It’s anti-Muslim racism, not Islamophobia

February 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm (Anti-Racism, class, communalism, Human rights, immigration, imperialism, Islam, islamism, language, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion)

By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)

“In late modernity, authoritarian movements have arisen again that seek to ideologically combine an organic and holistic natural-social order, a purified nationality, a primeval mysticism, and a belief in a superlative civilisation that was created by an ancestral community of blood.” (Bhatt, 2000: 589)

Protester holding a sign in Washington, D.C. Original caption: Sept 15 2007 March and Rally, Member of the counter protest Gathering of Eagles, yelling

Post-9/11 sections of the British Left have championed the term ‘Islamophobia’ (fear of Islam) to describe and challenge the surge of racism against people signified as Muslim. This term, however, has limited power to explain the vilification and discrimination of Muslims in the contemporary era both since 9/11 and with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. This prejudice and harm should be understood as anti-Muslim racism. What’s more, Islamophobia’s implied antithesis, ‘Islamophilia’ (love of Islam), is an inadequate basis for a politically progressive anti-racist politics. Much of the British Left – posed as champions against Islamophobia – through its anti-war campaigning at the height of the imperialist War on Terror, identified as allies Islamist movements to the disregard of solidarity with secular, feminist, and democratic forces who opposed both imperialism and Islamism (see Bassi, 2009). This Left not only failed to critique religious fundamentalism, but went further in silencing its critique of religion in general. Through the Stop the War Coalition, at rallies and on demonstrations, women-only areas were organised alongside propaganda stating, for example, “We are all Hezbollah”. Racism as a common sense ideology fixes and orders the world through a hierarchy of assumed and desired homogenised groups of people, whereas a socialist anti-racist politics should understand the reality, and our own desired future, of the world as driven by dynamic exchange and hybridisation of peoples. At a moment when reactionary nationalism is on the ascendancy, it is worth reasserting that we are in favour of globalisation – a globalisation by and for our class.

Racism entails a process of signification, or racialisation: identifying an assumed ‘racial’ difference, be that somatic and/or cultural, as significant and denoting such difference with characteristics and consequences that are negative. The difference that racism signifies is related to what we might understand as ethnicity: to common geography, familial heritage, and socio-cultural make-up (sometimes national, sometimes religious, and sometimes both); whose expression is indicated through somatic difference, such as hair and skin colour, and/or cultural difference, like language, food, beliefs and practices, and clothing. In the case of anti-Muslim racism the signifier of religion connects up with geography, ancestry, and socio-cultural constitution, and difference is seen somatically and culturally.

As a second generation British Indian, born into an extended Jatt Sikh family, I have a specific perspective on anti-Muslim racism. Anti-Muslim racism is a potent ideology in India and across the global Indian diaspora. Moreover, it is a racism that has proven to be compatible with post-9/11 and Brexit and Trump-era racism. Why? Because of a commonly signified and racialised ‘Muslim Other’. The crux of this ideology is not a theological critique but rather a fusing of religion with the idea of a group of people as a biological and cultural ‘race’ apart and below. This racism denotes Muslims as inbred, degenerate, and unclean, and as a dangerous and violent threat to one’s own purified existence. It should be of no surprise then that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) have savvily attuned to this current of anti-Muslim racism within the Indian diaspora – courting Sikhs as an exemplary and assimilatable ‘race’ above the ‘Muslim Other’. The footage of a speech by a UKIP MEP (see below) arguing in defence of the Sikh religious and racial right to wear the kirpan positions Sikhs as fighters for democracy. This should be understood in its historical, racialised context. During the British colonial Empire, the British ruling class divided the population of India into martial and non-martial ‘races’, of which the Sikhs (particularly Jatt Sikhs) were designated as the former.

British India Sikh soldier, 1898 (Wikimedia Commons)

Sikh soldiers, 1846, Illustrated London News (Wikimedia Commons)

2014 UKIP candidate Sergi Singh (Hull Daily Mail)

Similar to UKIP’s courting of Indian diaspora Sikhs is Trump’s courting of Indian diaspora Hindus during his presidential election campaign and his appeal to Hindu nationalists in India: here in common is the racialised enemy of the ‘Muslim Other’.



