IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Topic: defence

Sea-Changes in World Power

📥  Anglosphere, defence, International relations, Trump

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt sent the US Navy battle fleet – the “Great White Fleet” of 16 battleships – on a symbolic tour of the Pacific. It was an awesome demonstration of the USA’s new naval power and an announcement to the world of its claims to dominion over the Pacific. The fleet was feted everywhere it went, but particularly so in Australia and New Zealand, where it was welcomed as the “kith and kin of the Anglo-Saxon race” bringing “a grateful sense of security to the white man in his antipodean isolation.” Japan was a rising military power. It had annihilated the Russian fleet in 1905. Racist attitudes towards Japanese migrant workers were running high in the USA and Australasia. “Stars and Stripes, if you please/Protect us from the Japanese”, wrote a New Zealand correspondent.



Roosevelt saw the fleet’s tour in similar terms. He was resolved to treat the Japanese government with courtesy and respect. But he wanted to assert the importance of keeping the world’s “races” apart, particularly when it came to migration into California, and he inflected his Social Darwinist arguments with a class populism: “we have got to protect our working men”, he was reported to have argued. “We have got to build up our western country with our white civilization, and…we must retain the power to say who shall and who shall not come to our country. Now it may be that Japan will adopt a different attitude, will demand that her people be permitted to go where they think fit, so I thought it wise to send that fleet around to the Pacific to be ready to maintain our rights”[1].

Roosevelt was heavily influenced by the naval strategist Admiral Alfred Mahan, whose books on the importance of sea power and naval strength were key military texts in the late 19th and early 20th century, read and absorbed not just by US foreign and defence policymakers, but by their counterparts in the capitals of all the leading world powers – including Great Britain, whose naval prowess he much admired. He was also highly influential on Roosevelt’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who devoured Mahan’s books as a young man and was a lifelong navy enthusiast, serving as Assistant Secretary for the Navy in Wilson’s administration. As President, FDR would massively expand the US Navy. Spending on the navy – a sort of naval Keynesianism – gave renewed impetus to the New Deal in the late 1930s.

Donald Trump’s speech at the Newport News shipyard, which builds ships for the US Navy, and his pledge to expand the fleet to 350 ships, therefore stands in a clearly defined lineage. It heralds a renewed commitment to assert the naval primacy of the USA and significantly boost military spending. On its own, that might be lifted straight out of the recent Republican playbook – particularly in concert with tax cuts for the wealthy. But Trump’s economic nationalism and his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric also trace a line back to fin-de-siècle Anglo-Saxonist political discourse. His rhetoric symbolically connects the projection of economic and military power to the fortunes of the American working class, particularly the white working class – Teddy Roosevelt shorn of the progressivism and diplomatic tact.

This time, of course, the main antagonist is China, not Japan. China’s navy has been expanding rapidly under Xi Jinping’s leadership. It has commissioned new missile carriers, frigates, conventional and nuclear submarines, and amphibious assault ships. A close ally of Xi’s, Shen Jinlong, has recently been appointed its commander. It has moved from defensive coastal operations to long-range engagements around the world. It will serve to underpin China’s assertion of supremacy in the South China Sea and the projection of its power further afield – towards the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and the Maritime Silk Road routes.

The respective strength and reach of national navies can mark out wider shifts in geo-political power. It was at the Washington Conference in 1921 that the USA finally brought the Royal Navy to heel, insisting on parity in capital ships, and setting the seal on the end of the British Empire’s global maritime supremacy. “Never before had an empire of Britain’s stature so explicitly and consciously conceded superiority in such a crucial dimension of global power,” wrote Adam Tooze of this capitulation. It would take until the late 1960s, when Britain finally abandoned its bases East of Suez, for the process of imperial contraction to be complete (a decision that the current Foreign Secretary laments and risibly promises to reverse).

With tension rising in the South China Sea, war and rival power conflict in the Middle East and the Gulf region, and the prospect of a scramble for power over the sea lanes of the melting ice caps of the North West Passage, this new era of naval superpower rivalry echoes the Edwardian world. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s self-declared economic nationalist adviser, believes it will end the same way: in war. It is up to the rest of the world to prove him wrong.



[1] For this quotation and other source material, see Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line, Cambridge: CUP (2008), Chapter 8 pp 190 - 209


Who wants to be superior? The psychogenesis of xenophobia and radical Islam in Germany

📥  defence, Germany, migration, terrorism, The far right

Dr Alim Baluch is Teaching Fellow in German Politics & Society at the University of Bath's Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies.

In July 2016, Germany was struck to the core by a wave of terrorist attacks; two were carried out in the name of radical Islam, and the most devastating one, the Munich massacre, in the name of right-wing extremism. Islamophobia and attacks on refugee homes are on the rise as right-wing Germans fear for their imagined national character. In last week’s state election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Merkel’s home state), the right-wing xenophobic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) amassed a larger share of the votes than Merkel’s CDU. 21% had voted for a party which states in its program that Islam does not belong to Germany.



