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Defining Racism

Reader comment on item: Anti-Muslim Racism?

Submitted by Aidan Maconachy (Canada), Nov 27, 2005 at 15:06

This attempt by some on the left to conflate legitimate concerns about Islamism with racism, is quite absurd. Racism has never been a defining characteristic of Islam at all. Muslims come from all races and are just as "mixed" as the Christian demographic.

However, from another point of view the tendency to view some anti-Muslim behaviour as racist is understandable. For example in England the BNP and other ultra nationalists, including neo-Nazis, are fond of using the flag of St George as a form of intimidation. The mindless hate and rhetoric that emerges from the ranks of these extremists, could be seen as racist by some because it is well known that these groups are in fact racist to the bone. Despite the fact that in strict technical terms Muslims aren't "a race" - a lot of people will still use "racism" to describe the behaviour of these extreme right wingnuts.

The French are also quite racist, but in a more sophisticated way. I have heard it said that they are "racist" toward Muslims. One again incorrect usage, but nontheless an opinion that derives from a perception relating to French treatment of Muslim immigrants. The secular Republic isn't as egalitarian as they would like people to believe. The French are xenophobic in a sophisticated way. They don't don white hoods and burn crosses on people's lawns, but a shrug and a roll of the eyes conveys it all. When their exclusionary attitudes are directed at Muslims, it matters not if the Muslim in question is white, brown or black ... it still is referred to as racist.

The model of integration in the USA and Canada is light years ahead of France, where there is in fact a huge cleavage between the "pure laine" or "pure wool" French (as they like to say in Quebec), and "the others". This situation provided the fuel for the recent fires and may lead to a more serious insurrection in the future. Of course this kind of polarization leads to charges of "racism" - even though the term in incorrectly applied.

I don't think the problem is the secular nature of the French society per se, nor do I think "Allah" will replace the status quo in France. A different type of Islamic culture is emerging there; a hybrid culture that marries Islamic heritage with European attitudes and lifestyle. It's quite a complex sociological development.

In any case, I have no wish to see any God dominating in our democratic societies - including the Christian God. Religion should remain a private affair in societies that are composed of peoples of all religious faiths. How can any one group feel like an equal party in our society if one religion and its tenets becomes dominant?

The secular nature of the French society isn't so much the problem here, as hidden inequities and injustices that are leading to polarization and conflict. The use of "racism" to describe these attitudes may be incorrect, but it persists nonetheless.
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