On the ideology of “anti-Islamophobia”

Alexandra Pinot-Noir
and Flora Grim, Non
Fides (May 26, 2016)
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Originally posted by Comin Situ
Translated from the French

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The intention of this text is to reply to those among the anarcho-communists who are engaged in the fight against “Islamophobia” and who, for that reason, bar all criticism of Islam. In an atmosphere of increasing tension, they endorse a theory of “social race” that leads to accusations of racism and even physical attacks against those who criticize Islam.

Even though the term “Islamophobia” probably dates back to the early twentieth century, it only recently came to designate racism against “Arabs” in its widespread use. This corresponded to a shift from racism against North Africans to terror or horror aroused by the Muslims’ religion. Immigrants and their descendants, formerly rejected for “ethnic” reasons, are discriminated against today for their supposed adherence to an original culture identified with one of its dimensions — the Muslim religion — which many of them do not even practice, although some might observe certain traditional customs.

Through this artifice, religion is assimilated to “race” as a cultural matrix in what amounts to a “cultural mystification… by which an entire cross-section of individuals is assigned, on the basis of their origin or physical appearance, to the category of ‘Muslims.’ Any criticism of Islam is perceived not as a critique of religion, but as a direct manifestation of racism, and thus silenced.”1 While Claude Guillon sees “contempt” [mépris] in this “antiracism of fools,”2 we mainly recognize the specter haunting the left as third-worldism, which entails uncritical support for the “oppressed” against their “oppressor.” During the Vietnam War, denouncing the Americans meant supporting the Viet Minh and the politics of Ho Chi Minh. So student committees chanted his name and waved his portrait at every demonstration. Nowadays, taking the Kurds’ defense usually involves support for the PKK and waving around Oçalan’s portrait. Back when France was at war with Algeria, those who viewed the “colonized” as the exploited group par excellence unconditionally supported the NLF. This scenario was repeated with the Iranian revolution in 1979 and with the Palestinian liberation movement. Little by little, the third-worldist perspective abandoned the view that the proletariat was revolutionary subject of history, replacing it first with the colonized, then the immigrant, the descendant of immigrants… and finally the believer. While third-worldism initially promoted cultural relativism, its successors adopted “culturalism.” Cultural differences are posited to explain social relationships. SOS Racisme deftly manipulated this shift during the 1980s by turning it into a doctrine, which in turn gave rise to all the excesses we’ve witnessed lately. Particularly the Muslim identity imputed to “Arab” immigrants and their descendants as a whole.

Ironically, the culturalist ideology assumed by part of the left after 1968 became the angle of attack for an emerging current on the far-right — the New Right. The latter’s rejection of immigration no longer rests on biological racism but rather on the idea of identity, the assignation of which is based on a view of societies frozen in ancient tradition. Cultural homogeneity must be maintained so as to ensure social peace. In the feverish rantings [élucubrations] of neorightists — for whom there are ethnocultural conflicts but none of class — North Africans from Maghreb are affiliated with Muslim culture. As such, they must remain in their native country and live together according to their traditions! New Right leaders like Alain de Benoist go so far as to defend anti-imperialist struggles in the Third World and thus deny the racist character of their “defense of European identity.” Something similar has occurred in recent years in the discourse of another far-right party seeking respectability. Borrowing certain aspects of the New Right’s rhetoric, the National Front (FN) now insists that the problem is no longer “immigrants” but rather “Muslims.”

This is how the two sides, though radically opposed to one another in theory [a priori], came to advocate an identity politics whereby all immigrants and descendants of immigrants from North African (or “Arab”) countries must consider themselves Muslims, absurdly labeled “French [citizens] of Muslim origin.” Yet it’s not on account of the religion they practice, allegedly or otherwise, that they are discriminated against. Rather, it’s because they are either migrant workers or the children of migrants. What’s at stake here is not so much religious identity as membership in a class. Putative “Muslim origin,” the ascription of which still makes North African atheists’ blood boil, is merely a social stigma disguised as a cultural stigma. Both the media and the State know what they’re doing when they turn the “Muslim” — who is perforce an Islamist (and more or less moderate or radicalized) — into a member of the dangerous class, the new characterization.3

On these foundations, identitarian anti-Islamophobia has come to be associated, notably among certain Marxists, with the ideology of “social race,” a recently-imported academic fantasy [chimère universitaire] that tries to transpose the racial and communitarian schema of American society across the Atlantic. This “racializing”4 vision, which pretends to create a new class out of “race,” actually serves to mask — if not deny — the reality of the capitalist social relation: the exploitation of proletarians, all proletarians, whatever their origin, skin color, religion, or personal beliefs. Justification for this move would have to be the allegedly indispensable role racism played in capitalist development as a rationale for colonialism. But in fact it has always been a strategy of power to confer an inferior status upon the oppressed, irrespective of supposed “race.” Serfs, poor peasants, slaves, and workers were successively held in their lowly station, prevented from expressing themselves or getting an education on the grounds that they were too stupid and ignorant. It’s worth recalling that the British pillaged and colonized the Irish, as the Russians did the Ukrainians, without in either case needing such a justification. Plunder and conquest, like exploitation itself, generally do not require any excuses.

