How and Why Islamophobia Is Tied to English Nationalism but Not to Scottish Nationalism

By Hussain, Asifa; Miller, William | Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

How and Why Islamophobia Is Tied to English Nationalism but Not to Scottish Nationalism


Hussain, Asifa, Miller, William, Ethnic Studies Review


Muslim minorities throughout Europe are under threat of collateral damage from the Blair/Bush 'War on Terror.' In Scotland they also have to cope with the added possibility that Scottish nationalism might develop an 'ethnic' as well as a 'civic' dimension. But is Scottish nationalism part of the problem or part of the solution? Paradoxically, Muslims are under less pressure in Scotland than in England, despite Scotland's move over recent decades--psychologically as well as institutionally--towards nationalism.

The aim of this paper is to explore the connections between Islamophobia and sub-state nationalism within Britain. Muslim minorities in Britain and throughout Europe are now under threat of collateral damage from the Blair/Bush 'War on Terror.' But within Scotland, traditional Scottish self-consciousness, the long debate over devolution, rising nationalism and the eventual creation of a Scottish Parliament (inaugurated in 1999) all pose a potentially additional challenge to Scotland's Muslims.

In England there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that racial and cultural minorities identify with (inclusive) 'Britain' rather than (exclusive) 'England.' Ethnic minorities within England are notably reluctant to describe themselves as 'English' rather than 'British,' their modal preference being 'equally British and ethnic-group'--implying, it is claimed, that 'Britishness' is 'inclusive.' And conversely there is evidence to suggest that English nationalists--those members of the white majority in England who describe themselves as 'English, not British'--are particularly antagonistic towards racial and cultural minorities. If race, culture, and identity were linked together in a similar way within Scotland, we might expect that the position of any racially and culturally distinctive minority might have been undermined by the growth of Scottish nationalism--even without the added shock of Sept 11th.

Paradoxically our research shows that in almost every particular the opposite is the case. It shows that Muslims in Scotland identify with Scotland rather than the supposedly more 'inclusive' Britain; that the Blair/Bush 'War on Terror' has committed Muslims far more strongly to Scotland than ever before; that despite (or perhaps because of) the growth of Scottish national identity and the advent of a separate Scottish Parliament, Islamophobia is significantly lower in Scotland than in England; that although Islamophobia is clearly tied to English nationalism within England, it is almost uncorrelated with Scottish nationalism within Scotland.

This may imply that English nationalism is more 'ethnic' while Scottish nationalism is more self-consciously 'civic.' But Scottish nationalism does have an impact on phobias within Scotland, though on Anglophobia far more than on Islamophobia. The tendency of Scots to define themselves negatively as 'not-English' may provide some shelter for other 'non-English' groups within Scotland. Scottish Muslims gain some advantage from being a 'double-minority' -- a minority within a minority.

But the relative weakness of all anti-minority ethnic phobias in Scotland also reflects the consistently multi-cultural strategy of Scottish political elites--critically including the independence-oriented leadership of the SNP (Scottish National Party) as well as the merely devolution-oriented Labour and Liberal-Democrat elites. The Scottish public is not so naturally multi-culturalist as these elites. But Scottish elites work harder to moderate public prejudice than do English elites. So at the elite level there is a coalition of Muslims and Scottish Nationalists, which has been strengthened by a common antagonism towards Blair and his international policies. That elite coalition does not reach down to the street, but it has sufficient influence on the street to control and moderate the street-level antipathy between Muslims and nationalists--of the kind that exists within England.

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