Racism is always evolving with the times. The racists learn what views and expressions are no longer tolerated. Denouncing somebody for their skin color or nationality is no longer tolerated.
When I grew up in the 80 in Norway racial slurs was typically related to skin color or country of origin such as Pakistan. There was a Norwegian equivalent to “Paki”. Yet such language has largely gone out of fashion with the racists. Today the label muslim is used.
When racists are told they are being racist they can simply counter that “Oh I am just critical of the religion Islam.” However is that a valid excuse?
What the far-right has learned to do is to piggy-back on a longer leftist tradition of criticizing the religion of Islam. It is not as visible today but for those of us who where around in the late 80s we remember very well the publication of The Satanic Verses by British-Indian author Salman Rushdie. He received death threats all over the world.
Salman Rushdie himself is no muslim hater. He is a leftist who has been fighting against racism and “The Satanic Verses” isn’t even particularly critical of islam.
The outcome of this however upset and affected the whole west. In my native Norway, which is a quite peaceful place we experienced that a well known publisher William Nygaard, which was attempted assassinated, because he had published the book in Norway. Fortunately he survived.
Islamic leaders in Iran had not tolerated even the mildest criticism of Islam. Later cases such as the Danish Muhammed cartoon controversy proved that Islam as practiced today is not very tolerant towards criticism. I could go on, but this article is really about racism towards muslims and not about the intolerance of modern day Islam.
The difference between the leftists criticism of Islam and the right-wing racist attacks on muslims is that the left aim their criticism towards the leaders and the religious doctrines, while the racists attack common people.
If Islam was truely what organizations such as SIAN in Norway cared about then they rethoric should have be primarily directed towards demands for moderation, reform and enlightenment within the religion of Islam. Nothing stops that from happening. Islam already exists in different forms some far more liberal and tolerant than others while some such as wahabism in Saudi Arabia is exceptionally intolerant. Christianity was through most of its history an exceptionally intolerant and violent religion. Yet one has managed to reform and moderate it.
But this is not what the racists are calling for. No quite the contrary. What they demand is that muslims are kicked out of western countries. But if your goal was to completely get rid of Islam, then why is conversion never aired as a solution? In principle one could say that anyone denouncing Islam gets to immigrate to the west or gets to stay. I am not advocating this. I am merely using this as a rhetorical device to expose the logical inconsistency of their arguments.
They reason they don’t do this is because it isn’t really Islam they are against. It is the people. However they know it is not politically correct to say “I don’t want brown people from the middle east.” So instead they say “we don’t like Islam.”
To gain sympathy for their cause they will argue how Islam is intolerant towards women. Which I agree is the case. However the logical consequence of such concern would be to help and support muslim women. For instance those forced to wear hijab against their will. To clarify I think muslim women should wear whatever they want, but it should be their choice. That is not always the case.
Yet in practice the racists are not expressing sympathy for hijab wearing muslim women. No, quite the contrary, they get mocked, insulted, verbally attacked and sometimes physically. Hence they are exploiting a marginalized group to advance their racism while actually having no real concern for these people. The plight of subjugated muslim women only matters to them as far as it can be exploited in their propaganda against muslims in general.
I remember having a conversation with a good old friend from a liberal muslim tradition. He did not strongly identify as muslim any more than I identify as christian. It was primarily a cultural thing. Just like I don’t actually believe in God, but I still celebrate Christmas and is familiar the stories in the bible. Yet the hateful attacks against all muslims post 9/11 caused him to strongly identify as muslims.
It is a well known effect. I have read about it regarding East Germans as well. People who grow up in East Germany after the Berlin wall was no more and who think of themselves as German. Yet eventually they experience the prejudice against East Germans. The remarks that you are not quite like other Germans. That you are somehow lesser. And hence an East German identify is ironically built after the old DDR no longer even exists.
You become what people judge you as. Hence if you want less of Islam you don’t get less of that by attacking and denouncing everybody who is a muslim. If you truely want a better version of Islam, then what you should do is to support moderate and enlightened muslim leaders. Those that criticize religion from within.
Rabid racists will claim this is impossible. But we know it is possible. Turkish Islam, Lebanese Islam or Indonesian Islam is radically different from Saudi Arabian Wahabism. You cannot simply point at scripture to prove how horrible the religion is. You can do the same with Christianty. The bible says you should stone to death disobedient children. Yet when was the last time a christian did that? People of faith are almost always better than the worst of their scripture.
Although it can be argued that people are also very seldom behaving according to the best of their scripture. Jesus advocated turning the other cheek, against accumulation of wealth, sharing and helping those in need. In almost every practical aspect he was a socialist. The main enemies of Jesus was the Parisees. Those who go around moralizing against others and interpret scripture in the most pedantic and uncharitable ways. Yet ironically a Pahrisee pretty much emobidies the modern day conservative christian. They could not be further from the teaching of Jesus of they tried to.
So what is my point? What scripture says and what followers of scripture do, are quite different things. You cannot go around denouncing every muslim on the grounds that you can find a brutal and bloody quote in the Quran, any more than you can judge or celebrate a Christian for the same reason.
Back to my original question: Can you be racist against a muslim. Yes you can, because the way racists use the word muslim, they are really speaking of a race. I must clarify what I mean by race in this context. Race is a social construct. It is how we categorize a group of people based on their visible appearance, culture and heritage. What makes us think there is something special about that group of people. Something buried inside their bodies which cannot be changed. Something immutable. This is how islamophobes approach muslims. To them, the muslim identity of a person is part of that person’s body the same way their skin, hair or eye color is.
They would not have the same aversion towards a European convert. Yes it would rub them the wrong way that they converted to the religion of the “enemy,” but they would not be the people told to “go home,” or denied entry to a night club.
Directing hate towards muslims is really just part of a general trend of racism, which is to find proxy words or expressions to categorize those you hate. Racists hate being called racist and thus avoid using words that clarify that they are against a race. “Muslim,” in Europe plays much the same role as “Illegal Immigrant,” in America. Saying you don’t like illegal immigrants is the politically correct way of saying “I hate Mexicans.”
We all know it isn’t really illegal immigrants that they hate per say. Melanie Trump e.g. was an illegal immigrant but she is not the kind of person they hate. Many illegals in the US are Irish, but when people talk about the “horrible illegal” committing crimes they don’t have Irish people in mind. “Illegal immigrant” becomes a dog whistle. I way to talk about Mexicans in hateful ways, while providing plausible denial.
You can find a proxy words for almost any minority you want to hate on. The Nazis talked about the rich liberal internationalists, which usually meant Jews. It is the same today. People like George Soros are the bogeymen on the right. They seldom mention he is Jewish. They do speak of him disparagingly as a rich liberal globalists. In other words almost exactly the same terminology used by Nazis in 1930s Germany.
Which brings me to another point. If you can be racist against Jews, then certainly you can be racist towards muslims. The Ashkenazi Jews which was the main target of the German Nazis, are believed to only have 8% of their DNA orginating from the middle east. Which means Ashkenazi Jews where/are mainly a European people, genetically speaking. Thus racism towards them is in large part due to their heritage and religion, not due to where they are from. This further emphasize how race is a social contract. You are a race, because people judge you as one.
Muslims are a race, because that is how they are judged by people. It is really just a proxy for everybody who is both brown and is somewhat influenced culturally from the muslim religion.
Biologically speaking races don’t exist, yet you cannot use that to claim that you cannot be racist. As long as you are able to categorize some people as a race and deem them inferior, then you are a racist.