Anti Muslim Bigotry

The importance of language – The English Defence League and ‘Islamophobia’

This is a cross post by James Bloodworth

Tomorrow, Saturday 5th February, the English Defence League will march in Luton. The EDL claim to be demonstrating against Islamic extremism, yet as previous gatherings of the group have shown, their grievances appear to be with anyone simply ‘Muslim-looking’ – the last time they were in Luton they smashed up several Asian-owned shops and in Dudely they attacked a Hindu temple. Prominent members of the EDL have also been shown to have links to violent hooliganism and to the National Front and British National Party.

Luton itself is also a strange choice for a protest against Islamic extremism considering just 20 people turned out for an Islam4UK demo in March 2009. The town does have a Muslim population of around 30,000, however, which perhaps gives a clearer indication of precisely who it is the EDL have a problem with.

Characteristic of far-right groups in recent times has been the use of religion and culture as a proxy for race. Despite racism (and growing anti-Semitism) being a continuing problem in 21st-century Britain, we live within a post-racist national discourse – it is now overwhelmingly frowned upon to be openly racist or anti-Semitic in the public arena. Modern use of language will instead focus on asylum seekers, Muslims, or a world Zionist conspiracy as suitable proxies. In terms of discourse the EDL are racists attempting to operate within a post-racist narrative.

The flip side is that the opportunism of racists such as the EDL and the BNP in scapegoating Muslims has poisoned the discourse in relation to Islam and religion itself. In almost any contemporary political debate there is now a fine line between criticism of a certain monotheism and the lazy and populist characterisation of one as a closeted-racist merely for voicing such criticism. For those of us who are deeply ‘phobic’ of all religions, to be labelled racist simply for the criticism of celestial dictatorship is deeply worrying; and plays into the hands of both the genuine racists in the EDL as well as actual Islamists – both of whom thrive on division.

The idea of ‘Islamophobia’ is itself problematic. Should you be Jewish, a non-believer, gay, or simply a woman, there are phrases in the Koran which one need not be simply irrational to fear. It is now also commonplace to hear terms such as ‘Islamophobic racism’ glibly thrown around, equating the unalterable idea of ‘race’ with the sinister notion (and one that is again favoured by racists and Islamists) that a person is somehow a Muslim from the day they are born, rather than such ideas being passed on via the home, the school and the community. This panders to the idea that Muslims may never leave their religion, that it is somehow innate, while at the same time capitulating to the likes of the EDL who believe Islamic extremism to be a problem of people – Muslims – rather than of ideas and material conditions.

The correct definition for the bigotry of the EDL would it seems be ‘Muslimophobia’. Accurate terminology however is perhaps less politically useful for those who use the ‘Islamophobic’ label to effectively silence secular and atheist critics of Islam and monotheism itself.

It is extremely important to stand up to the EDL in Luton tomorrow and to send a message to them that their brand of cynical racism is unwelcome on the streets of modern Britain. Away from the exhilaration of street confrontations with modern-day fascists however, it is important to remember that the use of language matters, and that its misuse can aid one’s enemies as well as help to vanquish them.