Islamophobia as State Racism (Othering)
Houria Boutelja classified Islamophobia as state racism in an essay for Decolonial Translation, stating:
“I don’t believe it makes sense to characterize Islamophobia as a “feeling.” The terms “representation” and “imaginary” are often used, even as Islamophobia is institutionalized. In fact, there are Islamophobic laws…To speak of Islamophobia as sentiment is a euphemism. Islamophobia is first and foremost state racism…Such racism has no purpose other than to maintain a population in a subaltern state.”
Boutelja was writing in reference to French secularism laws and her categorisation of Islamophobia as state racism is one which cements the term “subaltern.” A subaltern is, by definition, someone outside of hegemonic power structures of the colonial homeland.
Islamophobia functions as state racism, then, when the state actively places sanctions and measures in place to restrict the freedom of Muslim people.
If you wear skirts that makes you Muslim
A couple of months ago, a French student was banned from her class on two occasions for wearing a skirt that was too long and thus in breach of French laws prohibiting students from wearing religious symbols whilst in educational institutions.
A local education official stated, “The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school.”
Obviously, there is nothing Islamic about wearing a long skirt. Islamic guidelines for dress state that women AND men are required to wear loose garments that don’t show their body shape or the colour of their skin. This doesn’t mean that anything worn in order to follow those guidelines thus becomes a religious symbol; the school’s decision to send the girl home is a conflation of anything a Muslim happens to do with everything a person is supposed to do as a Muslim.
Sure, a long skirt fulfils the dress requirements of modesty but if the girl had loaned the skirt to a Christian friend, is the skirt still a religious symbol? If a religious symbol loses its meaning when swapped between people, then it’s not a religious symbol.
What the school was actually doing was following the guidelines of French law which forbids religious symbols, a law passed after numerous protests against Islamic religious symbols. The school, then, had state backing to use the symbols or, in this case, anything that could be construed as a Muslim symbol, to discriminate against Muslim people, regardless of how innocuous their attire is.
If you question authority whilst Muslim, you’re a terrorist
Since 9/11 the terms “extremist,” “fundamentalist” and “terrorist” have become synonymous with “Muslim.” White guys shooting up schools is not them spreading terror, but someone with a mental illness and white guys crashing planes is not them spreading terror, but someone with a mental illness. Meanwhile, it’s enough to have brown skin to be labelled a terrorist and it’s enough to be Muslim to be either a terrorist or potential terrorist.
A few weeks ago schools taking part in a pilot scheme funded by the European Commission distributed a survey as a “counter-extremism” measure. The survey was intended to be completed by schoolchildren but I can’t think of many schoolchildren who would either be confused or take the piss when faced with this paranoid trip of a survey.
The question ‘how much do you trust people from this group?’ had the options of family, neighbourhoods, “people of my race or religion,” the police or school teachers. The smiley face options are less child friendly and more eerie reminders of the UK government’s increasing sanctions on Muslims and young Muslim children.
Children were asked to agree or disagree with vague statements like:
- “people should be free to say what they like, even if it offends others”
- “if a student was making fun of my race or religion I would try to make them stop – even if it required hurting them”
- “I believe my religion is the only correct one”
- “God has a purpose for me”
- “It is okay to marry someone from a different race or religion”
- “Women are just as good as men at work”
Again, let’s not play around. “Counter-extremism” measures mean measures against Muslim for potential (not necessarily actual) terrorist activities. The fact these questions are targeted as children is horrifying and, as a counter-terrorism tactic, pretty fucking pointless.
What is the procedure supposed to be if a child has a cocktail of believing their religion is the one true religion (as all major world religions teach), identifies as a Muslim and has been taught that freedom of speech is something to be valued? Is that child a potential terrorist and teachers should watch them for…what? Shoe bombs? Distribution of anti-Western literature? What happens after this survey?
How exactly a child agreeing or disagreeing with “women are just as good as men at work” supposed to weed out potential terrorists is beyond me, I can’t even with the implicit assumed misogyny in that one.
It also needs to be said that there are many adults who can’t perceive a pluralism of thought when it comes to their own viewpoints. Are we supposed to expect children to robotically recognise that the values they have been taught from the people around them are not always correct, and actually there’s a whole world of viewpoints to engage with, contradictions and all?
This is a muddled, paranoid, misguided attempt at counter-terrorism and I would hope that the pilot scheme doesn’t really take off. The fact that it even exists, though, doesn’t really give me much hope for that.
Criminalising Muslim children in fun new ways
In other counter-terrorism news 16 schools in the UK and 5 in the US have been selected for a pilot scheme that monitors certain keywords searched for from school computers. The software has been developed by Impero (who also operate in France) and flags up certain buzzwords which teachers can then screenshot and decide on further action.
A few of the buzzwords, as compiled by the Guardian are:
- Jihadi bride
- War on Islam
- YODO (you only die once)
- Message to America (an ISIS propaganda video)
The last three terms I wasn’t familiar with, so I suppose I only have Impero to thank for educating me.
As with the counter-extremism surveys it has to be asked, how exactly is it supposed to discourage children who might be sympathetic with ISIS and their ilk if their teachers are spying on them and asking them strange questions?
That question is entirely irrelevant, however, when you consider the fact that of the Muslims in the UK barely a handful have expressed any support for ISIS, never mind the few people who have bothered to go to ISIS and support them in person.
What this software (or, I guess, spyware) and surveys and whatever other pilot schemes the government is cooking up, serves to do is alienate a community already set upon by Islamophobic incidents. Training suspicion on Muslim children, who are no more politicised or hold more potential for “radicalisation” than children of other or no faiths, is what, I imagine, would conceivably drive them towards anti-Western thought.
Demonising children always gets them on side, right?
The French laws against religious symbols have long been discussed as evidence of Islamophobia in the country and it would appear that Britain is following suit. The recent pilot schemes of surveys and spyware exist to criminalise and ‘Other’ Muslim children.
There is no multiculturalism or integration at work here. Instead, Muslim children are treated as many adults would not be, assuming their personal and political views are so well developed that they recognise a pluralism of thought and accept the nuanced contradictions of most political positions.
Just as Muslim leaders are encouraged to engage with the youth, so too should the UK government. On current evidence, they have already failed to do that, choosing instead to side-line Muslim children with their rampant paranoia about terrorism.