Know Your Enemy: Racism and Islamophobia

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

According to a recent report by a cross-party group of MPs, ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’. This definition has, however, been rejected by the government and criticised by others[1] not least on the grounds that, although Islamophobia coincides with racism in certain contexts, this is not always the case. Understanding the differences and similarities between various kinds of social prejudice is important not only for intellectual reasons, but also because a lack of clarity may militate against tackling them effectively.

In the popular sense, ‘race’/‘ethnicity’ involves shared physical identity (particularly skin colour and facial features), plus assumptions about kinship and origins more often imagined than real. Standard components of ‘racism’, typically based on myth, caricature and stereotype, generally include the belief that races possess distinct and inherent characteristics including social practices, the sense that one’s own race is superior to most if not all others, and express or implicit prejudice against people of races apart from one’s own.

‘Islamophobia’ generally refers to irrational antagonism towards Islam and/or Muslims also typically based on myth, caricature and misleading stereotype. Strictly speaking, a ‘phobia’ is a clinically observable anxiety disorder defined by recurrent and excessive fear of an object or situation. The term has, however, been extended to include individual and collective hostility towards minorities such as homosexuals (homophobia), foreigners (xenophobia) and Islam/Muslims (Islamophobia).

Racial and anti-Muslim discrimination can clearly overlap, particularly in England and Wales where over 90% of Muslims are non-white. (more…)

The Freedom of Religion: A threat to global security, or a means of enhancing it?

By Prof Sir Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School) and Chair, United Nations Subcommittee for Prevention of Torture.*

N White, Genesis (1999).

In recent years the relative importance of religion as an issue of legal and political significance has increased considerably.  For example, it took nearly forty years before the first human rights case concerning freedom of religion or belief came to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights; and in the 1990s official reports of the Council of Europe could express surprise that religion was still proving to be an important political factor in some parts of Europe. Few would advance such a claim today.

Some put this down to the rise in the numbers of religious believers globally; that is, religion is becoming more important simply because there are more religious believers.  It is certainly the case that there are now more people with religious beliefs on the face of the planet than at any time in history. But this does not explain the rise in the importance of religion in global politics. Nor does the increase in the absolute numbers of religious believers necessarily undermine the argument – so popular in Europe for so long – that religion is becoming increasingly unimportant to public life. (more…)