The anti-Muslim racism of the global Indian diaspora owes much of its origins to Hindu nationalism. Chetan Bhatt (2000), in an article titled “Hindu Nationalism and Indigenist ‘Neoracism’”, explains how Hindu nationalism accommodates what it considers a sect of Hinduism, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, while it otherises Muslims. Bhatt (2000: 577) expounds:

“the birth of contemporary Hindu nationalism is usually traced to, and just after, the inter-war period, from 1916-25; during which two organisations, the Hindu Mahasabha (The Great Assembly of Hindus) and its ‘semi-rival’, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the National Volunteer-Servers Organisation) were formed. Hindu nationalism’s key, but by no means only ideologue was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an anti-colonial revolutionary hero and founder of the Mahasabha, who in 1923 presented the novel idea of Hindutva, the essence or ‘beingness’ of a Hindu. Hindutva was a hereditarian conception, born from the time the intrepid Aryans entered India and whose ‘blood commingled’ with that of the original inhabitants of India. For Savarkar, a Hindu could be defined as someone who considers India as their fatherland, motherland and holyland and ‘who inherits the blood of that race whose first discernible source could be traced back’ to the Vedic Aryans (Savarkar 1989: 115). Savarkar’s formulation of Hindutva considerably influenced Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, formed in 1924) as well as Madhav Golwalkar, the RSS’s second leader. Golwalkar extended strands of Hindutva to develop an extraordinarily modern, Nazi-like racial idea of Hinduness […].”

Contemporary Hindu nationalism (as propagated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and its parent organisation, the RSS):

“undertakes the familiar metaphoric substitution of the nation by the idea of the national, or social or human body; conversely minorities, especially Muslims, are seen as a polluting presence within that body. Consequently, Hindu nationalism is dangerously obsessed with Muslim demography, reproduction and fertility (see, for example, Lal 1990).” (Bhatt 2000: 580)

An example of this is the Hindu fundamentalist theory of Romeo Jihad or Love Jihad, which claims that “Muslim men seek to wage jihad by making Hindu women fall in love with them and marry them, so as to covert them to Islam” (Dixit, 2017).

Love Jihad

A parallel can be drawn between Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ and the legislative moves by the Indian government in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016; in this, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan – unlike their Muslim counterparts – are no longer identified as illegal migrants but rather as suitable for naturalisation as citizens of India (Mitra, 2017).

The anti-Muslim racism that is rampant across Europe and the United States, and which finds an easy alliance with Hindu nationalists in India and with a current of Sikhs and Hindus in the global Indian diaspora, is a racism based on the ideas of a purified (racialised) nationality, an advanced (racialised) civilisation, and a natural (racialised) social order. It is not Islamophobia, it is racism – old and new.


Bhatt, C (2000) “Hindu Nationalism and Indigenist ‘Neoracism’”, in L Back and J Solomos (Eds) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge, 573-593.

It’s anti-Muslim racism, not Islamophobia


  1. Mick said,

    There’s also a question of what’s relevant in the here and now. For a start, it’s in no way racist to oppose Islam and Islamism. Many reasons abound but none are to do with race, except with people specifically prejudiced on the grounds of race. In which case, dislike of Sikhs and Hindus also goes with the turf. The Left are wilfully backward to ignore this.

    It is indeed a mistake to ringfence religion from criticism but again, the Left compound the felony by applying that to Islam the most and Christianity the least. Especially when Islam is and was founded as a unique political system and subculture to crush those others it conflicts with. Read the books and you’ll find way more than instructions on how to pray. It’s where Sharia comes from and it’s a brutal system based on the principle of punching downwards – from Allah right down to women, children, unbelievers and lastly Jews, who are treated the most punitively. There’s a concept of a ‘poll tax’ in Islam, the jizya, paid by the kufr as a punishment for not converting. I thought the Left was against that kind of crap.

    So these ideas of Muslims being some kind of cultural opponent are smack on the money, at least where Muslims themselves understand what kind of kooky control freak ideology they have themselves. Not too many seem to, let alone care, else every Muslim colleague would be hell to work with. But the fact the system exists in the first place – Labour meetings segregated by sex is one way Sharia is approved by the Left – only shows how it would be inappropriate NOT to tackle the issues and set Muslims aside for a moment to justify their seditious creed to the civilised world.

