Liberal Islamophobia often comes in a nicer package, which means we need to be even more attentive to identify and stop it.
Three days in and the 2016 Democratic National Convention has taken a less apocalyptic tone than last week’s Republican National Convention. There have been no outright calls to get rid of people. No overt smearing of immigrants, Muslims, and refugees. No known white nationalists on the stage or in the crowd. Pageantry aside, this convention has been decidedly less frightful.
But the DNC has hosted its own forms of racism and liberal Islamophobia, though it’s not always as easy to spot.
On Day 2, this became most clear during President Clinton’s speech. Toward the end of his remarks, and after already taking subtle swipes at immigrants and black people, he suggested that Muslims need to prove love and loyalty to the United States and prove a hatred of violent extremism.
“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together. We want you,” he said. In Clinton’s world, Muslims are inherently not from “here.” And the right to exist here, as Muslims have done for centuries, is still conditional on an unflinching “love” for this country and not steeped in a basic recognition of humanity.
Please fill out this short app:
Love America? ✅
Love Freedom? ✅
Love Terror? ❌
*Great, you’re pre-qualified to stay!
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) July 27, 2016
On Day 3, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke from the main stage. It’s probably fair to say the former Republican doesn’t call himself a liberal, but the DNC invited him to endorse Hillary Clinton despite his well-known mayoral record in support of widespread surveillance of Muslims and stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionately targets communities of color.
During the last eight years, and under the leadership of President Obama and former Secretary Clinton, we have witnessed the expansion of the war on terrorism, the repeal of due process, the premiere of discriminatory countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, the multiplication of drone killings targeting Muslims abroad, and the widespread surveillance of Muslims at home, all while leaders on the left celebrate a narrative of inclusion that’s been featured at the DNC.
While liberal Islamophobia may feel better, it often leads to the same scrutiny, surveillance, militarization, and warmongering as the more obvious right-wing Islamophobia. And because it comes in a nicer package, we need to be even more attentive in order to identify and stop it.
To help with that, we’re sharing a few resources that help us identify, understand, and explain liberal Islamophobia.
Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States
Eduoardo Bonilla-Silva | 384 pp. | Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2003)
The narrative about a ‘post-racial’ United States seems to be sticking, but Duke Professor Eduoardo Bonilla-Silva wants readers to understand how this mindset furthers racist impacts instead of preventing or dismantling them. A great starting place for understanding liberal racism as a whole.
“The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game,” he said in a 2014 CNN article.
Deepa Kumar | The Nation | July 2, 2012
“While Peter King’s hearings on Muslim “radicalization” were controversial, they draw on a long history of U.S. policy that has demonized Islam, under Republicans and Democrats alike,” read the opening to this article in The Nation.
The Rutgers professor elaborates in her 2012 book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, where she writes:
“The key characteristics of liberal Islamophobia are the rejection of the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis,’ the recognition that there are ‘good Muslims’ with whom diplomatic relations can be forged and a concomitant willingness to work with moderate Islamists.”
According to Kumar, “liberal Islamophobia may be rhetorically gentler” than what we witnessed at the RNC, but it still “reserves the right of the U.S. to wage war against ‘Islamic terrorism’ around the world” and, arguably, here at home.
Arun Kundnani | 333 pp | Verso Books | 2014
Arun Kundnani, a writer and professor at New York University, offers a stinging critique of the anti-Muslim hysteria from the right and the left and exposes how both sides have fed the nebulous and never ending war or terrorism. In a 2015 interview, he talks more about Islamophobia and myth of the liberal anti-racist:
“But liberals also come into this with some analysis and at the center of it is the notion of extremism. What you do when you use that word, you are avoiding the fundamental political issue. If you talk about religious extremism, you are externalizing the violence to the other guy and saying he is a fanatic. His violence comes out of extremism and does not have any wider political context. We ignore the violence of our own government, which is a part of this same cycle of violence. …
“Liberals are typically bad on not acknowledging their part. Using these words like terrorism, extremism and radicalization is a way of defining the other guy’s violence as barbaric and fanatic. Thus, your own violence is rational, necessary and legitimate.”
Greg Shupak | Jacobin | June 17, 2016
After the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, author Greg Shupak unpacks the ways “Islamophobia takes multiple, overlapping forms.” He describes the way Islam has been cast as the root of many violent attacks and how both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump suggested ramping up the war against ISIS in response to the killings, even though U.S. officials say there is no evidence of a direct ISIS link.
“The conservative Islamophobia of Trump supporters and assorted other racist forces casts Muslims as threats to the nation. … Liberal Islamophobia, on the other hand, presents Muslims as threats to progressive values such as feminism or LGBT equality. The post-Orlando comments of Barney Frank, a former Democratic representative from Massachusetts, exemplify this strand.”
Khaled Beydoun | The Root | July 3, 2014
Built into former President Clinton’s remarks Tuesday was the idea that Muslims should “stay” if they agree with him or, perhaps, self-deport to some other place. Among the many problems with this suggestion is the failure to acknowledge that Muslims have been an integral part of this nation from its earliest days as enslaved Africans were brought to what is now the United States. Professor Khaled Beydoun breaks this down in his discussion of Ramadan and rebellion in this article published in The Root.
“Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the nation, and the second-most-practiced faith in 20 of these united states. And these demographic shifts prompted a prominent Los Angeles-based imam to comment recently that “Ramadan is a new American tradition.” The cleric’s forward-looking pronouncement marks Islam’s recent arrival in the U.S. But this statement reveals a pathology afflicting a lot of Muslim Americans today—an inability to look back and embrace the opening chapters of Muslim-American history, one that was written by enslaved African Muslims.
“Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or “as many as 600,000 to 1.2 million,” slaves in antebellum America were Muslims. Forty-six percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa’s western regions, which boasted “significant numbers of Muslims.”
“These enslaved Muslims strove to meet the demands of their faith, most notably the Ramadan fast, prayers and community meals, in the face of comprehensive slave codes that linked religious activity to insubordination and rebellion. Marking Ramadan as a “new American tradition” not only overlooks the holy month observed by enslaved Muslims many years ago but also perpetuates their erasure from Muslim-American history.”
Donna Auston | Sapelo Square | May 19, 2015
Finally, former President Bill Clinton and many others at the DNC have acknowledged the particular threat many black people in the United States experience in the face of an increasingly militarized police force. For those who understand that but don’t yet recognize latent Islamophobia, scholar-activist Donna Auston explains how the Movement for Black Lives and an anti-Islamophobia movement are inherently linked, even if for no other reason than the sheer number of Black Muslims in this country.
“Parallels can be drawn fairly easily, of course, between Islamophobia and anti-black racism as specific manifestations of a similar impulse, but making the leap to consider them intimate bedfellows may seem like an analytical stretch. In public discourse, we easily link anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination as being nearly one and the same. Yet, in spite of the fact that a full one-third of the U.S. Muslim population is black, we rarely tend to think of issues of anti-black racism, poverty, mass incarceration, or police brutality as legitimate “Muslim” issues. This is because we rarely consider black Muslims.
“Black Muslims exist right at the intersection of these two forms of racism.”
Kalia Abiade is the Advocacy Director at the Center for New Community.
The Center for New Community is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse any political parties or candidates for elected office. This post, and any post on Imagine2050, is not intended to support or oppose any candidates for elected office.