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8 - The Islamophobic Consensus

Datafying Racism in Catalonia

from Part II - Automated States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2023

Zofia Bednarz
University of Sydney
Monika Zalnieriute
University of New South Wales, Sydney


Chapter 8 analyses the use of AI and ADM tools in welfare and surveillance through the lens of critical race studies. Aitor Jiménez and Ainhoa Nadia Douhaibi point to the necessity of building a non-Anglocentric theoretical framework from which to study a new global phenomenon: the digital welfare and surveillance state. Accordingly, the authors frame its rise within the wider context of the Southern European iteration of racial neoliberalism, what they coin as the Islamophobic Consensus. As the chapter demonstrates, the digital welfare and surveillance state does not rely on the same technologies, focus on the same subjects, and pursues the same objectives in every context. On the contrary, it draws on contextual genealogies of domination, specific socioeconomic structures, and distinctive forms of distributing power. The authors provide an empirical analysis on the ways the Islamophobic Consensus is being operationalised in Catalonia and expose the overlapped racism mechanisms governing the lives of racialized black and brown young adults. The chapter demonstrates how ADM technologies designed to govern “deviated”, “risky”, and “dangerous” Muslim youth “radicals” connect with colonial punitive governmental strategies.

The chapter is structured in two parts. The first part analyses the surveillance-governmental automated apparatus deployed over Islamic communities in Catalunya. The second part frames the ideological, epistemological, and historical fundamentals of the Southern European way to racial neoliberalism, here labelled as the Islamophobic Consensus. Drawing on surveillance and critical race studies, the authors synthesise the defining features that distinguish this model of domination from other iterations of neoliberal racism.

Money, Power, and AI
Automated Banks and Automated States
, pp. 152 - 170
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023
Creative Commons
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This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

8.1 Introduction

Catalonia is home to the largest Muslim communities of the Iberian Peninsula: a roughly 8 per cent of its population (617,453 out of 7,739,758) follows the Islamic tradition. Despite the neofascist natalist rhetoric of far-right parties speaking about a ‘great replacement’ (Aduriz, 2022), the number of Muslim students is consistent with the total number of Muslims. There are 1,337,965 non-tertiary education students in Catalonia,Footnote 1 approximately 101,721 of them are Muslims (7.60 per cent).Footnote 2 However, here the statistical consistencies end. The majority of Muslims work in precarious jobs or do not have jobs at all. Roughly 20 per cent of the migrant population is unemployed, compared to 8.19 per cent of general population in Catalonia.Footnote 3 They live in impoverished and deprived zones with less access to public resources and green areas. Traditionally migrant neighbourhoods such as la Barceloneta, el Raval, or Poblenou in Barcelona are among the most affected by the touristification and gentrification unleashed by foreign investment firms.Footnote 4 With scarce jobs, skyrocketing rents, and living costs, thousands of families are forced to live in slums and industrial areas with extremely poor living conditions, and are exposed to violent evictions and fatal accidents.Footnote 5 But the socioeconomic is just one of the areas where Muslim population face discrimination.

Muslim communities are targeted in relation to their beliefs, culture, and ways of socialising. Despite their demands, 90 per cent of Muslim students do not enjoy the same right to religious class in the public education system as their Christian-Catholic counterparts. Muslim communities often face fierce resistance from far-right organisations and public officers against their attempts of setting up and/or building mosques.Footnote 6 However, the situation is even worse within the welfare and the punitive systems. People of migrant origin, especially those from countries with Muslim majorities, are disproportionally present in the prison system. Despite being just 3.1 per cent of the population, people of Maghrebian background represent 16 per cent of the incarcerated population in Catalonia.Footnote 7 As has been pointed out by a large number of academics and activists, this is not a matter of rampant criminality among a very specific and identifiable segment of population, but the consequence of racial profiling among police agencies and social services who disproportionately target those produced as ‘enemies’.Footnote 8 These episodes of discrimination are not accidental, but rather functional elements of what we conceptualised as the Islamophobic Consensus.

From the early days of inquisition to the latest developments in automation the social construction of the Muslim as a social enemy has helped to shape both the Spanish identity and the Spanish state’s surveillance and repressive apparatuses. The subjectification of Muslims as a threat ranges from labelling them as job-stealers, and herein as a risk to the working class, to them being the ultimate enemy, the terrorist.Footnote 9 This racialisation process operates not only in relation to newcomers, but also towards the second and third generation of Muslims. As Suhaymah Manzoor-Khan has recently pointed out,Footnote 10 the pernicious characteristics attributed to the ‘Muslim culture’ rapidly evolved into a racially inherited condition that passes through generations.

The second decade of the twenty-first century has witnessed the proliferation of heavily racialised surveillance and carceral geographies. As the anti-immigrant raids in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia show, bordering technologies extend now to every territory, every street, and every working place.Footnote 11 The ‘exceptional’ and ‘temporary’ powers to surveil and to punish delegated to public authorities in order to fight the ‘war on terror’ are now well-established practices affecting every area of the public life. In Catalonia, entire Muslim communities and mosques are targeted and surveilled by an expanding ‘preventive’ sociotechnical system.Footnote 12 An army of educators, social workers, and police officers are now entrusted with gathering information from endless data points, and to report to their civil and police superiors the most subtle changes in individual and collective behaviour. For instance, teachers are taught by police agencies that the everyday manifestations of religiosity such as the adoption of ‘Islamic’ dress codes or collective prayer could could be indicators of ‘radicalisation’. This information is used to terrorise vulnerable communities who are routinely threatened with criminalisation, family separation, and even deportation.

The system to prevent terrorism envisaged by the Spanish multiagency initiative on national security operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism. The risk assessments tools may flag as a threatening symbol of radicalisation of mundane and often contradictory facts. For instance, either exercising too much or having an absolute sedentary life may induce vigilantes to believe that a young Muslim is up to something.Footnote 13 In the same vein, young Muslims following severe religious routines may signal fundamentalist tendencies, but also not following religious mandates may be, in the eyes of the police services, a worrying nihilistic symptom of latent lone-wolf tendencies. These instruments and the way they look, and produce Muslims have a profound impact on the lives of thousands. Are these individuals appropriate candidates for welfare benefits? Will they be subject of an investigation either by social services or by any of the multiple police agencies? Will they be released on parole? Will they remain in prison? Will they be processed under terrorism charges? A vast sociotechnical assemblage of analogical and digital technologies controls the lives of thousands of Muslim people in Catalonia.

However, these control and disciplinary technologies are not only aimed at limiting, cancelling, and governing subaltern people. Drawing on the structural comprehension of racism pinpointed by Eduardo Bonilla Silva,Footnote 14 we argue that these technologies are part of what here is coined as the Islamophobic Consensus, that is, the Southern European iteration of racial neoliberalism. A system of domination intended to reinforce structural gender, racial, and class inequalities, through a sociotechnical system encompassing all sorts of surveillance, repressive legal, political, economic, educational, and military instruments. Some may argue that the Spanish surveillance state has not reached full or high degrees of datafication or digitalisation as it may have been the case in countries such as the Netherlands.Footnote 15 And, perhaps, the digitalisation in Spain will never reach this level, given the characteristics of Southern European countries. However, as this chapter hypothesises, the vast surveillance apparatus deployed for gathering data of vulnerable populations, and the extensive use of actuarial and automated methods is leading to a form of datafied surveillance state.Footnote 16

This chapter has two objectives. First, to point to the necessity of building a non-Anglocentric theoretical framework from which to study the ideological and sociological fundamentals in which datafied forms of societal oppression stand. As we further develop, the datafication techniques underpinning contemporary automated governmentalities build on long-term historical, epistemological, and ideological processes. In the case of Southern Europe these techniques can be traced back to the sixteenth century genocidal biopolitics deployed against Muslims, Jews, Roma, and Indigenous peoples.Footnote 17 We aim to fill an important gap in race, sociolegal, and critical data studies. Despite Spain and Catalonia’s long and influential history of surveillance and racial oppression, its institutional surveillance apparatuses remain largely unknown and understudied. As the chapter demonstrates, the data surveillance state does not rely on the same technologies, focus on the same subjects, and pursue the same objectives in every context. On the contrary, it draws on contextual genealogies of domination, specific socioeconomic structures, and distinctive forms of distributing power. The second objective is to provide an empirical analysis on the ways the Islamophobic ConsensusFootnote 18 is being operationalised in Catalonia, and with it to expose the overlapped racist mechanisms governing the lives of racialised black and brown young adults.

Drawing on empirical and archival research, the first part of the chapter analyses the surveillance-governmental apparatus deployed over Islamic communities in Catalunya. The second part of the chapter frames the ideological, epistemological, and historical fundamentals of the Southern European way to racial neoliberalism, here labelled as the Islamophobic Consensus. Drawing on surveillance and critical race studies, we synthesise the defining features that distinguish this model of domination from other iterations of neoliberal racism. The section continues examining two dimensions of the Islamophobic Consensus: Islamophobia as an epistemology of domination and Islamophobia as a governmentality.

