Islamophobia and the strategies of the left

Text of the talk given by Pazhareh Heidari at our meeting on 27 September

burkhini-portraitIslamophobia mainly tells us more about the anti-Muslim racists than it tells us about Islam itself. So I think the term of Islmophobia is not properly addressing this comprehensive racism against Muslims. It might be better to call it Muslimophobia.

This face of racism can best be seen in the eastern region of Europe such as Hungary, Finland, Lithuania, or Latvia, where only a small number of Muslims live, Islamophobia functions as a successful means to mobilise people. People not only greatly overestimate the country’s Muslim population but, although Muslims have not committed any violent acts in most countries in the name of Islam, they are still often deemed violent and are considered to be terrorists.

It is worth to mention that recent IS attacks in Paris, Brussels and southern Germany became a main discursive event that shaped the debates on Islam and Muslims throughout Europe in 2016.

Above all, the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ was a central topic, which many actors linked to the issue of Muslims invading Europe.

For instance, one can see Brexit as a result of anti- migrant and anti-Muslim atmosphere that was dominant among far right politicians. As another example, the leader of the Hungarian Fidesz’ parliamentary club Antal Rogán warned of a future ‘United European Caliphate’, while former Secretary of State László L. Simon urged Hungarians to return to their Christian spirituality and make more babies in order to counter the negative cultural effects of mass migration such as the envisioned ‘impending victory of Islamic parties imposing polygamy and destroying the remainder of European culture’.

This strong Islamophobic rhetoric is not restricted to the extreme right. In fact, the refugee-migration-Islam-terrorism nexus became the standard argument justifying a number of domestic and international measures. The social democrat Czech President Milos Zeman claimed the influx of refugees into Europe was masterminded by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as “an organised invasion” to “gradually control Europe”.

And off course we can find the same evidences in Western Europe such as the country where we live in.

In the last month we had 2 important elections in Germany, in MV and Berlin. You’ve already learnt the results Based on these results, it is anticipated that AFD become the third largest party in the next German election in 2017. It means that by this trend Die Linke will lose its place as the third party in the parliament.

The most important part of AFD’s electoral platform was its Anti Islam and Anti migration arguments. It is worth noting that AFD propaganda against Muslims has its roots in Pegida movement which identified themselves against Islamization of Europe. According to the recent study carried out by Leipzig University in June 2016, more than 41% of people believed that German government should not allow Muslims migrate/enter into the country. At the same time, more than 50% of the Muslims who were interviewed feel themselves as foreigners to Germany.

However, we should bear in mind that Islamophobia is neither only a far right discourse nor appears recently. It is by its nature related to dynamism and needs of capitalism in its political structure. Therefore, discourse of Islamophobia is reproducing by states through its hegemonic project almost every day in media and established parties.

It means that the government and Bourgeois parties are also using the same racist arguments against refugees and Muslims like AFD and NPD because they want to prevent losing the votes and followers to the fascist parties but It causes the fascist arguments become more popular among people instead. If you compare CSU argument with AfD’s, then you cannot see any specific differences between them in this point. The recent Burqa-ban debate in Germany promoted by CDU in Berlin election is another example of islamophobic discourse.

The hot debate on the circumcision in Bundestag, as well as Scarf ban in 8 Bundesländer in the name of Secularism, looks very absurd in a country where the church is vastly involved in the state. We have church-Tax and the clerics have the position of state officials with all its benefits

or in another example you can find crucifix hanging in classroom in some regions in Germany. The debate on a Christian- Jew culture which also can be seen as sarcasm if you just for a moment recalling the German history.

Unfortunately there are some examples even in die Linke as well: as we know Sahra Wagenknecht and Lafo. I am not going to discuss these cases but I just want to show that this discourse is not only made by the far right and goes beyond right parties.

This horrible picture of our current situation, is urging us to propose an effective strategy against Islamophobia as a currently dominant face of racism. In doing so, first we need to know when and how this discourse emerged in European political scene.

For Understanding the rise of Islamophobia as a dominant discourse, Samuel Huntington’s work, “The Clash of Civilizations”, is of particular importance. Huntington said: “I am convinced that the world policy will take no longer determined primarily by competing ideologies or of nation states or economic blocs – but the clash of different cultures.”

In his book Huntington divides the world population based on “cultures”. He distinguished 3main civlizations: First, the Western Christian world. This included the NATO countries and their main allies. This group represents the supposedly superior culture and civilization. The second group mainly includes China.

Huntington’s third group is the “Islamic world”. It is very interesting to know how Huntington in reality put those countries with such diverse cultures and histories, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Sudan and Pakistan under the insufficient and ambiguous concept of Islamic world.

Huntington in his book claimed that the struggle for global supremacy is taking place between these “cultures”. This claim was somehow new, because until 1991 the main clash was the conflict between political ideologies, in other words between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Soon after the fall of the wall and the collapse of Soviet Union, the strategists of the “new world order” quickly changed.

