By Viv Smith
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2242

Searchlight’s theory of ‘tribes’ won’t defeat racists

This article is over 13 years, 4 months old
Muslims are demonised for every ill in society. We are told that they refuse to fit in, don’t speak enough English, don’t adopt British values and harbour extremists.
Issue 2242

Muslims are demonised for every ill in society. We are told that they refuse to fit in, don’t speak enough English, don’t adopt British values and harbour extremists.

Nick Clegg made a speech in Luton last week, supposedly to defend multiculturalism against David Cameron’s attacks. But even this ended up criticising Muslims.

Clegg referred to a new report, Fear and Hope: The New Politics of Identity, released by the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight.

It is based on a survey Searchlight commissioned from the polling company Populus. This polled a cross section of the British population on issues of race, identity and nationhood.

Its results confirm a worrying rise in Islamophobia and anti‑immigrant sentiment.

But Searchlight uses the results to justify the strategy it outlines for tackling Islamophobia.

The report argues that Muslim extremism is the same as the racism and extremism of the far right. It describes Muslim extremism as acting as “drivers and recruiters for the far right”.

It announces the launch of the Together Project—a new campaign that will organise under the slogan, “A plague on both your houses.”

For Searchlight to equate the far right with Muslims is disgraceful. It is an attack on the people at the sharp end of racism in Britain today.

The report says that 48 percent of respondents would support the formation of a new party which says it wants to “defend the English, create an English parliament, control immigration, challenge Islamic extremism, [and] restrict the building of mosques.”

But in fact only 21 percent of respondents said they would definitely support such a party, while 27 percent said they would definitely not support one.

The survey’s results show much more contradictory attitudes than you’d believe from reading the report.

So, only 6 percent of respondents believe that speaking English well is important for someone to be regarded as British.

And asked how they’d react to the suggestion that, “Muslims are increasingly associated with violence and terrorism”, 49 percent said it is not true.

Another 21 percent said it is true but “unsurprising given actions of the West in the Muslim world” and “hostility displayed towards Muslims here at home”.


But Searchlight’s report attacks the idea that there is an anti-racist majority in society, saying that only 8 percent of society are “confident multiculturalists”.

It argues this by saying that class is not central to British politics. Instead it divides society into what it calls “tribes”, which it says have converged around race and identity.

These are grouped into three categories—Liberal (24 percent), Mainstream (52 percent) and Hostile (23 percent).

And the report considers the mainstream—made up of working class and some middle class elements—to be possible far right voters.

Apparently, this is because they are the most concerned about the economy, immigration and issues of race and identity.

This simply repackages the tired old argument that the working class is more open to racism.

In reality, organised workers have always been the best group to concretely challenge racist ideas.

Nearly every major trade union in Britain is affiliated to Unite Against Fascism—representing around seven million workers.

The working class has been central to fighting racism and fascism from Cable Street in 1936 to the British National Party and the English Defence League (EDL) today.

And a common working class identity—based on a shared experience of work and exploitation—still exists. By denying it Searchlight is breaking with that tradition and opening the door to racist ideas.

It is echoing a right wing Labour agenda—David Miliband has endorsed the campaign, while Jon Cruddas has written a forward to the report. References to “lessons” for the Labour party are peppered throughout.

But as the recession deepens and the Tory cuts hit home, working class unity will becoming even more important.

The EDL announced last weekend that it is discussing forming a political party to stand in elections.

Searchlight’s strategy for tackling racism is disastrous as it caves into the right’s idea that Muslims are to blame for the prejudice they suffer. This is no way to build anti-racist unity.

Another strategy is required, one that stands united against the racists and in opposition to the cuts. Both will devastate working class lives, unless we can unite to stop them.

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