8.2 Datafying Islamophobia

Since 2016, Catalonia has been implementing the Catalan Protocol for prevention, detection and intervention in processes of Violent Extremism or PRODERAE in schools, local police stations, prisons, and social services. PRODERAE is part of the wider Special Counter Terrorism Policing Operational Program. Despite its relevance (and the persistent requests of the authors through official channels) most details of the PRODERAE remain unavailable to the public and hence hidden from democratic scrutiny due to ‘security reasons’.Footnote 19 However, a leak allowed us to get access to some documents and to a non-official recording of the PRODERAE training. On 18 May 2022, upon the requirement of the Catalan parliamentary group of the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, we also obtained information on the training given on these instruments to public servants across different services. Specifically, the scarce data provided by the Catalan authorities accounts for the number of attendees and the number of courses given. We have crossed this documentation with the PRODERAE antecedent, the PRODERAI-CE Protocol de prevenció, detecció i intervenció de processos de radicalització islamista- Centres Educatius [Protocol for the prevention, detection and intervention of Islamist radicalization processes – Education centres] widely used over young Muslims. While not fully accurate, this analysis could provide a glimpse into the racist governmental strategies deployed over Muslim population in Catalonia.

Both instruments evaluate and assess the risk to individuals based on different elements such as their individual behaviour, the social, economic, professional, and educational contexts, or the ways they engage with beliefs, politics, and religion. In this regard the instruments used in Catalonia are similar to other predictive and preemptive tools used in the European context, such as the Dutch Violent Extremism Risk AssessmentFootnote 20 and the British Structured Professional Guidelines for Assessing Risk of Extremist Offending.Footnote 21 Like the infamous British Prevent strategy,Footnote 22 the model proposed by the Spanish and Catalan authorities establishes a comprehensive although distributed surveillance regime over the population under risk of radicalisation (the entire Muslim community).

The PRODERAI-CE differentiates four areas from which the risk of a given subject will be evaluated: personal development, school context, family context, and social context. To obtain information the system relies on a vast array of agents, technologies, and points of data extraction that amalgamate under the securitarian prism – members of the community, educators, social workers, police officers, and intelligence services. To that end, the Catalan government has deployed considerable efforts and resources in providing training on the use of these tools to educators (3,118 since 2018), officers of the criminal justice system (CJS) including lawyers and social workers (2,013 since 2015), and police officers (30,902 since 2015). This has resulted in 667 thorough investigations of which 250 were conducted by police intelligence services. Herein, the boundaries between welfare and policing, street surveillance and cyberwarfare blurry in a diffuse although perceptible regime of racialised social control.

Among the factors related to personal development the instruments evaluate negatively ‘the difficulty of managing emotions’, ‘the difficulty of building a multiple identity’, the ‘proximity to radicalised peer groups’, and ‘low expectations of success’.Footnote 23 Elements such as the dress code (hijab, niqab), personal appearance (beard), as well as dietary and leisure habits (halal, alcohol consumption), are surveilled with special interest. In the same vein public servants are instructed to follow closely religious beliefs and political attitudes towards specific issues. Besides the above elements, school educators are asked to pay special attention to ‘the lack of bonds between peers’ and ‘the difficulty of (the teacher) establishing bonds with students’,Footnote 24 as these elements are considered risk indicators.

With regard to the family environment, ‘low family participation and involvement in school activities’ and ‘the [lack of] sense of belonging’ are also considered as elements to consider in measuring potential radicalisation processes.Footnote 25 In terms of social context, the instruments evaluate negatively ‘the influence of social networks’, or if the individual belongs to ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged contexts’. Another element that may trigger an alarm is the ‘lack of attachment to the social environment’.Footnote 26 The information collected by public servants is transferred to the Territorial Evaluation and Monitoring Board where police officers and education inspectors will decide the feasibility of the indicated risk. This could eventually lead to further investigation, wiretapping, raids, detentions, and deportations.

Given the opacity, secrecy, and the lack of transparencyFootnote 27 guiding the Spanish and Catalan authorities’ operations with regard to cases of alleged radicalisation, it is utterly difficult for researchers, activists, and even politicians to access critical information. What data gathering tools, both analogical and digital, are currently being used? How is the data gathered across services being stored, processed, analysed, and by whom? Are these data sets feeding ADM systems used in the public sector? Who is entrusted with overseeing these data-intensive tasks? Had these instruments and technological tools passed any form of auditing and impact assessment? We have asked Spanish and Catalan authorities these and other questions, but have not received any response whatsoever. However, we can infer some of this information from: (1) The documentation related to RisCanvi, the risk assessment tool used in the Catalan prison system to assess the potential recidivism of inmates in order to determine paroles, and (2) the well documented usage of tools for preventing ‘radicalisation’ in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

