Islamophobia is a form of Racism

On Tuesday, three Muslim Americans were murdered by a white assailant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot in the head by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a white man.

ChapelHill Shooting Victims

Deah Shaddy Barakat, left, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

(Image source)

A “dispute over parking,” was what led to the shooting according to some of the initial news reports. Ripley Rand, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said at a news conference about the shootings: “We don’t have any evidence that this was part of an organized effort against Muslims. This appears, at this point, to have been an isolated incident.”

What the dominant news stories and Rand’s comments miss, are the connection between Islamophobia and systematic racism. As Professor Mohamad Elmasry points out, Muslims are consistently portrayed as “inherently dangerous” in western media.

As a response to what many saw as a denial of role of Islamophobia and racism in the murder, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, which was soon trending.

There is a fairly well-established, and yet still growing, body of research which documents the racialization of Muslim people and the rise of Islamophobia in the West as forms of racism. Just some of this research includes the following (UPDATED 2/13/15 with additional citation by Stein & Salime):

  • Dunn, Kevin M., Natascha Klocker, and Tanya Salabay. “Contemporary racism and Islamaphobia in Australia Racializing religion.” Ethnicities 7, no. 4 (2007): 564-589. Abstract: Contemporary anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia is reproduced through a racialization that includes well rehearsed stereotypes of Islam, perceptions of threat and inferiority, as well as fantasies that the Other (in this case Australian Muslims) do not belong, or are absent. These are not old or colour-based racisms, but they do manifest certain characteristics that allow us to conceive a racialization process in relation to Muslims. Three sets of findings show how constructions of Islam are important means through which racism is reproduced. First, public opinion surveys reveal the extent of Islamaphobia in Australia and the links between threat perception and constructions of alien-ness and Otherness. The second data set is from a content analysis of the racialized pathologies of Muslims and their spaces. The third is from an examination of the undercurrents of Islamaphobia and national cultural selectivity in the politics of responding to asylum seekers. Negative media treatment is strongly linked to antipathetic government dispositions. This negativity has material impacts upon Australian Muslims. It sponsors a more widespread Islamaphobia, (mis)informs opposition to mosque development and ever more restrictive asylum seeker policies, and lies behind arson attacks and racist violence. Ultimately, the racialization of Islam corrupts belonging and citizenship for Muslim Australians. (locked)
  • Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: making Muslims the enemy. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Book description: The term “Islamophobia” reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Until recently, America has had only a small domestic Muslim minority and few connections to Muslim cultures with whom to build familiarity. In times of crisis, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions and fears manifest themselves. This book graphically shows how political cartoons–the print medium with the most immediate impact–dramatically reveal Americans demonizing and demeaning Muslims and Islam. It also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world in general and issues a wake-up call to the American people. (available at libraries)
  • Hussain, Yasmin, and Paul Bagguley. “Securitized citizens: Islamophobia, racism and the 7/7 London bombings.” The Sociological Review 60, no. 4 (2012): 715-734. Abstract: The London bombings of 7 July 2005 were a major event shaping the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. In this paper we introduce the idea of ‘securitized citizens’ to analyse the changing relationship between British Muslims and wider British society in response to this and similar events. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with Muslims and non-Muslims of a variety of ethnic backgrounds in the areas where the London bombers lived in West Yorkshire we examine the popular perceptions of non-Muslims and Muslims’ experiences. We show how processes of securitization and racialization have interacted with Islamophobic discourses and identifications, as well as the experiences of Muslims in West Yorkshire after the attacks. (locked)
  • Poynting, Scott, and Victoria Mason. “The resistible rise of Islamophobia Anti-Muslim racism in the UK and Australia before 11 September 2001.” Journal of Sociology 43, no. 1 (2007): 61-86. Abstract: This article compares the rise of anti-Muslim racism in Britain and Australia, from 1989 to 2001, as a foundation for assessing the extent to which the upsurge of Islamophobia after 11 September was a development of existing patterns of racism in these two countries. The respective histories of immigration and settlement by Muslim populations are outlined, along with the relevant immigration and ‘ethnic affairs’ policies and the resulting demographics. The article traces the ideologies of xenophobia that developed in Britain and Australia over this period. It records a transition from anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism to anti-Muslim racism, reflected in and responding to changes in the identities and cultural politics of the minority communities. It outlines instances of the racial and ethnic targeting by the state of the ethnic and religious minorities concerned, and postulates a causal relationship between this and the shifting patterns of acts of racial hatred, vilification and discrimination. (locked)
  • Saeed, Amir. “Media, racism and Islamophobia: The representation of Islam and Muslims in the media.” Sociology Compass 1, no. 2 (2007): 443-462. Abstract: This article examines the representation of Islam and Muslims in the British press. It suggests that British Muslims are portrayed as an ‘alien other’ within the media. It suggests that this misrepresenatation can be linked to the development of a ‘racism’, namely, Islamphobia that has its roots in cultural representations of the ‘other’. In order to develop this arguement, the article provies a summary/overview of how ethnic minorities have been represented in the British press and argues that the treatment of British Muslims and Islam follows these themes of ‘deviance’ and ‘un-Britishness’. (locked)
  • Sheridan, Lorraine P. “Islamophobia pre–and post–September 11th, 2001.”Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21, no. 3 (2006): 317-336. Abstract: Although much academic research has addressed racism, religious discrimination has been largely ignored. The current study investigates levels of selfreported racial and religious discrimination in a sample of 222 British Muslims. Respondents indicate that following September 11th, 2001, levels of implicit or indirect discrimination rose by 82.6% and experiences of overt discrimination by 76.3%. Thus, the current work demonstrates that major world events may affect not only stereotypes of minority groups but also prejudice toward minorities. Results suggest that religious affiliation may be a more meaningful predictor of prejudice than race or ethnicity. General Health Questionnaire scores indicate that 35.6% of participants likely suffered mental health problems, with significant associations between problem-indicative scores and reports of experiencing a specific abusive incident of September 11th–related abuse by respondents. The dearth of empirical work pertaining to religious discrimination and its effects is a cause for concern. (locked)
  • Stein, Arlene, and Zakia Salime. “Manufacturing Islamophobia: Rightwing Pseudo-Documentaries and the Paranoid Style.” Journal of Communication Inquiry (2015): 0196859915569385. Abstract: Rightwing organizations in the United States have produced and circulated a number of videos which exaggerate the threat Islamic militants pose to ordinary citizens in the West. These videos owe a great deal to the frames established two decades earlier in religious right campaigns against homosexuality. This article provides a textual analysis of these videos and their production, showing how they manifest “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” which Richard Hofstadter characterized as the “paranoid style.” We term these films “pseudo-documentaries” because while they utilize some of the conventions of the documentary genre—claims to “fairness and accuracy,” the use of “experts,” and the incorporation of news footage, testimonies, and “facts”—they are produced by political interest groups and are expressly made to persuade and mobilize through distortion. A comparison of homophobic and Islamophobic videos reveals continuities in rightwing rhetoric, as well as strategic shifts, and indicates the emergence of an increasingly fragmented, pluralized, and privatized political sphere. (OA)

Denying the link between Islamophobia and racism both discounts the weight of evidence and compounds the pain of those who have lost friends and loved ones to hate-motivated violence.