Many cosmopolitan Germans are deeply troubled by the current shift to the right – even among their Turkish neighbours and friends, many of whom support president Erdoğan, whose religious conservatism has turned into right-wing authoritarianism. There are even German Turks and former refugees who reproduce anti-refugee rhetoric, expressing fear that the recent arrivals may spoil the reputation of all Muslims.

Muslims in Germany are concerned about the anti-Muslim discourse, the fear of further jihadist attacks with potentially devastating consequences for their daily lives and, maybe most terrifyingly, young teenagers running away from home to Syria in order to join IS. The enemy is out there and, potentially, in one’s own family. Trust is good, but surveillance is better; there have been numerous cases of Muslim parents reporting their children to the police.

Germany is witnessing a vicious circle of fear and hostilities that can be subsumed under the notions of Islamism and Islamophobia (although both terms are not without critique, they are nonetheless used in this piece to make basic assumptions accessible). While xenophobia in Britain, for instance, is much more diverse, given the strong fear of Central and Eastern European migrants, German xenophobia is increasingly focussed on Islam, implicitly imagined as a coherent social and ideological block.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern election results

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern election results

This blog post seeks to embed these developments into the theoretical framework of the Iranian sociologist Dawud Gholamasad (former Chair in sociology at the University of Hannover, who also taught at Oxford University between 1999 and 2003). The entire theoretical edifice, though not the historical background, of this post is based on his work – particularly on a seminal piece written in German and published on his website.

In the following, I will use Gholamasad’s process sociological perspective to discuss why hateful ideology is so attractive to a specific form of mental suffering that cannot be explained by individual trauma and childhood experience alone. History matters; culture matters; and religion matters – but not in the naively simplistic way Islamophobes have in mind.

I will attempt to make Gholamasad’s theoretical arguments more accessible by delving into history and the long-term developments that have led to an ideology of lost superiority. These long-term historic developments are not only a sequence of facts but have a profound impact on self-worth regulations of individuals in various societal settings. Finally, I will return to the context of recent violent attacks in Germany that, I will argue, are based on reasserting the remembered ideologies of superiority.

Gholamasad points out that the condition of possibility (not the cause) of Islamism – as well as Islamophobia – lies in self-worth related cognitive schemes of egocentric human beings. In other words, we unconsciously assess the differential between the apparent reality and the ideologically self-reinforcing ideal.

Islamism and Islamophobia can be best understood as aspirations to narrow the painful gap between reality and the imagined ideal. The reader may be aware of the more-or-less conscious assumptions of Western/white superiority that often underlie political discourse. What is less well-known is the Islamic version of implicit supremacy, which is rooted in an inherited sense of entitlement to superiority.

Certainly until the fall of Al-Andalus in the late 15th Century, the Muslim world had a strong sense of superiority over the non-Muslim world – including Europe. Indeed, the big caliphates of the Middle Ages were superior in natural sciences and medicine, and – just like Europe in the following centuries – that Islamic scientific superiority and military power also translated into the cynical exploitation and slavery of the 'others'. From the 9th Century on, 'white' Europeans were taken as slaves. But the reality was much more complex than this may sound.

The Arab rulers of Andalusia showed little interest in expanding their European power base further north. This allowed for more-or-less peaceful trade relations with Northerners who supplied them with slaves caught in what is now Northern Germany. The target area of slave hunters moved further east in the following two hundred years. Initially, these slaves were often Saxons who had not yet converted to Christianity (ironically, their British descendants would later create the biggest slave trade in human history).

The self-perception of Muslim supremacy had profound implications that cannot be underestimated. To further illustrate this point, we should take a step back and view the macro picture of the early history of Islam, a religion founded by members of seemingly insignificant desert tribes. This early period was characterised by a rapid expansion over half of the inhabited Eurasian world, a success which must have even surprised the followers of Islam themselves.

To understand Gholamasad’s notion of an inter-generationally remembered entitlement to superiority (there is also a British and a Turkish variety), picture an Ummayad caliph asking himself: “How on earth is it possible that we are so successful?” The answer seemed obvious: “Allah wants it. We have the right religious belief. We are unstoppable.”

This sense of superiority was engrained in the self-worth of the Muslim elite and even the wider Muslim population could tap into the self-worth supply which comes with the common group charisma of the ummah. The remembered claim to superiority as a condition of possibility for maintaining self-worth was passed on and on from one generation to the next. This superiority was manifest in the Muslim world’s ability to control the non-Muslim world, more so than vice versa. By the 15th Century, however, power relations between what was imagined as Islam and what was imagined as Christian Europe had shifted towards the latter. Christian kingdoms and empires had attained scientific and military superiority over their Muslim rivals and this superiority would increase dramatically over the coming centuries.

The disillusion of the Muslim world

The reality of the inferiority of the Muslim world in terms of control vis-à-vis the Western world did not sink in immediately. It is this delay which Norbert Elias (1991) calls the drag effect of the social habitus, ie. when the cognitive patterns and self-worth regulation of individuals have not caught up with political and social developments. This drag effect can lead to emotional pain and social conflict.

The realisation of Western superiority was further impeded by an Ottoman Empire pulling above its weight and finally navigating its slowly sinking ship between the rocks of far superior European empires. Surprisingly, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire – which was the last big caliphate (and thus main representative of Sunni Islam) – in the 1920s came as a shock to the literate Muslim world. The cleavage between the self-worth oriented demand for superiority and the bleak political realities of the 20th and 21st Centuries generated the potential for an emotional pain that was exacerbated by Western military interventions terrorising entire nations. The “Why are we so successful?” was turned around into “What happened to us? Why are we so inferior?”

Given the traditional fatalism of Islam, the answer had to be: “Allah wants it. He is punishing us.”

The intergenerational system of self-worth regulation was malfunctioning. But if God was punishing Muslims then the question was why, and it was radical Islam which presented the most impactful answer: “Because we have abandoned him. To regain our vested right, we have to return to the old ways.”

The end of the Ottoman Empire and its secular modernisation shattered all illusions. The painful powerlessness of the 20th Century was felt by a section of the Muslim world that was literate, religious and reflected upon the new political realities perceived as a lost power struggle between Islam and Christendom. It is therefore not necessarily a coincidence that political Islam was born in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was in the periphery of the fallen empire that the Egyptian school teacher Hassan al-Bannah established a religious political movement, the Muslim brotherhood, in the 1920s.

Like any other political movement, political Islam is chiliastic. This means that it is based on the expectation of a paradise which is yet to come. In secular ideologies, this paradise takes the form of a perfect world. For national socialists, for instance, this would be the 1000-Year Reich. All the brutality and mass murder would be committed to bring about a just and peaceful world, a world that can only be established once the enemies are exterminated. This is not to say that chiliasm is necessarily pursued by violent means. Environmentalism and communism are chiliastic movements as well. The struggle can take more or less peaceful forms.

According to Gholamasad, traditional Muslim chiliasm is quietist, ie. fatalistic. The world may be unjust and, for some unknown reason, Allah lets Christians and atheists control this modern world – but there is nothing one can do about it. Accordingly, everything is Allah’s will. This attitude was conducive to augmenting self-worth gratification in a time of expansion and superiority and boosted the identification with Islam as a superior political project even further. However, the degree of emotional attachment to Islam as a relational category vis-à-vis a non-Islamic world indicates the potential for emotional suffering in a world in which this metaphysical object of identification is in decline. Since the 1920s, quietism has been notably challenged – with far-reaching consequences.

Chiliastic quietism shifted towards chiliastic activism. Thus, what is often referred to as Islamism or radical Islam is a modern phenomenon. The new activist Islam considers the old quietist passivity as precisely the reason for the dire state of affairs. Quietism can therefore be perceived as a sin. The fatalistic Muslim is hence seen as a non-Muslim, an obstacle or even an enemy who raises children in a counter-productive way.

It is no longer good enough to wait for the afterlife; a just world according to Allah’s will has to be fought for. No sacrifice is too big. The shameful passivity of the forefathers, it is argued, has allowed the Muslim world to be taken over by corrupt and sinful rulers, making the homelands vulnerable to Western looting of natural resources and military operations (to use this euphemism) that have killed hundreds of thousands. IS supporters consider organised violent activism to be the only way to reverse the emotionally painful downfall and humiliation of the Islamic world and avenge the military crimes of Western governments. Western military operations are the conditions of possibility but not the cause of IS-style radicalism. They further fuel and radicalise the still-ongoing shift towards chiliastic activism, and encourage an openness to ever more violent means.

A Perfect Storm of Necrophilic Self-worth regulation

"The time has passed when you would come to our lands and kill our women and children. God willing, you will be attacked in every street, every village, every city and every airport.”
Source: Zeit.de [translation].

17-year-old refugee Riaz Khan Ahmadzai from Afghanistan had videotaped himself announcing violence in the name of Daesh. He was not just a lone wolf; he was indeed in contact with the infamous organisation that encouraged him to use a vehicle as a weapon. But the teenager reminded his contacts that he did not own a driver’s license. Instead, he informed them of a different plan, namely that he would enter a train with a knife and a hatchet to attack the first passengers he would encounter – whoever they may be. The random victims of 18 July happened to be a family of tourists from Hong Kong. The 62-year-old father and his daughter’s boyfriend suffered life-threatening injuries. After stopping in Würzburg, the attacker left the train. Upon encountering a 51-year-old woman walking her dog, he hit her in the face with the hatchet. Shortly afterwards he was fatally shot by the police.

Process sociology helps us to fathom the emotional pain of violent extremists. It demonstrates that our mind is a communication system in a dynamic network of communicative relations. Our thoughts, emotions and conversations (ie. our individualised social habitus) can only be understood as self-worth oriented processes. Everything we do is relational; it is directed at others. Gholamasad’s research is based upon Elias’ concept of figuration (Elias 1978, 1991). Humans are fundamentally directed towards others and seek to attach valencies, which can be understood as emotional needs. These valencies are attached through establishing emotionally rewarding relationships with others, a network of family, friends, colleagues and maybe even imagined entities.


The figurational model according to Norbert Elias. Diagram taken from Elias, N. 1978. What is Sociology? New York, Columbia University Press.

The figurational model according to Norbert Elias. Diagram taken from Elias, N. 1978. What is Sociology? New York, Columbia University Press.

In a world that is perceived as inherently unjust, a world in which a young person is denied a gratifying network of self-worth inducing emotional bonds (ie. attaching valencies), he/she is likely to be more receptive to a narrative of injustice done to a group that is imagined to be entitled to supremacy. The discrepancy between the group’s reality and its rightful place taps into the emotional suffering of its potential recruits.

If the imagined order cannot be restored, the martyr’s contribution can be perceived as a meaningful way of tackling emotional suffering and injustice and helping the imagined ‘we group’, whether this may be the ummah, the Aryan race or another group. Extreme violence and upholding self-sacrifice as a virtue is an indicator of the degree of painful incongruence between the ideal and reality. In this respect, the Islamist narrative is different from – but also similar to – the national socialist narrative.

The Northern European nativism of Anders Breivik corresponds to the regional nativism of the Taliban and the pan-Islamic nativism of IS, a nativism based on the idea that the we group is under attack by intruders who are dangerous and destructive and can only be defeated by ruthless determination. Any devoted Sunni Muslim can be part of this we group, whether it is an Indonesian activist or a German convert.

Another dichotomy which helps explain the social psychological processes that lead us to hateful ideology and death cults is the distinction between necrophilia and biophilia. Necrophilia is a general affinity to death and destruction; biophilia is the affinity to a life of stable emotional bonds of positive reinforcement with fellow human beings as well as non-human nature.

Only a few days after the attacks of Munich and the Würzburg attack, the suicide bomber and Syrian refugee Mohammed Daleel – who injured 15 in the idyllic Bavarian town of Anspach – shocked Germany to the core. His story offers plenty of material to be exploited by the far right. He was staying in a hotel, and he was a refugee in contact with Isis. But the German TV audience also learned that he was mentally unstable and had previously attempted to commit suicide. The 27-year-old was about to be deported to Bulgaria according to the Dublin Agreement.

IS is inherently necrophilic, as are right-wing extremist fantasies of leaving refugees to drown in the Mediterranean – cynically suggesting that this may save lives in the long run. The worst possible outcome of the refugee crisis for Germany is a mutually reinforcing escalation of pars pro toto distortions, ie. mistaking a dangerous minority as typical representatives of a vague category of people encompassing millions.

The distorted view of “the West” is so focused on anti-Islam rhetoric and violence that all Westerners are part and parcel of an anti-Islam block. By that logic, all Western civilians are fair game. Accordingly, they are believed to hate Islam – and they voted for governments that supported war in Libya and Syria.

Likewise, all Muslims are viewed as followers of a barbaric ideology because the Quran itself is conceived of as inspiring the faithful to be violent, while conveniently ignoring similar passages in both testaments of the bible. These oversimplifications ignore the much more interesting change in the structure of Islamic chiliasm and emerging new-wave activist neo-Nazism, as seen in the extreme examples of Anders Breivik and the terrorists of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) who murdered mainly Turkish immigrants across Germany.

The Munich attacker Ali David Sonboly whose Iranian descent was neatly incorporated into his self-perception as being a German of truly Aryan descent (given that the Aryan people actually live in Iran) was a right-wing extremist. Sonboly was a bullied teenager from Munich who fatally shot 9 people who were of migrant background before committing suicide.

This example demonstrates not only the destructive potential of unattached valencies, but also that his emotional pain was susceptible to an ideological vessel which could just as well have taken the form of radical Islam.

It is therefore shallow and misleading to consider ideology as a cause for violence; violence does not need an ideology. There is no such determinism. The various chiliastic narratives of denied greatness and injustice which can only be overcome by necrophilic activism are merely options amongst a wider array of possibilities, of which some are more applicable than others according to the individual case. Empirical research is needed that focuses on the underlying emotional demand.

Given that many Syrian refugees are deeply traumatised, building a healthy biophile figuration of affective bonds in an alien environment while overcoming trauma is an important challenge. It is one that demands help from the state as well as citizens that goes far beyond the initial willkommenskultur.

Unfortunately, many German citizens already feel disenfranchised themselves by the increasing casualisation of the job market and low pay at a time when rents are already rising dramatically – even without the recent refugee immigration. Following the terrorist attacks, more and more Germans are turning away from their new neighbours. Young Germans are becoming more vulnerable to self-worth regulation based upon right-wing nativism.

In light of this, it is crucial that Germany invests a great deal of resources into therapy for traumatised refugees, language training, social integration and transforming the job market to benefit everyone living in Germany – including the already existing German precariat. This might just help prevent viewing refugees merely as potential terrorists and a further descent in the race to the bottom.

