Cultural scholar discusses increasing Islamophobia with Trinity audience

“We’re seeing something more intense than we’ve ever seen”


Arun Kundnani professor of media, culture and communication at New York University (NYU) and author of the Muslims Are Coming! spoke in Trinity last night about increasing levels of Islamophobia worldwide in an event arranged by the department of sociology.

The talk was presented as a conversation between Kundnani and Trinity sociology lecturer David Landy. Ronit Lentin, emeritus sociology professor opened the discussion, in which she described “Islamophobia as terribly important in terms of understanding racism in the contemporary world.”

Landy started the conversation by referring to some figures for Britain, which claimed that in 2015, four out of five Muslims experienced or witnessed Islamophobia and one out of six Muslims experienced a direct physical attack.

Kundnani responded saying: “We’re seeing something more intense than we’ve ever seen,” and further claimed that it is similar to how Jews were perceived in many societies during the 20th century.

He believed that the problem is largely structural. Using Britain and America as examples, he described how a large proportion of Muslims in both countries are under surveillance, which is legitimised through the use of deradicalisation theory.

Deradicalisation theory, he claimed, has allowed any form of political dissent within Muslim groups to be seen as a stepping stone to terrorism, as the theory argues that there are certain signs one can look out for which reveal that someone is becoming radicalised. Possible examples of radicalisation signs include opposing the Iraq war and giving up smoking, he claimed.

While in America it is largely the police force, FBI, and other security agencies who are responsible for spotting signs of potential radicalisation, Kundnani described how in Britain the job is “outsourced” to the public sector.

It is a “statutory” requirement for public workers in Britain to report possible signs of radicalisation, he said. He referred to the news last week that a 10-year-old Muslim boy’s family were questioned by the police for his misspelling of “terraced house” as “terrorist house” in English class as evidence of this surveillance.

“The correlation between an extreme religious ideology and a tendency for violence is just not there” said Kundnani, labelling the problem as “political not religious,” in response to Landy playing the devil’s advocate by asking if these are just necessary measures to stop terrorism. He referred to the “frequent” cases of young men ordering Islam For Dummies when preparing to go fight for Islamic State as a by-product of this non-correlation.

Kundnani spoke critically of liberal political leaders, such as Barack Obama and Tony Blair. He claimed that Obama is responsible for “normalising the war on terror,” while Blair introduced a new form of nationalism into political discourse, spreading the idea that “liberal values underpin national identity.”

According to Kundnani, the left has failed Muslim groups, especially in Britain where it has “suburbanised and gentrified,” while the traditional problems that leftism had fought for still remain. He argued that policies based on deradicalisation theory prevent a solution emerging from Muslim communities, as any form of political dissent is seen as a sign of radicalisation. He suggested that the left need to start thinking deeper about these issues, saying, for example, that: “We’ve not even begun to understand the damage we’ve inflicted on Iraq.”

After Kundnani and Landy finished their discussion, questions were opened to the audience in which topics ranged from treatment of women within Islamic cultures to the Israeli military occupation of Palestine.

The talk took place prior to a conference, which was held and co-organised by Landy in Liberty Hall earlier today called “Understanding and Responding to Islamophobia in Ireland,” which Kundnani was also said to be speaking at.

Image via YouTube/IIITMedia