How ought to we reply to prejudices about perception? – Science and Faith: Exploring the Spectrum

Reflections on Islamophobia: Nonetheless a Problem for Us All

The publication of The Runnymede Belief’s report Islamophobia: A Problem for Us All in 1997 was a watershed second within the historical past of recognising and opposing anti-Muslim prejudice. The primary British coverage report back to give attention to the issue of Islamophobia, it’s typically credited with popularising the time period. Final week an up to date report, Islamophobia: Nonetheless a Problem for Us All, was launched to mark its twentieth anniversary. On this submit, Stephen H. Jones presents reflections on the brand new report’s understanding of Islamophobia utilising analysis for Science and Faith: Exploring the Spectrum on non-Muslims’ perceptions of Islam and science.

It’s onerous not have combined emotions on studying the brand new Runnymede report Islamophobia: Nonetheless a Problem for Us All. Marking 20 years because the launch of Runnymede’s publication of (virtually) the identical title, it presents a retrospective that makes it clear how far the UK has are available recognising and responding to anti-Muslim prejudice. In 1997 legislative safety for discrimination and hatred on the premise of non secular perception was a few years away. The British Muslim inhabitants was, in comparative phrases a minimum of, poorly organised and represented. The inclusion of Muslims in egalitarian and anti-racist activism was – as Tariq Modood remarks in his contribution – restricted. Many conditions have, then, improved significantly within the final 20 years. On the identical time, the launch of a report that marks 20 years of steadily rising hostility towards Muslims within the UK and past is hardly an event for celebration. Islamophobia is as massive an issue because it ever has been, but it’s nonetheless solely not often acknowledged inside authorities.

I confess that my combined emotions lengthen to the report itself as properly. There’s little query that, as soon as once more, Runnymede has produced a doc that would – and I hope will – re-shape public perceptions of, and debates about, anti-Muslim prejudice. If the 1997 report introduced Islamophobia onto the agenda, this one takes decisive steps towards cementing a definition able to influencing coverage and follow. Though the report takes the type of an edited assortment somewhat than a press release by an assembled fee, it is vitally tightly argued (a formidable editorial feat given the variations between among the contributors). Islamophobia is outlined as ‘anti-Muslim racism’, with an prolonged definition – tailored from the United Nations definition of racism – putting the give attention to restrictions on Muslims’ rights and freedoms. The gathering as a complete then situates Islamophobia squarely inside the historical past of race and racism, with the chapters highlighting methods wherein Muslims’ lives and wellbeing are affected by discrimination, violence (and threats of violence), racialized surveillance and profound inequalities.

In doing this, the report builds upon, and at occasions challenges, its predecessor. 1997’s Islamophobia: A Problem for Us All was undoubtedly a watershed second within the historical past of opposition to anti-Muslim prejudice, particularly within the UK. However its studying of Islamophobia was at occasions imprecise, with the idea being fleshed out by a collection of binary oppositions (or ‘open’ and ‘closed’ perceptions of Islam). No matter one’s views in regards to the distinctions employed, this strategy didn’t lend itself to watertight definitions of the type that may be influential. Simply as importantly, the report implied that Islamophobia proceeds in a single path: that distortion of Islam comes first, adopted by penalties for Muslims. The issue with this, as Claire Alexander’s chapter within the new report highlights, is that we are able to equally view Islamophobia the opposite manner round: as detrimental responses to our bodies and cultural practices which are then justified as regards to stereotypes about Islam. When Islamophobia is known to proceed solely within the first path, it’s onerous to construct solidarity with different racisms; certainly, Alexander herself argues that Runnymede’s 1997 report truly undermined the battle towards racism towards Muslims.

Why, then, my reservations concerning the brand new report? In distinction to some commentators, I don’t disagree with describing Islamophobia by way of race and racism per se. Islamophobia predominantly impacts ethnic minorities whereas racist stereotypes – particularly regarding some teams, equivalent to British South Asians – don’t at all times contain claims about organic inferiority. An expanded understanding of racism is actually able to encompassing stereotypes about, and violence towards, Muslims. Reasonably, my reservations stem from the sturdy distinction the report makes between the emotional and bodily struggling of Muslims on the one hand (the report’s focus) and representations of Islam on the opposite (which the report leaves largely to 1 facet). That is clear in Farah Elahi and Omar Khan’s introduction:

One cause now we have chosen to focus our definition is that a lot of the talk about free speech and criticism of Islam is irrelevant, or at finest orthogonal, to the query of whether or not Muslims in Britain (and elsewhere) face discrimination – and what we in Britain ought to do about that discrimination.

