Orientalism – the term coined by Edward Said refers to the discriminatory portrayal of the Eastern/Muslim world as a barbaric and regressive. Essentially it stereotypes Muslims as slaves to their environment and emotions, with no autonomy and who will automatically call for bloodshed at the slightest hint of offence.
You may be forgiven in thinking this may be a “far-right” phenomenon, portraying Muslims as savages as a means to further a political agenda to re-establish a sense of nationalism and restrict other cultures like Islam. However, this is not the case and is not what I term as ‘neo-orientalism’ – which is a “far-left” phenomenon.
The far-left in their stated objective of standing up for social justice have rationalised working with, and legitimising, Islamist extremists – those who campaign for the removal of rights for “non-believers” under theocratic law. One example includes the far-left’s unity in campaigning against far-right fascism – even though the same “humanitarians” advocate a theocratic state that would penalise, or even kill, apostates and homosexuals. The far-left’s sheer paranoia of being seen not to side with the ‘oppressed minority’ has pushed them to the conclusion of siding with the theocratic Islamists who mimic the Nazi fascists in political ideology.
As the far-right’s orientalism can be condensed as “Muslims are barbarians”, the far-left’s neo-orientalism claims “Muslims are barbarians, but it’s just who they are and their culture.”
This is neo-orientalism – by creating a soft bigotry of low expectations, by scrutinising every idea on women’s rights record except Islamism, the far-left have created an image of Muslims as being unable to reconcile universal rights with their Islamic faith. This form of racism pains me, as it assumes Muslims like me are too regressive for the beauty of human rights, which are reserved for non-Muslims.
It gets even worse than not challenging Islamists. Those guilty of neo-orientalism proceed to label anyone who does have the courage of their convictions to challenge any illiberal idea as a racist. To challenge an idea is deemed as racist or “Islamophobic”. Ironically even to Muslims who argue for human rights against Islamist’s theocratic ideals – this is clearly demonstrated in how student unions have banned human rights speakers and legitimised Islamist organisations.
A tragedy here is that the far-left’s neo-orientalism has actually abandoned another minority – a minority within a minority. I myself as a Shia Muslim have experienced this – as the Shia sect of Islam is a minority within Islam and in the UK. The far-left working with organisations of preachers who state that Shia Muslims are heretics and must for example not be married to is a direct mockery of the social justice they claim to stand for.
Another example was when the LGBT society at Warwick University boycotted an LGBT interfaith conference because Haras Rafiq, Quilliam’s Managing Director, spoke – stating that he is “Islamophobic” because he believes Islam can promote universal rights for the LGBT+ community and has worked with drafting strategies to ensure homophobic narratives are always challenged.
I do not feel this form of racism is coming from a bad place, but I do believe that it is coming from cowardice. How else can one analyse the fact that the far-left are the most vocal against Saudi Arabia’s political connections with the UK, but the most silent on challenging the Wahhabi ideals that laid the foundations of the Saudi state? Why is it that they call for a complete boycott of Saudi Arabia, but claim that challenging Wahhabism is racist?
Neo-orientalism is real, and is a new twisted form of racism inflicted upon Muslims by purporting the caricature that we are inherently regressive and barbaric – underserving of a respectful conversation on Islamic beliefs as it may trigger us into frenzy.
This has to change, the far-left have to begin to start siding with ideals over identities, and campaign for the universality of rights by challenge any idea that infringes upon them. The far-left must abandon neo-orientalism and treat Muslims like any other adherents of other faiths. Islam must be open to scrutiny and open to dialogue. The far-left mustn’t cheapen the cause for social justice by legitimising Islamists who don’t take this position, and must instead empower the Muslim reformers who do promote the cause of social justice.
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