Islamophobia, Racism and Muslimness: The Work of Definitions*

Measures of social inequality, crime surveys, polling data, reports on media bias, all consistently show that Muslims face obstacles which limit their ability to fully participate in society as equals. For too many Muslims, Islamophobia is unnamed but experienced. Its effect ranges from everyday slow burning micro-aggressions to eruptions of violence and murder; its scope extends from classrooms and workplaces to neighbourhoods and state frontiers, from print and social media to the public square. Muslims find themselves framed by Islamophobia in the form of questions around national security, social cohesion, freedom of speech, gender inequality, and cultural belonging. All this, we know already.

Black Lives Matter and The White Society of the Spectacle

We have been here before: another killing of a Black man by a white police officer in the US. It is all too common. This time, however, something different, something else also happened. The social context is both racially familiar and racially unfamiliar. First, the racially familiar. Only a few weeks before George Floyd was killed, during the last week of February, a young Black man named Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two White civilians in Glynn County, Georgia, while he was out jogging, and within the same time frame, Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman in Louisville, Kentucky, was also shot and killed by police officers who entered the wrong address with a no-knock warrant. Although the killing of Arbery was recorded on video and the killing of Taylor went under the radar for some time, their stories are so racially familiar that the killing of Floyd seemed to almost simply add another ‘seen it before Black execution’ to an expanding list.

Defining Islamophobia

A definition is not a magic spell. Defining Islamophobia will not by itself end Islamophobia. What is needed is not a detailed legal definition but one capable of circulating in broader society, and changing the way in which Islamophobia is understood and resisted. This means a definition that is brief, which builds on already existing norms of public etiquette and which triggers a debate that helps to change the national conversation.

Reports of Islamophobia: 1997 and 2017

Earlier this month the Runnymede Trust launched a new report, Islamophobia: Still a challenge for us all, to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the landmark 1997 report, Islamophobia; A challenge for us all. The significance of the original Report is hard to over-estimate. While it is the case that it did not coin the term Islamophobia, it certainly gave it legs. And while it is also true that the report did not end Islamophobia, it did indict it.

The Meaning of Pakistan

Richard Bulliet observes that without the Islamic Revolution, Iran would be a very similar country to Pakistan. That is, Iran would be a country dominated by an elite that is globally integrated, internationally oriented and culturally separated from most of its population. This elite would present itself as being liberal and modern, but it would, at the same time, contrive to ensure that ordinary people would have minimal access to education, healthcare, public infrastructure, and justice (Bulliet, 2017).

Decoloniality and the Islamicate

Recalling the Caliphate was published in English towards the end of 2014. A few months before its publication, a caliphate had been proclaimed in the borderlands of what had been two Baathist states for almost forty years. At the time of writing, the territory of this self-styled caliphate has shrunk, its leadership has relocated, the rule of the Baathist-takfiri warlords seems to be receding in Iraq and Syria.