The more Europeans feel threatened in their self-worth, be it by the European Union, immigration, austerity or disintegration of their emotional bonds, the more they are likely to support ideologies of threatened superiority. Viewing Islam as primitive and barbaric provides a powerful and self-worth producing narrative which further threatens the healthy self-worth regulation of Muslims. A vicious circle indeed.



Elias, N. 1991. The Society of Individuals. London, Basil Blackwell.

Elias, N. 1978. What is Sociology? New York, Columbia University Press.

Gholamasad, D. 2015. Wie und warum sich Islamismus und Islamophobie gegenseitig als de-zivilisierende Aspekte der Demokratisierung in Europa gegenseitig hochschaukeln. Gholamasad.jimdo.com.

http://gholamasad.jimdo.com/artikel/wie-und-warum-sich-islamismus-und-islamophobie-gegenseitig-als-de-zivilisierende-aspekte-der-demokratisierung-in-europa-gegenseitig-hochschaukeln/ [retrieved on 08.08. 2016.


Islamophobia(s) in the aftermath of the Nice attack

📥  defence, France, terrorism

Dr Aurelien Mondon is Senior Lecturer in French and Comparative Politics at the University of Bath. His research focuses predominantly on elite discourse and the mainstreaming of far right politics, particularly through the use of populism and racism. Dr Aaron Winter is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of East London.

On the 14th of July 2016, the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice ended in carnage. Eighty-four people were killed when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove his truck through a crowd of bystanders: men, women and children, who had gathered on the Promenades des Anglais to watch the fireworks. Within hours, the French media and politicians denounced yet another ‘Islamist terrorist’ attack, despite the lack of evidence present at this early stage. Even though it appears increasingly that Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s links to terrorism and IS were indeed tenuous at best, Islam, once more in the spotlight in France and Muslim communities in the country (and wider Europe), remains under collective suspicion and the target of fear and hate.


Islamophobia in France is nothing new, from its colonial heritage to the more recent focus on terrorism. In the years since 9/11, Islam, Muslims and, closely linked, the issue of Islamophobia, have become central to public, policy and research debates and agendas in France as well as in Europe and the wider West (Levey and Modood 2008; Morey and Yaqin 2011). Various surveys have shown in recent years that ‘anti-Muslim biases’ (Taras 2013, 426-31) have been prevalent across much of Europe (for a more thorough overview in France, see (Hajjat and Mohammed 2013, 37-68) and in Britain and the United States, see (Kundnani 2014)). Many have argued that this trend has increased, as have anti-Muslim hate crimes, in France and elsewhere, in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks in the past 18 months (LeMonde.fr July 17 2015; Mark November 18 2015; Al-Othman December 1 2015).


bayualam / Shutterstock.com

While some repercussions took the form of traditional far-right hate and violence, what we have witnessed recently in France - and which has been consolidated in the wake of the first attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 - is a form of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hate that, far from traditional racism, appears liberal and progressive, attacking Islam in the name of secularism and free speech (as well as women’s rights in the case of banning the hijab and burka (Delphy 2006; 2015)). These features make it more acceptable in mainstream French society, as it hijacks once progressive concepts such as the Republic, laïcité and the popular motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité. This has allowed parties on the far right, such as the Front National, to normalise their neo-racist discourse as much of their criticism of Islam could now be couched in mainstream terms (Mondon 2014; 2015).

The intersection between traditional far-right forms of racism and the subtler mainstream Islamophobia, which has become increasingly prevalent in our societies, has been the basis of our current research project (Mondon & Winter 2015, 2016). The aim of the present article is to illuminate the current situation in France using part of the theoretical framework we are currently developing. Our research argues that to understand the changing nature and articulations of, as well as debates about, Islamophobia in the current context, it is necessary to understand it in the plural, and in particular to differentiate between what we have called its illiberal and liberal forms.

The distinction between the two forms of Islamophobia we identify begins with what appears to be an analytical distinction and disagreement, albeit a functional one. The main debate amongst academics, and within the media and civil society (for different reasons from understanding to hate), has been whether Islamophobia is about religion or race, based on whether Islam relates to a race/people or religion/belief system. This is less about definitions than whether anti-Muslim discourses and rhetoric are a form of racism and unacceptable or about belief and thus acceptable. As such, it is not really about what Islam is or Muslims are, but how the definition allows people to say certain things about it and avoid less palatable ones. While many scholars and activists, as well as Muslims on the sharp end of Islamophobia, see it as a form of racism directed at a people and often based on physical or cultural markers and signifiers (to use the traditional understanding), the religious argument does provide a convenient cover for those wishing to argue that they are attacking a belief and not people or ‘race’. In a mainstream context where racism is allegedly unacceptable and associated with the far right, this focus allows Islamophobes to wriggle out of or deflect such charges, as well as permitting the far right to recast themselves as legitimate and mainstream through simple rephrasing. In this context, it is thus not surprising to hear prominent mainstream commentator Elisabeth Badinter declare: ‘we should not be afraid to be called Islamophobes’. Obviously, defining and seeing Islamophobia only through the prism of religion ignores many of these and others issues, processes and effects, most notably racialisation (Meer and Modood 2009; Garner and Selod 2015). It is in fact particularly functional and politically expedient in so-called liberal secular societies such as France, Britain and, to a lesser extent, the US, where criticism of religion is considered a healthy and necessary practice to allow for freedom of thought and expression, and central to the conception of the nation and national identity, as the case of France highlights particularly well. Muslims are not French, not because of who they are, but because of what their beliefs are believed to be and the values this imagined and caricatural belief system prevents them from accepting. This is where the distinction and intersections of the liberal and illiberal qualities of Islamophobia become particularly relevant.

