Event Report: Islamophobia Conference 2023

Event Report: Islamophobia Conference 2023

IHRC held the 10th annual Islamophobia Conference from 8 to 10 December. Since 2014, the conference aims to discuss key issues with regard to structural and institutionalised Islamophobia. The project began as part of a Decolonial International Network, Europe-wide project. Each conference has been co-organised with Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)

Day One: Friday, 8 December

Plenary 1 – Islam & Liberalism 

IHRC commenced the Islamophobia Conference on the theme of “Islam and Liberalism” with Professor Joseph Massad, professor at Columbia University in New York and author of Islam in Liberalism

Professor Massad delivered the keynote speech on a critique of multiculturalism, explaining that the idea itself was underwritten by the needs of neoliberalism and capitalism. According to Professor Massad, illiberal critics saw multiculturalism as serving the needs of capital, however any success of the multicultural project was seen as the progress of social justice. Professor Massad explains:  

“What is noteworthy in this struggle is the essentialist strain attributed to European and Euro-American culture as the unchanging, constant, liberal culture of the European enlightenment which must be contrasted with the anti-essentialist notion of illiberal European and non-European cultures that are seen as malleable, capable of, or coercive into change to approximations of this liberal European culture” 

Multiculturalism ideals posits European culture as progressive and only incorporates cultures that are malleable to change and therefore, multiculturalism itself is an idea of what European culture is, versus what it is not, but affirms European culture is the criteria to which all cultures must adhere to and therefore change in order to be accepted. He then briefly highlighted the rise of illiberal European culture as epitomised by the rise of Trump, but were suppressed by aspects of the state and tested the limits of liberal tolerance. Massad discussed the idea of social inclusion which he described as the “official whiteness, as sameness to the other as a form of tolerable otherness as essentially the same”, within European society. According to Massad, multiculturalism, illiberalism, liberalism and social justice all have a core tenet. Massad explains that tenet as a form of:

“Readiness of European White Americans to uphold them to recognise only a form of otherness which strives to be the same as Europe”.

This idea is agreed upon by both Conservatives and Liberals when it comes to Islam. 

“Namely White American recognition of Islam would effectively mean White American recognition of a culture that is the other of European Liberalism, a culture that refuses to assimilate in to it”. 

Massad explains that the price of recognition meant that those who were outside the purview of ‘tolerance’ and ‘recognition’ are met with suspicion. In addition, state recognition requires the recognised groups to be bound by a set of terms and conditions that serve the needs of the state and in that view, those who resist are dehumanised. After explaining these ideas and the limits of tolerance within the liberal framework, Massad went on to expand on the discourse surrounding the American Muslim community which he believes is a discussion about Islam as much as it is about the Muslim community,  

Using the concepts described in his speech, Massad talked about the inclusion of acceptable forms of Islam to the exclusion of ‘Islamists’ which, by default has meant the exclusion of the many. He then explained the debate about European immigration, stating that this is also about Muslims. After his keynote speech, Khan then engaged in a debate with Massad on issues of racism, immigration, integration and the problems posed by both liberal and illiberal trends.  

The discussion explored navigating liberalism and machinations of the state, including trans and LGBT communities, colonialism and how Muslim communities need to respond. Professor Massad emphasised the point that multiculturalism, far from being a revolutionary tool, is a response from capitalism and the neoliberal state to fulfil its needs. During the Q&A with the audience, the speakers further discussed capitalism, attaining power, israel and Palestine and other subjects.  


Day Two: Saturday, 9 December

Panel 1 – The Culture Spectrum: From the Hijab ban to Muslim Ban 

The second day of the conference was held at the P21 Gallery in Euston. The first panel discussion, “The Culture Spectrum: From Hijab ban to Muslim ban”, included a keynote speech by Sandew Hira, Decolonial International Network and author of Decolonizing the Mind, followed by respondents, Raza Kazim and Latifa Abouchakra.  

Watch Panel 1:


The conference began with a recitation from the Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 153 to 157.

Professor Saeed Khan introduced the premise of the conference:

“The culture wars seem to be the never ending wars in which Muslims are located particularly, but not limited to, those who reside in Western or non-Muslim countries. The culture wars are, in essence, a lot of the kinds of social disruptions, a lot of the social interactions & intersections that we find societies engaged in. And whether it is the United States, the UK, the European Union, or even other countries further afield including India, we find that Muslims somehow, the Other, are, whether through their own agency or thrust into the situation, find themselves in to culture wars often not of their own making”. 

