Unmasking the Creation of 'Islamophobia' in the Academy

Conservative individuals and groups frequently report that they are banned, blocked, or shadowbanned from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many of these people frequently complain that they are labelled “far right” when in fact, they are not even right-wing, let alone “far right.” It is increasingly being realized that there is a serious problem here. So let’s look at some details of how this is achieved, and how deep the problem goes. Many in academia are fully in collusion with this.

An article published this month demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt how deeply embedded the lazy and erroneous ideological assumptions of many academics are. "The transnationalisation of far right discourse on Twitter: Issues and actors that cross borders in Western European democracies" is typical of many such articles. It could well pass unnoticed by all but a few scholars, especially since it’s locked behind an expensive paywall, written in academic gobbledygook, and littered with mysterious diagrams reminiscent of the work of the alchemists. Yet this article is worth scrutiny, for it’s one piece of the puzzle of how the trick of labelling people as “far right” and as “Islamophobic” is pulled off by the “intelligentsia” and the establishment. It’s easy to assume “academics are locked in their Ivory Towers doing little other than talking to each other, so let’s ignore them.” But not all are. Some are talking to governments and some are talking to tech companies, and there are consequences.

There is a network of linked actors promoting this “far right/Islamophobia” discourse. The paper was peer reviewed. The journal claims that it is “firmly established as one of the leading interdisciplinary humanities and cultural studies journals in universities and other academic institutions.” The authors both hold positions at a research centre at Oxford University. One author also holds positions at the University of Oslo, Sciences Po Paris, and the European School of Political and Social Sciences. The other author’s webpage tells us that he was until recently a researcher at “Tell MAMA, a national project dedicated to mapping and monitoring anti-Muslim hate in the United Kingdom. He has given evidence in the Houses of Parliament on governance, extremism, gender, and hate crime and authored a number of reports in this area. He has been a guest on BBC News, Radio 4, and other national media outlets.” He is also listed as a Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, whose partners include the widely-discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC.) The research was part funded by Vox-Pol, which is funded by the European Union and which researches “violent online political extremism.”

The topic of the paper is the online interaction between different “far right groups” across national borders. Apparently, it’s so surprising that people whose views include respect for the integrity of nation states talk to other people from different nation states that this merits research time and public funding under the aegis of Vox-Pol. The researchers collected tweets and retweets from about 40 supposedly “far right” Twitter accounts from France, Germany, Italy and the UK, and focused on retweets that crossed national borders. A list of the account holders is included at the end of this article.

The way in which “far right” is defined and applied lacks clarity and intellectual rigor. The authors define “extreme and radical right populist organizations” as “sharing three ideological cores: nativism, authoritarianism and populism,” referring to the work of Mudde (2007). There are organisations included which most would agree merit the label “far right” such as the BNP (British National Party), but others are also included in this catch-all category. Tellingly, for an academic paper that made it past peer review, there is no clear explanation or appendix demonstrating that each of the “far right” accounts actually deserved this label. Rather, the authors state that they based their sample upon “official reports and secondary literature by scholars and watchdog organizations.” Nowhere is there a statement of who these scholars and watchdog organisations are, a careless omission for an academic paper, but we know that the authors have links with Tell Mama and the SPLC. Alarm bells should be ringing; these groups are far from impartial.

The label of “far right” is given regardless of contrary evidence or even denials by those so labelled. In some cases, the account owners have repeatedly and specifically rejected the label of “far right”; for instance, Tommy Robinson, whose now-suspended Twitter account was included, describes his own politics as pretty centrist. It is also completely unclear how he counts as “authoritarian”; he also explicitly claims that he is not against multiculturalism per se. Organisations that are against the EU are included, despite the fact that many anti-EU arguments are based upon a distrust of the authoritarianism of the EU. (And remember, the research was partly funded by an EU organisation!) UKIP’s Twitter account is included in the list. No attempt was made to explain the disparities between the attribution of “far right” and the account holders’ self-definition -- see, for instance, the mission statement of the EDL, which focuses on humans rights, whose now-suspended Twitter account was included in the study. Of course, a mission statement may deviate from reality. But these academic authors have not demonstrated that the “far right” label is merited, as an academic should do. The account holders’ own view of their activities is swept aside; instead, they are “scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water,” to quote H.G. Wells.

