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Fekete’s central argument is that the colour-coded anti-immigrant racism of the 1960s and 1970s has been superseded by a new continental ‘xeno-racism’, which has shifted its hostility to Europe’s migrant populations towards the terrain of culture or religion rather than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.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
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