[Book Review] Islamophobia and Racism in America by Erik Love | Reviewed by Hinasahar Muneeruddin

This book review by Hinasahar Muneeruddin was first presented at the 2nd Annual Graduate Student Book Review Colloquium on Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies organized by the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University & The Maydan. This is a slightly revised version of the paper delivered at the Colloquium.

Erik Love. Islamophobia and Racism in America. New York: New York University Press, 2017. 272 pages. $28.00 paperback | Reviewed by Hinasahar Muneeruddin

What does it mean to “look Muslim” and can it be considered as a racial category? Is Islamophobia racism? These are just a few of the questions posed in, Islamophobia and Racism in Americaa timely monograph by Erik Love, who is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. With the recent political developments and the dissemination of Islamophobic statements from highest offices of the nation, such as the “Islam hates us” rhetoric, as well as keeping in mind that September 11, 2001 is still not too far-gone from American memory, it is no exaggeration to say that hate crimes against Muslims is at an all-time high in the US and the rest of the world.

Eric Love develops the argument that race is at the very center of Islamophobia, which lies upon the socially-constructed framework of physically “marking” someone as Muslim. In this way, Islamophobes have systematically discriminated against Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs, and South Asian Americans throughout American history—all based upon racialization of the category of “Muslim.” The author maintains that in order to fully understand and address the systemic way Muslims are categorized and discriminated against, advocacy organizations must include race as part of their practical strategy in combatting Islamophobia. In establishing this historical background, Love arrives at the primary question of his book—whether or not “Middle Eastern American” advocates should utilize the framework of racism to develop effective strategies in their fight against Islamophobia—which consist of either race-conscious or race-neutral strategies. By analyzing and studying six of the largest Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian American advocacy organizations, through methods of textual analysis of documents such as pamphlets, conference programs, newsletters, databases, as well as by conducting seventy in-depth, qualitative interviews (and eighty follow-up interviews) with sixty-two advocates, the author concludes that most of these organizations have complicated histories and trajectories which have led them to follow race-neutral strategies in order to combat Islamophobia.

Ultimately, Love argues that placing Islamophobia within a long historical trajectory of racism in America may prove to be a more effective method in representing the depth of how problematic and destructive Islamophobia can be and how it thrives today.

Islamophobia and Racism in America proves to be an opportune study, intended for both advocates and scholars, that aims to supplement sociological literature on anti-Muslim racism. For this reason, the book expands upon academic scholarship on racial discrimination in America and provides alternative ways of approaching advocacy organizations and their work within the broader framework of racial history in the United States.

Islamophobia and Racism consists of six content chapters. The first chapter, “The Racial Dilemma,” outlines the histories of race, Islamophobia, and the formation of certain racial categories (such as “Middle Eastern”) in the United States. It also serves as an introductory chapter by setting up the parameters of the study, methodologies, and limitations. The author hopes to ultimately illustrate how race overlaps with the strategic decisions made by many advocates and advocacy groups struggling against Islamophobia. The second chapter is entitled “The Racial Paradox” and it details the sociological theories of race and race formation in the context of civil rights advocacy. The third chapter, “Islamophobia in America,” traces the histories of racism in America and Islamophobia in culture, politics, and policy especially through the construction of the “Orient” and other stereotypical “Muslim” figures. The next chapter is called “Confronting Islamophobia” and it provides a detailed history and trajectory of policies of the six most important organizations in the Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian American advocacy domain. It concludes that race and the racial dilemma has consistently been a point of contention for these advocacy groups. Chapter five is called the “Civil Rights Coalition” and it delineates how Middle Eastern American advocates have formulated a variety of methods and strategies in order to answer the question of the racial dilemma—first by using race-conscious strategies to build coalitions with Black Civil Rights organizations and then by shifting to “colorblind” approaches after September 11, 2001. Lastly, chapter six looks towards the future of Civil Rights in America, especially since not only Islamophobia continues to grow and maintain its prevalence, but also since Middle Eastern American advocates continue to be perplexed by the racial dilemma.

Islamophobia and Racism is an incredibly thorough book that successfully demonstrates how race, racism, and Islamophobia intersect in the United States. It also provides invaluable insights as to why understanding Islamophobia within the framework of racism becomes so important for effective advocacy strategizing.

On the other hand, this monograph has a couple limitations, which the author himself admits: 1) it does not engage with any other modes of intersectional analysis such as class, sexuality, and gender, and 2) being a book on race and the history of race, the entire project loses some credibility by not talking in depth about the history of Black Muslims in America and the aspects of Islamophobia they faced.
Accordingly, the monograph may have proved to be more compelling if it did more extensively include Black Muslims as part of this narrative of racism and Islamophobia in America. In addition, not including Black Muslims in this book further reproduces the erasure of the long history of Black people as Muslims—which is unfortunately, a prevailing trend within many academic fields. Furthermore, Islamophobia and Racism can be improved by further complicating and problematizing the actual word “Islamophobia” (Love touches upon this only briefly within the text)—as it implies the “fear of Islam”—by detailing ways in which Islamophobia may not be the most accurate word to describe the racist phenomena, rhetoric, and sentiments that are prevalent today. 
“…the accessibility of the concepts and language located within Islamophobia and Racism makes it the perfect book to teach and deconstruct complex histories, categories, and terms for undergraduate students.”
Lastly, although the author does acknowledge the problems with using “Middle Eastern American” as a racial category to describe “Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans,” it may have been a more critical move (and perhaps even more persuasive) to have utilized or even invented another term to describe this category of “brown immigrants,” since collapsing various religious groups (Muslims and Sikhs) and ethnic groups (Arab, South Asian) that all “look Muslim” into a single category seems to reproduce the very violence that Islamophobia enlists as well as reproducing the colonial violences inherent in the process of categorization and mis-categorization.

Despite these limitations, Erik Love has produced a unique study that exposes the insidious nature of Islamophobia and its continued development. In addressing Islamophobia as part and parcel of the institution of racism, advocacy groups may be better able to contest the material consequences of Islamophobia for Muslims and those who may be perceived as Muslim. In addition, the accessibility of the concepts and language located within Islamophobia and Racism makes it the perfect book to teach and deconstruct complex histories, categories, and terms for undergraduate students. In this way, Love’s monograph is a fascinating and useful teaching tool and an invaluable contribution for scholars, teachers, and activists—especially at this salient political moment in America where racism, hate, and Islamophobia seem to only be snowballing.