Contesting white supremacy

I wish I could believe that the BNP, or even the BNP plus UKIP vote, represented the extent of the “racist vote” in Britain. The reality is that racist ideas, myths, assumptions, stereotypes and “explanations” are widespread and deep rooted in British society. The far right are part of a nexus which includes the racism of the state (in immigration, policing, criminal justice), the media and educational institutions; it’s a racism that has elite, middle and working class variants. One of the weaknesses of the left approach has been to fix on the latter – on working class racism – as if it existed separately from the others. Perhaps that’s why we sometimes sidestep the question of UKIP, whose election campaign relied heavily on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim messages; its xenophobia is no less noxious than the BNP’s, though it is deemed more respectable, a fact not unrelated to its different – middle class, Tory-voting – constituency.

In particular, the current virulence of anti-Muslim racism cannot be isolated to the far right, which in this case has taken its cue from the middle class and a significant section of what passes for the intelligentsia. “Islamophobia,” writes A. Sivanandan, “in its most sophisticated form, is the province of middle-class opinion formers, erstwhile liberals, defenders of the true liberal faith against the encroachments of illiberal Islam, as defined by them, the ‘liberati’. Anti-Muslim racism is the province of the working class and is no different from past working-class racisms. Except that now it finds its justification in Islamophobia – suitably translated into the vernacular of stereotype and scapegoat by the tabloids, the carriers of racist culture.” Crucially, Islamophobia “is not just a body of ideas in a vacuum. It is connected to the war in Iraq and the war on terror and tied therefore to the state, its laws and executive decisions.”

Mike Marqusee in Red Pepper, June-July 2010