The struggle against Islamophobia and Orientalism in reverse (Part I)

The struggle against Islamophobia in Europe and for radical change in Middle East and North Africa societies still requires discussion inside the radical and revolutionary left, because a number of comrades sometimes find it difficult to combine both objectives for various reasons, often also contradictory. In the first part of this article, we discuss the need to struggle against Islamophobia as a central objective of the struggle for an equal and fair society, particularly in times of economic crisis and the rise of racism in Europe.

Islamophobia: Development and Dynamics

Islamophobia is firstly racism against the Muslim community, against citizens of the Muslim sect whether he or she is practicing and / or simple believer or atheist but carrying a Muslim name. Islamophobia does not measure a person’s religiosity, like anti-Semitism in the past which was worse at all levels. In the 19th century, anti-Semitism was rampant against the Jewish masses, disrespectful of their religiosity, which lived for their vast majority in political and social exclusion and in extreme poverty in Central and Eastern Europe. From 1882, the Jewish community from these regions will undergo a new wave of anti-Semitism and pogroms.

Islamophobia has increased importantly in the West after the terrorist attacks in September 2001. A new enemy was found, ten years after the fall of the Sovietic Union,  and discriminatory laws against Muslim communities in Europe have experienced a boom. The image of Islam since September 11, 2001 has indeed continued to deteriorate, and the medias have played a particularly important role in reproducing stereotypes and spreading lies about this religion and its community, such as it did not entered modernity and has not made ​​the fundamental separation between the temporal and the spiritual that allows the individual to engage in the path of reason and autonomy. A recent poll by the French newspaper has also shown that opposition to the construction of mosques has declined throughout the 90s to reach the rate of 22% in 2001, before it picked up again after the attacks of 11 September until today. There is no doubt that since September 11, the Western press in its great majority reproduced massively the theory of the clash of civilizations, in other words a war between Islam, characterized by its barbarism and terrorism, and the Christian West, civilized and democratic.

In a report published in 2012 entitled “Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe,” Amnesty International writes that the organisation is alarmed by the rising Islamophobic atmosphere and many European countries (France, Switzerland, Austria, ..) are pointed for their racist practices against the Muslim community, while political parties encourage them  in their quest for electoral votes, the report adds. The writer of the report described, for example the fact that “Muslim women are denied jobs and girls are prevented from going to school simply because they wear traditional clothing such as scarves (…) Men may be dismissed from their work  if they have beards associated with Islam. ”

Switzerland, which is characterized by constant and increasing stringent laws against the migrant (s) with the 10th revision and tightening of asylum laws since 1981, is no exception to this Islamophobic atmosphere. In the city of Bale recently, a couple was denied an apartment because the woman wore the veil. We also remind  that the Swiss Federal Court in 1997 banned all veiled women to teach in public schools.

The victory of the law banning the construction of new minarets in 2009 is still the symbol of rampant Islamophobia in these recent years and led by the UDC (Union Démocratique du Centre, extreme right wing party), which was at the origin of this initiative. A member of this party, Alexandre Muller, wrote on his tweeter account last April the following sentence: “Maybe we need again a new crystal night, this time for the mosques,” All key political parties are nevertheless touched by this islamophobic atmosphere. Several members of the Swiss Socialist Party, as Erika Shnyder have repeatedly called for a ban on headscarves in schools in the name of so-called defense of women and secularism.

As a reminder, in 2009, the law banning the building of new minarets in Switzerland even further uninhibited reactions of individuals or groups with openly racist or discriminatory speeches and discourses across Europe.  Supporters of the Northern League in Italy demonstrated against the mosque by flying the Swiss flag, which became a so called model to follow after the vote, while congratulations were sent from extreme right wing parties like the National Front in France and others, and more surprisingly from a French socialist parliamentary Jean Glavany who had defended the ban on minarets and said: “It will be understood, in recent weeks, that the light came from Switzerland. And the negative reactions heard in France against this citizen referendum show that French democracy is sick.”

Root cause: the struggle against Islamophobia

The radical left must not relegate under no circumstances the problem of Islamophobia and must make it a crucial struggle in the resistance against capitalist interests who want to impose austerity measures across Europe through the main tool  of the debt, but also racism. Islamophobia, like racism and sectarianism, is an instrument of the ruling classes to divide the working class and divert them from their real enemies: the bourgeois class.

For example, in France, a new study by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) has again singled out the blatant discrimination against descendants of immigrants, including a large majority of Muslims in the market employment. They are three times more numerous than the “native French” to be unemployed.

Trotsky argued that even if full democracy is illusory under the capitalist system, the revolutionary movement should in no way give up even under imperialism the struggle for democratic rights.

The struggles against Islamophobia and racism in general and the right to exercise freedom of conscience are fundamental in Marxist thoughts. In his critique of the Gotha’s program of the German Workers’ Party (1875), Marx explained that personal freedom in matters of belief and worship should be defined only as a rejection of state interference. He stated as a principle that : “Everyone should be able to satisfy its religious and body’s needs, without the police sticking their noses in it.” Classical Marxism, the one of the founders, has also not requested the inscription of atheism in the program of social movements.

For example, the headscarf issue is only a women’s affairs, they must decide by themselves and independently of its wearing or not. The veil imposed or withdrawn by force is a reactionary act which goes against any support for self-determination of women.

Tactics and strategies

In the struggle against Islamophobia, we must find partnership with organizations claiming their Muslim identity and fighting discrimination against their community. Against those who reject on the left any unity of actions with groups having a base or claiming a religious identity by using the famous sentence of Karl Marx, religion is “the opium of the people”, without making reference to what follows in the text, which explains the real meaning to be given to it. But a number of historical examples show the mistake of this position. The radical left has worked and fought side by side with the followers of liberation theology, based on Christian religion, in South America, which had developed a radical critique of capitalism. The Bolshevik Party did not hesitate to coordinate struggles with the Bund, General Union of Jewish Workers in Poland, Lithuania and Russia founded in 1897, which despite its atheist anti clerical and fundamentally socialist orientation, , was based on a community group. Finally Malcom X, while remaining faithful to his religious beliefs, especially at the end of his life evolved towards the left. He did not hesitate to criticize the Muslim leaders in an interview in 1965 in which he accused them of keeping people intentionally people and women in particular in ignorance. He also added that the progressiveness of a society is measured by the situation made regarding women, stating that “more women are educated and involved, more the whole people is active, bright and progressive“.

The intervention of progressive and revolutionary forces allow the radicalization of movements, and must also prevent any drift of confiscation into solely “identity” debates and “identity” political dynamics by framing all struggles in a humanist, revolutionary and universal perspective.

3 Responses to “The struggle against Islamophobia and Orientalism in reverse (Part I)”
  1. Al Idrisi says:

    Hi comrades,

    Thank you for your article! I just have one suggestion, the topic gets more interesting, sharper and more to the point, when you change “Orientalism” to “white supremacy”. It makes more sense to think in the last category, since it includes the important subject of race and racism and the construction of the (white) Self.

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  1. […] The struggle against Islamophobia and Orientalism in reverse (Part I) […]

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