Different forms of racism — some thoughts
Different forms of racism come from very different historical places, with very different causes.
In Britain, Islamophobia is part of the ideological apparatus of the war on terror and the relating desire by ruling elites to introduce legislation which allows for more spying and control of the population. It is a form of racism embedded in the overarching goals and agenda of the war on terror, which itself is only the latest version of British imperialism. As such it cuts with the grain of ruling class ideology, it is propagated in newspapers and increasingly advocated by politicians when they attack “multi-culturalism”.
Anti-semitism is not part of the ruling class ideology in Britain (though it is common in the official ideologies of other countries). It comes from a pre-capitalist prejudice, the view of Jewish people as money lender and the role of pogroms in expelling Jews from countries when the debts got too much (King Edward I expelled all the Jews from Britain in 1290) or as part of the religious strife that resulted from the jostling for position from different wings of the ruling class aristocracy at the time, usually backed by the church.
The continued existence of anti-Semitism in modern Britain is a “hangover” from feudal conspiracies; Jews depicted as money lenders or a secret elite controlling the world which was a conspiracy theory from Christian zealots. It exists on the left in the “socialism of the fools” with constant references to various banks or financial institutions allegedly run by Jews, or that the media is a conspiracy by Jews. These are played up with supposedly left implications but they have no progressive aspect, they are based on whatsoever.
However in the racist imagination increasingly Jew’s and Muslims increasingly blur into one. They are both depicted as external threats to the nation state, both involved in conspiracies and both subject to violent attacks. Sometimes racists can’t make up their minds who carried out the 9/11 attacks — some accuse Mossad of organising it (the popular whispered theory at the time was that no Jews died in the WTC, they had been mysteriously told not to go into work that day); others argue that clearly Muslims did it through Al-Qaeda, but that all Muslims are responsible, that Jihad is inherent in Islamic culture and so on.
Mainstream politicians use Islamophobia to raise fears from the centre ground (Zac Goldsmith’s 2015 London Mayoral campaign is the most recent example), whereas Demagogues see the value in pitching themselves as an anti-establishment force by whipping up Islamophobia and increasingly anti-Semitic views. Trump did in the US Presidential elections. The most successful demagogues tap into these popular reactionary views against both Muslims and Jews to mobilise social forces to win votes.
In a country like the USA or a continent like Europe, Islamophobia is the cutting edge racism. It segues with a whole nexus of racist ideology, nationalism and militarism and is used by the right to batter at the walls of multiculturalism which they see as an affront to the natural world. Anti-semitism exists on the fringes, but now threatens to re-enter the mainstream through the rise of the far right. Jobbik in Hungary is a horrifying example of where parts of Europe might be heading.
Anti-Black racism is far more integral to the very socio-economic basis of capitalism itself. Racism against Black people was ideologically formed in the primordial soup of early capitalism, the need for cheap and expendable labour for agricultural work, for the exploitation of the land in the ‘new world’. This form of racism
What we can see is the way that the ideological forms that racism takes are all rooted in background to the formation of each form of racism. The way the war on terror is conflated with a war of civilisations and war of culture explains the hatred towards Muslim forms of dress and the different religious observances. The Jewish conspiracy rooted in the pre-capitalist fear of Jewish control of the economy. Anti-Black racism depicting laziness or a predilection towards crime are clearly from the days of racism, the hatred of the white slave owner towards their idle workers or the view that Black people were at worst savage primitives, at best irresponsible children. Conversely, perhaps the stereotype of south or East Asians as hard working comes from their role in the British empire as administrators and civil servants?
Finally, the dominant racism towards Eastern Europeans; that they are job-stealers who refuse to integrate, relates to the nationalist concerns over the EU, over a loss of power and a loss of privilege in a rich country. No one minded much when open borders related mainly to Western Europe, after all those people ‘are rich like us’. The racist prejudice kicked in when the fear of “millions” of poor Eastern Europeans “flooding” into the country was stoked up by the media.
Whatever the basis for racist views, they are divisive and destructive, they are used to divide working people, to sow confusion and make us fight each other. Trump and Farage and the Tories can convince people to blame immigrants or Muslims instead of the 1%, or that the EU becomes public enemy number one and blamed for our economic ills when our own capitalists are in the vanguard of neoliberalism and austerity politics. There can be no compromise with these politics — treading the path of racist apologism or playing the nationalist card will lose us the election.