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Dr Leon Moosavi is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Liverpool
“In January 2011, Baroness Warsi claimed that Islamophobia had ‘passed the dinner-table test’, meaning that prejudice against Muslims was commonplace in British society. This unique intolerance of Muslims can involve stereotyping, discrimination and even harassment of the significant number of Muslims that now live in Britain.
Even though two years have passed since a high-profile politician like Warsi highlighted the problem, it appears little has changed, which is why in January 2013, she again made public comments explaining that Muslims are still marginalised in British society.
‘Myth of tolerance’
Academics and researchers who specialise in the lives of minority communities in Britain are well aware that even though we often glorify ourselves for supposedly purging prejudice against minorities from our society, this actually equates to a ‘myth of tolerance’. It is a myth because so much research confirms that various types of prejudice are still endemic in British society.
As one of the most common forms of prejudices, since 9/11, Muslims have increasingly become seen as ‘outsiders within’, who are imagined as not belonging in Britain because of their assumed alien values.
There has been a slow recognition of Islamophobia in some circles beyond academia.
For example, in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry which examined news media conduct from many angles concluded that Muslims, along with asylum seekers, immigrants and travellers, are commonly derided in the mainstream press.
More recently, a couple of weeks ago, Keith Vaz MP tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament suggesting that Islamophobia be recorded by police forces across Britain so that it can be better understood.
This would be a significant step forward it understanding the way Islamophobia operates in British society.
Early Day Motion
Yet, there is still much to be done to raise awareness of the seriousness of Islamophobia, as many seem not to be convinced that it is as serious an issue as similar prejudices like anti-semitism and racism. Perhaps that is why, up until now, only 24 out of 650 MPs have signed the EDM for Islamophobia to recorded by police forces. To put that neglect into perspective, 90 MPs have signed an EDM against turtle farming and 73 MPs have signed an EDM calling for elephant protection.
The Islamophobia petition has only managed to receive as many MP signatures as a petition against dog attacks on postmen!
The point here is not that turtles, elephants and postmen don’t matter, but that it appears as though there is reluctance from the most influential figures in society to acknowledge that the 3 million Muslims living in Britain are at risk of discrimination. This attitude of denial is rather disturbing, especially since it resides with the well-educated and well-briefed elite.
Those of us who observe and record Islamophobia in the news media, in entertainment media, in political rhetoric and other spheres don’t only face an uphill struggle to raise awareness of this issue because of ignorance though. There are also protagonists who actively seek to dismiss Islamophobia as a concept because they claim it is one that prevents free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion.
It is important here to distinguish between legitimate criticism of a religious ideology and generalisations and attacks against those who have a Muslim identity. Just like it is possible to disagree with Jewish theology without being anti-semitic, it is possible to disagree with Islamic theology without being Islamophobic.
Oppression and injustice
Like anti-semitism, Islamophobia is not used to dismiss disagreement over belief, but rather, is used to highlight those instances when a person essentialises all Jews or all Muslims as having certain characteristics, or conveying all Jews or all Muslims as a threat that needs to be dealt with using discriminatory policy.
It may be uncomfortable to accept, but throughout history, many people, tribes and nations have been guilty of racist and xenophobic attitudes and behaviour, including Brits.
We need to have enough maturity to recognise that even in the present era, prejudices against various groups are still rampant.
In Britain, one of these marginalised groups are Muslims, who are often imagined in negative ways which not only leads to oppression and injustice, but is typically based on inaccurate understandings of a group constructed as an Other, who are in reality, more similar to the average Briton than many realise.”
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This is a very interesting article. I wonder why modern societies still have mistrust and fear. There is fear and hate of other cultures and religions. Misunderstanding of race, culture, sex, etc still prevail in our modern society today. Is it likely that people are misinformed about other races, culture and religion in general or is society lacking the power to re-educate the communities?
What I find difficult to understand is the ‘hate’ or ‘fear’ that people have with certain religions. How can people hate or fear a religion they do not practice and then ‘hate and fear’ the people who practice that religion?
Does our society need re-educating on issues of religion, race and culture? Surely our people are well knowledgeable as they have been exposed to so many cultures and different races.
The media does a key to this, they play a huge role in our society. Through the media positive and well meaningful information could be transmitted to win over the bad media. If this is done collectively, there would be less fear and hate in society. Politicians could also help pass on positive information through foreign affairs. Their travels and trade to and foreign countries are not all in vain, or are they?
Thank you Leon, you have highlighted a complex form of negative stereotyping. Perhaps further research is required on the theme of ‘Islamophobia’, though I suspect a broader cultural and education programme is important too, highlighting the potential and real problems of intolerance, misunderstanding and ‘hate’ in 21st century British and European societies. This begs the question – why are we as a society in this situation in 2013? For instance, what role do the media and politicians play in this religious stigmatization and why?
The author defines Islamophobia as ascribing ‘certain characteristics’ to all Muslims. I hope he will join me in condemning Islam for describing all non-Muslims as ‘the vilest of all creatures’ (Qur’an 98:1-6).
I too found this a great article – thank you. I thought that the distinction between legitimate debate and xenophobia came across very well indeed.
I found this to be an excellent article. It highlights the immense problem, but also gave food for thought about some of the subtleties behind it. Thank you.
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