The power of networks: Resistance to international Islamophobia must also be global

The power of networks: Resistance to international Islamophobia must also be global
Comment: Our strength in opposing international state-led Islamophobia lies in forging transnational networks, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
21 Aug, 2017
Protesters in London stage a demonstration against Trump's scheduled visit to the UK [Getty]
The recent events in Charlottesville, which led to the death of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer have horrified people globally, particularly following the lack of condemnation by the US President - usually so quick to vocalise his outrage over acts of terrorism; namely when they involve Muslims. 

To many, however, Trump's response was far from shocking. The hate-filled speech used since his presidential campaign has empowered and further legitimised far-Right groups not just in the US, but worldwide, and normalised much of their discourse and actions.

The trend of rising racism and fascism doesn't stop at the American borders either. Just over the last few months, the UK has witnessed an alarming spike in hate crime.

Following the attempt to mow down people leaving Finsbury Park's Muslim Welfare House that left one dead and many injured, acid attacks targeting Muslims swept the nation.

Muslims were left feeling too afraid to leave our homes and when we did, windows of vehicles would be tightly sealed despite the unbearable July heat. However, this rise in Islamophobia is perhaps just as unsurprising as Trump's failure to address white supremacy.

Indeed, we too live in a country where racists are given the green light by the policies and rhetoric of our government.

We too live in a country where racists are given the green light by the policies and rhetoric of our government

Today the PREVENT agenda is the clearest form of institutionalised Islamophobia that targets Muslims and other minorities in our society. Under the guise of counter-terrorism and "preventing radicalisation", PREVENT mandates teachers, lecturers, doctors and psychologists to monitor service users - that is students and patients - for ill-defined signs of "non-violent extremism". Toddlers as young as four are rendered suspect.

Since PREVENT became statutory duty, we have seen an increased securitisation of public spaces with heavy surveillance and racial profiling, as well as the cirminalising of dissent. Now, nations around the world are taking inspiration from this Draconian policy. European countries including Belgium and France have cited our practices as exemplary, whilst the US has already piloted a similar
programme known as 'Countering Violent Extremism' (CVE).

Read more: Manufacturing an American Islam in the age of Trump

The 16-year long so-called War on Terror has legitimised racialised violence in countries across both sides of the Atlantic. In France, there has been a sharp rise in far-Right mobilisations. The growing popularity of the Front National allowed Marine Le Pen to make it into the second round of the presidential elections.

This hate is not limited to fascist leaning political
parties and neo-Nazis; just as complicit are the state institutions and even left-wing French political parties that justify their Islamophobic targeting of Muslim women in schools and universities under the cover of secularism.

Similar to the UK where PEGIDA and Britain First have strengthened their numbers, the state's role should not be overlooked. From the scapegoating of migrants as the cause of unemployment and the deterioration of the welfare state, to the stripping of basic civil liberties because of the "Muslim threat" to security, the French state has facilitated, and justified systemic racism and xenophobia.

It is against this backdrop of a global rise in state as well as
street racism, that along with other antiracist campaigners from the UK and France, I teamed up with activists in the US to strengthen international resistance to such strategies.

We travelled to Los Angeles, California - one of three pilot cities for CVE along with Boston and Minneapolis - to meet with a wide range of groups from Black Lives Matter, to the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, Justice Warriors for Black Lives, Vigilant Love, MPower, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR), and Jewish Voices for Peace to collaborate in the fight against racism and Islamophobia.

This gathering of international groups explored the parallels in state violence, structural and interpersonal anti-Muslim racism, and set out key aims of organising across borders.

Yasser Louati, chair of the Committee of Justice and Liberty for all (Comité Justice & Libertés Pour Tous), who also joined the delegation, has long been urging a transnational unity as a matter of urgency given the intensified climate of hate and the strengthening of the Islamophobia industry that sees nations adopting and enabling each other's regressive policies.

Read more: Yes, we have a 'Muslim Problem', but it's not what Kavanagh might think

In his public call Louati warns,"Islamophobia industries on both sides of the Atlantic work together to bolster each other's work and status. They operate on the same issues, meet each other with more or less the same objectives in mind and share connections and resources in addition to ideas.

This has essentially created a global network of anti-Muslim efforts that draw from one another in a way that the leadership in Muslim communities (particularly in North America, France and the UK) has yet to recognise."

The Defending Civil liberties delegation to LA couldn't have come at a more important time. One of the key organisers of the tour, Margari Hill, co-founder of MuslimARC known for the #BeingBlackandMuslim campaign that went viral, has argued "As a descendant of enslaved Africans, I know that my liberation is intricately linked with the struggles of people globally.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was an endeavour that involved Africa, Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean, abolishing it meant addressing a global system. Black liberation has always been about everybody getting free."

It is the responsibility of people around the world to apply pressure on our leaders to revoke Trump's state visits

One of the most urgent issues facing US Muslims is the now active travel ban, which prevents family members, partners and refugees from travelling to the US from six Muslim-majority countries.

It is the responsibility of people around the world to apply pressure on our leaders to revoke Trump's state visits, to vocalise opposition to such practices, and visibly extend solidarity through continued "Stop Trump" demonstrations.

Rolling out CVE across the US will only intensify the active demonisation and isolation of Muslims across American society.

Active opposition to the PREVENT strategy in the UK taught us that solidarity actions can also serve as an important platform for raising local issues. The international nature of the onslaught against Muslims also means that international resistance and solidarity must play a crucial role in countering the global assault.

An attack on one of us, literally is an attack on us all. It is in this spirit, that the delegation extended solidarity to US activists and will continue to organise international networks of solidarity to tackle state-led Islamophobia.

For too long, those facing the brunt of anti-Muslim oppression have been left to oppose it alone, but with PREVENT, CVE, and other sister legislations now undermining everyone's civil liberties, lessons are
being learned.

Resistance must come from all groups and communities who have an interest in fighting for a more equal society. The foundations of an effective anti-racist movement on
a national and even international level, will be the strength of the local coalitions built through shared debate, strategising and action.

The transnational networks can strengthen our work, as long as it is followed up by consistent and principled coalition building on the ground, wherever we are.

And as always, the struggle continues.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, the former President of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.