Saturday, March 21, 2009

Religion, theo-politics and race

Paul Sikander at Butterflies & Wheels has cautionary things to say about a phobia that is sweeping the world.

‘Islamophobia’ is a constructed model designed to protect Islam and Islamic politics from criticism. It has little or nothing to do with protecting individual Muslims from discrimination.

Until the late 1990’s, ethnic minorities in this country were conceived of as being susceptible to discrimination on the basis of immutable human factors. That you are black or Asian is a fact that cannot be altered, and you could face discrimination in British society because of it, prejudice sometimes subtle, sometimes violent and visceral. And so, civil and political society sought to counter this by privileging the dignity of the individual in the face of racism. If a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Sikh was to be called a ‘Paki’ it was not because of the religion they actively or nominally belonged to. If a West Indian was called a ‘nigger’ it was not because of any cultural or religious formulation or criticism they were facing. Anti-Semitism when it was expressed, the earlier racism of Europe, that had been present before the post war migration of black and Asian people to the UK, was simultaneously a similar and different mode of prejudice. But crucially, anti-Semitism when expressed and countered was not about defending the theology of Judaism.

The construction of the concept of ‘Islamophobia’ began in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair. The impetus for it was to stigmatise an entire range of individuals and opinions, from those who took issue with religious precepts of Islam, to those who questioned certain values of the religion, certain cultural practices recurrent inside the sub-culture of some British Muslim groups, all the way through to those who critically analysed Islamist politics.

For the first time, ‘racism’ was not considered to be the active discrimination against individuals because of their ethnic background. Now, ‘racism’ was asserted to be anything that remotely offended the sensibilities of religious Muslims, including those from within the Muslim community who dissented from a certain line on any range of issues.

What a victory. To weld together the protection of religion and theo-politics with the whole idea of racism. To no longer privilege the dignity of the individual against racial prejudice, but to privilege the ‘dignity’ of the religion of Islam, and the politics of Islamism, and providing them with an immunity — the righteous immunity of protection from ‘victimisation’.

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