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Since 9/11, Racism and Islamophobia Remain Intertwined

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As the dust around the fallen towers settled, a new wave of nationalism swept across America and racism soon followed. As these ideas are often faces of the same coin.

"I'm going to go out and shoot some towel-heads," were the words of a self-confessed patriot who murdered a man he mistook for a Muslim in revenge for 9/11. His victim was a Sikh named Balbir Singh Sodhi. His turban and beard made him a target. Yet, the sad irony remains that none of the nineteen hijackers had either.

For when you 'other' and dehumanise groups of people to define yourself against, it allows you to speak in a language of unspeakable destruction and violence. This pornography of force became a seductive message that convinced millions that our 'freedoms' and 'values' were worth defending at all costs.

Such a mindset saw Islamophobic attacks increase by 1,700% in 2001. Prior to 9/11, the FBI recorded just 28 hate crimes against Muslims. The following year it increased to 481.

Twelve years later, and this miasma continues to fester across Europe, the United States and Britain.

But why are other minorities mistaken for Muslims? Such an answer might require a deeper look at popular culture and its Orientalised depictions of Arabs. Representations would include Arabs with "their sharply hooked noses" and "evil moustached leers". To have dark skin and a beard invites a racist assumption of faith and a baseless fear.

For visible Muslims, the threat of violence and abuse is even higher (especially for women). However, Arabs only account for around 20% of the global Muslim population but their caricature dominates the Orientalist mindset - especially at airports.

Whereas, atheists like Richard Dawkins conveniently choose to define racism by a narrow biological definition to absolve criticism. However, racism can manifest itself epistemically. This idea draws on the historical notion of non-Western 'inferiority' and 'savagery' due to a lack of intelligence and rationality.

As a result, only the West can be a moral force. Only the West can be democratic. Any thinking outside this hegemony invites suspicion, repression and exclusion from the debate. Muslims can only become accepted in this discussion if they agree to this Western-centric framework.

Racism allowed a French a rail company to ban its black and North African employees from working during the visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres because their appearance might be constructed as 'Muslim'.

In New York, a Bangladeshi man was assaulted in 'revenge' for the Boston Marathon bombings as he was wrongly assumed to be an 'Arab or Muslim'.

After the London bombings in 2005, gurdwaras were targeted with firebombs in Leeds and Kent.

Such a patchwork of racism adds to the fabric of Islamophobia. Just a few days ago, it was reported that a Sikh soldier was severally bullied in his barracks and labelled 'Taliban', 'terrorist' and 'suicide bomber'.

Muslim women have been reduced to tears after being told to 'f*** off and go back to your own country'.

We live in the age where the language of violence has manifested itself in the attempted arsons of mosques, murder, racist abuse (online and offline) and a government slow to condemn acts of terrorism against its Muslim citizens. This is a remarkable and long-standing failure of public policy. Silence breeds consent and as long as Muslims continue to be marginalised little will change.

Islamophobia, like any racism, is a shame on us all.

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