After all, there’s a variety of reality on this. The talk about ‘reliable’ and ‘unjustified’ criticism of Islam has been hopelessly unproductive. I’m not alone in questioning if the talk about Islamophobia would have moved ahead barely sooner if the 1997s report’s definition – ‘unfounded hostility in the direction of Islam’ – had not made differentiating between ‘reliable’ and ‘unjustified’ criticism key. It’s clearly the case, too, that what issues finally in Islamophobia is the non-public struggling it causes. Why not then bypass fruitless debates and get to a degree the place everybody (maybe even the Nationwide Secular Society or Polly Toynbee) can agree? Can we not go away to 1 facet the query of whether or not or not the Islamic custom is a bunch of foolish fables and focus as a substitute on the purpose that, no matter one thinks of Islam, violence and discrimination towards Muslims is frequent and flawed?

If the report can certainly assist British society to succeed in this sort of settlement, it’ll have accomplished an enormous service, not least as a result of we’re depressingly removed from such settlement at current and different distinguished makes an attempt to set out a typically accepted definition have damaged down (the destiny of the All-Social gathering Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia presents a very good illustration of this, which is mentioned in Chris Allen’s chapter). Even so, I don’t assume that that is ample for these involved about anti-Muslim prejudice. Nor do I consider that criticism and representations of Islam are solely partially related to discrimination towards Muslims. My concern in regards to the report, then, is that prejudices about perception are given little or no express consideration.

Islam as fundamentalism

As an example this, I need to refer briefly to analysis I’ve been concerned in over the past three years perceptions of faith and science. What’s attention-grabbing about this analysis topic is that it touches equally on summary interpretive questions (in regards to the standing of non secular texts) and questions on social relations (equivalent to religion colleges). The interviews and focus teams I and my colleagues have carried out cowl all spiritual and non-religious traditions, however the feedback made about Islam have been significantly putting. That is partly due to the sheer depth of hostility towards the custom – which far outstrips every other – however it is usually due to how interview narratives transfer between criticism of Islamic ideas, to claims about cultural minorities, to (in some instances) racialized language. Take into account the next instance, taken from a spotlight group with White non-religious members of the general public primarily based in London. It begins with a declare about perception, then one about demographics, then takes a sinister flip:

Participant 1: [I’m optimistic about the future because] I prefer to see it [history] as leaving ignorance and prejudice and bigotry behind us.

Participant 2: But it surely [ignorance] could not proceed to depreciate…

Participant 3: No, I agree.

Participant 2: As a result of as demographics change I consider the beginning charge amongst spiritual households is increased. However there’s a sense that…

Participant 1: Besides that the expertise of this nation is that they begin to conform to the form of patterns that the remainder of us conform to…

Participant 2: I don’t…

Participant 4: I’m unsure that’s true.

Participant 3: It’s true in regards to the variety of spiritual teams, however I feel there could also be one thing about Islamic teams which is completely different.

The dialog continues, with Participant 4 ultimately concluding with the next:

Simply sitting in King’s Cross Station […], all of the headscarves immediately seem. I feel, am I imagining this? However that claims to me that one thing very, very harmful is occurring on this society. The hazard is coming from Islam.

One query that follows from that is: wherein path is the bias shifting on this case? Is it, because the 1997 report appeared to counsel, that hatred of Islam is resulting in hostility towards the determine of the veiled Muslim girl? Or is it, as the brand new report implies, that racialized hostility is justified in spiritual phrases? It’s, after all, very troublesome to inform – and it could be tempting to reply that it doesn’t actually matter on condition that the implications are the identical both manner. There’s, nevertheless, one different discovering in our analysis that challenges this.

In virtually all interviews and focus teams the place we encountered the cultural and racial othering of Muslims, narratives had been rationalized through claims in regards to the absence of interpretive variation in Islam. Feedback equivalent to the next had been frequent:

I imply, what appears to be taking place is, that persons are deciding that Allah means precisely what he says. He’s not being symbolic. When he says, chop their heads off, he means chop their heads off […]. [Some people say] that wants a very good interpretation […] [But] who’re they to presume to interpret, that when Allah says this, he doesn’t imply it?


[Opposition to scientific reasoning] begins with, okay, the reality is within the Bible so we have to go and observe the Bible; it may well’t be challenged in some folks’s thoughts. And I do know that’s a really simplistic view of Christianity however so far as Islam goes that’s how Muslims are required to view the world, the way in which […] it was written down 1,300, 1,400 years in the past […].

Extra than simply providing a ‘monolithic’ account of Islam, these narratives present examples of what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls ‘scriptural determinism’: the idea {that a} spiritual scripture determines its followers’ worldviews uniformly and can be utilized as a proof for particular actions and (actual or perceived) social modifications. In keeping with these narratives, stereotypes about Muslims are legitimate as a result of Islam encloses them in a inflexible interpretive framework. Edward Stated touched on this sort of prejudice thirty years in the past in his writing on the class of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, however it’s scarcely mentioned by students of race and ethnicity right this moment.

