A Suitable Enemy: racism, migration and Islamophobia in Europe
Liz Fekete (Pluto Press, 2009)
There seems to be no shortage of writers and think tanks who argue that Islam is a deadly threat to European civilisation or that Muslims are breeding their way to cultural domination. No matter how tendentious their conclusions or shoddy their research, they can be fairly confident of receiving serious media coverage. Witness, for instance, Christopher Caldwell’s appearance on Radio 4’s Start the Week on publishing Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: immigration, Islam and the West.
Liz Fekete’s is a very different kind of book and one that unfortunately is unlikely to receive the same kind of attention. She is executive director at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) and head of the European Race Audit (ERA), which has monitored popular and state racism on a continent-wide basis since 1992. Closely-argued and exhaustively researched, A Suitable Enemy is the product of years of experience as an anti-racist activist and researcher specialising in asylum and immigration issues in the European Union.
Fekete’s central argument is that the colour-coded anti-immigrant racism of the 1960s and 1970s has been superseded by a new continental ‘xeno-racism’, which has shifted its hostility to Europe’s migrant populations towards the terrain of culture or religion rather than race. Since 9/11, she argues, these tendencies have focused particularly on Europe’s 15-18 million Muslims, who have increasingly been depicted not merely as a collective security threat but as the antithesis of Europe’s civilisational identity. This identity is variously imagined as either Judeo-Christian or based on Enlightenment values of tolerance and pluralism.
On the one hand the fear and loathing of Islam has fuelled a conservative backlash against multiculturalism that was already underway even before the ‘war on terror’ and acted as a catalyst for a repressive concept of assimilation – the demand that European Muslims conform with the national majority as the price of citizenship. At the same time, a monocultural notion of national identity that was traditionally the province of conservatives has merged with a feminist and liberal discourse that depicts European Islam as a single monolithic bloc that is culturally backward and incapable of integration.
Some of the ideas in Fekete’s sharp critique of ‘enlightened fundamentalism’ will be familiar to readers of The End of Tolerance by Arun Kundnani, another IRR stalwart. But where Kundnani focused primarily on Britain, Fekete draws on her extensive knowledge of European politics to analyse how these tendencies are part of a common process that is being played out across the continent.
Citing copious examples from various countries, she shows how the notion of Muslim cultural backwardness and incompatibility has been incorporated into the security agenda of the ‘war on terror’. In many European countries, draconian anti-terrorism legislation and vaguely-defined notions of extremism and radicalism have become a justification for fast-tracked deportations and arrests of Muslims perceived to be dangerous, regardless of the quality of the evidence against them.
At the same time this convenient Muslim enemy has enabled European governments to strengthen the barriers of ‘fortress Europe’ and adopt increasingly harsh and punitive measures against immigrants and asylum-seekers in general, all of which have whittled away at established international laws and conventions regarding the treatment of refugees.
These arguments are supported with a formidable accumulation of statistics and examples. Whether analysing the paternalistic attitudes of Swedish feminists towards Muslim women or critiquing the Norwegian media’s promotion of celebrity Muslim ‘native informants’ whose view of Islam reflects its own prejudices, Fekete’s writing is incisive, informative and infused with a controlled but passionate outrage at the injustices she relates.
Some of the most shocking material in the book concerns the appalling treatment of ‘failed’ asylum seekers and refugees by countries whose governments claim to represent the height of tolerance and civilisation. Fekete’s depiction of the European ‘deportation machine’ provides horrific glimpses of a murky legal sub-world whose total absence of accountability echoes the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of suspected terrorists.
It is a world in which deported asylum seekers are sedated to get them onto planes, or fitted with ‘deportation helmets’ that prevent them from opening their mouths; in which French police trawl the streets before deportations in order to find enough members of the same nationality to fill their quotas; in which even children are liable to find themselves locked in isolation cells in detention centres or deported.
Fekete’s remorseless detailing of the inhuman treatment of refugees and asylum seekers makes for grim reading. But she also offers some basis for optimism in the grassroots campaigns that have sprung up across Europe against such procedures. All this makes her book an essential primer for anyone wishing to understand the new forms of racism that are emerging in the early 21st century.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope
New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments
Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit