On 23 May 2022, the IHRC hosted an author evening with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, spoken word poet and author of Tangled in Terror: Uprooting Islamophobia (available to purchase at the IHRC Bookshop) which aims to highlight how Islamophobia functions and what we need to do to tackle Islamophobia. The event was hosted by Syed Talha Ahsan, host of the Abbasid History Podcast. The event highlighted themes of racism, colonialism, misogyny, muslim identity and counter-extremism.
WATCH THE FULL EVENT HERE:
Please note, the conversation has been edited to make it more readable.
The author evening commenced with Suhaiymah reading a short excerpt from her book:
Suhaiymah: The standard narrative goes like this: Islamophobia is an unfair bias that exists because of right-wing media sensationalism the rise of the far-right and Brexit voters. Their rhetoric leads to hateful, verbal, and physical attacks against Muslims, therefore the solution to Islamophobia is more legal consequences that deal with Islamophobic hate crimes, more positive representations of Muslims in the media, more work to challenge stereotypes and more Muslims in positions of decision-making. As a result there are continuous debates about defining Islamophobia, enquiries into it presents within political parties in Parliament… then the Islamophobes are people like Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins, Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson. But this version of Islamophobia is reductive. It has no history or context. Islamophobia does not exist because of the lack of laws against it or the lack of Muslim MPs and peers. Nor does it exist because people don’t know enough about Muslims contributing to the nation or because Muslims have not spent enough time proving what Islam really says. Instead islamophobia persists despite these things precisely because such solutions keep the conversations about Islamophobia away from addressing its root historical and structural causes.
In this book I try to present a very different picture of Islamophobia; it’s the outcome of colonial histories of white supremacist racial hierarchy and global capitalism that have generated a story about Muslims as threats, barbarians and misogynists. That story is used by governments and industries across the world today to garner popular consent for projects that violate and destroy people’s lives, because in the name of security against the Muslim threat, liberal populations consent to types of dehumanising illiberal treatment that they would never accept for themselves.
From illegal invasions, indefinite imprisonment, deportation to the indignity of everyday surveillance and the destruction of life and property. These projects are not random, they have financial and ideological advantages for those who benefit from a deliberately exploitative world order. In other words, Islamophobia is not the new racism nor has it existed since ancient times. It is one strategy of a colonial world system that was built over a period of 500 or more years. Far from broken or ended, the operation of Islamophobia proves that system is still at work. It functions through processes of imperial occupation, theft of resources and dislocation of people, procedures of coercive and brutal policing, in caging, and brutal measures of co-option, social engineering and ideological control. We must depart from thinking about Islamophobia as an individual moral deficiency. It is an outcome of historical developments that now ripen the conditions required for mass expulsion and genocide of both the gratuitous and spectacular kind, but also the corrosive, almost invisible kind.
Islamophobia is not a problem for Muslims alone and it cannot be tackled on its own. It is not a single issue struggle but a problem for the world related to all racisms, all forms of oppression, border violence, policing, war, environmental catastrophe, gender based violence and injustice. The standard narrative of Islamophobia hides that it is less about Muslims than it is about everything else. Therefore, this is not a book about Muslims or Islam. This book is not interested in proving whether Islamophobia exists for those who do not have to face its violence everyday or implying explanation upon explanation to name the violence. Nor is it interested in how we should specifically define Islamophobia. Instead this book asks what Islamophobia does and how understanding its function is central and how we can build a world that is safe for all oppressed, exploited and marginalised people rather than a world that is secure, that nation states to repress, and imperialist capitalist interests to secure profit. The only way for Islamophobia to be uprooted is by sowing the seeds for another world altogether.
Talha: I want to start off with this idea that Islamophobia is not racist because Muslims are not race- can you explain the process of racialising religion?
Suhaiymah: The kind of muddying around the conversation of Islamophobia is this idea that Muslims are not a race, it’s not racism… and I just wanted to begin [with asking] the question what is racism? That might seem very obvious and straightforward but that does get missed, and we assume that racism exists because different races exist and I think the point I wanted to make was just the opposite, that you know race is something constructed through time as these categories and obviously they change and is context-dependent, circumstantial but that then justifies racism which is a project. So I tried [discussing] a bit of the history, and obviously it’s not the complete history, but it is very much a European history of this that I am talking about.
Talha: Can you explain this concept of feminism, Islamophobia and pinkwashing?
Suhaiymah: I thought it was really important to include in the book because I suppose as a Muslim woman as well, it’s something that I’ve come across so many times that feminist narratives and feminists are going to save me or protect me from Islam. I think my experience of that made it really important for me to talk about the ways that feminist narratives do not agree with Islam. I think feminism in the mainstream is often pitched in a liberatory framework particularly for women and I wanted to trace in here, not only the links between colonialism and feminism. We saw this idea of saving women as always a tool used by colonial powers to occupy, invade and exploit natural resources across the world but, also to this day that is done whether it is through imperialism or through within your own laws. I thought that it was important to bring that question. And I thought it was important to address this narrative that the Muslims are also sexist, particularly in the last few years.
Talha: You talk about the role of media in regards to Muslims and I wanted to discuss about your experiences with the BBC Radio programme and A Times journalist got in touch with you. Can you tell us about that?
Suhaiymah: Yes, this is quite long-winded but again it is a good example of the vested interest in regards to the stakeholders of Islamophobia. Again, during the pandemic I produced and hosted a radio documentary. It was on BBC Radio 4. It was about Muslim poets and obviously I did not want it to have a political kind of bent to it and I think because of the nature of the BBC, it was very coded and entrenched. But it was like how poetry might be an outlet for Muslims at a time when there’s very few spaces where you can speak freely. It was very formal and then the following week, I received a call from the BBC producer to say heads up that we’ve been contacted by the security and crimes correspondent at The Times, saying that they’ve been emailed by the Henry Jackson Society – a neo-conservative Think Tank who are very Islamophobic and very vested in producing Islamophobic narratives; many of their current and former members have said very explicit things which is why it is not controversial to say that they are Islamophobic. So, they raise the issue about me being on the BBC because of connections to “organisations accused of being terrorist sympathisers.” The Times wanted a comment from the BBC, and the BBC thankfully were responded, “we are not going to get involved with this.” I then got an email from The Times. The interesting thing about this as ludicrous as it is, I remember feeling really anxious, threatened in a way.
Talha opened up the event to the audience where questions were asked in relation to Islamophobia, state-violence, racism, protecting young Muslims in schools against Prevent, and history. The book and the event will be of interest to those involved in or want to learn more about counter-terrorism, Prevent, politics, colonialism, racism and activism.