Rather than wither away, Islamophobia has only become stronger as we are gripped with political and economic crisis. As with other forms of xenophobia, it functions to identity “boogiemen” in order to deflect blame away from the failure of capitalism to deliver. In this way it is remarkably similar to the function of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.
Anti-Americanism is as real as Islamophobia. The latter is the irrational fear of all Muslims, and the former is a result of the inability to separate the American people from the policies of its state. The net effect of anti-Americanism is to write off the American working class as reactionary and pro-imperialist. The function of Islamophobia is two-fold. On the international front it offers a tidy justification linking imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. On the domestic front it divides the working class along religious lines while also demonizing immigrants.
Both the far right in the U.S. and the corrupt and rotten petty bourgeois in the ex-colonial world equally abuse the term “anti-Americanism” as an apology for imperialism. By the same token, many in the Muslim world abuse the term Islamophobia as a shield for their reactionary politics. However, this should not keep us from highlighting the class antagonism behind these phenomena. It is the international working class that suffers as a result of this disunity.
Dividing the exploited classes along racial, national, ethnic, sexual, gender and religious lines is a tried and tested method of the ruling class. These prejudices are not native to the working class. This prejudice is organized from the top down by the capitalist class and its repressive apparatus, amplified through its ideological apparatus.
For example, the promotion of Islamophobia by the internal repressive apparatus has been exposed in recent weeks. The NYPD intelligence unit, in conjunction with the CIA, has taken upon itself to police the entire Muslim community at large. NYPD informants and plainclothes officers patrol ethnic “areas of interest.” The CIA, which legally has no domestic jurisdiction, has launched an “internal probe” on the matter to preempt a public hearing. Wired.com has reported on leaked FBI training documents that teach agents to suspect all Muslims, particularly the personally devout, as potentially violent. The documents claim that the problem is “mainstream Islam” and not the “fringe.”
Marxists understand that religions are not static concepts. Social relations, predicated upon a material base, dictate the norms of society, including religion. In other words, religion as such is not the root cause of religious conflict; it is merely a representation of the class antagonism and contradictions in society. These same class antagonisms and contradictions are ignored by those promoting Anti-Americanism. The upshot is the promotion of distrust towards the American working class.
Since 2008, there has been a palpable increase in anti-Muslim discourse in mainstream American politics. The choir of liberal protest was limited to the denial and outrage at the “allegation” that Obama is Muslim. Obama himself demonstrated neither the political gumption nor the moral audacity necessary to declare his faith was a private matter, and emphasized his Christian “credentials.” A clear line in the sand was drawn excluding Muslims from the public sphere.
Since then, Glenn Beck has supplemented the regular dose of Islamophobia in the media by asking Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison to “…prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.” Despite his anti-worker votes in favor of war funding, Ellison has a right to practice whatever religion he chooses, or none at all. Presidential hopeful Herman Cain has assured his base that if elected, he would not allow any Muslim in his administration. He opposes the construction of mosques by insisting Islam is not a religion but an ideology.
Anti-Americanism has functioned to confuse workers in poor countries for decades. The American worker has been mistakenly written off by some, including many on the left, leading to political disorientation. Just as is the case with Islamophobia, Anti-Americanism merely divides the working class for the benefit of the ruling class. Often sections of potentially revolutionary activists are rendered ineffective or worse when they stand behind their own state’s crass anti-Americanism.
As the international working class struggles in these times of austerity and crisis it will come up against xenophobia as an instrument for preserving the rule of the bourgeois. However, it is also through this struggle that the class consciousness of workers worldwide will continue to advance by leaps and bounds as they learn from experience who the real enemy is.