The anti-racist educational charity Show Racism the Red Card has interviewed Daniel Trilling, assistant editor of the New Statesman and author of Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right.
You quite often hear supporters of the EDL say “how can we be racist? Islam is a religion and not a race, therefore we are not racist”. On the face of it, that seems like a simple proposition. But in fact it tells us a lot about how racism is misunderstood in mainstream British culture.
If you look at Islamophobia, there is a very big difference between legitimate religious criticism or a healthy debate about the value of religion and when something is genuinely racist. The EDL may claim to oppose Islamist extremism; a position that most people in Britain, including most Muslims, would share. Yet if you look at the way in which the EDL constructs its propaganda, it targets Muslims, not Islam; it targets the people not the idea.
The EDL’s propaganda is built on stories about Muslims that touch on physical, visceral issues. This includes cases of child abuse, or claims that Muslims have “banned” people from eating certain types of food, or about disrespecting British soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan. Or the focus is on the birth rate among Muslim people and how this is “out of control”. These are all issues of the body; they are about death, or sex, or food, and the cumulative affect of this is to present Muslims as a fundamental threat to “our” existence.
All of this is just classic racist propaganda; it’s not about religion or faith, its about drawing a cordon around one particular group who have certain shared characteristics and excluding them from the rest. That is racism and the fact that it purports to be based on someone’s religion rather than their skin colour does not stop it being racism.