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Islamophobia and Capitalism


January 29, 2021
 
January 29, 2021 marks the 4 year anniversary of the barbaric attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City where 6 people were killed and 19 injured by a racist gunman. 
 
The government of Canada has finally decided to declare the date as a day of action against Islamophobia. This is good news. However, the fact that it took years of lobbying to make that a reality shows how deep the well of Islamophobia is in this country. 
 
The ongoing harassment of Hassan Diab, a University professor in Ottawa professor who is being threatened with extradition to France for a second time on incredibly flimsy evidence or the continued bullying of Mohamed Harkat who has spent years fighting the federal government to stop his deportation to torture show that the Canadian state is still imbued with a rampant Islamophobia despite Trudeau’s kind words and gestures.
 
When far-right groups began mobilizing in Toronto and around the country in the wake of the Trump victory in 2016, Islamophobia was the central feature of their demonstrations. 
 
The murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis in west-end Toronto by a racist with ties to nazis is part of this never-ending vilification of Muslims. There are repeated vandal attacks on the Toronto downtown Masjid with little response from the Toronto police. 
 
How did we get here? Why is it that the people of an entire religion are consistently vilified and treated like second class citizens?
 
The needs of the imperial powers to gain control of the resources and strategic situation of majority Muslim countries is central to our understanding of how Islamophobia became a major issue in Canada and throughout the advanced imperial countries. As the old saying goes, “If most of the worlds oil supply was under south east Asia we would be fighting against Buddaphobia.” The needs of capitalists in the west are driving this racism. 
 
What it is and how to fight it
 
The word “Islamophobia” emerged as a reaction to a systemic targeting of Muslims due to imperialist war in the Middle East and the response to immigrants and refugees fleeing those wars towards the West. Today, stoking anti-Muslim sentiment to capitalize on fear in a world made unstable by war, economic failure and climate change has become a permanent feature of mainstream politics. 

 
Islamophobia is a form of racism, but it is different from other more explicit forms. It relies on progressive people, who genuinely believe in the need for a secular society, confusing real secularism with singling out a particular religious and ethnic community for reasons that have nothing to do with secularism. It is racism of a new kind, because it is associated with a religion that transcends ethnicity and nationality. But it has a very important use for Western intervention in the Middle East. 

 
Firstly, Islam has become widely demonized as a faith through consistent efforts to link terrorism not only with Arabs as a people, but also with Islam as a religion and “Islamism” as a political movement. 

 
But secondly, politicians and media today cannot rely exclusively on the threat of terror to justify ongoing war. They must also appeal to people’s better natures under the guise of defending “humanitarian causes” in the Muslim world. This has involved the demonization of Islam in other ways in order to equate it with social repression, and in particular, with the oppression of women. 

 
But a Western government outcry about Islam and women’s rights really only emerged after 9/11, when the West, including Canada, suddenly “discovered” the Taliban’s oppressive policies regarding women after years of complete indifference – and at times, even support. 
 
Islamophobia helps to reinforce the argument that justifies Western military intervention as the only way to spread “civilized” values. 

 
Laying claim to supposed humanitarian causes in Muslim countries inevitably led policy makers and the media to the idea that targeting “the enemy at home” would be more effective if it did not merely involve jailing people but could also appeal to seemingly progressive concerns. And so, the sudden concern for women’s rights in the Muslim world took the form of objecting to the hijab (headscarf) and niqab (full covering but for eyes) throughout the West under the pretext of “liberating” women.
 

Islamophobia serves to divert attention from a war at home against poor and working class people towards racist scapegoating. Scapegoating is not new. But the hatred of Muslims has become one of the lynchpins of that agenda, to bolster not only a crackdown on religious symbols, but also calls for immigration controls and “values tests” throughout the West. 
 
In the same way that opposition to Islam has been deployed since even before 9/11 under the pretext of defending women, it is now used as a “defence” of the white working class whose jobs, safety and security are supposedly threatened not by the owners of Walmart, Suncor, or Bombardier, but by Muslims, and by all immigrants and refugees. 
 
Islamophobia is still linked with more traditional forms of racism based on skin colour and other physical characteristics. But the connection to religion serves a particular purpose: it gives it a progressive gloss. Sadly, the false defense of women’s rights has been the sugar-coating to help the bitter pill of racism go down more easily – even for many on the left. The focus on Islam as the problem has given racism a pseudo-progressive face. 
 
Islamophobia is rooted in the economic and political needs of capitalism, just as all forms of racism are. It is both key to justifying war and also to cementing divisions in the imperialist countries amongst people who would otherwise have common cause to resist austerity. Along with racist policing and incarceration of racialized and Indigenous people, and the long history of blaming immigrants for both job loss and crime, Islamophobia has served not only to divide and conquer but also to misdirect anger and insecurity. 
 
The continued rise of the far-right should be a concern for all Canadians. The fact that they still constantly use the demonization of Muslims as a key recruitment tool means all who want to see and end to their hate must stand with the Muslim community here and work to stop war.
 
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