The phrase lacks elegance but does the job. “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
The Labour Party — which has adopted the working definition produced by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims — committed itself “to help tackle Islamophobia, build a common understanding of its causes and consequences, and express solidarity with Muslim communities.”
These kinds of formal statements work to establish a framework in which we can judge the serious intent, or otherwise, of public bodies to tackle phenomena which have deep roots in our national life.
But no-one should pretend that words are enough. As if to drive home the distinction between the formal public discourse around racism and the grubby reality we have the Tory leader of Swale Council in Kent restored to full functioning membership of the Conservative Party after a brief 12-day suspension despite his social media support for that pillar of political pluralism we know as Tommy Robinson.
Councillor Boles argued that he was merely giving voice to his support for the principle of free speech.
Actually — and following Robinson’s permanent banning from Facebook and Instagram for “repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech” — Bowles retweeted a comment which described the decision to ban Robinson as a “disgraceful injustice” and urged people to retweet it if they agreed. Not quite a disinterested defence of an abstract philosophical standpoint.
To bring home the multifaceted nature of racism we have in today’s news cycle alone the home affairs committee report on immigration detention, an electoral breakthrough by a racist anti-migrant party in the Netherlands, an outbreak of attacks on mosques in Britain, the sentencing of a man who daubed “No Blacks” on the home of a family from Africa, further proceedings in the trial of National Action activists and the continuing coverage of the neonazi massacre of Muslims in New Zealand.
It pays to pay attention to the context in which anti-Muslim racism functions. One aspect is the centuries-long history of colonial exploitation and imperial plunder upon which capital accumulation, which is the foundation of Britain’s economy, was based.
The post-war necessity to raise the level of participation in Britain’s labour market resulted in the recruitment of large numbers of colonial subjects to aid Britain’s recovery from the decades of depression and war.
It is customary to celebrate the many personal and family triumphs over the poverty and exploitation which was the common experience of migrant workers but, as the Runnymede Trust has demonstrated, British Muslims today have higher poverty rates, including both child poverty and in-work poverty, and the highest rates of unemployment, while hate crimes against Muslims have “undoubtedly risen in the past twenty years.”
We cannot set aside the blowback from Britain’s participation in a series of wars which have pitted imperialism’s war machine against countries where the majority are Muslims.
The Stop the War movement made the single most powerful contribution to overcoming the tensions which inevitably arise in times of war but we should not kid ourselves that the toxic political stench which attaches to the war party, including in Labour, will easily dissipate.
Finding a route to working-class unity for the millions of people whose thinking is shaped by these experiences is not easy. But in Councillor Boles’s own backyard local by-election results last year showed Ukip seats falling to a resurgent Labour vote. There is no magic wand to wave which will roll back racism. But a positive programme of practical measures to improve the lives of working people will help.
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