The paper gives certain clues about what the authors really think “far right” involves: priority given to a country’s citizens, such as “welfare provisions (e.g. more social aids only for the natives), labor rights (more rights only for native workers).” This includes anyone who thinks citizens of a country are entitled to (higher) welfare payments than non-citizens. This is such a broad definition as to be laughable.

The paper is dripping in assumptions, assumptions which act to deny the agency and credibility of those they study. Certain scholars who share some views of the “far right” and of “Islamophobia” are cited as authoritative, yet for others, such as Samuel Huntington, the mere mention of the name is enough to indicate that they are not to be taken seriously. The authors repeatedly write hideous sentences such as “a transnational far right discourse is built around interpretative frames of Islamophobia” and “Engaging in a transnational collective action signals the will of movements to establish links with like-minded formations across borders based on a common discourse built on shared interpretative frames.” What this means in English is that the views of the Twitter account holders are seen as “interpretations” of the world; nowhere, literally nowhere in this paper, is there the remotest suggestion that any of these “interpretations” might have any basis in fact or evidence. Such “scholarship” has unmoored itself completely from any suggestion that the “subjects” they study might have a clue about what’s going on in the world. They really do see them as if they are microbes, not real people.

It’s important to understand how far the standards of university scholarship have fallen. Often this kind of research work is farmed out to young eager academics with little experience or knowledge, happy simply to churn out whatever conformist publication will get them on the next stage of an increasingly perilous career ladder. The rush to publish and the uncertainty of the academic job market are a toxic mix that’s part of the reason for lowered academic standards, and is an important factor driving the lazy assumptions that are affecting the real world.

Many members of the public will have been included in this research. In addition to the 40 “far right” accounts studied, the researchers looked at 6000 Twitter accounts that had retweeted at least one of these accounts at least five times, on the assumption that a retweet implies support for a cause and a wish to spread its message. So if that’s you, you could be being scrutinised by an EU-funded study as a supporter of the “far right.” The retweets focused on were those across national borders; the researchers in fact found little evidence that Twitter provides what they call a “dark international arena” for significant activity across borders for the “far right”; indeed, they found only 1617 such retweets. We are not told how many tweets in total this involved. But they did conclude from this small sample that such retweets were likely to concern the economy, or an “anti-immigration” stance. There’s no attempt to give any precise account of what views count as “anti-immigration”; there’s a world of difference between people who want zero immigration or a racially based immigration policy, from those who are concerned about issues such as whether a country’s infrastructure can support a certain level of immigration, or security measures. If wanting a welfare system that prioritises citizens is “anti-immigration,” that’s a very broad definition.

But the authors have their trump card here, for they claim that the core of this anti-immigration stance is Islamophobia. In the retweets that cross national borders, there are “two main interpretative frames positioning Muslims as a cultural threat to the West and as security threats.” Note the “interpretative frames” trick -- it means that the authors don’t have to bother to investigate if any of the tweets are based on anything substantive. In other words, there’s an assumption written into the language that the tweets are the product of ideological bias. That’s “the pot calling the kettle black.” It’s Muslims who are targeted most in these tweets, or so the authors tell us. We have to take their word for it, for we aren’t even given a list of these tweets or even told how many they are. Instead, just a few examples are analyzed.

The authors refer to a tweet from the (now suspended) account UKPegida. It’s worth a detailed look at what the researchers say:

The tweet includes a video of an allegedly Muslim preacher shouting about an Islamic takeover in a city square. UKPegida posted the video with the following text: “Islamic cleric in Germany warns Germans at a city square: Sharia Law is coming. “Yr [your] daughters will marry Muslims.’” Reminiscent of Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations and by civilizationist understandings of national identities (Brubaker 2017), in this worldview the “West” is portrayed as vulnerable to the invading Muslims and their purported plan to institute Islamic law in Europe. Islam is described as being homogeneous, inherently fundamentalist, and as a “religion cum ideology.”’

