Watch the videos of the conference below or read a report underneath.
On Saturday 13 December the Islamic Human Rights Commission successfully hosted the ‘Institutional Islamophobia Conference.’ The event featured a diverse platform of speakers; both Muslim and non-Muslim and from both activist and academic backgrounds. The esteemed list included NUS Black Students Officer Malia Bouattia, author and academic Salman Sayyid and CAMPACC’s Les Levidow among others.
From its initiation, IHRC aimed for the conference to be more than pure theology in the form of presentations given by speakers before an audience. It was not meant to be a conversation about the existence of Islamophobia; whether it is a form of racism or how long it has even existed for. Islamophobia was presented as an institutional phenomenon that must be dealt with by addressing the state whose structures oppress and marginalise Muslims. Separated into two panels, each of the speakers gave small presentations of their choosing before the conversation was opened up to the wider audience. The first panel was entitled ‘Islamophobia and the Crisis of Democracy’ and the second: ‘Islamophobia and Islamoromia: The Push and Pull Policies’ – each artfully chaired by Lena Mohamed and Katy Sian respectively. Speakers spoke on varied topics with presentation titles like Marie Breen-Smyth’s ‘Theorising the Suspect Community’ and AbdoolKarim Vakil’s ‘Back to Basics’.
Salman Sayyid spoke on ‘Democracy, Diversity and ‘De-radicalization” where he described the hypocrisy of the West who are so concerned with implementing democracy abroad when they should be worried about the practice of it at home. He also criticised the PREVENT strategy and described it as limiting democracy.
Familiar with the student and youth demographic, Malia Bouattia took on the over-policing of campuses as just one form accepted discrimination can take. Students are forced to swipe cards in order to enter rooms and those who are organising and meeting together have their names taken down and registered. Richard Haley also recalled another institution with ingrained discrimination – NHS staff are being given counter-terrorism training. Thinking back on his time as an engineer he stated that social engineering only stops things from working and simply interferes with the democratic process.
Marie Breen-Smyth focused on the issue of securitisation, especially as it pertains to the public imagination. Muslims have become part of the ‘suspect community.’ A concept initially written about by Paddy Hillyard, figuring a population as ‘suspect’ has severe implications for the members of said community as well as the general population on the whole. Securitisation is also an industry; one that people benefit from and make money out of. Les Levidow expanded more on the PREVENT strategy. He stated that numerous Muslim organisations have been funded to carry out surveillance through PREVENT. The role of the PREVENT programme has been more explicit after CONTEST 2 yet there has been no organised protest or action against it. It is a strategy that draws on traditional Orientalism and it is important that we all know about it. He made the suggestion of a PREVENT conference which would be both important and informative.
Hatem Bazian made mention of wars in Gaza and Lebanon, the financial crisis and the situation in Ferguson when speaking about a series of crises. According to him, it is the system and the state that creates radicalised Muslims who then fulfil the system’s role to promote Islamophobia. Part of an epistemic structure, Islamophobia normalises violence in every part of our society. As W.E.B. Dubois says, Muslims see themselves in a double consciousness – they are forced to view themselves through the lens which the system gives them as well as through their own.
AbdoolKarim Vakil referenced the ‘Not in Our Name’ campaign – a situation where Muslims felt the need to disassociate from other Muslims. He claimed that current ways of speaking to racialised communities need to be developed more. Hate crimes (so often faced by Muslims) are political acts and warrant political responses. Relating to this, Arzu Merali spoke of IHRC’s 17-year-long project of documenting anti-Muslim experiences and hate crime. IHRC has never thought that victims should have to prove their oppressive experiences but IHRC has to advocate and prove to the state that these things are happening. The Domination Hate Model of Intercultural Relations – as used in IHRC’s project – is a way of analysing the relationship between individual acts of hate crime and the institutions that help perpetuate and instigate them.
Once each panellist had spoken, the floor was open for questions. Attendees and speakers worked together to create a dialogue where realistic solutions were proposed and strategized. A well-attended event resulted in an array of questions that helped the discussion to move forward. One of the speakers – Lee Jasper – felt it was imperative that Black and Asian organisations (as well as individuals) unite in the struggle against racism and Islamophobia. Ex-police officer and guest Leroy Logan suggested that a directory be drawn up of organisations like NUS Black Students, etc – organisations that can be contacted in emergency situations. An example of such a situation was the one faced by IHRC in the run-up to the conference. Amidst threats of far right protests, Birkbeck College cancelled IHRC’s venue booking mere days before the conference was supposed to be held. Thankfully the event was relocated to the P21 Gallery where helpful staff ensured that the day ran smoothly with great catering and a wonderful atmosphere.
The conference was attended by a varied list of guests – academics, students, youth, activists and press. Despite the complications faced so late on, the event was still largely successful – enjoyed by the audience for the platform of speakers and the practical suggestions that the two sessions churned out. As Ramon Grosfoguel pointed out, it is apparent that we must resist divisive strategies and instead work together. The struggle against racism and Islamophobia must always be decolonial and anti-imperial.
- Hatem Bazian
- Malia Bouattia
- Marie Breen-Smythe
- Ramon Grosfoguel
- Richard Haley
- Lee Jasper
- Les Levidow
- Arzu Meral
- Peter Oborne
- Salman Sayyid
- AbdoolKarim Vakil
- An-Nisa Society
- Bandung 2
- CAGE UK
- Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
- Council of European Jamaat
- Free Talha
- Indian Muslim Welfare Society
- Islamic Centre of England
- Islamophobia Watch
- Lewisham Islamic Centre
- Muslim Association of Britain
- Muslim Council of Britain
- Muslim Directory UK
- Muslim Engagement and Development
- NUS Black Students
- Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
- Stop the War Coalition
- World Federation
For photos of the event please visit our Flickr page below.