Arun Kundnani, formerly editor of the journal Race and Class, is currently Adjunct Professor of Media, Culture and Communications at New York University and teaches terrorism studies at John Jay College, New York. The Muslims are coming! is based on three years of research (supported by the Institute of Race Relations) in the UK and America and is based on 160 interviews with young people, campaigners, youth workers, government officials and religious leaders.
Addressing discourses around Islamophobia and the domestic war on terror is no longer the sole responsibility of government ministers and foreign policy think tanks, but is increasingly noted as an issue that senior leadership teams and teaching staff in UK schools must confront. In teacher education, a focus on all areas of discrimination has become a mainstay, historically dominated by 'race' and gender but more recently aligned with the Equalities Act 2010 which specifies the following protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. A Pew report on Muslim networks and movements in western Europe states that in absolute terms, the UK has the region's third largest Muslim community, after Germany (4,119,000) and France (3,574,000), numbering 2,869,000, or 4.6% of the population. This strikes at the heart of Kundnani's book: a Muslim presence in itself is perceived as a problematic notion.
Despite its heavily politicised content including comparative radicalisation narratives with the United States, a scrutiny of the infamous counter-terrorism strategy, 'Prevent' - which was hailed as the approach that would win over 'hearts and minds' - and a compelling insight into 21st Century crusaders of the far right, such as the English Defence League and the British National Party, Kundnani's book comprehensively exposes the demonised, pathologised perception of Muslims. In turn, it also offers transparency as to how this ideology has gained momentum over the last ten years. As a practising Muslim myself, I find much in Kundnani's book that is alarming, distressing and uncomfortable to take in. I see little, if anything, in common with the faith that I and the majority of other Muslims practice. This is precisely why I would recommend the book as an essential source for teaching on equality and diversity in teacher education; it clarifies how and why the distorting lens through which Muslims are portrayed in western Europe and America has become so well established, and reveals deeply rooted racist ideology at the very core.
The book is very readable. It is sharp, punchy and rich in evidence and is well suited to the needs of the undergraduate or postgraduate researcher. The content is unapologetically hard-hitting in delivering the paradox captured in the title, The Muslims are coming! To illustrate this irony, in reporting the Woolwich murder, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson made a disturbing comment, describing one of the assailants as being 'of Muslim appearance'. This exemplar, captured in the introductory pages, reveals one of the major threads in Kundnani's book: the problematic nature of Muslim identity politics and the ease with which 'Muslimness' is somehow noted as a visible entity delivering on a 'them and us' discourse. The book goes on to explore (in fine detail) narratives of extremism following the war on terror. However, in relation to Muslim identity politics, the relevance to teacher education could not be more acute. Kundnani argues that after ten years of rhetoric surrounding the war on terror, Muslims can only be perceived in this distorted way; a distortion embedded in a militarised political identity as a default way of understanding this particular faith group. The task for teacher education, based on the insights of this book, is to reinforce the integrationist model of diversity and multiculturalism, based on shared values. This book also reminds us of our responsibility to buck the trend in relation to an ideology that paints a picture of a faith group which is entrenched in racism.
Nasima Hassan, Senior Lecturer, University of East London
Review by (Nasima Hassan) (2014) 'The Muslims are coming!: Islamophobia, extremism and the domestic war on terror ' Research in Teacher Education, Vol 4 (No.2), 45-48.