Much of the media and political responses to the Finsbury Park attack have been lame. This is because Islamophobia has been normalised in Britain. I argue that this Islamophobia is fuelled by the media, acting as a driver of far right extremism inasmuch as far right extremism thrives on Islamist radicalisation. Arguably, Darren Osborne would not have been radicalised if Muslims were not being demonised in the media on a daily basis. He had no other motivation than wanting to ‘kill all Muslims’. Osborne has now been rightly charged with the terrorism-related murder of Makram Ali and for injuring 11 others.
The murderous violent intent of terrorists derives from hate leading to violence and death. It is directed towards specific ethnic, religious or racial minority or majority groups. Otherwise, any ‘mentally ill’, ‘unemployed loner’ or a ‘drifter’ with a history of domestic violence or abuse towards others could seemingly carry out this act of violence. It, therefore, becomes a problem for newspapers and other media outlets that do not emphasise randomness in these forms of violence and extremism. In under-exposing the objective explanations behind the political or ideological motivations behind attacks, it intimates a far greater demographic capable of such acts. Moreover, Islamism, in the general sense, is presented as thriving among radicalised Muslims who use it to legitimise violence. It avoids all nuance. In the case of far right extremists, not only is there limited recognition of the wide-ranging problem of far right extremism and terrorism, over-emphasising the ‘loner’ angle is a useful distraction away from implicating the wider negative structural and cultural forces at play. Meanwhile, Islamophobia has normalised in society to such an extent that even to evoke it is to suggest that groups challenging the status quo, in particular, Muslims, are being disingenuous, at best, or downright treacherous, at worst.
Further, in reporting on responses to attacks, Islamist extremists are presented as purely ideological, while English or other white ethnic groups are said to have social and psychological problems. This suggests a general degree of acceptance on the part of society that their violence towards Muslims is somehow legitimate – i.e., because of something that Muslims espouse or adhere to, e.g. their faith, or because they are some responsible, as an entire faith community, for the actions of a limited few. Orientalism, scientific racism and now racialisation based on an ethnic, cultural and religious category suggest institutionalised Islamophobia: wholesale, widespread, menacing and omnipotent. If plans go ahead to introduce Islamophobia as a counter-terrorism or countering violent extremism issue, it takes attention away from structural racism, which further institutionalises Islamophobia. A deeper understanding of Muslim differences in society would reorient them into the CT/CVE space, while Muslims outside of this realm are not only rendered homogenous but, crucially, invisible. This homogeneity is not open-ended, diverse or layered with class, racial, sectarian and cultural characteristics, but rather a representation of Muslims as various threats to society. Engagement with Muslims is restricted to a focus on problems seemingly emanating from a Muslim cosmos – now potentially relegating anti-Muslim hatred to the realm of CT, further absolving the state’s responsibility in relation to Muslims everywhere else in society.
The events of the Grenfell Tower tragedy have reaffirmed the state’s neoliberal, majoritarian nationalist, anti-immigration, anti-European and anti-Muslim hegemonic narrative defined by years of neglect, allowing shoddy practices to linger, paying little or no attention to criticism of policy from all other sectors of society. Conservative Party austerity policy since the 2008 crash has led to instability, populism and uncertainty. It is hyper-normalisation in post-normal times, where the state has no clear idea of where to take the nation. British Muslims are relegated to a lowly position as the next few years will be all about Brexit – which erupted out of a completely unnecessary xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-European, anti-human rights discourse reflecting an internal Tory party battle running for four decades.
Islamophobia today is the normalisation of anti-Muslim hatred that has grown exponentially since the outset of the war on terror culture that began after the events of 9/11. During this time, intolerance, bigotry and the development of alt-right, far right, radical left and other religious extremist groups have found succour in the vacuum of dominant discourses to stabilise societies that provide opportunities, as well as outcomes, for the many, not the few. Cumulative extremisms at the margins of society incubate the discourses of intolerance and hate that allow these subgroups and their ideas to foment. Radicalisation is intimately tied up with Islamophobia. This needs to be better understood. If not, little will change.