by Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan
Calling Islamophobia a “phobia” erases its political function and makes it sound like a sectional issue pertinent only to Muslims; however, it is beyond time to recognise that Islamophobia is more than it sounds, and embedded more deeply than we realise. It is a central prong in the increasing authoritarianism of Western nation-states. In fact, not only is Islamophobia parallel to other elements of state violence, it is connected. Islamophobia is the systematisation of the same dehumanising and colonial logics that underpin border violence, immigration control, racist incarceration and the definitions of ‘Britishness’ as whiteness.
Whilst it is important to note that Islamophobia is the racist rhetoric of the tabloid press, the woman getting spat at in the street, and the victims of interpersonal violence outside mosques, it is also essential that we don’t allow these factors to become the only focus of the spotlight. It is not accidental that sporadic, individualised violence become our central image of Islamophobia. That helps detract from examining Islamophobia’s systemic and institutionalised manifestations.
Islamophobia is a state-sanctioned way of governing. It is the formally-encoded understanding of Muslims as inherently criminal that informs public bodies, legislation, and policing. In Britain we have reached Orwell’s dystopian vision of “thought-crime” in the workings of Islamophobia. “Terrorism” has been made the problem of Muslims. Whilst some will say it’s not “all Muslims”, just a small minority with a “warped” understanding of Islam, the conclusion they come to is actually the same as those who say “all Muslims are terrorists”. Whether you believe it is a majority or minority of Muslims who are terrorists, both logics conclude that terrorism is a problem premised on Muslimness in the first place, and since ANY Muslim could be in the “minority”, all Muslims require suspicion. Indeed, the Muslim identity itself is what is now criminal in Britain and the West more widely. Acts of violence are not in question, but the “pre-crime” space in which one can be punished for ideology, intention or behaviour that alludes to potential violence.
We have reached a stage where propensity for violence is therefore premised on how “Muslim” someone appears. Hence beards, hijabs, niqabs, and pious behaviour are deemed problematic. We’ve seen people thrown off planes for speaking Arabic and know that racial profiling at airports depends on assumed “Muslim” aesthetics. An identity is under suspicion. Sometimes literally – in 2010 the Home Office directly funded 80 CCTV cameras to be installed in “Muslim areas” of Birmingham – but it also happens covertly. The “See It. Say It. Sorted.” signs displayed throughout train stations and the London Underground encourage suspicion of fellow passengers; however, the tannoy specifies, “if you see something that doesn’t look right, please tell a member of the British transport police” – alluding, without acknowledging, that certain bodies have already been preordained as suspicious.
The Prevent Strategy is probably the most outrageous of the counter-terror policies which does more to police Muslim behaviour and identity than anything else. It is aimed at intervening in “radicalisation” – defined in government legislation as the process that takes one to holding “extreme” or “terrorist” views. Prevent became statutory upon all public bodies in 2015. This means staff in schools, the NHS, Universities and councils are trained to look out for “signs of radicalisation” in people they work with (e.g. school students and patients). The signs themselves have been concocted through a science that remains classified by the government, but the psychologists behind it have admitted its limitations and advised that it never be made statutory. 150 academics have denounced Prevent as effectively a tool to police Muslims in public spaces. Indeed, Prevent has increased the feeling that Muslims must be careful to watch what they talk about, who they criticise, and how they portray themselves. This is ironic in a country that prides itself on a commitment to free speech.
And here’s the catch. All the things that Islam is made out to be a threat to – free speech, democracy, equality, and human rights – have, through the state’s approach to counter-terrorism, been proven to be only superficially held dear to Britain itself. The othering and dehumanisation of Muslims that has come about through the racist assumption of an innate tendency to violence, has allowed the government to bring in measures that violate human rights, democracy and any semblance of equality. Muslim men are routinely detained without charge; the use of “secret courts” with “secret evidence” has risen over the past fifteen years, seeing men put on trial for terrorism-related charges, but unable to find out the basis of the charge, or to defend it in court. The cases of 9 Muslim men extradited to the USA in the past twelve years is deeply revealing of the extent of state violence. British citizens can be forced into solitary confinement in US cells without any evidence or charge being put forward to the British Home Office. British citizens have even been stripped of citizenship under the guise of “the public good”. Such dystopian measures have been justified through Islamophobic rhetoric, and yet, they do not solely threaten Muslims.
In the past years counter-terrorism legislation has been used against green activists, student protestors, and most recently, the Stansted 15 – a group trying to end deportations who, rather than being charged for aggravated trespass, were charged under counter-terror legislation. These moves, though given little attention, prove how the authoritarianism of this state will not limit itself to Muslims. Islamophobia cannot be brushed aside as an individual prejudice, or sectional concern – it is state-sanctioned violence against Muslims, and the justification for the dismantlement of human rights and democracy.
Some may feel it is sensationalist for me to refer to the present times as genocidal. But I believe that the present times are the continuation of the past few hundred years. For as long as nation-states order our humanity and world, genocide will be inherent. It is happening globally, currently, but the potential for it in the West again is ever increasing. Nation-states will always forcibly include and exclude people. Muslims are given the impossible choice of integrate or be punished – the possibility of integration stolen from us by Britain being increasingly defined by whiteness. Government reports imply that ethnic minorities must “learn” British Values, whilst presumably white Brits are born with them innate in their melanin. I bring this up to remind us that a population that is forcibly excluded and yet present, is a population at threat. It is a population that is weaponised against itself and becomes a justification for state violence.
