||Islamophobia Watch draws our attention to an article by the writer and Guardian columnist, Gary Younge in the US-based magazine, The Nation, in which he touches on the “repressive legislative and rhetorical onslaught” against Muslims and Islam which has taken hold of Europe’s political landscape in recent years. He argues that a torrent of Islamophobic laws have been successfully used to integrate Muslims “into their place in the new hierarchy of European racism”, but that “as a tool for promoting inclusion and equality”- often the justification used for introducing such legislation, the laws “have singularly failed.”
“How’s this for the fashion police? In late May, in a suburb of Brussels, a Muslim woman was arrested for wearing a niqab—the garment worn by a tiny proportion of Muslim women that covers all of the face but the eyes. In the subsequent melee, the woman broke an officer’s nose while being frisked. Her arrest sparked clashes between Muslim youth and police in the area. A week later, the hard-right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang offered a 250 euro bounty to anyone reporting veiled women to the police.
“The Belgian law banning the niqab, like measures across Europe ranging from outlawing the wearing of certain face veils in France to the building of more minarets in Switzerland, was ostensibly aimed at integrating Muslim minorities into Western culture.
“To the extent these laws have integrated Muslims into their place in the new hierarchy of European racism—a toxic blend of traditional fascism and Western bigotry posing as secular liberalism—they’ve been successful. But as a tool for promoting inclusion and equality, these laws have singularly failed. Indeed, this bid to prevent the importation of “radical Islam” has been both laughable and lamentable. The Belgian woman in question was a locally born convert, as were the girls at the heart of the French head scarf law, whose father is Jewish.
“The response of Europe’s political class to the presence of Muslim minorities can be described most generously as a moral panic, and most accurately as a repressive legislative and rhetorical onslaught… Switzerland passed a referendum in 2009 outlawing the building of minarets; the country has four. In Denmark the same year, a call for a burqa ban prompted a study revealing that just three women wore it, while only 150 to 200 wore the niqab, a third of whom were Danish converts. “The burqa and the niqab do not have their place in the Danish society,” insisted Danish Premier Lars Rasmussen a year later. That’s true, but then they never really did."
Younge mocks the idea that Europe’s Muslim communities are isolated and have failed to integrate, pointing to a poll by Gallup in 2009 showing that Muslims are more likely to identify as British than British people as a whole. He further cites findings by the Pew Research Centre in a 2006 report which showed that the principal concerns of Muslims in the European countries surveyed were unemployment and Islamic extremism. Younge also slams ideas advanced by the far-right that Europe faces a ‘demographic threat’ from Muslims.
Younge continues commenting on the barrage of Islamophobic laws to have been applied in Europe, arguing that,
“In no small part, they’re about seeking to contain one of the most oppressed groups in Europe… During a period of economic crisis, this means stepping up efforts to assimilate Muslims into a mythically unified national culture, even as they’re excluded from economic advancement, political influence and social inclusion."
Getting to the crux of the way in which the lives of Europe’s Muslims have been placed under a political microscope, he writes, “the tendency has been to treat Muslims as though their religion defines them. Muslims are asked to account for their positions on gay rights, women’s rights, Palestine or free speech in a manner that no other religious group must do. They are called to liberate “their” women in every aspect of their lives apart from what they wear—since Muslim women’s wardrobes are now an affair of state. These assaults are not confined to the hard right. In the name of secular liberalism, many elements of the European left have often led the charge, as though the religion of a brown-skinned, twenty-first-century working-class minority were equivalent to the might of the eighteenth-century Catholic Church in cahoots with the monarchy.
“This is not to diminish the real threat that Islamic terrorism poses on the continent, as borne out by the murder of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse by one Islamist earlier this year. A quarter of all terrorism-related arrests in Europe last year were of jihadists—though according to Europol, there were 174 actual acts of terrorism in the EU member states in 2011, and none of them were related to Islam.
“But it does put it into perspective. By far the most murderous terrorist event in Europe in recent times came at the hands of an extreme right-wing racist, Anders Breivik…Add to this the prevalence of racial assaults against Muslims, the return of fascism as a mainstream ideology in Europe, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the undeniable fact is that white, Christian Europeans pose far more of a threat to Muslims—both at home and abroad—than Muslims do to them.”
Younge’s article reasserts the notion that far from being the preserve of the extreme far right, Islamophobia has entered mainstream discourse with politicians and liberals all staking a claim in the cultivation of misrepresentations, bigotry and prejudice against Islam and Muslims in Europe. In January of last year, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi warned of the alarmingly acceptability of Islamophobia in polite society with it having ‘passed the dinner table test’. With recent reports published on the far right demonstrating the willingness of members to sympathise with and seek recourse to racist violence, the New Statesman in its coverage of the Anders Breivik trial was absolutely correct to argue of the need to put ‘mainstream Islamophobia on trial’.