Rhetoric around race and racism during elections in the victory of Donald Trump and the 24 June 2016 Brexit referendum has taught us a few things that should ring alarm bells for those concerned with race relations and the plight of minority communities.
The 2016 referendum has brought to the fore that divisive rhetoric has material repercussions on minorities. The framing of Brexit debate was on the backdrop of problematising immigration and refugees. It was as if they were central in undermining Britishness and in addressing these factors Britain would take back control. The consequences of these problematisation is reflected in the police records in the last two weeks of June 2016, were a 42 per cent increase in hate crime is reported as compared to the same period in 2015. In real terms, an average of 67 hate crime per day, that is 3 every hour, were reported to Scotland Yard immediately after the referendum.
The coverage of Conservative Party campaign in the 2019 General Election, has centred around problematising Muslim identity. This emerges from party members, councillors, prospective parliamentary candidates to the leader Boris Johnson accused of promoting Islamophobic tropes. This is further supported by a dossier from a twitter account @matesjacob that shows, Conservative party affiliates calling for a “ban on mosques,” referring to Muslims as “barbarians” and comparing Islam to “Nazism”. Besides the many Islamophobic tropes trafficked by the Conservative party members they include Boris Johnson referring to Muslim women as “letter boxes” and stating Islam itself to be “a problem”. He has further back peddled from a public promise made into investigating Islamophobia within the Conservative party that is now reduced to a generic investigation to “all types of prejudice”. The Conservative party members daily drip drip revelation of Islamophobic tropes and the failure by its leadership to establish an independent enquiry has resulted in British Muslim dragged into public debate.
The Conservative Party may have evaluated from the Trump victory and the Referendum success, that in the the problematisation of the minorities the traditional factors influencing voting behaviours are blurred. Both the referendum and Trump elections owe their victory to the support from the working class. This is despite financial investments from the European Union Membership more greatly weighted towards benefitting the deprived areas of Britain and Trump a stall wart for the corporate business world. Further, women vote was crucial for Trump success. That is, white women in America despite Trump’s anti-feminist stance and misogyny did not take into account the gender gap issues. Trump’s toxic masculinity proved irrelevant to, 53% of the white women who voted for him, prompting Madonna to state, “it feels like women betrayed us”.
What the two elections show, neither is the support for Trump by women a betrayal of feminism nor of working class people voting for Brexit a treachery against comrades but both groups are co-opted through the weaponisation of race factor. The problematisation of race in the election debates collapses differences between left-right and gender gap political differences to converge a greater number of people for an electoral victory. This teaches us that, with the foregrounding of race discourse the assumed voting patterns of traditional working class for Labour or women against anti-feminist leadership need to be reassessed. Instead, we must consider how the voter’s attitudes, beliefs, and values are constructed.
The Conservative Party rhetoric during this election, consciously or subconsciously, is problematising Muslimness, an attribute of a Muslim. This is polarising Britain, marking British Muslims as the other and an idea of a Muslim problem now percolates the social as a legitimate concern. However, if through this construction they achieve an electoral victory it will indicate Muslimness will have become the motivating issue of concern for the electorate. In this sense, the victory will be achieved by overcoming the traditional political division and as a consequence a lowering of the bar towards tolerating Muslims in Britain.
The Referendum and Trump’s electoral events indicate, under the circumstances, we will witness an increase in Islamophobic incidents. While this is a grave concern, it is in the privilege assumed by other British in abusing Muslims that could lead to disaster. Since Muslim subject would than be constructed as the outsider other and the Muslim Question will take central stage. It will reflect the British electorate to have been co-opted towards the hegemonic rhetoric of Islamophobia. If this were to transpire, than Islamophobia will not only have passed the “the dinner table test” as stated by the conservative peer, Baroness Warsi but the need to formulate special management strategies for the Muslim Question is likely to arise.
Postgraduate Researcher on Islamophobia and Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa