Entangled ideologies of Islamophobia and misogyny

While being nationalist, Halla-aho’s writing in his blog also connects to transnational radical right-wing ideologies circulating on social media and to populist networks that cross nationstate borders. The transnational Islamophobic movement divides the world into ‘civilised Western culture’ and ‘primitive and dangerous Muslim culture’. It does so primarily through two discourses — racism (specifically Islamophobia) and misogyny (see, e.g. Horsti & Nikunen 2013; Nikunen 2015; Saresma 2017; Hatakka 2019; Saresma & Tulonen, 2020). It was, indeed, Halla-aho who mainstreamed Islamophobia into the Finnish public debate in the 2010s in his blog Scripta — Kirjoituksia uppoavasta liinnesta [Writings from the sinking West]. As the title of the blog demonstrates, the key ideology in his writing is the alleged destruction of Western civilisation because of the intrusion of Muslims.

He emphasises cultural differences of certain groups of people, and these differences are a means of exclusion of the ‘other’. An understanding of‘Finnishness’as a shared ethnic, linguistic, and cultural heritage is essential to the blog’s message. However, he does not want to specify the common features, as if they were common knowledge:

As I have written before, it is sophistic gimmickry to question ‘Finnishness’. 1 admit that 1 cannot define a ‘Finn’. 1 do, however, have a strong intuition, based on which 1 recognise who are Finns.

(Halla-aho 2011)

An example of the blog’s anti-immigration and anti-Muslim propaganda goes as follows:

For every nine [immigrants] with attitude problems that we receive to be supported, there is one that is in some way useful. The reason is that those who accuse me of focusing too much on skin colour or religion do not see anything else in those who arrive. To them, the dark skin of the arrivals and the fact that they worship Allah are good enough criteria to enter the country. Because otherness is a fetish to them.

(Halla-aho 2006a)

Here, mentioning Allah marks the unwanted immigrants as Muslims, a group framed throughout Halla-aho’s blog as a threat to Western civilisation and the Finnish nation. This is Islamophobia in its purest form. Islamophobia is ‘a form of culturalized racism that includes persistent Orientalist myths about Islam and Muslims’ (Horsti 2017, 1442; see also Werbner, 2013; Taras, 2013). Islamophobia includes the beliefs that Islam creates a culture that is sexist, misogynistic, violent, and anti-democratic and that Muslims cannot think rationally (Kumar, 2012, 42—60). It is thus not only religion that is attacked, but the intersections of culture, ethnicity, modernity, class, and sexuality in relation to religion. Islamophobia is a form of cultural racism (Goldberg, 2009, 175), emphasising presumed differences in culture as the cause of certain incapability, instead of biology. However, characteristic to the Islamophobic discourse is the entanglement of biological racism with cultural arguments (Horsti 2017, 1442). The fragment of Halla-aho’s blog cited earlier exemplifies this entanglement of cultural and biological racism as both religion (‘worshipping Allah’) and biology (‘dark skin’).

In Finland, as well as in the other Nordic countries, right-wing populists have utilised the common understanding of Nordic gender equality in their attack against Islam (Lahdesmaki & Saresma 2014; Horsti 2017), suggesting that Muslims ‘are inherently patriarchal and backward’ and thus a threat to liberal values such as the rights of women. Simultaneously, in other discussions, the same people are eager to narrow down these very rights: for example, by supporting anti-abortion mobilisation, gender-neutral marriage, or day care for all children in defence of conservative, even reactionary, gender politics (Poggio & Belle 2018; Saresma 2018, about conservative gender ideology, see, e.g. Gronroos 2016).

The etymology' of misogyny draws back to ancient Greek words misogunla and misogunes, ‘woman hater’. Misogyny means the hatred of or prejudice against women and girls, or ‘feelings of hating women, or the belief that men are much better than women’, as The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it. It is important to note, however, that neither Islamophobia nor misogyny is a psychological state of a person; they are structural processes. Kate Manne (2018) suggests that misogyny should not be understood primarily in terms of the hatred or hostility some men feel towards all or most women. Instead, misogyny is ‘hostile, demeaning, shaming, and punitive treatment of women’. In practice, it means controlling, policing, punishing, and exiling’ ‘bad’ women, those who challenge male dominance. Misogyny is, thus, a cultural system and not just a matter of individual zealotry. It matches perfectly well with populist rhetoric where the homogenous ‘us’ is pitted against ‘them’ as the Other. In this scenario, creating an enemy functions as a means to strengthen the sense of‘us’.