The illiberal type of Islamophobia or ‘anti-Muslim’ hate, is closest to traditional racism based around exclusivist, essentialised notions and concepts of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion, as well as identity itself, and is commonly associated with the far right and authoritarian treatment of minority groups and rights. It presents Islam as monolithic and innately threatening and inferior (in terms of ‘race’ if not also culture). Like traditional forms of racism, it views Muslimness as an immutable characteristic (akin to biology), Muslims, and not just Islam as a religion, as a problem, and can be seen for example in calls for repatriation, genocide or violence against Muslims and mosques. As such, it falls outside the remits of what is considered acceptable in the hegemonic discourse and apart from the most ideologically-focused groups on the right, most have tried to distance themselves from such labels. Yet this type of Islamophobia is essential to allow for the very existence of the liberal form as it acts as a unifier within mainstream society: it binds the norm within boundaries by drawing a clear line of demarcation between the extreme and the norm. It is the construction and containment of a clearly delineated type of Islamophobia at the margins of the political spectrum, one which falls outside of the liberal ideal because of its essentialism, unmediated call for violence, total rejection and open discrimination, which make it possible for subtler forms of Islamophobia to enter the mainstream discourse due their apparent allegiance to liberal democratic rules.

Liberal Islamophobia is based on the construction of a pseudo-progressive binary and narrative. It creates a loosely defined Muslim culture and community inherently opposed to some of the core values espoused in a mythical, essentialised, culturally homogenous, superior and enlightened West, or specific western nation, based on specific examples where the West embodies progress, such as democracy, human rights, free speech, gender and sexual equality and rights, and ironically tolerance. As David Theo Goldberg (2006, 345) argues, ‘Islam is taken in the dominant European imaginary to represent a collection of lacks: of freedom; of a disposition of scientific inquiry; of civility and manners; of love of life; of human worth; of equal respect for women and gay people’. Criticism of Islam and Muslims is praised as an example and defence of liberal free speech. Nowhere is this clearer than with the example of Charlie Hebdo, with its satirical cartoons of the Prophet, designed to express free speech and provoke to prove the point about a fantasised version of Islam and Muslims’ backwardness.

Of course, the construction of a liberal West standing unified behind equality and freedom willfully ignores the tensions within liberalism itself in terms of the legacy(ies) of the Enlightenment, universalism, racism, colonialism, imperialism and patriarchy, as well as increasing inequalities and curtailment of freedoms within the ‘West’. Liberal Islamophobia thus acts as a decoy to provide ‘Us’ with a righteous sense of self as the defenders of a more progressive vision of the world, and displace tensions, failures and inadequacies inherent to our societies onto Islam. This is particularly important and even ironic considering that much of the Muslim population in France and other European countries originally come from former colonies - such as the Nice attacker, who was from Tunisia - and have been subjected to racisms that both represent a reaction to the loss of empire and reassert the racist colonial schema of the civilised versus the primitive.

The two forms of Islamophobia though are not mutually exclusive, as they both target and scapegoat Islam and Muslims, and the liberal form fails to adequately conceal or erase the racism and other contractions in liberalism and the enlightenment project. More explicitly, the Charlie Hebdo attack did not just create an opportunity for liberal opposition to Islam, but led to a rise in illiberal hate crimes and violence. In addition to that, the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ sentiment expressed in the aftermath by world leaders - many of whom would lead a march through Paris in solidarity despite leading states with repressive laws, including France, which would enact a state of emergency, and engaged in aggressive and imperialist militarism - exposed the hypocrisy if not lie of such liberal framing and rhetoric. Subsequent attacks in France in November 2015 and July 2016 would see an assertion of the more aggressive illiberalism form from hate crimes within civil society to securitisation and authoritarian repressive state measures.

Islamophobia(s) in the Context of the Nice attack

Despite the liberal framing and rhetoric, it has been common for Islamist terrorist attacks to be couched by the mainstream western media and some opportunistic politicians and commentators as being part of a broader clash of civilisations between fantasised visions of Islam and the West. This was very much the prevalent narrative after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015: the ‘West’ represented freedom of speech and progress in line with liberal Islamophobia. ‘Islam’ (and anyone loosely defined as Muslim) was caricatured as censorious and retrograde. No space was left for nuance or the shortcomings of the ‘West’ with regard to freedom of speech in increasingly unequal societies. After the November attacks in which 130 were killed, most politicians reiterated that France was ‘at war’. Prime Minister Manuel Valls went as far as discussing the ‘enemy within’ – a phrase with clear connotations with the Second World War. Still reminiscent of France’s darkest hours, prominent politicians on the right called for any suspect to be imprisoned without trial in ‘interment camps’. The attacks on the Bataclan and wider sites of Parisian nightlife in November 2015 were taken by some to represent an attack on the liberal culture and lifestyle of the young in France by Muslims opposed to drinking, mixed gender socialising, dancing and social pleasure itself. Yet, these events lacked the specificity and iconic symbol of Charlie Hebdo. Instead, repeated attacks and a growing fear, comfort with hate and security measures have hardened politicians, the press and public opinion.

