Radicalization is intimately tied up with Islamophobia. This needs to be better understood.
The media and political responses to the Finsbury Park attack in London have been lame. Islamophobia is the driver of far-right extremism inasmuch as far-right extremism thrives on Islamist radicalization. Arguably, Darren Osborne would not have been radicalized if Muslims were not being demonized in the media on a daily basis. He had no other motivation than wanting to “kill all Muslims.” Osborne has now been rightly charged with the terrorism-related murder of Makram Ali and for injuring 11 others.
The murderous violent intent of terrorists derives from hate leading to violence and death. It is directed toward specific ethnic, religious or racial minority or majority groups. Otherwise, any “mentally ill,” “unemployed loner” or a “drifter” with a history of domestic violence or abuse toward others could seemingly carry out this act of violence.
Therefore, it becomes a problem for newspapers and other media outlets that do not emphasize randomness in these forms of violence and extremism. In underexposing the objective explanations behind the political or ideological motivations behind attacks, it intimates a far greater demographic capable of such acts.
However, Islamism, in the general sense, is presented as thriving among radicalized Muslims who use it to legitimize violence. It avoids all nuance. In the case of far-right extremists, not only is there limited recognition of the wide-ranging problem of far-right extremism and terrorism, but overemphasizing the “loner” angle is a useful distraction away from implicating the wider negative structural and cultural forces at play. Meanwhile, Islamophobia has normalized in society to such an extent that even to evoke it is to suggest that these challenging groups, in particular Muslims, are being disingenuous, at best, or downright treacherous, at worst.
Further, in reporting on responses to attacks, Islamist extremists are presented as purely ideological, while English or other white ethnic individuals are said to have social and psychological problems. This suggests a general degree of acceptance on the part of society that their violence toward Muslims is somehow legitimate — i.e., because of something that Muslims espouse or adhere to, e.g. their faith, or because they are some responsible, as an entire faith community, for the actions of a limited few.
RADICALIZATION AND ISLAMOPHOBIA
Orientalism, scientific racism and now racialization based on ethnicity, cultural and religious category suggest institutionalized Islamophobia: wholesale, widespread, menacing and omnipotent. If plans go ahead to introduce Islamophobia as a counterterrorism (CT) or countering violent extremism (CVE) issue and if this takes attention away from structural racism, it will further institutionalize Islamophobia. A deeper understanding of Muslim differences in society would reorient toward them the CT/CVE space, while Muslims outside of this realm are not only rendered homogenous but, crucially, invisible.
This homogeneity is not open-ended, diverse or layered with class, racial, sectarian and cultural characteristics, but rather a more sinister representation of Muslims as various threats to society. Engagement with Muslims is restricted to a focus on problems seemingly emanating from a Muslim cosmos — now potentially relegating anti-Muslim hatred to the realm of CT, further absolving the state’s responsibility in relation to Muslims everywhere else in society.
The events of the Grenfell Tower tragedy have reaffirmed the state’s neoliberal, majoritarian nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-European and anti-Muslim hegemonic narrative defined by years of neglect, allowing shoddy practices to linger, paying little or no attention to criticism of policy from all other sectors of society. The Conservative Party’s austerity policy since the 2008 crash has led to instability, populism and uncertainty. It is hyper-normalization in post-normal times, where the state has no clear idea of where to take the nation. British Muslims are relegated to a lowly position as the next few years will be all about Brexit — which erupted out of a completely unnecessary xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-European, anti-human rights discourse reflecting an internal Tory party battle running for four decades.
Islamophobia today is the normalization of anti-Muslim hatred that has grown exponentially since the outset of the War on Terror culture that began after the events of 9/11. During this time, intolerance, bigotry and the development of alt-right, far right, radical left and other religious extremist groups have found succor in the vacuum of dominant discourses to stabilize societies that provide opportunities, as well as outcomes, for the many, not the few.
These cumulative extremisms at the margins of society incubate the discourses of intolerance and hate that allow these subgroups and their ideas to foment. Radicalization is intimately tied up with Islamophobia. This needs to be better understood. If not, little will change.
*[A version of this article was also featured on the author’s blog.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Davide Chiarito