The recent Islamophobic absurdity comes to us courtesy of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who claimed in a London speech delivered at the Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank, that Muslims establish “no-go zones” outside civic control such as the case in Birmingham. Actually, Jindal’s Islamophobic ignorant statements are not original. Steven Emerson was the first to use the “no-go zones” absurdity in an interview on Fox with Sean Hannity. Emerson later added on the initial absurd claim with another Fox host, Jeanine Pirro, that “there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in,” and the presence of “Muslim religious police” that enforce Islamic law in these areas.
Certainly, Islamophobia produces a sudden ignorance syndrome among otherwise intelligent and highly educated people as the case of Governor Jindal readily illustrates. When Prime Minister David Cameron was informed of Emerson’s Birmingham comment he correctly called him a “complete idiot,” resulting in a swift apology from Fox news for broadcasting such erroneous and unsubstantiated claims. Emerson issued a rare apology stating likewise that his comments were in complete error.
Julie Banderas, a Fox anchor, expressed similar apologies by stating: “Over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France… Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly are not allowed in and police supposedly won’t go… To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion.”
The “no-go zones” issue did not go away with the apology as Fox and Emerson hoped. Paris’ Mayor Anne Hidalgo is contemplating to sue the news Channel for “insulting” the city in the wake of the channel’s coverage of supposed “no-go zones” for non-Muslims. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the Mayor declared that “When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed…The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”
Yet, it seems the memo of Emerson’s apology and Fox’s retraction did not make it to Governor Jindal on time or maybe he was still up in the air while these retractions, possible lawsuits and changes were hitting the airwaves and newspaper stands. If the London speech was set to bolster Jindal’s foreign policy credentials as a rising Republican star with possible presidential or national aspiration then we must conclude that it was an utter failure. Was Emerson or Fox anchors’ the speechwriters or consultants on the text for it read and sounded as if it came directly from the Islamophobia industry cookbook!
The London visit and speech focused on immigration with Governor Jindal framing his comments as “speaking the truth,” while expecting “to make people upset” because they are failing to recognize the serious challenges facing western society. In the speech, Governor Jindal waded into the murky subject of assimilation and what he believed to be the critical issues stating:”The huge issue, the big issue in non-assimilation is the fact that you have people that want to come to our country but not adopt our values, not adopt our language and in some cases want to set apart their own enclaves and hold onto their own values… I think that’s dangerous.”
Governor Jindal further charged that immigrants are seeking “to colonize Western countries, because setting up your own enclave and demanding recognition of a “no-go zone” are exactly that.” Appropriating the colonial language and charging the immigrants who initially were brought to Europe in late 19th and early 20th century to work in menial jobs and to fight in the French army is an added insult to the demonstrated absurdity of the “no-go zones” claim. The “colonize western countries” reference is the hallmark in Europe of the extreme right wing and the language deployed by the Islamophobes across the continent when speaking of Muslim demographic threat. Welcome to the racist demographic threat extreme right wing European collective!
What we are witnessing in Jindal’s speech is the upending of history and total reductionism in approaching the subject of colonization. Further, Jindal’s casting the Muslim and African presence in Europe as a colonizing project gives credence to the violent voices that treat and approaches the immigration problem as a war rather than an outcome of long patterns of economic, political, social and historical relations between the colonized and colonizer. Most immigrants in Europe come from ex-colonial territories and arrive into the colonial motherland in search of job opportunities and security and not to colonize the West, as the Islamophobes love to claim.
More importantly in the speech, Jindal demanded that Muslim leaders condemn the people who commit terrorism in the name of Islam as “murderers who are going to hell.” Indeed, the Governor was not content with mere condemnation but wants to make sure that Muslim went the extra step of opening a space for them in hell, as if it is the only thing that can make a difference in this rather complex problem. What is being done once again is blaming the group for the actions of few who happen to share the same faith. Why should Muslims be asked to undertake such an action unless one assumes or ascribe to them collective responsibility or guilt. In this context, Governor Jindal joins the racist Islamophobes by using an indirect guilt by association reference because it assumes that Muslim leaders and their followers are supporting these terrorists behind closed doors!
The visit to London comes on the heels of the Paris terrorist attacks and the intense debates concerning religious identity, immigration and assimilation or lack thereof, which some commentators made it the centerpiece of analysis. Not content with absurd claims, Governor Jindal went on to state, “the bigger point is that radical Islam is a threat to our way of life.” Thus Governor Jindal made the jump from terrorist acts by individuals into making it a “threat to our way of life” and inserting again Islam into the framing. In doing so Jindal has joined the Islamophobic crowed and became adherent to a distorted framing of the issues. Governor Jindal could have focused on terrorism and how it impacts everyone including Muslims but he opted to use the Islamophobic trope in this speech. The critical question, did Governor Jindal strategy for the 2016 Republican nomination involves monetizing Islamophobia for votes at the ballot box and taking a page from Europe’s extreme right wing!