By Abhishek Jha:
There is a small contention I have with Women In The World and The Siasat Daily describing the “Walk A Mile In Her Hijab” initiative at the Vernon Hills High School in Chicago as a protest against Islamophobia and racism. The event conducted last week involved non-Muslim girls wearing the hijab, as Abdallah, the president of the group that organised the event explained, “to gain a better understanding of the Muslim faith.”
There might be, in the face of what is understood as a problem of “intolerance”, a tendency to participate in an activity that shows that one is an ally. A new sanction of sorts that Islamophobia seems to have received in the election campaign of Donald Trump might prompt one to participate in such events as the one organised in Chicago.
However, it is to be understood that none of this helps the struggle against racism or Islamophobia. What is accomplished by these calls for tolerance (one made now by the CEO of Google too) instead is that, ‘political differences, differences conditioned by political inequality, economic exploitation, etc., are naturalized/neutralized into “cultural” differences, different “ways of life,” which are something given, something that cannot be overcome, but merely “tolerated”.’
But Islamophobia and racism aren’t mere problems arising due to cultural differences. Ahmed Mohammed was was arrested despite participating in something that is considered quintessentially American: innovation. Richard Dawkins, a scientist himself, had the most virulent things to say about the student. There could be a lot of American Muslims or people of colour in America who do not have any cultural differences that needed to be “tolerated” but might end up being racially profiled.
There is an interesting article that the journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote after the Charleston shootings that might help explicating my point further. In his article, Greenwald uses the media’s coverage of various incidents of violence that “looked, felt and smelled exactly like other acts that are instantly branded “terrorism” when the perpetrator is Muslim and the victims largely white” and one that was committed by a convert to Islam but without any political or ideological motives to show how the term terrorism is a term that “justifies everything yet means nothing.” His article is a great exercise in learning how its politics and not cultural differences that is at the heart of Islamophobia.
White Americans who wish to fight Islamophobia and racism should, therefore, look for political solutions. These expressions of “being an ally” might arise from genuine concerns and a desire for change, but only further marginalise the voices of those already silenced by the structure of society.