Note this sleight of hand. Many critics of Islam attempt to defend themselves from the charge of “racism” or “xenophobia” by pointing out that Islam is an ideology, not a race. Yet these authors implicitly rule this out by stating that the claim that Islam is an ideology is an element of Islamophobia!

Unfortunately, and again reflecting rather poorly on the scholarship, there is no screenshot for the tweet and no link to the original video. A video on YouTube, however, could well be the video linked to the now unavailable tweet; it’s certainly typical of the kind of tweet an account like UKPegida would be likely to cite. There are English subtitles, which appear to be a largely accurate translation of the German, although the audio quality is poor. The seemingly Islamic cleric in question tells passers-by: “I bring you the words of peace -- Allahu Akbar. You will be in a few years an Islamic state. Also your daughter will be married by (to?) a Muslim man. She will have Muslim teachers and learn Arabic. You can do nothing against it. In a few years will our Muslim parliament make the laws. Then will the sharia be in this country the law. Take the good, peaceful Islam for your religion. In a few generations will this country be Muslim. Your children will marriage Muslims (sic). You will all convert to Muslim and sharia will be the law.”

The comments by the authors of this peer-reviewed academic paper might be read as implying that it’s UKPediga who are “scaremongering” by claiming that “yr daughters will marry Muslims.” But it looks very much as if UKPegida’s tweet was simply citing this man as shouting out an intention to Islamize Germany.

Here’s another tweet the authors discuss: “Marine Le Pen provides an example of such a frame” of Islam as being homogeneous, inherently fundamentalist, and as a “religion cum ideology,” “tweeting a quote of herself: ‘I defend women’s rights in the face of fundamentalist Islam. I am, by the way, the only candidate to speak about this problem.’ #RTLMatin.” The authors conclude: “Such stereotypes are well documented in literature on far right discourse.”

The authors don’t include the dates of the tweets, another example of poor scholarship, as it’s then impossible to check context; this tweet presumably refers to the French Presidential election of 2017. And was Marine Le Pen the only candidate discussing the problem of women’s rights under fundamentalist Islam? We aren’t told, but it’s likely true, and the authors must know it. Is it a “stereotype” that fundamentalist Islam has a dim view of women’s rights? No, it’s an easily verifiable fact. The authors also didn’t notice that, having just whined that the “far right” had a monolithic homogenous notion of Islam, Marine Le Pen in this tweet specifically referred to “fundamentalist” Islam, thereby implicitly allowing that more moderate Islamic voices might take a better view of women’s rights.

The authors opine that “beyond culture-based prejudices, Tweets often relate Muslims to domestic security threats, most notably terrorism, but also as criminals and violent sexual deviants.” Perhaps that’s why the dates of Tweets were not given -- it might have provided the critical context to understand and interpret them; necessary, too, would be screenshots showing any extended discussion online. This is appallingly poor scholarship. It actually means that there is no sensible or productive discussion of groups who might be genuinely hateful towards Muslims as individual people, who might be genuinely exaggerating threats, who might be genuinely racist, because any such groups or individuals are lumped in with those who are trying to have discussion based upon tangible evidence.

This is one of the major reasons for objecting to such work. Our critique of this scholarship in no way wishes to defend those who are genuinely racist and genuinely hateful towards groups or individuals. Quite the reverse.

Several of the UK accounts have now been suspended. Is this a coincidence or is the work of these Vox Populi researchers part of the reason behind these decisions? Twitter users who have retweeted any of these accounts more than five times should be aware that their tweets have been scrutinized by these researchers who have a distinct political agenda and ways of “analysing” and “interpreting” your activity on Twitter. The research, then, draped in the clothing of empirical and statistical analysis of tweets, is itself drenched to the skin in particular assumptions about politics, the nation, nationalism, and identities.

These academics are not simply doing impartial academic research, they are influencing governments and tech companies. Who’s the political activist here?

Pamela Geller is the President of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), publisher of The Geller Report and author of the bestselling book, FATWA: Hunted in America, as well as The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America and Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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