Professor Khan explained that as a result of the culture wars, Muslims have had to weigh in on issues relating to LGBTQ rights, racism and other issues, which opens up the important question, “where do Muslims fit in to this equation of the culture wars?.”  


This panel was chaired by Fatima Merchant. Fatima introduced the panel and the speakers, beginning with keynote speaker, Sandew Hira.

Hira began his talk by referring to Professor Khan’s article, Muslims and the Culture Wars; he added to the title, “how do other civilisations relate to the Western notion of the culture war?”. He mentioned the four potential solutions proposed by Khan:

  1. Align with the Left 
  2. Align with the Far Right
  3. Work with both
  4. Work with none 

At this juncture, Hira suggested a fifth option: 

 –  To move from a defensive to an offensive position.  

Hira argues that engaging with the left or the right are both defensive positions and in order to deal with the culture wars, we need to decolonise the knowledge base of the west. He explained the political and philosophical theories that underpin western civilisation and explained that in order to move on from the culture wars, we need to create a plura-versal world where the knowledge base “is a dialogue between all civilisations.”  

Hira explain that once we create new theoretical frameworks “the knowledge base will go from the West to the East”, and then we will be in a position to go from the defensive to the offensive. He expanded on what the Muslim position, vis-à-vis the culture wars, should be: “you have to position yourself as an alternative”, noting that Islamic sources of knowledge can act as an alternative, decolonial, theoretical framework. 

Hira’s keynote speech was followed by Latifa Abouchakra. Abouchakra discussed the politics of Islamophobia and how Islamophobia benefits capitalism, namely allowing wars in Muslim countries. She analysed the hypocrisy of political parties, such as embracing progressive causes, but then sponsoring regressive non-state actors for foreign policy objectives. She also mentioned that there are two negative reactions of Muslims engaging in the culture wars:  

  1. Inferiority complex – this is the liberal Muslim position who do not represent the majority of the community
  2. Minorities disengaging from wider society

 According to Abouchakra and similar to arguments made by Hira,  Islam itself is the alternative to the culture wars: 

“Muslims need to be encouraged to engage in political and public activities. More important than seeking affective positions is the creation of grassroots platforms that challenge issues through NGOs that carry within the strength & opposition to the unjust status quo”.


Panel 2: Left or Right – What is the Muslim Perspective? 

The second panel was chaired by Professor Saeed Khan, with a keynote speech by Afroze Fatima Zaidi, and contributions from Professor Joseph Massad & Dr Fahid Qurashi. 

In the opening of the panel discussions, Khan elaborated: 

“The fact that in many of the facets and the dimensions of the culture wars, Muslims tend to be, in many ways weaponized, leveraged, co-opted, appropriated, championed if I can use the word in an ironic sense, by members of the political left or even members of the political right”.

 On the dilemma faced by the Muslim Community, Khan said:  

“As this happens, there is the natural tendency for Muslims also, to make considerations upon which side they should align.”  

After the introductions, Afroze Fatimah Zaidi delivered the keynote speech. Zaidi stated she will be offering is not the definitive Muslim position, rather a Muslim position. She then explained that her reference points were verse 135 from Surah Nisa and a hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) explaining the importance of standing for justice:

“It would follow that, part of the process of living as Muslims is consistently being pro-justice and anti-oppression and this is the framework within which, I think, we can interpret our engagement with concepts of the left & right”. 

Zaidi briefly explained the evolution of the left and right, defining the political right as traditional politics currently associated with business interests and the left as more liberal, progressive politics associated with workers rights. In regard to engaging with the left and right, it is important for Muslims to have the correct understanding of the political left and right. She explained that if we come from a pro-justice position, it would necessitate the building of alliances with other pro-justice groups where we can further learn other roadmaps to resistance and resilience. Zaidi closed her presentation by reiterating the fact that this is just her opinion amongst many other opinions and however Muslims decide to align themselves, it should be based on Islamic principles.  

Fahid Qurashi  reiterated that it is important to look at Islam and see what is the closest to justice. Qurashi discussed the need for a more in depth understanding of the left-right divide and not take positions for the sake of taking positions. He then explained the history of the culture wars, especially relating to racism and the use of the culture wars to create moral panics around minorities.  

