Orientalism at home: Islamophobia in the
representations of Islam and Muslims by the
New Labour government.
Author: Leon Moosavi
A presentation by Sophie Whistance and Jessica Davies
• This article sets out to explore Islamophobia within the government and
areas of contemporary society;
• Arguing that Islamophobia is based on generalisations, assumptions and
stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, and that this is evident in speeches made
by influential ministers, using discourse analysis to prove this.
• Calling for an awareness of the way in which mainstream politicians in
Britain have been involved in stigmatising Islam and Muslims, and
• This article is concerned with the way in which Islam and Muslims
were conveyed in speeches by British Cabinet ministers of the labour
Government following 9/11 until Tony Blair’s (Former Labour prime
minister) resignation in 2007.
• This article specifically focuses on the representations by Government
ministers as prejudices that are generally assumed to be confined to
those with less education than those in the highest echelons of
• Mainstream politicians have a huge influence over public opinion, and
should thus be expected to maintain high standards of responsible
speech, making this a subject that must be treated very seriously.
• Leon considers Islamophobia as being about demonising Islam and/or
Muslims by using stereotypes that are often historic, such as that
Islam/Muslims are violent, barbaric and oppressive, despite this being a
• In this sense it shares the same characteristics and logic as racism, as it
essentialises a group of people as having inherent qualities that cast
them as inferior.
• When analysing ministers speeches, Leon was concerned with whether
or not they essentialised Muslims as an Other and whether or not they
stereotyped them as having innate negative qualities.
• 111 speeches by 16 Labour Ministers between 2001 and 2007
• Gathered from various government websites and news media outlets
• Analysed using discourse analysis, not only looking at what was said
but also at what not was said.
• The speeches were coded by identifying the common manner in which
Islam and Muslims were spoken about.
• Throughout the ministers’ speeches, Muslims were focused in a way
that no other minority groups were.
• Muslims were singled out in discussions concerning multiculturalism,
integration and other social issues, this has been recognised in
literature as one way in which Muslims are specifically demonised.
(Ameli et al., 2007:93)
• There were many instances where Blair and other ministers spoke of
‘Islamic Extremism’, ‘Islamic Radicalism’ and ‘Muslim Fundamentalism’
with occasional reminders of acts of extremism to justify these actions.
• Muslims were also singled out in the 2006 furore about the Islamic face
veil, primarily by Jack Straw, who described the face veil as a ‘visible mark
of separation and difference’ even though one could say the same about
Scottish kilts, Sikh turbans, Jewish kippahs, Japanese Kimonos and Indian
Saris which probably have as many - if not more - people who wear them
• Harriet Harman criticised Muslim GP’s for betraying patient
confidentiality, despite a huge lack of evidence, as well as claiming
Muslims ‘undermine democracy’ as 60,000 have not signed up for the
electoral register – even though this is only 3% of Muslims that live in
Britain, with 7% of the electoral register being made up of Muslims,
actually suggesting that Muslims are ‘participating in democracy’ to a
higher extent than the national average, proving Harriet’s claims to be
• Although Muslims were frequently treated as one homogenous group,
there were occasions when the ministers engaged in drawing fault
lines amongst Muslims.
• Throughout the speeches, it was common for Government Ministers
to talk about ‘true Islam’ and ‘real Muslims’, the ‘good’ ones being
described as moderate and the ‘bad’ ones as the extremists.
Gordon Brown called for
“partnership with moderate Muslims and moderates everywhere”.
‘The lack of precision of what it means to be British’
• In a great number of speeches, issues around national identity were
raised, reflecting how Muslims have been a key feature in recent
discussions about national identity in a changing world that is more
globalised and diverse than ever before.
• In the speeches it is argued that patriotism towards Britain needs to be
increased through an emphasis on ‘Britishness’ and ‘British Values’.
• The discussions of ‘Britishness’ seemed to be held in relation to
discussions of Muslims, with ministers seeming to construct ideas of
‘Britishness’ as something opposite of what it meant to be Muslim.
• Identity is constructed in relation to the Other, therefore it is
interesting to note how the values that the ministers stress are
defined as central to ‘Britishness’ are all ones that are commonly
perceived as absent in Islam (Kalin, 2004: 171, 173; Kundnani, 2007:
• This corresponds with the idea that there is a conflict between Islamic
values and British values that cannot be reconciled, and that the
presence of Muslims in Europe is actually threatening these values.
• For example, Samuel P Huntington claims Muslims are guilty of
maintaining their values which contradict ‘Western’ ideals.
‘In the heart of our Muslim communities’
• Throughout their speeches, the ministers suggested that Britain was a
victim under threat, and it was quite easy to draw the conclusion that
the threat originated with Muslims en masse.
• Tony Blair – “the al-Qaeda network threatens Europe, including
Britain… we have a direct interest in acting in our self-defence to
protect British lives”
• It has been argued that the fear generated by all these claims that
Britain faces a ‘new age of insecurity and uncertainty’. (Reid, 2006)
• The ministers were guilty of demonising Muslim youth as a group that
the rest of society should be concerned about.
• The stigmatisation of young Muslims has recently been apparent in
debates about universities being ‘hotbeds of extremism’ (Abbas, 2006:
xvi – xvii; Phillips, 2007: 49)
• The major way in which it materialised in the speeches was through the
suspicion of madrassahs (Islamic schools), which were perceived as
places where extremism could be forced onto young people.
• Madrassahs became key sites which the government planned to
intervene in by closing the ones deemed ‘extreme’ and proscribing a
standard curriculum for the rest.
‘The veil is about radicalisation’
• Dominant stereotype: Islam/ Muslims are excessively patriarchal and
• Loubana Skalli (2004) has explained how Muslim women have been
considered by ‘Westerners’ as victims of their Islamic heritage
without even being consulted first.
• The ministers spoke about the abolition of the veil and the need for
women to be more prominent in the public sphere. So, for example,
there were calls by numerous ministers for Muslim women to remove
• This article has investigated the representations of Muslims and Islam
by Labour cabinet ministers 2001-2007.
• It found that the ministers often spoke of Muslims rather than to
them, reflecting a tendency to treat Muslims as outsiders rather than
• The generalised discussion of Muslims often implicated the broader
Muslim community as just as dangerous as the Muslim extremists.
• Overall, the ministers painted a picture of multiculturalism which has
failed because of Muslims choosing to live separate lives.