Sinead O’Connor and the Conflation of Race and Religion

After announcing that she converted to Islam, and changing her name to Shuhada Davitt, Sinead O’Connor told her Twitter followers that she never wants to spend time with white people ever again: “I’m terribly sorry,” she said. “What I’m about to say is something so racist I never thought my soul could ever feel it. But truly I never wanna spend time with white people again (if that’s what non-muslims are called). Not for one moment, for any reason. They are disgusting.”

It was disappointing to read O’Connor words in light of the wonderful thing she did in 1992 calling out the Catholic Church on Saturday Night Live by condemning child abuse and ripping up a picture of the Pope. She was way ahead of the curve in condemning that global child sexual abuse ring and I was angered by how much grief she got for being brave and truthful. This courageous act in defense of children almost feels negated by an act of not merely rationalizing of a patriarchal and misogynistic ideology in Islam, but converting to it. In 2013, O’Connor said to Miley Cyrus, “Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. We aren’t merely objects of desire.” Now she is a hijab-wearing Muslim.

Then there is this business of conflating religion and race. For one thing, in the West, most Muslims are white. For another, not wanting to be around non-Muslims is no more racist than not wanting to be around Muslims. Islam is a religion, a hateful and backwards ideology. Not wanting to be around Islam isn’t the same as not wanting to be around people of difference races. Indeed, not wanting to be around Muslims is analogous to not wanting to be around racists; no matter how well they are behaving, you know what they are thinking and what the world would look like if they were in charge. Let’s put it this way: a Muslim is not analogous to a race; Islam is analogous to racism. 

There is an important historical parallel here. Rational Protestants were suspicious of Catholics not because Protestants were racist, but because Catholics were papists who threatened secularism and liberalism. To be sure, there has been, as with the Islamophobia project, a successful effort to present anti-Catholic sentiment as a form of bigotry analogous to ethnic or race bias, typically called “nativism,” a charge Catholics have used to secure powerful positions in the nation-state apparatus (they now control the Supreme Court, for example), but this conflation is entirely fallacious. Opposition to Catholic immigration was out of concern for preserving the superior values of the republic’s founding, not out of something analogous to racial hatred.

Likewise, later opposition to southern and eastern European immigration was about the impact of boatloads of low skilled, uneducated workers pouring into American cities and only peripherally about worries that could be described as ethicist or racism. There were eugenicists who made fine distinctions about sub-populations, but that wasn’t the masses. These groups were considered white. A myth has grown up about that, but the truth was that the conflict was over nationality not race—about different languages, traditions, etc. Moreover, the American working class was opposed to the importation of cheap labor to undermine wages, disorganize politics, and destabilize the republic. Once immigration was restricted, the country enjoyed a cultural homogenization that led to great victories in civil, human, political, and social rights.

Sinead O’Connor’s babble is emblematic of the anti-proletarian dreck of identity politics. Whiteness studies is an ideological hammer elites use to pound down working class politics and this is the rot that has colonized O’Connor’s worldview. It opens up an avenue for anti-secular and illiberal Islam to present itself as antiracist and opposition to it as racism. Muslims were quick to condemn O’Connor’s tweet, to frame it as a stumble, because O’Connor’s naïveté revealed the truth of the project to bring westerners to Islam—to drive a wedge between working people and secular government. This is what explains the Islamophilia of O’Connor and many other  is about. And, sure, she may be damaged, but I know a lot of women who sound like her. I don’t assume they’re all damaged.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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