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Understanding Islamophobia

By: 
James Clark, Chantal Sundram

May 15, 2012

Racial profiling and the targeting of Muslims throughout the West has become a terrible reality of the post-9/11 world. This has gone hand-in-hand with intense scrutiny of the religion of Islam, and attempts to demonize it as a faith by equating it with terrorism.

Islamophobia is fundamentally a form of racism, even though it is associated with a religion that transcends ethnicity and nationality. But it is a racism of a new kind, since it has a very important use connected with present-day imperialism. During the Cold War, when the West was in competition with Russia and the Eastern Bloc for control of territories, the threat of Communism was constantly raised to justify the West’s imperialist interests around the world, and to keep the population, especially in the US, living in fear.

It was after the attacks of September 11, 2011 that the construction of the so-called “Islamic threat” took on strong parallels to the methods and atmosphere of the McCarthy era, and not just in the US. Canada has introduced its own anti-terror legislation and a no-fly list; racial profiling and finger-printing procedures at airports and border crossings abound, as do visits at work and home by CSIS and RCMP agents.

But there is an important difference between the McCarthy era and the current context: politicians and the media today cannot rely exclusively on the threat of terror to justify intervention and occupation of the Middle East. They must also appeal to people’s better natures under the guise of defending “humanitarian causes” it the Muslim world. This has involved the demonization of Islam in other ways in order to equate it with social repression such as the oppression of women.

The reason Islamophobia is perpetuated is twofold: first, the need to justify the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and to justify the expansion of the war to other Muslim counties like Iran; and secondly, the need to drive a wedge between the increasingly anti-war non-Muslim populations of Western countries and Muslim populations living both in the Middle East and within the West itself.

There is an urgent need for unity and solidarity between non-Muslims and Muslims, both internationally and at home, if we are to have a hope of ending the barbarity of the so-called “war on terror.” But this unity cannot be taken for granted: it can only be built on the basis of a principled opposition to Islamophobia.

This is an excerpt from the introduction to the pamphlet “Islamophobia: what it is and how to fight it”, by Chantal Sundaram and James Clark.

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