Anti Muslim racism and freedom of expression

antisemitismA dear friend has written to me recently about her worry about the rise of Islam, which, she wrote, is opposed to all the values she holds dear. Ronit, she implored, ’listen to them, to what they want. Look at the mass demonstrations after the Innocence of Muslims film. Look at how they treat women. How come that you, a liberal intellectual, a feminist who fights for equality, cannot understand that you are speaking a language that is no longer relevant? This for me is the main problem of the pacifist intellectual left’.

For a long time now Islam and Muslims have become the main enemy of the West. In the name of ‘protecting our way of life’ the West has gone to bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the name of the ‘war on terror’ Western states racially profile and persecute people of Muslim and Arab appearance everywhere. Although Muslims have definitely reacted violently to racial slurs in recent weeks, I would suggest that the main reason for this racialisation is racism and fear. Fear, as the fascist Dutch politician Geert Wilders warns, of ‘the last stages of the Islamisation of Europe’. A fear called Islamophobia, another way of saying racism against Muslim people.

Muslims, who number just under 2 billion people, live mostly in 49 Muslim majority countries and constitute 23% of the world’s population. However Wilders – whose party lost in the recent elections – warns that by 2024 Europe will have 25% Muslims (the figure at present is 6%). In reality, France has the highest percentage of Muslims in Europe (7.5%), with Holland (5.5%), Germany (5%), the UK (4.6%), Italy (2.6%), Ireland (0.9%) and the US (0.8%) trailing behind.

But my point is not merely numerical. My point is that Europe must learn to live with Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities without demonisation and fear. The West has gone to war on false pretences (remember Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent ‘weapons of mass destruction’?), in order to civilise the Muslim ‘savages’ and protect civil and women’s rights (remember Laura Bush’s speech about the war being about liberating Afghan women?). So it’s no surprise that some Muslims are reacting violently to the racist violence wrought upon them.

Currently, the main issue seems to be freedom of expression. According to Donald Clarke of the Irish Times, the key issue remains that ‘No artist should, in a free society, be prohibited from selling or exhibiting his or her work simply because some group of people takes offence’.

Yet how come, asks Prof David Theo Goldberg of the University of California, that ‘the makers of the American movie made under false pretences with the intention of abusing 2 billion people and which has led to the deaths and injuries now of hundreds of people — which would not have occurred but for this film — are protected under first amendment considerations? (Note: this is not an argument to curtail freedom of expression!)’

As for the claim that Islam aims to take over the world, well, we’ve heard it all before when it was claimed that Jewish people were planning a takeover – a claim that led to the extermination of most of Europe’s Jews. Yet when Jewish people are attacked, it’s called antisemitism, but when Muslim people are attacked it’s called ‘freedom of speech’. Fear is never a good policy and scaremongering only leads to further destruction. And to my dear friend I say that I am not a liberal, but rather a radical, who strives to fight all forms of racism and live without fear.

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Edited by Ronit Lentin and Elena Moreo Palgrave MacMillan, 2012...read more
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