However, racism does undeniably exist. Rejection of poor “Muslim” immigrants is one of its contemporary manifestations. Yet focusing on discourse against Islam spouted by PEGIDA, the FN, and Bloc Identitaire tends to miss the forest for the trees: these parties are nothing but a lot of racists clamoring for immigrants to go home. Most likely they just see the cultural argument as somehow more respectable than the old racist crap based on innate traits (blacks are like this, Arabs like that, and so on). This strategy also enables these movements to cast a wider net, especially by exploiting the real rise of radical Islam for their own racist ends. Generally they’ll stick to more honorable causes such as the defense of secularism [laïcité] or the fight against sexism. But they view immigration as the fundamental problem and consider all immigrants (who are of course poor) undesirable, whether they’re Muslim or not.

Like xenophobia, racism is a tool that rulers use against the ruled. In the words of Fredy Perlman:

Settler-invaders of North America had recourse to an instrument that would later be called Racism. While not a new invention like the guillotine, it was just as lethal, and would become embedded in nationalist practice. People who had abandoned their villages and families, who were trying forget their languages while losing their cultures, who were all but depleted of their sociability, were manipulated into considering their skin color a substitute for all they had lost… Racism had initially been one of several methods deployed to mobilize colonial armies. It did not supplant the other methods but rather supplemented them.5

By creating these categories, divisions could be used to prevent or crush rebellions and social struggles. That was what happened in Algeria around 1870 (the Crémieux decree) when the government granted French citizenship to “indigenous Jews,” thus arbitrarily separating them from “indigenous Muslims.” In former Yugoslavia, “religious persuasion” was also used to put down social struggles, manufacturing a nonexistent “Muslim nationality” to turn against each other people who had previously lived together.

Racial divisions function most effectively in the midst of crises, as one might expect, whenever incomes plummet and jobs become scarce. The FN cultivated these issues to win over what used to be the Left’s working-class strongholds. Even during periods of full employment, the State and the media have always tended to fuel xenophobia and encourage stigmatization of each successive wave of immigrant workers (“Polacks,” “macaronis,” “spics,” “dagos,” etc.). Whatever the state of the economy, such divisions had less effect in workplaces, where proletarian solidarity prevailed over prejudice and everyone worked and fought side-by-side. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

The problem with the word “Islamophobia” lies not so much in the concept itself but in the way it is used for manipulative purposes. Similarly, the notion of anti-Semitism becomes manipulative when the term is presented as equivalent to anti-Zionism and ultimately “Judeophobia,” based on the claim that criticism of Zionism necessarily indicates a racist attitude towards “Jews” rather than a critique of the colonial character of the confessional state of Israel.

The aim of political Islam, according to Claude Guillon, is to turn Islamophobia into “an ideological weapon of war against atheism”6 and, more generally, a propaganda vehicle for the Muslim religion. The position of far-left anti-Islamophobes regarding political Islam is, to say the least, ambivalent. They want to bar any criticism of the Muslim religion, a practice they say is racist. This moralizing outlook reveals a lack of analysis of how political Islam has evolved in the world since the 1979 Iranian revolution and, for some, a denial of its very existence. Nor does jihadism disconcert these anti-Islamophobes. After each attack perpetrated by jihadists in Europe — adding to their long list of atrocities, especially on the African continent and in the Middle East — they worry mainly that it might lead to fresh outbreaks of “Islamophobia” and repressive measures, with good reason. So they ascribe sole responsibility to Western imperialism. For instance, they claim that the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 were strictly a consequence of the wars led by the French state in Iraq, Libya, Mali, etc. Obviously, France has a stake in the geopolitics playing out in the Middle East and Africa. But these alone cannot explain the emergence and persistence of the Islamic State7 or Boko Haram. Anti-Islamophobes rely on these kinds of discourse to avoid going into the real involvement of radical Islam in the attacks, here and abroad, and to deny their perpetrators any capacity for initiative, to the point of exonerating the Kouachi brothers or Coulibaly, so-called “proletarians of immigrant descent.” This victimizing ideology assigns individuals and groups to not only a specific identity (women, “racialized,” etc.) but a fixed status as oppressed victims whose choices and practices, however reactionary, must not be criticized. Such ideological positions obscure the counterrevolutionary nature of radical Islam, which in recent years has gained significant ground in western Europe (not to mention North Africa and the Middle East), although remaining a minority compared with the population of religious Muslims at large. Formerly uncommon or even nonexistent, radical Islam, and particularly Salafism, its most common form today, has become widespread.