    • Mick said,

      Example: ‘An example of this is the Hindu fundamentalist theory of Romeo Jihad or Love Jihad, which claims that “Muslim men seek to wage jihad by making Hindu women fall in love with them and marry them, so as to covert them to Islam”’

      In fact, the Koran goes way further than this. Verse 4:24 specifically states that the only women Muslims are barred from having sex with are the wives of other Muslims. Non-believers’ wives and slave girls are fine. 23:5 compounds this by mentioning women as legal possessions of the Muslims.

      I know, it was even shocking for me, an Islamosceptic, to read such tripe. Especially when the Hindus have been the more genuinely peaceble people attacked by Muslim armies many times and been forced on the defensive, as has often been the case. To paint them as Nazi-esque perpetrators of prejudice is quite laughable in face of the facts,

  2. Andrew Coates said,

    Apparently they are up to their old tricks, this time in Germany.

    (from MA), ” it looks like their German section (of the SWP) , doing entryism in the party ‘Die Linke’ and especially their parliamentary and student sections, are bigging up the meaningless local section of the Muslim Brotherhood, as they did with the MAB in the UK. But worse: not just the MB, but the ‘Grey Wolves’ too.

    The Grey Wolves areIslamist, nationalist and extremely violent.

  3. Glasgow Working Class said,

    How can anti muslim be described as rascist as muslims come in all shapes and colour just like christians and jews etc?

    • Mick said,

      It’s only consistent with the same lunacy which leads leftists to ‘check the privilege’ of old white men, despite loving Bernie Sanders. Or become violent in response to ‘micro-aggression’ on campus, defeating the object of peaceful protest, or even campaign with gay rights airheads to promote Sharia Law.

      The same one which sees their brothers hung by cranes in Iran and stoned in Nigeria, Pakistan or Indonesia.

      It’s perfectly feasible for leftists to both claim the Suffragettes for their own and still back such barbarity. They don’t research it all these days, they use confirmation bias. They just talk to a couple of nice-sounding Muslims and that’s where it stops.

  4. Rilke said,

    You should be wary Mike, of creating too many straw targets for yourself at once. I do not know of any thinking left-wing person who promotes
    Saria Law and executing gay people. It may suit your neurotic phantasies to speculate about such spectres; but they largely a product of your own binary mind. The failed and repulsive positions of STWC and the STWP and the like, on such issues, has more to do with their seeking after members and their entrenched, but still utterly moronic notions of ‘imperialism’. To simply write of the ‘left’ as colluding in theological backwardness and militant reactionary religious movements is inaccurate.
    There is one strand in your comments that is implicit rather than explicit with which I agree, and this is that we need to redefine what constitutes being of the ‘left’ now. Many who claim to be of ‘left’ are neither Marxists nor socialists, but rather liberal-minded social democrats.

    • Mick said,

      Lefties are always promoting Sharia Law! Not of of them but too many in power.

      And where there are killings of gays due to Sharia, as I say, we have cases of ignorance.

      No straw men at all, just observations.

  5. Rilke said,

    If you can cite a couple of examples I might be inclined to see some value in your propositions beyond the surface texture of your neurotic fantasies. You say that you are basing your assertions simply on ‘observations’, if so, then it should be no difficult thing to offer some instances and quotations of the left ‘promoting’ Sharia and praising the execution of gay people. Please make your examples creditable; do not simply post links to the exaggerated conspiracy theory webpages of alt-right fanatics. I have seen enough guff about ‘hordes’ of Muslims desecrating Elvis’s grave and the like.
    In anticipation,

    • Mick said,

      Ah, the old Nelson thing, putting the telescope to the blind eye and saying ‘I see no ships’.

      Despite ICM and other pollsters finding Muslims wanting to jail gays and introduce Sharia here, the Labour Party has been the biggest backer of Shria institutions in Britain. Who backed the halal banks, Muslim Parliament, throat-slitter slaughter houses and all the rest of the rubbish?

      Naz Shah says people should back Sharia councils and the Greens even say it shouldn’t be a crime to be Al Queda.

      And for some of the other idiots, just Google LGBT AGAINST ISLAMOPHOBIA. They don’t know what they are doing.

      If anyone’s neurotic, it’s the Left for backing these bozos.

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