Empirical analysis of Halla-aho’s blog shows that the primary argument he makes repeatedly is based on gendering the immigrant Other (see, e.g. Saresma 2017; Saresma & Tulonen, 2020). For example, in a blog post titled ‘Monikulttuurisuus ja nainen (‘Multiculturalism and a woman’), Halla-aho (2006b) claims that multiculturalism (as a problematic phenomenon) is caused by women: unlike the majority of men who bravely stand against immigration, women and particularly ‘green-leftist do-gooders’ choose to defend immigrants, or ‘barbaric rapists’. Halla-aho hopes that ‘as rape will evidently increase’, it will be these particular women who are raped by the foreign perpetrators. This violent misogynous fantasy of rape is channeled to target the ‘suitable’ victims: the women who do not share Halla-aho’s Islamophobic ideology.

A more recent example of his social media communication through Twitter demonstrates how his gendered and racist views spread through the hybrid media system. In early spring 2020, the debate about Turkey opening its EU border to refugees made Jussi Halla-aho eagerly participate in this discussion in the parliament and on Twitter — now as the chairperson of the leading opposition party of Finland. On his Twitter page, he linked a mainstream media news article (MTV 2020) about Greece using tear gas against refugees who tried to enter the country at the border and tweeted: ‘The [mainstream media] story claims there were women and children. On the video, there are bearded men who yell “Allahu Akbar”. [These liberally minded people] say it is insulting to talk about invasion’ (Halla-aho 2020). Again, refugees are racialised based on their religion and ethnicity and gendered, suggesting that there are no women among the refugees and that men would not be ‘genuine’ refugees. Halla-aho implies that the refugees are intruders — dangerous religious fanatics — invading the cradle of Western civilisation, but because of political correctness, it would be ‘insulting’ for him to explicitly say so. The tweet was liked by 1,700 people and retweeted 214 times, and so his message circulates and is amplified by the participatory labour of his followers.

His thinking follows the typical trajectory of transnational right-wing populist discourse that amalgamates Islamophobia and misogyny. The tropes of Muslim rape and Muslim invaders reappear in the transnational Islamophobic blogosphere (Fekete 2011; Horsti 2017). Muslim men are constructed both as infantile and emasculated and as violent, hypermasculine, animallike, even beastly (Saresma & Tulonen, 2020; Puar 2007, xxv). Misogyny that intersects with Islamophobia is an example of Iris Marion Young’s (2003) idea of masculine protection. In a patriarchal ideology', the white man is the protector of the Western society and the imagined white nation (signified by the white woman). He is the legitimate ruler, and women and children are expected to serve as his obedient and humble royal subjects. It is only this gendered power hierarchy that can save white women from brutal violence that is allegedly performed by racialised perpetrators. This politics of patriarchy has become a central frame for social media debates in the situation in which nationalistic, xenophobic, and racist rhetoric affect ‘the social divides of nation, gender, and body’, and people are either friends or enemies, either perpetrators or victims (Wodak 2015, 5).

In misogynist-Islamophobic ideology, the role of the white woman (and, in many cases, specifically the blonde Nordic woman) is, however, paradoxical (see Horsti 2017). On the one hand, the Nordic female represents the border of territory, family, race, culture, and identity that needs male protection. The woman embodies the nation and represents the threshold of what belongs to men. On the other hand, the (Nordic) white woman represents the civilised, independent, and emancipated modern woman (an opposite to the supposedly oppressed, primitive Muslim woman). However, while the role of an independent woman may be celebrated, her ‘openness’ and softness nevertheless are conceived as weaknesses; the female body is a boundary to which violation and infection from the outside are constant threats (on the feminist theory of the ‘open body’, see Jegerstedt 2012).

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