USA identified China, with its 1.2 billion inhabitants and high economic growth rates as a new challenge on the horizon. At the same time, US strategists realized that their former allies, especially the EU and Japan, would not automatically subordinate US policies. Hence the essential plan was to put these countries under pressure through controlling and governing the heart of fossil fuel resources which is Middle East.

Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” was actually the perfect justification for the continuous domination over the Middle East, or it’s better to say the re-colonization of the Middle East.

However, it was the attacks of 11 September 2001, and its subsequent offensive propaganda, that helped the ideology of the “clash of civilizations” being realized – but in a new form: The “war on terror”.

Meanwhile, the demonization of Islam as a “backward” religion or “culture”, and equalize it with political Islam (“Islamism”) is widely accepted in the political strategy of terrorism. Islam has replaced Communism as a global enemy, therefore Islamophobia became a new means of legitimation for war and oppression, and likewise Muslims in the West become the Fifth Column of “evil”.

It is also important to mention that exactly these powers still support Islamism in the Middle East a means of controlling the region. For example, IS itself has been armed by NATO allies such Turkey and Saudi Arabia. We know that those countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are strategic and economic partner and costumers of western weapons.

labour movement and mobilization in Europe

Apart from the postcolonial context of identifying Muslims as the others, the political history of Muslims in Europe for example the case of Turkish workers in Germany can’t be understood without understanding of their economic position and relation to the labour movement. We don’t have enough time to discuss here how capitalism produces racism but we should bear in mind it is double–edged sword: For, at the same time, Capitalism binds people together: at work, in the large companies, in the big cities. Capitalism produces the racism as well as cause the pressure on the workers to defy all racial divisions and to get close together, to defend themselves against the major attacks of the bosses or the social degradation of the state.

It is these two tendencies, on the one hand the pressure of racial divisions – to fight on the other side of the print together and join together, producing what called the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci a “contradictory consciousness” in the working class.

What did he mean? Considering the working class as a whole, then found in her always a minority of workers who accept the ideology of the bosses, the ideology of racism wholeheartedly. But there is always a minority of workers who think because of their experience, based on the experience of fighting in which they were involved, in the exactly opposite direction. These people reject the ideology of employers sharply and oppose racial cleavage experiments. They try to convince the majority of their position.

However, the majority of people are in the middle. They have a range of ideas that are influenced by both sides. They reject a part of the, the bosses say what and demand from them sympathize with the unions or even a member, but on the other hand, they assume certain racist ideas of the other side they reject a part of the, the bosses say what and demand from them sympathize with the unions or even a member, but on the other hand, they assume certain racist ideas of the other side. In this matter, we should encourage and support this minority but progressive group of the working class who are also fighting against racism to organize events, demonstration that targeting those middle groups who have the potentialities to be engaged in left politics such as in anti racism movement.

Left and Religion

In this context, I would like to recall Marx’s idea about religion which is very crucial for our discussion because there is some misunderstanding about the meaning of this text:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

What is important in this text for our discussion is that the religion was constructed by men not the opposite one. It means that the form and contents of each religion is totally determined by the material conditions of human beings in each certain time and place and we can not assign an essence and general characteristics to any kind of religion. Religion can be an inspiring means for a progressive movement against oppression like in South-America or the anti-colonial movements in north-Africa and it can also be a oppressive itself as we experienced in Iran and some other middle eastern countries. Therefore, the struggles solely against religions is an abstract fight and in my opinion it is a secondary issue which doesn’t touch the capitalist system alone. As Luxemburg also in the debate on french Republicanism mentioned, this fight must be concurrent with the struggle against the system as a whole.

I adopt this idea to talk a bit about the left position regarding Islamophobia in Europe. When you look at their objective activities unfortunately you can see that the majority of the left now has the colonialist attitude toward Islamophobia. In other words, the left see the Islam and Muslims from the eyes of a white male European citizen who identify itself uncritically anti-religion without considering the contexts of religious believes.

By their colonialist view, they want to free the “oppressed” woman from patriarchy by demanding racist laws such as ban of scarf , Burkini, building mosques and so on. However they are just reproducing the mainstream colonialist discourse and in this matter they stay in the side of oppressor.

By supporting these bans against Hijab and so on, we are actually depriving Muslim women from their essential right to be in public spheres and pushing them more to their kitchens. That’s how Feminism could reproduce the oppression against women.

This is the main problem we need to solve if we want to address muslimophobia . We must change this horrible racist attitude among the left. by organizing more events , demonstrations and so on we should aware the lefts and warn them about the consequences of their acts. It seems necessary in current condition to support campaigns for targeting racism, muslimophobia and fighting against the AFD campaigns such as “Aufstehen gegen Rassismus” could be a helpful mean for that.

It is also very important to involve the muslims in this fight and not just fight for them because it is common important matter for all of us.