that ‘Islamophobia’ can be ‘misused’ – is that a political or a semantic misuse?

    How does Allen want to ‘tackle’ anti-Muslim attitudes? By arguing and making it the case that any reference to Islam and Muslims, qua Muslims, must only be positive – not critical. This is an adoption of sharia law. Specifically, it is an adoption of Islam’s blasphemy law. Does Allen feel uncomfortable about his indirect acceptance of sharia law?

    Where is Allen’s evidence that it is ‘socially acceptable’ to express anti-Islamic attitudes and statements? (Unless any criticism of Islam and Muslims, qua Muslims, is suspect.) What does Islamophobia being ‘a part of the fabric of everyday life in Britain’ so much as mean? Did such Islamophobia exist before 9/11? I don’t think so; though the report which Allen cites is from 1997.

    It doesn’t follow that if one is anti-Islam that one is also anti-Muslim. Is being against Islam, not Muslims, automatically ‘discriminatory’, according to Chris Allen? Here it is also explicitly stated that Islamophobia is a kind of xenophobia – but is it? How can one’s being against a religion, or even being against the followers of a religion, be classified as ‘xenophobic’, strictly speaking?

    Why is Islamophobia ‘dangerous’? How close does these extreme and dangerous cases of Islamophobia, as Allen sees them, compare to the thousands of acts of Islamic terrorism in the world? How do they compare to grooming young girls? Etc.

    Allen cites the Monitoring Centre. This organisation must have assumed that Islamophobia existed pre-9/11 – but is that true? In addition, don’t such bureaucracies need to create or event new cases of Islamophobia, either for career reasons or reasons of ideology – or both?

    In any case, not only is Islamophobia not tolerated in the UK – the exact opposite is the case. If a group or individual shows clear and explicit Islamophobia, then all sorts of individuals and institutions will come down upon him, from politicians to councillors and the media. Islamophobia has not been tolerated post-5/7 either, never mind before that date.

    Allen does not give the possibility of Islamophobia being ‘logical, rational and justifiable’ a second’s thought. The assumption running through this essay is that it simply can’t be the case that anti-Islamism is logical, rational and/or justifiable. Thus this piece is quite clearly biased towards Muslims and Islam – something that Allen never explicitly admits.

    Allen explains this impossibility of non-bigoted anti-Islamism when he talks about a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The clever or deceitful Islamophobe, I presume, is the wolf. Again, Allen seems to think that all criticism of Islam and Muslims is Islamophobic and also ‘racist’ or even ‘fascist’. This is clearly a far-left position. There seems to be no such thing as a benign, or truthful, or justifiable, or logical, criticism of Islam or Muslims qua Muslims.

    Because of the impossibility of non-bigoted anti-Islamism, Allen then goes on to claim that it is not the case that people become Islamophobic in response to ‘Islamic extremism’. The hint is that Islamophobia is actually a response to ordinary Muslims and/or mainstream Islam (whatever that is). That is, Allen believes that ‘Islamophobes’ are Islamophobic simply because they dislike Difference or the Other.

    Following on from this, Allen cites the supposed belief, held by supposed Islamophobes, that all Muslims are terrorists. I have never met anyone who believes that ‘all Muslims are terrorists’. Even if someone were retarded or mentally ill that would not so much as make sense. For example, does anyone really believe that all the Muslims who run curry houses or cab firms are part-time terrorists?

    Allen also hints that this is the position the EDL falls for. He offers no evidence or even an argument for thinking this.

    I believe that nearly all examples of Islamophobia are indeed responses, direct or indirect, to Islamic extremism. Again, Allen is hinting that Islamophobia is really only a response to ordinary Muslims and mainstream Islam. How can that be? Before 9/11 there were virtually no anti-Muslim attitudes in the UK even though there had been Muslim communities for decades before that date. Indeed, Muslims and Islam were, if anything, largely ignored.

    Even if that is true that 9/11, etc. didn’t make much of a difference to the already-Islamophobic, Allen is assuming that there was no such thing as an Islamic extremism to react against before 9/11. But what about the Salman Rushdie book burnings which occurred before 9/11? More broadly, Muslim militants and extremists had been blowing things up since at the least the 1920s; after which time, Muslim terrorism continued on and on.

    Yet again, Allen simply assumes that all criticism of Islam and Muslims is ‘prejudice’. Even if it is prejudice, Allen also believes that such prejudice could not be justified or even explained positively.

  2. Get a grip.

    Have you not noticed that the people most frantically warning us of the dangers of Islam are former Muslims and the non Muslim residents of Islamic nations?

    It isn’t a phobia if the fear has a valid foundation. A meaningful number of Muslims rape our young daughters, blow us up, assault us on the street and persistently insult our cultural values. They may be a minority, but it’s a large enough number to make us have serious misgivings about their presence here.

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