Islamophobia: how to address and tackle cultural racism
This blog post draws our attention to Islamophobia, how we define it through conceptual approaches. It sheds a light to the meanings and constructions of anti-Muslim prejudice, which leads to discrimination of a minorities in various settings. It emphasises on the ways to combat Islamophobia through a construction of an inclusive behaviour at individual and collective levels.
By Dr Sureyya Sonmez Efe
The concept of ‘Islamophobia’ is used in the late 80s and 90s, especially after the Runnymede Trust’s report, ‘Islamophobia: a challenge to us all’ (1997), to describe the anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain (and the West). The visual summary below illustrates the key areas of violence against Muslims, leading to a dramatic form of social exclusion.
Source: Runnymede Trust (1997), Islamophobia: a challenge to us all.
The Runnymede Report made a recommendation to policymakers emphasising ‘religious and racial violence’ as a legal term that ‘must be explicitly recognised in whatever legislation may be introduced’ such as police forces, inter-agency monitoring groups, equality councils and so on. Hence, positioning anti-Muslim prejudice in the area of ‘racism’ is crucial in terms of incorporating complexities behind the Islamophobia that exists in many societies today.
What is ‘Islamophobia’?
To unpack the meaning of Islamophobia, I will use Madood’s definition here, which illustrates the severity and the complexity of this issue:
‘Islamophobia is the racialising of Muslims based on physical appearance or descent as members of a community and attributing to them cultural or religious characteristics to vilify, marginalise, discriminate or demand assimilation and thereby treat them as second class citizens’ (Madood, 2018, p.2).
Cultural racism, in this definition, encompasses two steps of discrimination: (a) biological racism, which reinforces prejudice and exclusion based on physical appearance (b) further vilification of cultural differences of the marginalised and the demand for assimilation to the dominant culture. Thus, in cultural racism, individuals imagine a society based on the dominant cultural characteristics and values that entail the ‘othering’ process of stereotyping Muslim minorities as ‘different’ and ‘inferior’ from the rest of the society.
More recent studies (Allen, 2017) illustrate that these negative sentiments and projection on Muslim minority groups derives from the fears and anxieties of contemporary political events in Western countries. In this context, Islamophobia is a highly politicised concept with ‘closed views’ (Allen, 2010; 2021) and a ‘one-dimensional’ understanding of Islamic values. The construction of the meanings of a piece of cloth, everyday practices, names or accents as ‘inferior’ locates the pseudo essentialist identity at the core as an ‘attempt to fix the meaning of Muslims’ (Tyrer, 2013). The adoption of these prejudiced views of the ‘other’ has a detrimental impact on Muslim minorities in the West, such as physical and psychological everyday cultural racism in public spaces (Allen, 2015). Du Bois’ concept of ‘double consciousness’ is iterated here in the form of cultural racism and anti-Muslim prejudice: as a ‘sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity’ (1903, p.8). The efforts to transform the dynamism of Islam and Muslim identity to a negative static form created, in Madood’s description, oppressive misrecognitions, entail ‘a struggle for recognition’ of one’s own Identity. The assumption of Muslim minorities with ‘uniform attributes or a single mind-set’ (ibid, Alexander et al., 2013) is a closed view of a social group that generalises them with homogeneity rather than heterogeneity. Muslims are diverse within themselves, just like other groups of people, who have individual and collective goals and aspirations that cannot be reduced to only religious or ideological motivations.
How to tackle ‘Islamophobia’?
I will start this section with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s statement during the first International Day to Combat Islamophobia: ‘anti-Muslim bigotry is part of a larger trend of a resurgence in ethnonationalism, neo-Nazism, stigma and hate speech targeting vulnerable populations including Muslims, Jews, some minority Christian communities, as well as others. “As the Holy Quran reminds us: nations and tribes were created to know one another. Diversity is a richness, not a threat” (UN, 2021).
This statement tells us that some social, political and cultural approaches are the root causes of Islamophobia; thus, we ought to start identifying them as a first step. This is possible through empathy and active listening that can be adopted by creating contact across minority and majority social groups. We must engage in ‘dialogue’ and ‘have honest conversations’ to reduce negative attitudes towards minority groups. Some studies suggest the positive impact of contact between members of two groups who are of equal status to cooperate to achieve a common goal in reducing prejudice towards one another (Allport, 1954, Kaya and Kayaoglu, 2017). This is possible with a ‘safe environment’ for a conversation with the support of local authorities.
Developing an ‘inclusive behaviour’ in public settings such as education and everyday life is crucial (a) to learn how to take a rights-based approach to our interaction with one another, (b) to create participatory discussion, (c) to respond to and tackle stereotypes about Muslims in the public sphere (UNESCO, 2011), (d) to tackle discourses that reinforce ideological forms of ‘Islamophobia thinking’ (Bhavani et al. 2005) (e) un-do mental polarisations about the minorities, (f) to create allyship and adopt an active response to discrimination, (g) to be conscious about the issue for creating a culturally competent and sustainable environment for coexistence.
- Allen, C. (2010) Islamophobia. Farnham: Ashgate..
- Allen, C. (2015) ‘People hate you because of the way you dress’: Understanding the invisible experiences of veiled British Muslim women victims of Islamophobia. International Review of Victimology, Vol.21(3): 287-301.
- Allen, C. (2017) Political Approaches to Tackling Islamophobia: An ‘Insider/Outsider’ Analysis of the British Coalition Government’s Approach between 2010-15. MDPI: Social Sciences, Vol.6(3): 287-301.
- Allen, C. (2021) Contemporary Experiences of Islamophobia in Today’s United Kingdom. Insight Turkey. Vol.23(2): 107-128.
- Alexander, C., Redclift, V. and Hussain, A. (2013) Introduction in Runnymede Trust: the New Muslims. p.3-7
- Allport, G. w. (1954) The Nature of Prejudice, Reading, Addison-Wesley.
- Bhavani, Reena, Heidi Safia Mirza, and Veena Meetoo. 2005. Tackling the Roots of Racism: Lessons for Success. Bristol: Policy Press. [Google Scholar]
- Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903) The Souls of Black Folk: the Forethought and Chapter 1. A.C. McClurg & Co., Chicago.
- Kaya, A. and Kayaoglu, A. (2017) Individual Determinants of anti-Muslim Prejudice in the EU-15. International Relations, Vol.14, No.53: 45-68
- Madood, T. (2018) Islamophobia: A Form of Cultural Racism. Evidence Paper to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in response to the call for evidence on ‘Working Definition of Islamophobia. University of Bristol Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship.
- Runnymede Trust Report (1997) Islamophobia: a challenge for us all. Available in https://www.runnymedetrust.org/publications/islamophobia-a-challenge-for-us-all#
- Tyrer, D. (2013) The Politics of Islamophobia: Race, Power and Fantasy. London: Pluto Press.
- United Nations (2021) International Day to Combat Islamophobia: What is Islamophobia. Available at https://www.un.org/en/observances/anti-islamophobia-day
- UNESCO (2011) Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims: Addressing Islamophobia through Education. Available at https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000215299