In his forthcoming book, Tahir Abbas explores the intensifying symbiotic intersections between Islamophobia and radicalisation. His blog offers a preliminary look into this vicious cycle that permeates Western societies today.
Across the global north today, the spectre of Islamophobia has grown so considerable that it has become hyper-normalised as an everyday reality. Since the events of the Rushdie Affair in 1989, a few months before the Berlin Wall fell and the old world order defined by a capitalist west and a communist east began to collapse, Islam and Muslims have become the subject of considerable interest, notably amongst those who would decry them as somehow antithetical to enlightened ways and means.
But in the context of the experiences of Muslim minorities in the west, theirs is a considerable challenge. They have to come to terms with increasing hostility while simultaneously attempting to adapt to the changing contours of economy and society. However, a double whammy hits some groups who experience internal anxieties of inter-generational discontent combined with the external hesitations of wider acceptance. And, yet, many centuries ago, there was a time when Europe was open to Islam, learning from the synergies of science, knowledge and spirituality that immersed groups into a sense of collective belonging and sharing.
Today’s turn against Islam and Muslims is occurring alongside profound changes to the ways in which Europe is coming to terms with the realities of globalisation that affects investment and jobs in local area settings. Political elites and narrow media narratives combine to placate the failures of dominant capitalist interests, encouraging marginalised majority groups and those experiencing the most in relation to pressures on social mobility, especially after the 2008 global economic crisis and the policies of austerity that have plagued many Western European countries, to vent their fury at the most significant ‘others’.
This uncertainty over the immediate future of communities and localities is leading to unease among indigenous majority and minority populations, when many of the latter are law-abiding, hard-working, engaged and participatory, seeking to improve their net well-being through dedicated effort. The demonisation of minorities, specifically Muslim groups, is a useful ruse on the part of elite actors to take attention away from the wider workings of society that are leading to widening socio-economic positions, wealth disparities and life chances for all but a select few.
As Muslims are disparaged, there are numerous consequences to their lived experience. One of the most significant is how this Islamophobia has rejuvenated the far right, whose discourse of hate and intolerance, aside from the fury directed at homosexuals, immigrants and women, is pointed clearly at Islam, which is seen as the progenitor in relation to a whole host of social evils such as ‘grooming’, female genital mutilation or terrorism but also the somewhat less sinister transgressions in relation to the search for spaces for mosques, halal foods or dress code relaxations.
These ‘unwanted’ differences, caused by ‘unassimilable’ Muslims are diluting the ‘purity’ of the nation from risks of violence to wider issues of cultural relativism. Muslims are the catch-all bogeyman for all that is failing in the rest of society but rather than see each issue as specific to particular contexts with wide-ranging causal factors, the convenient labelling of these occurrences as being a function of Islam and Muslims has become the dominant paradigm.
Elites instrumentalise these social fissures as a way in which to refocus attention on already targeted groups in an effort to take attention away from the failings of integration, equalities or foreign policy. The main impact of all of these issues is that many far right groups take on the guise of counter-jihad movements, whose objectives are anti-Islam, which is seen as the single cause of all their woes.
We have arrived at this position because of a range of systemic failures of political leadership, economic mismanagement and wilful neglect of the needs and wants of communities in the periphery of the economic power centres of societies across Western Europe.
As Britain undergoes a process of fracturing from the continent and its commitment to the EU, it is creating a wave of ethnic nationalism that may well eventually divide the United Kingdom – not so united and certainly not a kingdom after all. Populism is also engulfing Hungary, Italy and Poland, which includes anti-EU sentiment, as well as the usual suspects of anti-Islam and anti-immigration rhetoric.
Islamophobia is driving the radicalisation of far right groups but also of Islamists who come to believe that their thesis of the west not accepting Islam or that Muslims are perennial soft targets at the whims of politicos or that Muslim individuals are treated as second-class citizens has more credence than ever.
It is no surprise that of the 4,000 Western European jihadis who travelled to Syria and Iraq, most emerged from a peripheral existence at the margins of society, already feeling displaced, misplaced and ultimately replaceable. And, thus, the circle is complete. Islamophobia feeds radicalisation – and radicalisation nourishes Islamophobia – in a vicious circle underpinned by racism, which is the unquestionable reality that few wish to face, sublimating the issue by replacing it with a focus on culture instead of the primary structural determinants of inequality and political polarisation.
Tahir Abbas' book Islamophobia and Radicalisation - A Vicious Cycle is set to come out in August 2019.
This article was originally published in the Leiden Islam Blog.