He further explained that culture wars have some specific aspects:  

“One is to problematise the very presence of racialised communities in the west, and this often happens through debates about the numbers of ethnic minorities, demographics time bombs… There are also debates and concerns about replacement [which] manifests itself on curbs on immigration, asylum seeking people, deportation and so on. The second is the problematisation of the politics and the very presence of racialised communities. Curtailing the free speech of minorities while at the same time protecting the speech, racist and misogynist speech in the free market of ideas” .  

Qurashi explored how when it comes to the left-wing and right-wing imagination, the Muslim and Islam have been demonised and therefore the presence of the Muslim is a central theme in the culture war.  

Professor Joseph Massad discussed the location of the Muslim community being a is crucial detail when addressing the culture war. He states that ideas of Islamic reform and to create a western notion of Islam seems mainly to affect Muslim communities in the West:  

“There have been Muslim voices in the west, and not just conservative ones, mentioned in the paper, but also there are those who speak in the language of liberalism and often these voices don’t only speak to Muslim communities in the west but they seem to address themselves to Muslims worldwide. I think the specificity of Muslim communities in Western countries should always be borne in mind when addressing questions of one-billion or more as constituting the Muslim community”. 

Massad mentioned that it can seem as though culture wars related issues such as LGBTQ rights, female imams etc., are specific concerns to certain kinds of Muslim communities in the West and such issues do not affect Muslim communities living outside of the West. He also highlights the dangers of western Muslims speaking on behalf of the global community:

“When such voices are uttered from within the Western empire, they are not seen necessarily as voices, as independent Muslim voices, but seem to reflect for many Muslims in Muslim majority countries the continued imperial West’s attempt to ‘reform’ or create a new kind of Islam”.  


Day Three: Sunday, 10 December

The third and final day of the annual Islamophobia Conference which was held online and was moderated by Professor Saeed Khan.


Plenary 2: A Dialogue is Not a Compromise by Professor Ilan Pappé

The keynote speech by Professor Ilan Pappé, author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, was related to whether Muslims are compromising their values if they were involved in working coalition with non-Muslim organisations. The key points in Pappé’s discussion were as follows:

  • Religion is not a political ideology; according to Pappé this is a very important discussion to have; to know the role of religion and islam in public life today.
  • Religion has clear precepts which are non-negotiable, but there is a diversity of rulings and how religion can be applied depending on one’s circumstances.
  • It is wrong to identify the Muslim community through the agenda of Islamic political parties. Islamic political parties are not religious authorities and therefore, Muslims can pick and choose which parties to support.
  • Pappé stated that alliances in regards to emergencies (such as the current bombings of Gaza) are not long lasting alliances that have come together for a strong agenda.

“A purist approach, at the best of times, of who your allies are, checking exactly their moral position, or their vision for the future exactly fits your own, at best of times its not a very constructive way of building alliances. It is definitely not one that is recommending at a time of emergency, when there is a need to galvanise all the forces one can”. 

  • Islamic Civilisation; prior to the birth of the nation states, Islamic civilisation was the reference point for many people in the Arab world.
  • Islamic Civilisation in Palestine was a point of reference for all parts of daily life which provided a genuine coexistence of different communities.
  • Islamic civilisation of the past offers a genuine rethinking of the nation state which allows us to think outside of the box in terms of providing solutions to problems caused by the existence of nation states.
  • Pre-1948 Palestine highlighted the need to build alliances

The question of how Muslims should engage with the left or right is not just an issue that affects the Muslim community; Professor Pappé says:

“It is not only a question that the Muslim community needs to ask itself; how are we being played between the right and the left? What is our ability to go beyond tactical and factional alliances with the left, which obviously we do as Muslims in the case of Palestine or Kashmir or any oppression of people of communities where the majority are, or exclusively are Muslims?”.

Professor Pappé then asked the following questions:

  • Can the left compromise with the Muslim community? There have been short terms alliances between the left and Muslim communities, particularly on issues relating to Palestine.
  • What is the left? Pappé explained the problem that the Muslim community have is that the left has been associated with groups that were largely anti-tradition and anti-religion, which was a problem for the Arab Left. He discussed conversations with people from within the Arab Left about the place of tradition and religion, and and what equality and social justice mean.

