teleSUR, 10 November 2014 **** Front Page

On Western Racism, Islamophobia

By Airin Bahmani

Since the beginning of the rise of ISIS, or Islamic State, the danger of an increase in anti-Muslim racism has become an unfortunate reality in the Western world. A number of political forces — not exclusively in the extreme right — are spreading Islamophobia day in and day out through utterly ridiculous attempts to equalize ISIS and Islam.

It is easy to lament the racism that exists in other places. It is easy to talk about how in some places you cannot get a job because of your religion or ethnicity. Or that in some countries you are being oppressed because you are a woman. It's easy to recognize that in some places there's very little equality. But those places are often somewhere far away. Here in the Nordic countries it's a whole different story.

What is often disregarded is that immigrants in Northern Europe are also coping under the yoke of structural racism. It's not the same kind of undisguised and pervasive racism that exists in countries like Turkey or Israel, or in South Africa under apartheid, but it is structural racism nonetheless.

The proverb “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is regularly evoked in Finland when discussing immigration. Debate on social integration is not often enough directed towards the main question, that is how  society welcomes immigrants. The responsibility of the integration is placed on the shoulders of the immigrant community as the rest of society evaluates the immigrants' “success” in the integration process.

Finland is seen as a country of possibilities and this interpretation is not far-fetched. It is misleading, however, to claim that everyone is able to benefit from the opportunities the Finnish state offers. Immigrants constantly face a number of obstacles. How many job applications have been overlooked because the applicant, say, has a non-Finnish name or a woman of non-Finnish origin wears a headscarf? I've lost count on how many times such discrimination has taken place with people I know personally!

Contrary to the image some might harbor on Finland, there is discrimination in the labor market, in education, in housing market and in many other spheres of life. The concept of “tolerance” is also evoked regularly, also by the so called anti-racists. Is there really some kind of a constant or golden standard that flawlessly represents the normal, acceptable human condition and that everything that is perceived to differ from that is somehow inferior and something that the normal people, in all of their excellence, then are forced to tolerate?

Since the beginning of the rise of ISIS, or Islamic State, the danger of an increase in anti-Muslim racism has become an unfortunate reality in the Western world. A number of political forces not exclusively in the extreme right are spreading Islamophobia day in and day out through utterly ridiculous attempts to equalize ISIS and Islam. It is worth noticing that virtually all Muslim authorities and scholars around the world have bitterly condemned ISIS for being against basic principles of Islam.

For example, once Andrea Tantaros stated in Fox News on the Muslim faith that,

“They've been doing this for hundreds and hundreds of years. If you study the history of Islam, our ship captains were getting murdered. The French had to tip us off. I mean these were the days of Thomas Jefferson. They've been doing the same thing. This isn't a surprise. You can't solve it with a dialogue. You can't solve it with a summit. You solve it with a bullet to the head. It's the only thing these people understand. And all we've heard from this president is a case to heap praise on this religion, as if to appease them.”

Somehow I would guess that this kind of logic is not quite applied the other way around. Does Anders Behring Breivik, a convicted of mass murder and a terrorist of Christian persuasion who killed 77 people in 2011 in Norway, really represent Christianity or Europe?

The American TV host Bill Maher talked on his show about ISIS, Islam and “liberals”. He has stated many bizarre things on Islam, including the following:

“the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing.”

Deepa Kumar who is an associate professor of media studies and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University describes Bill Maher's remarks as “liberal Islamophobia” which takes up “liberal themes, such as human rights, women's rights, the rights of gays and lesbians, the right to free speech, and so on and makes a case of the so-called Muslim world, like it is one big monolith.”

Liberal Islamophobia, however, often serves the agenda of US global hegemony, as Kumar argues in her book titled ‘Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire'. A vivid illustration of this was the US attack on Afghanistan. One of the excuses for the US military presence in Afghanistan was that the desperate Afghan women needed to be rescued by the Western countries.

Afghan grassroots organizations that are struggling for democracy and gender equality are conveniently ignored in this narrative. In Afghanistan, for example, organizations like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) are fighting authoritarian forces, including US allies. However, the Western media rarely tells about these organizations and even more rarely do we see Western countries supporting any local feminist movements.

 

The archive: Airin Bahmani, Immigration, Identity, Middle East, Finland's political and social life, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Phyllis Bennis

 

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