What role does Islamophobia play in migration discourse?

In late September 2022, MRN and MEND hosted an event as part of our ‘Who is Welcome?’ series, which examined the role of Islamophobia in shaping attitudes towards migration in the West.

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month and we want to use this as an opportunity to draw attention to ongoing harmful attitudes and narratives towards Muslims in the UK.  At MRN, we believe that in order to effectively challenge and dismantle harmful immigration structures, we have to examine and expose the ideology that fuels them.

The positive response to White, Christian refugees from the Ukraine emphasised the ingrained Islamophobia that exists in how migrant communities across Europe are treated. It is evident that post-9/11, the intersections of race and religion with immigration policies have constituted hostile, and even violent, treatment of those coming to the West from predominantly Muslim countries.

The event speakers Dr Waqas Tufail, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Beckett University and Isobel Ingham-Barrow, CEO of the Community Policy Forum discussed how the treatment of Muslim people in the UK is informed and maintained by the War on Terror. This fostered reflections on how this is, and will continue to, negatively impact Muslim communities. 

Constructing a threat

The perception of Muslim communities and the concept of ‘integration’ affects both how instruments of State such as immigration systems and borders treat them. Terrorism and crimes of sexual violence have been consistently used to malign Muslim communities which is evident through narratives associated with the Prevent programme and the Rotherham abuse scandal.

As Isobel Ingham-Barrow explained, Islam is framed as something fundamentally foreign and incompatible with “Western values or identity”. This is evident from evidence set out in an IRR report which shows that the treatment of British Muslims and suspicions around Muslims’ loyalty to so-called “British values” are closely linked.

The vilification of Muslims, both outside and inside the UK, is implemented as a threat to the so-called liberal and democratic European values, regardless of whether they are British. This concept is especially noticeable amongst Muslim men. Intersections of masculinity, Islam and racism have depicted Muslim men as a risk. 

Great Replacement Theory

Before we delve into unpacking the links between Islamophobia, the Great Replacement Theory and immigration, let’s just make one thing clear: migration is a foundation of human history and migration has been happening in many forms for hundreds of thousands of years. 

Now we’ve got that out the way, what is the Great Replacement Theory and why is it relevant? Well, essentially, this idea in its many forms over many years has direct links to the idea of who is welcome in policy and public discourse. It is a racist and White supremacist mythology which claims that White populations in the West are in “danger” of people replaced by other groups, largely People of Colour or even some other White groups. The ideology behind the Holocaust and anti-semistism was fuelled by a form of the Great Replacement Theory. 

It incites fear around immigration by claiming it is a method to ‘replace’ the “political power and culture of White people living in Western countries” by specifically non-White groups. The link between Islamophobia, racism and immigration rhetoric has been incredibly prevalent in recent years. Let’s just think back to Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster, which was used to scaremonger towards a Brexit vote.

Source: The Guardian

So, how is this impacting UK policy?

In recent years, successive UK governments have pursued an agenda of increasingly hostile and restrictive immigration policy. From the 2014 Immigration Act under Theresa May to the Nationality and Borders Act this year. This has had ramifications for Muslim migrants, including refugees but now they also face institutional Islamophobia as they navigate and build their lives here.

During a debate in Parliament on Wednesday 2 November 2022 at the start of Islamophobia Awareness Month, Labour Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton raised his concerns that the recent succession of Prime Ministers had failed to respond to his letters on Islamophobia. In an interview with the Independent, he said this demonstrated that they simply do not take the issue seriously. 

And they don’t because worryingly, news emerged that the government is dropping work on an official definition of Islamophobia. Work on establishing a definition commenced in 2019 in order to “get a firmer grip” on prejudice and discrimination towards British Muslims. Muslims are the most frequently targeted group for religious hate crimes in England and Wales. According to Home Office figures, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose by 42% to 3,459 in the year ending March 2022.

Dropping the definition of Islamophobia when we desperately need it is hardly surprising coming from Michael Gove, who was the Education Minister at the time of the Trojan Horse controversy. (For those that haven’t listened to the Serial podcast on the Trojan Horse inquiry, definitely give it a listen). 

Deprivation of citizenship

While it is not a stretch to say that there is a clear link between UK immigration laws and the idea of who is welcome. The legislation set out in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 clearly reaffirms this concept. As our speakers highlighted during our Who Is Welcome event, there is a direct link between deprivation of citizenship and the ‘War on Terror’. 

Between 1973 and 2002, there were no cases of people being deprived of their British citizenship. However, since 2010, the majority of those who were deprived of citizenship were Muslim men with South Asian or Middle Eastern or North African heritage. The number of deprivations happened in 2017 which corresponded to the collapse of ISIS in Syria.

In 2014, changes were made to the law in order to remove the citizenship of Hilal Al-Jedda, after the Supreme Court ruled that he no longer held Iraqi citizenship and could not be deprived of citizenship, so the Government has successfully tried its hand at changing the law so that it can deprive citizenship without notice leaving British citizens languishing in camps outside of the UK. The most notorious case is of Shamima Begum who was stripped of her citizenship in 2019 after travelling to Syria to join ISIS as a 15 year-old. Begum was characterised as the archetype of a threat to Britain, with perceptions of the intersections of her race and religion at the centre of commentary. It has since been uncovered that UK authorities helped to cover up the role of a Canadian intelligence operative in trafficking her.

Conclusion

With attention finally being placed on the importance of language and how we treat migratised communities, it is important to examine what role Islamophobia plays in how the UK treats migrants, including refugees. We have to ask to what extent this fear and allegiance to an idea of what it is to be British plays a part in immigration laws. This is why at the Migrants’ Rights Network, we are committed to examining migration through the lens of intersectional identity. We cannot unpick borders and immigration policies if we don’t understand the views or ideology that drives them.

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