Pappe’s closed his talk by explaining what the concept of a dialogue means both in western and non-western definitions. Professor Khan conversed with Pappé, expanding on the themes highlighted Pappé, including his theory of creating decolonised dialogic societies in the context of nation states in general and Israel in particular.


Panel 3: Digital Culture Wars

Professor Khan commenced the third panel by discussing the theme of digital culture wars, explaining that culture wars are not only taking place in the physical world, but also online. He introduced the speakers: Professor Sadek Hamid, Tasneem Chopra, Dr Syed Mustafa Ali & Nargess Moballeghi.


Professor Hamid offered a perspective of how he sees the culture wars as “different elements of society going against each other” and this is furthering the disintegration of social cohesion. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen internet issues, we regrettably missed a portion of Hamid’s valuable insights.

The next presentation was by Tasneem Chopra. Chopra spoke about the connection between hatred and the use of social media, and she highlighted how media is always deployed to sustain Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism. Her main theme was around how the social media space is a contested space which we all must engage in to ensure that the voices of the oppressed are heard. She said:

“By focussing on an Islamophobic narrative, or one that prioritises the Israeli condition in the Gaza coverage media outlets and editorial regimes as I call them, have all but erased the humanity of Muslims, Arabs & Palestinians in particular. The effort to wrestle back the mainstream media narrative to a space that is wholly respectful and in doing so, thwart the digital assault we are battling is going to be a long game. It is far from over, but on many fronts it would seem that the digital battle is being won.”

Nargess Moballeghi shared her thoughts in light of the previous speakers from a journalistic point of view. Moballeghi used israel’s attacks on Gaza to explain the evolution of journalism and the shifting spaces of alternative news sources, before highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of using social media. She spoke about the importance of a long term strategy when it comes to engaging in the online space:

“It requires us, especially in moments like this when we are utilising them, to think about a more pro-active, rather than a reactive, medium to long term strategy as to how we engage in terms of battle, in terms of content, in terms of social media spaces.”

Dr Syed Mustafa Ali presented some critiques, questions and comments on the presentations by Hamid and Chopra. The themes he discussed ranged from the use of AI, colonialism, social media spaces, and Islamophobia.  

Panel 4: To Engage or to Disengage – The Liberal, Conservative and the Muslim

For the final panel of the day, and the conference, presentations were delivered  Jasmine Zine and Ramon Grosfoguel, followed by responses from Huseyin Ali-Diakides and Richard Haley.

Dr Jasmine Zine discussed what the culture wars are:

“When we talk about culture wars, culture wars are cultural conflicts between different social groups in a struggle to impose their own virtues, practices and beliefs over society.”

She stated that the culture wars include topics that are generally disagreed upon, include war-like rhetoric, and create further divides between the left and the right but are done in a way that empowers the right.

“Muslims became more deeply engrained in the American culture wars during the Trump presidency. And I am talking here about the role that Muslims occupy in these culture wars as the subject of these culture wars.”

Zine explored the different aspects of the culture wars that target Islamic markers, such as women’s rights to stigmatise Muslim men. According to Zine, Islamophobia is more systemic, with the inclusion of policies that are designed to target Muslims. She also discussed the role some Muslims have played in the culture wars such as aligning themselves with anti-LGBTQ campaigns and how the culture war is also being utilised in Israel’s war against the Palestinians.

“We cannot separate the war of ideas from the war on marginalised people… Succumbing to divide and conquer politics is a sure way to impede solidarities and fortify oppressive powers when a more united front is needed to achieve the greater good for all”.

 Professor Ramón Grosfoguel discussed defining what we are all up against, focusing on the actors behind the culture wars and the debate controlled by the extreme right and capitalist globalists. He elaborated on the uni-polar world that we are living in and explained how the extreme right want to go back towards the times of imperialism, and the culture wars are used to gain votes from disenfranchised white voters. According to Grosfoguel, these groups are behind the attacks on progressive politics and are also Zionists. He then turned his attention to the globalists, those who control the dollar market, stating that although they sound like leftists, they are fascists and dictators, and are similar to the extreme-right. He highlighted the fact that we must go beyond the rhetoric and look at their solutions if we are to see them for who they are. Their policies are genocidal and include agendas such as the Great Reset and Transhumanism.

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