Islam Times: So I interviewed Dr. Abbas Dattoo, who is a leading figure in the fight against Islamophobia as well as a lecturer at some of the UK’s leading universities. Islam Times: First of all, can you tell us exactly what ‘Islamophobia’ means?
Dr. Dattoo: Islamophobia refers to a state of mind which characterise Muslims in a regressive and violent way, resulting in them being discriminated against. This leads to forms of behaviour which are discriminatory in the social, political, economic and cultural realms, manifesting itself in a number of ways.
Islam Times: In what ways does Islamophobia manifest itself?
Dr. Dattoo: Islamophobia can manifest itself in lots of ways. Firstly, there are latent, institutional ways, which are sometimes difficult to detect. These can be seen in economic statistics about the conditions of Muslims. Approximately 69% of South Asian Muslims live in poverty in Britain, which is undoubtedly an extraordinary figure. It is the result of inequitable social structures, which don’t just affect Muslims, but affect a number of communities, such as the white working class, and asylum seekers. In Western societies particular ethnic communities tend to face the brunt of these inequitable structures, and are thus marginalized. Then you have more obvious cases of Islamophobia, in terms of acts of violence and hostility against Muslims that are often recorded by the police. Various organisations such as the Islamic human rights commission keep track of such occurrences. It’s a very overt form of discrimination and islamophobic ideas which results in Muslims finding it difficult to go about their everyday lives.
Islam Times: Has it become more intense recently?
Dr. Dattoo: Absolutely, it’s been rising inexorably. The Islamic Human Rights commission argues in their report that 90% of Muslims they surveyed, in a large sample size of approximately 1000, said they had been discriminated against for being Muslim. So it could be institutional, could be subtle, in employment, housing, education or stuff just happening as you’re out on the streets with people giving you odd looks and stares, making derogatory comments about you, or perhaps even assaulting you physically. Islam Times: What are the factors underlying the growth of Islamophobia?
Dr. Dattoo: I think it’s a very complex thing. The obvious thing is the occurrence of terrorist attacks. It’s clear there has been a spike in hostility towards Muslims after the acts of 9/11 and 7/7. The question of course is whether it is a rational response to the attacks. What is of concern is the way the state frames the most rational response and the way it tries to understand and convey the narrative around these attacks. Often the state singles out Muslim communities for surveillance, in terms of them being threatening. That very symptom-led response feeds into the media. There’s very little critical questioning about the government’s responses, or about foreign policy, our intelligence policies or our security measures. This leaves the public with a very simple narrative: “there are these Muslims who hate our way of life.” Islam Times: Is Islamophobia a unique form of racism? Is it different from racism against black people, Irish people and so on?
Dr. Dattoo: There is social science literature around Islamophobia now which most commentators and media pundits aren’t aware of. It’s based on peer review discussions that have been going on for more than a decade before 9/11, done by experts who have been studying racism and discrimination. They think Islamophobia is a distinctive concept and should be recognized as a distinctive form of racism. There are a range of stories about Muslims being attacked, mosques being attacked and women having their scarves torn off. That sort of stuff isn’t happening to black communities at the moment. Islam Times: What would you say is the best way to tackle the issue of Islamophobia?
Dr. Dattoo: That’s an enormous question. On a ‘business as usual’ model, there is no doubt that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. I say this after looking at the defence planning documents for America and Britain, looking at global crises and how they have impacted security issues over the last few years. They’ve been looking at North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, concluding they are of most strategic interest because of their hydrocarbon resources, large populations and their role in the economy. They’re predicting that these populations will have massive demographic growth in the next 10-20 years, with a 90% youth bulge. Thus they won’t be able to cope with the crises, and so, the planners conclude, young populations are going to be vulnerable to radicalisation. My view is that it isn’t all doom and gloom. More and more people are disillusioned with the way the system works. They may not understand the deeper issues about what’s wrong, but they’re looking at the economic crises and concluding that the banks are corrupt and only concerned with making profit. They’re looking at the parliamentary system and concluding that the system is broken and that MPs are corrupt. They’re looking at the Middle East situation and having doubts about what Israel is doing in the occupied territories, and its actions can’t be justified. They’re looking at Iraq and saying that maybe we didn’t need to go to war. They have accepted that at the minimum it was a tremendous mistake. So it is an interesting place to be politically, because there is an increase in skepticism. All that’s needed now is the social movement, with projects like NLP and other policy movements on the left to start articulating a vision about what an alternative society should look like.
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