On the 14th of July, within hours of event, terrorism and not the defence of so-called liberal values became the focus as François Hollande declared that this was ‘an attack whose terrorist quality cannot be denied… it is the whole of France that is under the terrorist threat’. As demonstrated by Le Monde, the ‘Islamist terrorist’ line remained the preferred explanation for French politicians (and much of the media in France and beyond) for days, despite conflicting evidence which should have suggested a much more cautious approach. While, as these lines are written, the links between Lahouaiej Bouhlel and so-called Islamic State remain ‘unproven’ - and, in fact, increasingly tenuous - the French Minister of the Interior continued to defend on the 18th of July what, at that stage, was mere speculation: the modus operandi was reminiscent of IS and, while the attacker seemed to suffer from various mental health issues, he had been ‘quickly radicalised’ despite no evidence being presented to the public. Of course, this is not to say that this official explanation is not the correct one, but that in the absence of publicly available evidence, one should expect more caution on the part of public servants, particularly in such a delicate context. This simplistic coverage has led opportunistic and demagogic politicians to demand ever more stringent measures to fight terrorism, but also to the further stigmatisation of the Muslim communities in France. This also has acted as a diversion away from real issues. The state of emergency and the call for more policing have been criticised as ineffective as they not only curtail the civil liberties of all but also ignore the root causes affecting millions in France and potentially driving a handful to committing terrorist attacks. In February 2016, Amnesty International denounced the state of emergency, highlighting that only one person had been arrested on terrorism charges out of 3210 often violent interventions. Such policies and the associated rhetoric are likely to feed into IS’s propaganda machine as they will no doubt highlight the unfair treatment Muslims are subjected to in France. While most Muslims will ignore such simplistic calls, it will only take one person to answer them to send us further down this infernal spiral of an eye for an eye.

In this context Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National, kept mostly quiet in the aftermath of the attacks. As mainstream politicians outbid each other in a race towards securitisation and suspicion, at the expense of civil liberties and fostering further discrimination of Muslim communities, Le Pen has steered away from polemical grounds and simply claimed that mainstream politicians had failed in their duty to protect their citizens. Instead of taking the necessary step back which should be expected by politicians in a democracy, the government and opposition jumped to radical conclusions early on and called for an escalation of the war against terrorism, playing right in the hand of both so-called Islamic State and the far right and its demand for ever more stringent laws on civil liberties and against immigrants and minorities. Such reactions have further legitimised Islamophobia in France and freed the actions of those espousing its most illiberal forms.

This short article, first published on e-ir.info, is part of a larger project studying the rise and interaction of liberal and illiberal Islamophobias in France, the United States and the United Kingdom.


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Professor David Galbreath on: Security in, secure out: Brexit’s impact on security and defence policy

📥  Brexit, defence, EU membership, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, future, migration, political parties

Professor David Galbreath, Professor of International Security,  Associate Dean (Research)

A more secure Britain?

On the morning of 21 March 2016, terrorists struck Brussels airport and metro system in coordinated attacks to intimidate and demoralise. Opponents and proponents of Brexit grabbed the events to prove their point: outside we are less coordinated against a transnational problem, while inside we are subject to the challenges of free mobility that the EU’s Schengen zone presents to a borderless Europe. The UK already maintains its own borders and remains outside the Schengen zone; however, the UK has been a victim of ‘home grown’ terrorists, such as the 7/7 bombers, as well as the long history of IRA attacks.

Presently, national military and police intelligence networks are not dependent on the EU, though they may be enhanced by the EU, such as through Europol. Cooperation with other European security institutions is not determined by membership of the EU. For instance, Europol has strong working relationships with many external international partners, such as Canada and Norway. Brexit would not threaten intelligence and cross-jurisdiction cooperation. At the same time, it is equally the case that police and security agency work would be made no easier through Brexit. As might be expected, the necessities of national security are asserted whether a country is an EU member or not. Being in or out may have major effects on many areas of life, but national security is unlikely to be one of them, at least in the short term.

Why is this the case?

Traditionally, the most developed areas of European policy have been in areas involving the single market, in terms of trade, goods, services and more recently finance. As a result of several hostage and terrorist events in the early 1970s, the so-called TREVI group was established between member-state interior and justice ministers in 1975. The focus of the group was counter-terrorism but eventually extended to other areas of cross-border policing. From the Maastricht Treaty (1993) until the Lisbon Treaty (2007) this area of policy sat within the so-called Third Pillar of Justice and Home Affairs (latterly referred to as ‘Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters’. Of the three pillars, the Third Pillar was the most inter-governmental and thus not orientated towards further integration. While the Lisbon Treaty abolished the pillar system, policing and judicial affairs have remained, by and large, inter-governmental platforms of policy cooperation and coordination. In other words, the European Commission has not sought to intervene in national policing and judicial systems, unlike say the Council of Europe (an altogether different international organisation from the EU).

