It is going to be a very difficult time under Trump. Behind his victory is the intersection of two sets of processes. Both rich and poor white groups believe that their privileges are disappearing in the light of globalisation, immigration and diversity.(1) Trump voters feel comfortable expressing their latent racism, believing it is a legitimate manifestation of political will. Mexicans out, Muslims out, American jobs for American workers, etc., all appeal to a form of hyper-ethnic nationalism. There is only one way this is going to go. Badly…
Fanned by the internet which acts as an echo chamber, and present politics, there are similar fires burning on the other side of the pond. It is undoubtedly the case that there is a degree of virulent Islamophobia that bubbles to the surface time and time again, breaking down existing weak community relations. This Islamophobia is exacerbated by various media and political discourses that emphasise the unassimilability of Muslim minorities. However, the number of Muslims in the West, especially in parts of Western Europe, will continue to rise relative to the indigenous population because of relatively higher birth rates. The visible residential concentration of Muslims in certain parts of towns and cities creates consternation among commentators who argue that there is a problem of Islamisation, which has the effect of making majority groups even more fearful of difference, of others. That majority populations repeatedly overemphasise the numbers of Muslim minorities in their countries is no accident.(2)
In the Middle East, political Islam has all but effectively run out of ideas. One can argue that the Islamic State or Daesh, as the latest incarnation of political Islam, has demonstrated no future for the politicisation or the instrumentalisation of Islam in societies that also possess authoritarian tendencies. In the West, elements of political Islam co-exist with secular, liberal and other forms of conservative Islamism. In the West in general, Muslims are often diverse groups with different migration histories and narratives. Therefore, the state is able to work closely with liberal and progressive elements of Islam as some Muslim groups adhere to general notions of tolerance and cultural integration, but this is hardly a case of instrumentalisation. This process incorporates the ability of an inclusive government willing to listen and accept opposing voices among some elements of society but, at the same, is open to diversity, potentially leading to positive outcomes for all.
The main threat that Muslims face because of the instrumentalisation of Islam is that it could be used as a form of control in relation to limiting resistance against certain dominant policy ideas. The war on terror culture has created significant issues for Muslim minority communities already facing numerous concerns of alienation and stigmatisation. Because governments today generally approach communities only through the lens of countering extremism, liberal Muslim voices who are more open to the idea of cultural and political integration, even if people disagree with government policies more generally, are given greater credibility in counter-narratives produced by policymakers.
Without necessarily falling into the dilemma of categorising good or bad Muslims, acceptable or unacceptable Islam, the question of instrumentalisation is therefore in need of greater nuance. Depending on one’s beliefs and opinions in relation to the compatibility or otherwise of Islam in the West, this instrumentalisation may not necessarily be a problem. That is, Muslims are free to choose what they wish to believe or adhere to according to understandings and interpretations of their own faith. However, there is a concern if ‘good’ Muslims are played off against ‘bad’ Muslims at the behest of the state to generate some form of internal competition for space and recognition or to eliminate certain voices or perspectives seen as antithetical to government diktats.
Islam is a global religion that sees no differences over ethnicity or nation. However, given the impact of the European project, national boundaries and national memories are created in the Muslim world. They are a function of history, memory and present politics, sometimes in opposition to each other. This raises opportunities and challenges for Muslims in the diaspora, where there are particular issues around minority identities that affect community interactions; some regard a global Muslim identity as a way in which to maintain a global outlook, as well as means to maintain ongoing economic and social relations between the sending countries and the host nations. It leads to forms of transnationalism, which affects all sorts of human and cultural relations.
This morning Trump signed an executive order to keep Muslim immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries of the USA. The Statue of Liberty is shedding a tear or two in the wake of this isolationist, authoritarian, aggressive, misogynistic and confrontational Trump administration, which has only been in power for five days. All the worst fears about Trump have turned into an even more nightmarish reality. The truth of the matter is that American Muslims are increasingly distancing themselves from violent extremism.(3)
Young people who look for belonging and a sense of being only discover black-and-white answers to questions on Islam on the Internet, which they see as fitting with their hard-edged worldviews, and, due to a lack of intellectual awareness, one they accept without critique. There are, of course, many other issues with regards to processes of radicalisation, including vulnerabilities associated with mental illness, coercion, or even conversion into a radical political and theological outlook by those who would seek to take advantage of marginalised people. However, deepening structural issues and changing forms racism cannot be underestimated. In particular, the role of whiteness – and the idea of loss of white privilege perceived, presumed or projected…