The British press has never seemed as out of touch as it is today. All our broadsheet papers are packed with pleas to the people of France, and other European populations, not to turn into Muslim-killing nutjobs in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The Guardian frets over “Islamophobes seizing this atrocity to advance their hatred.” The Financial Times is in a spin about “Islamophobic extremists” using the massacre to “[challenge] the tolerance on which Europe has built its peace.” One British hack says we should all “fear the coming Islamophobic backlash.” And what actually happened in France as these dead-tree pieces about a possible Islamophobic backlash made their appearance? Jews were assaulted. And killed. “Don’t attack Muslims,” lectures the press as Jews are attacked.
Across Europe, among the right-thinking sections of society, among the political classes, the response to the massacre of the cartoonists and satirists has been the same: to panic about how Them, the native masses, especially the more right-wing sections of the French population, might respond to it. The blood on the floor of the Charlie Hebdo offices was still wet when brow-furrowed observers started saying: “Oh no, the Muslims! Will they be attacked?” It’s the same after every terrorist attack: from 9/11 to 7/7 in London to last year’s Sydney siege to Paris today: Liberals’ instant, almost Pavlovian response to Islamist terror attacks in the West is to worry about a violent uprising of the ill-educated against Muslims. The uprising never comes, but that doesn’t halt their fantasy fears. What’s it all about?
The unreal, unhinged nature of this elite preemption of mass Muslim-bashing has been thrown into sharp relief by the foul events in Paris over the past few days. The massacre of journalists by Islamists was followed today by a violent hostage-taking in a kosher shop in Port de Vincennes by a gunman reported to be part of the same small cell of Islamic extremists from which the Kouachi brothers, who shot up Charlie Hebdo, sprung. Why invade a kosher shop? Well, it’s very likely there will be Jews in there, and if there’s one thing Islamists love more than executing those who insult their prophet, it’s attacking Jews. The kosher-shop siege and hostage situation is now over, and while the information coming out of France is sketchy, Reuters says four of the hostages — who may well have been Jews — are dead. So the gulf between the fears of he multicultural elite and the reality on the ground in France is colossal. “Leave Muslims alone,” they plead as the news wires report that four kosher shoppers have been killed. Many European observers seem far more exercised about the possibility of Islamophobic violence than they are by the reality of anti-Semitic violence.
It’s not surprising that there is such a gaping chasm between liberals’ hand-wringing over a potential violent and sweeping Islamophobic backlash and what is actually happening in France and elsewhere. Because the idea of Islamophobia has always been informed more by the swirling fantasies and panics of the political and media elites than by any real, measurable levels of hate or violence against Muslims. Yes, some dud grenades were thrown into the courtyard of a mosque in the French city of Le Mans after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, though mercifully they didn’t explode and no one was around to be injured. That is a foul act and the person or people who did it should be found and punished. But fears about widespread anti-Muslim violence, about the spread of toxic Islamophobic hate through the streets and in workplaces, are unfounded, because their driving force is the anti-natives, anti-pleb prejudices of the elites rather than any hard evidence of extreme hostility to Muslims.
Liberals’ angst about violent anti-Muslim uprisings always proves to be empty. So after the 7/7 Tube and bus attacks in London, there were wide and wild warnings of a violent backlash against the Muslims of Britain. Journalists predicted bloodshed. National Health Service workers were encouraged to keep their eyes peeled — i.e., spy — for any signs of anti-Muslim agitation among their patients. But there was no spike in anti-Muslim crimes. According to Crown Prosecution Service crime figures for 2005–06, covering the months after 7/7, only 43 religiously aggravated crimes were prosecuted in that period, and only 18 of those crimes were against Muslims. “The fears of a [post-7/7] rise in offences appears to be unfounded,” the Director of Public Prosecutions later admitted.
After the Boston Marathon bombings there were loads of media panic about the “ignorance and prejudice [that arise] in the aftermath of a terrorist attack” and concern that Muslims in America would get it in the neck. But Muslims have not been assaulted en masse by stupid Americans in recent years, including in the wake of 9/11. According to federal crime stats, in 2009 there were 107 anti-Muslim hate crimes; in 2010, there were 160. In a country of 330 million people, this is exceptionally low. After the Lindt café siege in Sydney at the end of last year, there was once again heated fear on the pages of the broadsheets about dumb Aussies going crazy and attacking brown people. Nothing happened. No mob emerged. Muslims were not attacked.
Islamophobia is a myth. Sure, some folks in Europe and elsewhere no doubt dislike Muslims, just as other losers hate the Irish or blacks or women. But the idea that there is a climate of Islamophobia, a culture of hot-headed, violent-minded hatred for Muslims that could be awoken and unleashed by the next terror attack, is an invention. Islamophobia is a code word for mainstream European elites’ fear of their own populations, of their native hordes, whom they imagine to be unenlightened, prejudiced, easily led by the tabloid media, and given to outbursts of spite and violence. The thing that keeps the Islamophobia panic alive is not actual violence against Muslims but the right-on politicos’ ill-founded yet deeply held view of ordinary Europeans, especially those of a working-class variety, as racist and stupid. This is the terrible irony of the Islamophobia panic: The fearers of anti-Muslim violence claim to be challenging prejudice but actually they reveal their own prejudices, their distrust of and disdain for those who come from the other side of the tracks, read different newspapers, hold different beliefs, live different lives. They accuse stupid white communities of viewing Muslims as an indistinguishable mob who threaten the fabric of European society, which is exactly what they think of stupid white communities.