International TV interview with Bahram Soroush
June 7, 2004

Maryam Namazie: I want to talk about on a recent report that has been published by a think-tank on Islamophobia and racism against Muslims in Britain with Bahram Soroush, a UK civil rights activist. This report has been all over the news. Basically, in the report it talks about how there’s been a really big rise in racism against Muslims particularly after September 11, attacks on mosques, and a feeling of isolation, alienation, etc., by British Muslims, particularly the youth. Bahram Soroush, this is all true, isn’t it? That is happening?

Bahram Soroush: Well, it certainly seems to be the case, and acts of violence and discrimination against people because they are followers of a particular religion should be condemned unreservedly and investigated as criminal acts. But I think there is another, wider issue, which is something we should focus on, and that is the general, public feeling of, the dislike of Islam which has grown and which has become much more pronounced in the UK.

Maryam Namazie: It’s interesting that you say that because one of the main reasons that this report gives for the rise in violence against Muslims is what is called, and what we are hearing over and over again, ‘Islamophobia’ – prejudice against Islam. My question to you then is does it mean that if you are opposed to Islam you are prejudiced against Islam? Is it actually directly linked to racism against Muslims? Does opposition to Islam make you a racist?

Bahram Soroush: That is the trouble with this term, because I think it is being used for scaremongering, for political scaremongering, for what I would call ‘intellectual blackmail’, and trying to stifle any criticism of Islam, which is very legitimate. Given the atrocities of the Islamic movements and organisations in countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, and the carnage of September 11, the honour killings, which are claiming hundreds of lives everyday, and so on it is very understandable that people should have a dislike of Islam and that this negative perception of Islam should have grown. So, of course, any attacks or any ghettoisation of people because they follow a particular religion should be condemned wherever we find them, but that should not be confused with racial attacks, something where I think there is a great deal of confusion.

Maryam Namazie: Can you explain that point further?

Bahram Soroush: Well, a lot of Islamic lobbyists and their supporters, even from within the Left, like the Socialist Workers’ Party here in the UK, are very fond of portraying any criticism of Islam as racism. So it has become almost politically incorrect to criticise Islam. And this is apart from the fact that even physically you should be really careful! Because in countries like Iran if you criticise Islam you should await a Fatwa against you and the punishment can be torture and execution. In the West, where at least political Islam is not in power, what you are witnessing is that you are being blackmailed into silence by this scaremongering. Racial attacks do happen and they should be confronted head on. But at the same time we should make it clear that this attempt is being made to portray anything that is directed against immigrants and blacks and members of so-called ethnic minorities as an attack against Islam. Just look at the US war against Iraq. The dominant account of the war that is given by Islamic lobbyists is that it is an attack against Islam. I think they have a lot of political interest in doing that. They even describe a large immigrant population in the UK as Muslim.

Maryam Namazie: Do you think it is related to the fact that it is a political movement, that this sort of scaremongering is taking place, this sort of blackmail?

Bahram Soroush: I think it is. Take the case of the Islamic Republic in Iran. It is not just a group of pious believers in Islam who out of their purity are trying to practise their ideas. That’s not the case. It’s really a political movement, which has a political agenda and is using a religion that has an infinite capacity for violence and for being against freedom, against the basic rights of the people, to defend their own position, their own privileged status. This is used by Islamic organisations as well throughout the world.

Maryam Namazie: Going back to the issue of not confusing racism with Islamophobia, it is interesting because this very think-tank began this commission on Islamophobia and racism against Muslims after it was recommended to it by a commission that was looking into anti-Semitism. How can anti-Semitism be comparable to Islamophobia? Are they comparable in your view?

Bahram Soroush: Anti-Semitism in its standard usage has referred to the historical oppression that the Jewish people have suffered. Of course, we have seen how that term itself has been abused by the Israeli state and by Zionists to try to justify their violent oppression of the Palestinian people and for their territorial claims. On the other hand, when you look at Islamophobia, it is a novel phrase that has come to usage now. It is being used, as I said, for scaremongering and to stifle criticism. These are two separate issues. Islamophobia does not refer to the fear of a certain people. It refers to the fear of a certain religion. But what is wrong with that? Shouldn’t I have the right to be critical of Islam – especially given its practices, its record of the recent three decades, at least? This is where, I think, we should be clear and try to see behind this term, which might seem very innocent, taking its cue from terms such as xenophobia, homophobia, etc. But they are entirely different things.

Maryam Namazie: But the question that will be put to you is that everybody is using the term Islamophobia. They are all wrong and you are right?

Bahram Soroush: Well, people should judge who is right or wrong. This dominant perception is being supported by very powerful political forces. For example, the governments in the West have a very large share of the blame for what has happened in terms of race relations, the ghettoisation and the feeling of alienation justifiably felt by a lot of people who have had the misfortune of being called Muslim because they were born in a Middle Eastern country, or who have an Arabic name or have been born into a Muslim family. These people have become the targets of these attacks. The ghettoisation has worked both ways: by years of promotion of this multiculturalism and cultural relativism trying to promote ethnic and religious identities. At the same time, it has been promoted by the so-called ‘community leaders’, the self-appointed community leaders, who have tried to create these separate, isolated islands within the larger Western societies. The people in these communities have been caught in between. They are the victims of that.

Maryam Namazie: What would you say to the Deputy Director of the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre who says that Islam and all Muslims should not be judged on the acts of a few extremists, in the same way that, for example, what a few US soldiers do in Iraq do not represent the whole US government? Well, actually it does, but what is your comment on that?

Bahram Soroush: OK. It’s not a question of judging all Muslims and equating them with terrorists. At the same time, I wouldn’t call them ‘a few extremists’. This is a large international pole backed by billions of dollars, and not just of oil money. It has been backed for years by Western governments. Political Islam, that is. It’s not just a few extremists, and it is claiming the lives of people on a daily basis. The distinction should be made that all these attempts to divide people on religious and ethnic grounds have led to this situation as we see it today, instead of seeing people on the basis of their universal identity, as human beings. This has fostered the feeling of isolation that has been created.

Maryam Namazie: So is that your solution? Because, as we said earlier, there is a reality that a lot of British Muslims feel isolated, feel alienated and are ghettoised. So what is the solution to that?

Bahram Soroush: I would say, stop supporting projects like faith schools; stop giving money to them. Stop supporting the recommendations of this report, which is to make Islamic provisions in mainstream, state schools. It is exactly these policies which are creating this situation that we are in today. The governments, the UK government, are to blame to a very large extent for giving concessions to and for having this honeymoon with Islamic organisations. Contrary to what the report says, the media has tried to give a very positive image of Islam, although this is a very hard thing to do. It is very difficult to try to separate Islam from Islamic terrorist organisations, for example, like Richard Stone is suggesting. They say, don’t call them ‘Islamic terrorists’; call them ‘terrorists’. This is an attempt to separate something, which, in my view, is inseparable. Because what Richard Stone and people like him should try and show us is in what way these acts of terrorism, or the violence we are seeing everyday, are incompatible with the tenets of Islam.

The above is a transcript of an interview by Maryam Namazie with TV International on June 7, 2004.

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