Demonised by elected officials and those pounding the concrete, contingent citizenship, seemingly both pathologically violent and desperately in need of (white) Western salvation, equally weak and also on the cusp of colonising public space into a series of sharia law no-go areas, barbaric in their cultural practices, backward in their unwillingness to embrace Western liberalism, uniquely patriarchal and homophobic.
Being attacked on the streets and left for dead, being stripped of citizenship in ways non-racialised subjects never could be, being told to accept that if only they spoke English then far-right fears would be placated, a litany of respectable public commentators calling for their repatriation due to their innate violence, not having anywhere near the same success in school and life as their non-Muslim peers, at the receiving end of terror legislation and Made in Britain TM missiles, being made to feel like they do not belong.
Above are the various, intolerable ideological standpoints that inform, and everyday end-results of, anti-Muslim racism. Like all social phenomena, anti-Muslim racism is complex. It would be hard and certainly disingenuous to pin down its genesis to any one thing – such as its structural nature befits. As contrasted with the more widespread usage of “Islamophobia”, anti-Muslim racism emphasises the racism and not any mere hatred or fear of Muslims. It is something that lives with Muslims and those racialised as such no matter where they roam, what professions they enter or how “respectable” they become. A look at Sadiq Khan and his mayoral election campaign clearly demonstrates that no matter how much assimilation to a majority white culture a Muslim achieves, they will forever be a target.
What else does this “racism” look like in comparison to a “phobia”? It shows itself in a land where the vast majority of Prevent referrals are made for Muslims while the threat of far-right terror looms large (and is, in part, fed by dominant narratives about us vs. them, insider vs. outsider, patriot vs. “citizen of nowhere”), and this makes it clear that the current marginalisation and violence inflicted against Muslims are not rational end-results of the words and deeds of individual and groups of Muslims. It instead shows one facet of anti-Muslim racism: Muslims are seen as a unique, existential danger to the nation.
The indignities and atrocities suffered are rooted in the politically useful and utterly commonplace nature of a racism: irrational, and used for the purposes of power. The myopic and enabling ways of dealing with the threat of the far-right by political elites (who simultaneously peddle myths about Muslims’ refusal to “integrate” into British society) and various overseas and domestic expeditions against “those who are against Us” make this clear. The very highest in society (not just the far-right of the streets) have personally profited and seek to promote ideas around Islam being a civilizational threat to the West.
Brexit and the historical debate and campaigning around it show how anti-Muslim racism has become the background hum to which normal society functions. Entangled as it is inextricably is with other forms of xenophobia, it was clear through polling data that the political use of anti-Muslim racism to drum up votes was successful. With not much to separate the two sides of the debate for much of the campaigns, the introduction of debates around Turkey and the spectre of its tens of millions of Muslims having free access to British jobs, GPs, schools, and spaces was enough to drive the momentum behind Leave and make Brexit significantly more likely.
While the racist campaigning of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the like were strongly criticised by some, the overall tenor of current discourse centred (and still does) around so-called “legitimate grievances” towards immigration and how migrants have singlehandedly wrought prospects and culture away from white British people. Lost is the critical factor of how racism towards Muslims was central in making Brexit a reality, and how hatred of Muslims animates many of those who revelled in leaving the EU.
The question then is how do we begin to combat such a pervasive, ever-changing racism? The first step is to recognise anti-Muslim racism, like all other forms of racism, as structural and not just on the level of the individual. If we necessarily criticise teachers saying their students look like “ISIS girls”, we must also level an equally strong critique at Prevent and those that maintain the good Muslim/bad Muslim binary which casts all Muslims under a gaze of suspicion. People’s words can hurt (and kill), but the environment in which they happen is what enables and emboldens them.
Work done by activists and researchers shows that anti-Muslim racism, like the rest of the UK, is real in Scotland. This important writing has demonstrated what individual examples of anti-Muslim racism look like and its impact upon those racialised as Muslim.
Alongside this, we must consider Scotland in its particularity as a place which can allow anti-Muslim racism to be so prominent and look at it as distinct from the rest of the UK: in what ways might racism function in similar ways to elsewhere? What has resistance looked like? How does the story of Scotland intersect with the white supremacy of British imperial nostalgia (and its present-day incarnations)? Anti-Muslim racism and general suspicion towards Muslims have long histories, and are worldwide phenomena. While certain general themes unite these disparate groups, what about Scotland makes Scottish anti-Muslim racism a reality? This work should all be in an attempt to further reject the “misleading fantasy” that Scotland is more tolerant and inclusive than its neighbours. The lived experiences of Muslims and other racialised subjects shows that this is simply a lie.