For these worthy anti-Islamophobes, the issue is quite simple: the Muslim religion must be viewed with exceptional benevolence as the “religion of the oppressed.” They apparently forget that social control is the function of all religions and that political Islam in particular proclaims everywhere its determination to keep tight control over the society it intends to govern. In certain poor urban neighborhoods, Salafism is sufficiently entrenched to exert social control. In fact, during the 2005 riots, Salafists actually attempted to restore order in some suburbs. This trend has developed against a backdrop of economic crisis marked by rising mass unemployment, offensives against wages and shrinking State social policies. To replace the latter as a means to hold sway over the population, the Salafists succeeded in setting up networks of mutual economic assistance.

We must not to lose sight of this role played by religions. “A religion is actually a set of metaphysical beliefs possessing very specific, inherent rules of life based on tradition and morality, to which the individual must adhere. This is a social relationship, a form of obedience training imposed on each individual and on the masses as a whole. Its functions include justifying the ruling power, guaranteeing tradition and the established order and, more generally, ensuring a degree of social ‘pacification.’ This is achieved through an organicist interpretation of society, a glorification of hierarchy, and the rejection of individual autonomy. In addition, religion often serves to redirect conflictual social situations towards fictitious objectives or to curb them by holding out the possibility of paradise in the future… paradise, that sorry lie guaranteeing peace for the powerful here and now. By offering hope in transcendence, religion stifles most of the exploited class’s revolutionary upsurges here below and right now. Bakunin’s fine phrase, ‘If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him,’ puts the finger on the real problem with religion: the notion of divinity is the conceptual basis of authority, and its complement, faith, that of submission to bondage.”8

While faith and metaphysical questioning are personal affairs, and struggling alongside someone who claims to be a believer may not pose the slightest problem, we want to be able to declare loud and clear that we are atheists. Our political positions are inseparable from our avowed atheism and criticism of all religions, and we intend to exercise freely not only blasphemy but denunciation, at the very least, of coercive, mutilating or humiliating religious and/or traditional practices, and of the inferior status assigned to women by all monotheistic religions (As for the others, maybe on another occasion!).

We have a final point to make: there are just two classes, capital and labor. Even though some members of the exploited class are more exploited than others due to their gender or origin, they do not constitute a class but are segments of it created by the ruling and exploiting class. Bourgeois thinking, whatever political guise it assumes, seeks to contain social struggles by dividing the proletariat and fostering competition among workers. Division only undermines the working class’ ability to struggle and segmentation is a good way of dividing it; the capitalist class can then pit workers against each other, especially in times of crisis. Racism cannot be fought by anti-racism but by class struggle. For those who’ve reached the point where “thinking in terms of race becomes an inescapable necessity” and “refusal of this vocabulary and what it implies will systematically be construed as blindness or even denial and should be blamed accordingly,”9 people who, like us, don’t share that vision are racists. That’s a conclusion we have a little trouble swallowing!

Notes


1 Cassandre, “Nos ‘révolutionnaires’ sont des gens pieux.” For more, see the Ravage Editions blog [in French].
2 Claude Guillon, “Et Dieu créa l’islamophobie.” For more, see his blog Lignes de Force [in French].
3 Louis Chevalier, a famous bourgeois — but nevertheless fascinating — historian, Classes Laborieuses et Classes Dangereuses à Paris au XIX Siècle. (Perrin: 1958).
4 Term borrowed from the authors of “Tiens ça glisse,” see blog Racialisateurs Go Home, which defines “racialization” as “any analysis that contributes to the development or dissemination of a theory of race.”
5 Fredy Perlman, “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism.”
6 Claude Guillon, op. cit.
7 For a more in-depth analysis, see [in French] P.J. Luizard, Le Piège Daech, La Découverte.
8 Cassandre, op. cit.
9 “Tiens ça glisse.” See footnote 4.

5 thoughts on “On the ideology of “anti-Islamophobia”

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