Rather, European cooperation in the areas of policing has often been problematised by differences between national agencies and policing cultures. While Europol is established to coordinate member-state responses to cross-border activities such as drugs and organised crime, there are considerable national barriers, rather than EU barriers, to further cooperation and presumably a more effective approach.

In as much as counter-terrorism remains the primary concern for member-states, the EU has a limited role to play in terms of providing a space for national governments to come together to agree on the terms and conditions of the threats of extremist politics. However, there are other organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who also have a counter-terrorism mandate in Europe and beyond. The EU is one arrangement amongst many that seeks to enhance cooperation in security and judicial matters. At the same time, the EU is the only organisation that seeks to eliminate the barriers to cooperation as it has done in many cases for trade, labour and currency. One might argue going forward that the nature of the EU’s integration makes for a more orchestrated response to trans-national threats to the UK and Europe. Let us look at this in more detail.

Trans-national threats and UK security

If we look at the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), we can see that the UK government and security agencies are concerned with issues that threaten the region, if not the world. In addition to highlighting traditional defence policy, the SDSR also highlights combating extremism and terrorism, cyber-attacks, serious and organised crime, and threats to infrastructure. As these issues have developed over time, the UK has worked together with the EU, as well as other partners, to establish institutions and agencies that offer a more coordinated approach to what are essentially trans-national problems. In all of these cases, the myriad threats to UK national security come from abroad and are not aimed at the UK alone. As world politics has become more trans-national, so has the way that the UK and the EU do security.

What are the implications of this? Policing, intelligence and military officials have seen the EU become an important part of their portfolio since the 1980s. As the foreign policy scholar Professor Christopher Hill has argued, European policy has become ubiquitous for UK departments and agencies as they seek to engage with the problems that face the UK and Europe. To see this as simply the EU intervening in UK policy areas across the board is misleading because this is to ignore the effort that successive UK governments have taken to enable the EU to do regional security better, especially in areas that do not concern territorial defence (the preserve of NATO). As world politics has changed, the EU has become an important part of the UK’s ability to shape regional security policy.

Yet the EU itself lacks weight in dealing with difficult policy areas such as refugees, the Middle-East peace process, a resurgent Russia, trans-national organised crime or climate change. Across these areas the EU member-states have deemed that they themselves are responsible for responding to crises, to the effect of showing the EU as a poor regional security actor.

However, I would go further to say that the EU provides an opportunity for further cooperation and, even in some cases, integration of security policy for issues that threaten the UK and Europe. National security imperatives will go beyond the political rhetoric of Brexit and beyond.


Brussels, Britain and Brexit

The attacks in Brussels press us to think about whether Britain would be more secure and resilient to crises in or out of the EU. The leader of UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, responded to the bombings by saying that the free movement of people also means the ‘free movement of Kalashnikovs’. Home Secretary Theresa May responded in Parliament that European policy, intelligence and military cooperation are important for Britain’s own security, pointing specifically on numerous occasions to European Arrest Warrants as a prime example. As already discussed, the reality is that being in or out of the EU may have little impact on Britain’s national security, though it would most definitely have impacts on other areas. Such an argument was set out by Sir Richard Dearlove who has said that Brexit would have a negligible impact on UK security, other than it would enable limits on the number of EU citizens coming into the country (as Britain already has independent control of its borders for all others).

However, the focus on national sovereignty versus EU member status is misleading because in an ever-increasing globalised and trans-national world, the benefits of both are lower. Perhaps even more importantly for the UK, the main sources of political violence are those who are born and raised in Britain. While there is a trans-national quality to their indoctrination, their threat to public safety is not impacted by debates about borders. They are very local problems that will not cease with the settlement of the Brexit referendum.

In conclusion, the EU has been a nascent security actor on behalf of the UK and its other member-states for more than three decades. I have argued here that international terrorism, as well as many other security issues, are part of much larger trans-national threats that require a trans-national response. As it stands, the EU does not have a robust response to many of these problems and thus Brexit would have marginal short term effects on the UK’s ability to protect itself, in either direction. However, it is equally clear that the Euro-Atlantic Area needs a more robust coordinated response to such threats. With a changing political atmosphere in the US, and a NATO that has been fighting successive war after war in the Former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and North Africa, the alternatives to the EU are becoming less and less able to take on such a robust response to such threats.

The UK thus will decide whether it will be at the centre of this development along with France, Germany, Italy and other EU member-states, or on the periphery seeking to balance a national approach with a trans-national approach for trans-national problems.

This blog post is part of a new IPR Series – all related to the BREXIT debate and the EU Referendum. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in May 2016. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or to our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.