None of us can turn a blind eye to Islamophobia. It is the most concrete evidence of state violence in the UK and the most pernicious threat to people’s freedom and right to security. The British state is growing in authoritarianism, its power to unmake citizens and expel racialised bodies. It is creating a surveillance apparatus which is society itself, policing the thoughts of the Suspicious Others next door.
Question the counter-terrorism project. Britain cannot purport to dislike violence when it is socioeconomically, politically and historically, endemically violent. What the British state dislikes is not violence itself, but taking responsibility for its own.
Twenty Point Manifesto for Women Living in Genocidal Times
- Ask which women just came to your mind.
- Ask which women did not just come to your mind.
- Look in the mirror.
Know you are not all of us.
Know you are one of us.
Know the genocidal times began long before you, though.
- Know you are not your body − but your body is yours
so kiss the mirror sometimes even if it is cracked − especially if it is cracked.Do not wait to become a fashionable trend
it is faster just to love yourself.
- Do not believe the exhibitions.
100 years for who?
Some women stood on the round darker bellies of others just to get a taste of the pie.
Know there were feminists before their feminism.Know there was history before Europe
“progress” before “progressive values” were coerced onto the world.
There were working mothers before there was applause.
There were fields and bending knees and factory night-shifts and silence.For the history of the world is not a history of Great Men
it is a history of women.
- Do not want “equality” with men whose power comes from their subjection of others.
Wish for more than being the other side of the joke.For more than putting someone else into the capitalist punchline.
For more than making cracks about small hands and orange skin.
If it takes emasculation to bring down the ones in power,
then we concede that being less man, is being more humiliated
and being more woman, is being the joke.
- The master’s tools will never destroy the master’s house, after all.
Women CEOs don’t mean much for the women working for them in low-wage, precarious, life-threatening conditions.
- Do not go alone.
- Do not go alone.
- There is always space for everyone.
There is no reason we must queue for freedom
some women perpetually at the back.
It is all or nothing
so stand in a row, instead, hold hands.
- You do not have to climb over me to climb upwards.
Hold hands with the women you don’t know
not just the ones you respect
not just the ones you don’t avert your eyes from
not just the ones you get
You do not have to climb over me to climb upwards.
- Do not let yourself be reduced
they will try to split you.
Look for more than representation,
call for reparation.
- Ask the questions that scare you.
Ask whether the liberals are really different from the fascists.The liberals will surveil the Muslims
the fascists will remove us.
But what’s the difference when both techniques dehumanise and destroy?The liberals will say they stand for freedom of speech
whilst restricting what Muslims can talk about
the fascists will cut our tongues out instead.
But what’s the difference when we’re silenced?
What’s the difference when it still means a drone dropped on your home?
What’s the difference when you’re in Guntanamo Bay?
What’s the difference when it still means your body is suspect?
What’s the difference when we’re dead?
- Liberation is not a door that opens from the inside.
Do not wait.
Do not ask permission,
dress up pretty, blink your eyes and say “please let us in”,
instead kick it down.
- Realise liberation is not a door at all
not something you walk through and enter
but something that’s in you:
your sharp tongue, big heart, and weeping eyes.
- Liberation did not come from the ballot box.
Liberation will not come from the government.
Know the state will placate you as it dehumanises you.
Know “women’s rights” only count if they see you first as “woman”.There are women who will never be “woman”.
They are sitting in refugee camps, in detention centres and under rubble.They will tell you these women were victims to their own societies.
Had they only made it to the West they would have been free, like you.
Had you only invaded their countries to save them they would have been free, like you.
Know you are not free.
Know this is only progress the way wrapping a rope around your own neck
is getting closer death.
- Know that genitals aren’t necessary to bring us together.
The revolution doesn’t need to be pink.
The reclamation doesn’t need to be naked.
What makes us women is not our bodies but the violence we are subjected to.
What makes us oppressed is not that we are the same, but that we are in pain.
- Do not be afraid of the questioning.
Just because it feels bad doesn’t mean it is.
Wonder if your comfort is more important than her freedom.
- Do not point over the ocean to say it is worse in America.
We are killing the darker ones here, too
we just let them die under suspicious circumstances in custody
rather than outright assassinate them on the street.We are separating the babies from their families here, too
we just hide it better and point the camera elsewhere.We are killing civilians overseas here, too
we just sell the bombs for others to do the dropping.
We are barricading the border here, too.
We are surveiling the Muslims here, too.
We are murdering the marginalised here, too.
We are groping the women,
excluding, dehumanising and destroying.
Hone your weapon – your voice, your hands.
Go forward and grasp.But do not go alone.You won’t make it alone.
We won’t make it.
Come together − you too.
It won’t be easy
− but we were trained for that.
We are women, after all.
Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan is a writer, spoken-word poet, speaker, and educator invested in unlearning the modalities of knowledge she has internalised, disrupting power relations, and interrogating narratives around race/ism, gender(ed oppression), Islamophobia, state violence, knowledge production and (de)coloniality.
Photography by Tom Medwell