This can be a disgrace as a result of our interviews adopted a definite sample. Racialized claims had been comparatively uncommon. Crude assumptions about literalism in Islam, nevertheless, permeated our knowledge extra deeply. Assumptions about literalism in Islam, moreover, reduce throughout variations in school, training and political positioning. Racially charged feedback about Muslims tended to be made by individuals who had radical libertarian or anti-élite political opinions. Generalizations about interpretation in Islam, in distinction, had been discovered throughout political positions, together with stances dedicated to equality. Some interviewees even expressed concern in regards to the hostility to which Muslims are subjected whereas on the identical time providing a deterministic studying of Islam. For instance, the second particular person quoted above – an informed White–British center class musician who recognized as humanist – felt there was no contradiction between his feedback about what Muslims are ‘required to consider’ and making the declare that prejudice towards Muslims ‘undoubtedly is an issue on this nation’.

This sample calls to thoughts Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s well-known declare that Islamophobia has ‘handed the dinner desk take a look at’ – that’s to say, permeates past political extremes into contexts of center class home respectability. This declare is certainly what our analysis advised, however in an importantly certified manner: outright hostility towards Muslims as folks was extra restricted, whereas scriptural determinist narratives about Islam, which aren’t topic to the identical public criticism, had been significantly extra widespread. With faith not being topic to the identical public censure as express remarks about ‘race’, narratives about Islam as religion emerged as a type of ‘acceptable’ nervousness about Muslims. The ‘dinner desk’ Islamophobia we encountered is a ‘mushy’ prejudice the place outward dedication to tolerance of Muslims as folks coexists with the view that, in Islam, spiritual sources can solely be adopted actually. There is no such thing as a racialized language, or Enoch Powell-style rhetoric about demographic colonisation of Europe, however nonetheless a deterministic view of interpretation in Islam not solely erases the complicated traditions of allegorical interpretation in Islamic historical past but in addition gently implies that believing Muslims pose a risk.

Faith and race within the structuring of Islamophobia

This discursive swap from the language of race to the language of religion is, I’m more and more sure, essential to the structuring of Islamophobia. In a lot the identical manner as British tabloids promote a racialized understanding of British historical past and id whereas on the identical time denouncing racism, claims a few lack of interpretive variation in Islam allow the cultural and racial othering of Muslims to proceed, even on the identical time that anti-Muslim discrimination and violence is denounced. Such narratives are clearly related to the tendency for Muslims to be harassed once they show seen indicators of religion, but in addition, importantly, they assist to maintain and to normalise Islamophobia. Islamophobia runs so deep into British and different Western societies partly as a result of this dynamic is never spoken of, a lot much less challenged, immediately.

So we want, then, to take two steps. The primary is to cement an agreed definition of Islamophobia that may stop the broader public from diminishing the bodily and emotional struggling of Muslims (and, after all, these perceived to be Muslim). On this, Islamophobia: Nonetheless a Problem for Us All can’t be faulted. But alongside this there’s additionally the necessity to persuade others that voluntarily chosen beliefs might be, and right this moment routinely are, misrepresented in doubtlessly dangerous methods. For me, this isn’t one thing that may be addressed by legislative modifications with out putting unjustifiable restrictions on freedom to criticise folks’s beliefs.  It could and will, nevertheless, contain some form of response by these with an curiosity in anti-racist and egalitarian activism. Too typically debates and scholarship on race and racism have little or no time for questions of non secular perception, and Islamophobia: Nonetheless a Problem for Us All suffers from this. Trying throughout the report I used to be struck that social mobility, well being, hate crime, safety, race, integration and gender are all included as themes (and every topic is roofed beautifully), however a chapter on spiritual perception is absent. Though made up of students and activists I’ve an immense quantity of admiration for, in contrast with the 1997 report the inclusion of specialists in spiritual perception is considerably restricted.

To a point, my frustration right here is as a lot with the place Britain is as a society, and its incapability to speak meaningfully about faith, as it’s with the report itself. The inclusion of extra targeted discussions about depictions of perception may properly have muddied the waters and prompted antagonistic reactions from folks like Nazir Afzal who’ve praised the report and even, within the case of Kenan Malik, contributed to it. Maybe it makes tactical sense, for now, to give attention to defining Islamophobia in a manner that secures most settlement in an effort to win battles towards discriminatory practices and violence and then to maneuver on to re-shaping society’s views about Islam. The concern I’ve proper now, nevertheless, is that even these involved by completely different types of racism typically don’t appear to assume that prejudices about perception are value attending to.

Stephen H. Jones is a Analysis Fellow at Newman College and Common Secretary of the Muslims in Britain Analysis Community. He writes right here in a private capability.

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