As the Swedish elections draw closer, the rise of the far-right in the country in the form of the Sweden Democrats party, currently polling at a record 20%, just behind the ruling Social Democrats, has surprised the global community. However, this is part of a global trend, where far-right parties like the Sweden Democrats, have risen to popularity on the back of marginalising Muslims and immigrants, although in the past this has also extended to the Jewish community.
More recently, however Muslims have been the primary target – in particular, those who are politically active or active in charitable activities. In the same way as the UK’s PREVENT policy does, these Muslims are seen through the lens of counter-extremism, as “extremists”. It is a simple task and seldom does one need to provide any real, hard evidence before confining an individual to this label.
Activists can be labelled “extremists” in a circular argument, where one pundit writes sweepingly about a Muslim “extremist”, while another writer or politician picks this charge up as evidence of this Muslim’s so-called “extremism”.
In Sweden, very little acknowledgement is given to the fact that innocents who are portrayed “extremists” often get caught in a carousel of attacks, racism, loss of jobs and huge psychological stress.
How the “extremist” argument has facilitated a structural fascism
The debate about the protection of those who are wrongly portrayed as “extremists” has been absent from the public arena in Sweden.
Rather, rule of law rights for Muslims have not only been decreased, but in some cases thrown away. Recently, two Muslim activists were forced off from an event because of a false allegation of “extremism” by a local politician in Gothenburg. The local politician together with right-wing pundits started a media campaign against the activists and others associated with them. Muslims have frequently been denied platforms because of the false charge of “extremism”.
And when it comes to legal cases where people have been charged with terrorism, only a minority of the cases have led to a conviction. One of the most absurd cases was when a refugee was hunted by the police in 2015 for allegedly being a “terrorist”, and the media put up pictures of him with bizarre headlines. One newspaper wrote, on the day of his arrest: “Ladies and Gentleman, We got him!”. Later this man was proven innocent, but of course, the damage had already been done.
These are only a few examples of how far astray the logic of War on Terror has gone.
As long as the problematisation of Muslims can be utilised for political gain, few consider the very real and serious consequences of this creeping social fascism on the justice system.
What has resulted is a structural fascism that has stemmed from Islamophobia. Government agencies and politicians from main-stream parties are not only using the language of Islamophobia, but government agencies now dismiss reputable Muslim organisations who have thousands of members as “extremist” based on irresponsible charges of “being close to the Muslim Brotherhood”, instead of looking to what kind of work these organisations do.
People who have long argued for a society free of racism and oppression are dismissed as “extremists”. Organisations that do amazing social work, or who work against oppression and racism are portrayed as lobbyists for homophobia, terrorism and anti-Semitism, often by a guilt-by-association rhetoric – and simply because they are Muslim.
Astoundingly, this, in Sweden, has become political correctness.
Using a barometer of ‘Whiteness’ to define what is ‘normal’ and therefore acceptable
The French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari point to the fact that racism does not only affect people considered to have the wrong skin or hair colour. According to them, not even culture is a good explanation for racism.
Rather, for Deleuze and Guattari, the crime that the victims of racism commit is that they are seen as having a distance to Whiteness and the ideology of Whiteness.
No group embodies this more than Muslims, who on a daily basis are attributed with perceived human and cultural defects, through being ascribed to honour-killings, terrorism, subjugation of women, secret agendas, extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Basically, the crimes of Muslims are everything that Whites do not consider themselves to be. In this context, some will sort and categorise Muslims through the tropes of “ordinary” and “normal” Muslims versus those who are “extreme” or “radical” based on how distant the latter group are to the dominant ideology of “perfect” Whiteness.
Deleuze and Guattari would probably warn against this discourse; it is a way to say that Muslims are “normal” and “ordinary” the closer they are to Whiteness (even though the crimes of this Whiteness have been well documented, though not often publicised).
It is the condition that to be seen as “normal”, “ordinary” and by extension “human” in a racist culture depends on one’s ability to act White, or, at least, respect and subordinate oneself to the “Truths of Whiteness”.
It is by clothing Muslims in all of this falsehood and racism that Europe is rediscovering and redefining itself. The winds of fascism sweeping across the West goes hand in hand with the portrayal of the Muslim as the opposite of White, or the West.
How the ‘homophobia’ issue has been co-opted by the far-right
One example is how homophobia is a priori attributed to Muslims, as Jasbir K Puar shows in the book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Puar reveals how Western societies have intensified work for the rights of LGBT+ communities, while simultaniously intensifying its projection of homophobia on Islam and Muslims.
This has reached such an intensity that it has been involved in war logics. A part of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, the Swedish work against “radicalisation” has identified homophobia as a sign of “extremism” that can lead to terrorism.
Those who are assumed to be homophobes are put under anti-terror surveillance – but only if they are Muslim.
Anna-Maria Sörberg shows in her book, Homonationalism, how fascist and right-wing parties that previously have been staunch opponents to LGBT+ communities are now using the issue as a way to contrast themselves as more “human” than Muslims and Islam.
This has resulted in Muslims self-censuring themselves in fear of being criminalised as “extremists”, and thereby losing jobs, their reputation and their friends.
Why the ‘counter-extremism’ mess reveals the weaknesses of those who constructed it
This modus operandi is not original; Martin Luther King Jr mentions in a letter that he became sad at first when he was called an “extremist”. But the more he thought about it, the more it made him glad.
I can understand why; a society that calls somebody that fights against racist oppression an “extremist” proves by its actions that it is racist.
In the same way, this reductionist rhetoric that reduces activists fighting for equality and against racism to “extremists”, does so clearly to silence, censure and delegitimise them.
This shows the weaknesses of those in power; they are afraid of activists and those who struggle for justice and equality.
This is a victory already. Historians of the future will be our witnesses.
Amanj Aziz is a MA student of Sociology. He is active in the organisation Morayma and blogs at NyansMuslim.se and AmanjAziz09.wordpress.com. This article was first published in Swedish, here.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)