RisCanvi is an automated tool used by prison authorities, psychologists, criminologists, and social workers in the Catalan prison system. So far only one official report has been published,Footnote 28 which is consistent with the lack of transparency in other instruments and areas; however, the report and several academic works published by its designers gives a glimpse of the system. The tool provides a recidivism risk score that helps professionals to decide whether inmates can be paroled. For that it takes into account forty-five variables, encompassing behavioural, sociodemographic, biographical, educational, economic and social data. For instance, the system will measure whether an inmate belongs to a vulnerable group, their criminal history (and that of their peers), addictions, sexual behaviour, and so on. While necessarily overseen by humans, officers rarely disagree with the ‘algorithmic score’ (1 per cent) which given the 82 per cent false-positive rateFootnote 29 leads to a situation of unfairness. The weight of each variable in the final score has not been revealed, however given the known items we can infer that a potential automated discrimination may be taking place. For instance, the tool negatively weighs a vulnerable economic situation, employment status, the criminal history of family and peers among others. Items like these have been used in other toolsFootnote 30 as proxies to punish race and poverty, reinforcing social prejudices against vulnerable collectives. In addition, RisCanvi has been built upon historical data gathered by the prison system, the fact which raises important problems. As we have demonstrated elsewhere,Footnote 31 classism and racism run rampant across the Spanish and Catalan criminal justice systems. Racialised and poor subjects are more likely to be stopped, detained, arrested, and processed. Hence, the ‘dirty’ data setFootnote 32 feeding the system nurture a discriminatory feedback loop.

Britain’s Violent Extremism Preventing Program, popularly known as Prevent, is part of United Kingdom’s national counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST. It was launched in 2006 by the then governing UK Labour Party.Footnote 33 Its reach has expanded from police and prisons, to child care, elementary and high schools, tertiary education institutions, and even the National Healthcare System (NHS). The Extremism Risk Guidelines 22+ (known as ERG 22+) developed by ‘Her Majesty’s Prison and Probations Service’ in 2011 is the inductive instrument that gathers the ‘radicalisation signals’ and backs-up the program with the risk assessment framework. The ERG22+ is presented as ‘a structured professional judgement (SPJ) tool that assesses individuals along 22 factors that are grouped into three domains; Engagement, Intent and Capability’.Footnote 34 This has been replicated in the PRODERAE-PRODERAI-CE training, which uses terminology such as ‘identity, meaning and belonging’, ‘us and them thinking’, ‘overidentification with a group, cause or ideology’, ‘the need to redress justice’, or ‘the need to defend against threats’.

Many scholars have highlighted how the UK’s automated tools associate Muslims with terrorism, putting the entire Muslim population on the spot.Footnote 35 Moreover, recent research highlights community surveillance is becoming universal surveillance.Footnote 36 For instance, NHS’ public servants are now legally obliged to comply with their policing tasks, not only over ‘suspicious communities’, but also have to look for unpredicted new patterns of extremism in the entire patient population.Footnote 37

In fact, as Heath-KellyFootnote 38 points out the implementation in the national healthcare and education systems belongs to modalities of calculation derived from automated and big data tools that enable mass surveillance methods. She even argues that this kind of surveillance inductively produces the terrorist profile.Footnote 39 Consequently, the outcome of this approach is the production of Islamophobic data associated with Muslim (pre)criminality. Even if the cases are dismissed, the details of the people that flagged the alert remain in the UK’s police database for seven years.Footnote 40 ‘Prevent’ has been the target of profound critique in numerous reports from antiracist and anticolonial grassroots movements (Islamic Human Rights Commission, Cage UK), as well as international human rights organisations such as the Transnational Institute and Amnesty International.Footnote 41 One of the last reports not only pointed to its Islamophobic and discriminatory nature, but also to its ineffectiveness.Footnote 42 Despite the wide critique, the UK Home Office has only expressed that they ‘can find no evidence to support these claims’.Footnote 43

Despite the limited information available, the PRODERAE and PRODERAI show important theoretical and operational flaws worth highlighting. First and foremost, both instruments are aimed at preventing radicalisation. However, there is a striking lack of theoretical consensus on its definition.Footnote 44 Radicalisation takes shape when protocols such as PRODERAE are applied. It is thus a tool for producing ‘dangerous subjects’. The second problem is that many of the hidden indicators are expressions of religious practice. Changing the dressing code or adopting a more visibly Muslim expression, as wearing a hijab, putting henna on their hands, respecting prayer hours, demanding a halal menu, speaking or expressing opinions based on Islamic precepts or even expressing social discontent or pointing out Islamophobic or racist practices can all be indicators of radicalisation.

The tools analysed are embedded in vagueness and abstraction, if not falling in blatant contradictions. Factors and indicators that guide their implementation are left to the arbitrary interpretation of public officers. For instance, playing too many violent video games may indicate ‘military training’, although not playing video games at all may be a symptom of rejection of ‘westernisation’, in consequence both playing and not playing video games become a cause of suspicion. In the same vein, many of the ‘radicalisation symptoms’ indicated by the tools, such as troubles in navigating multiple identities, swift changes in appearance, friends, and habits, are most often processes inherent to the personal development of teenagers and young adults, and not ‘strange’ or ‘deviated’ as the tools make them to be. These tools embrace a hyper individualistic approach making individuals responsible for the consequences of complex socio-structural problems. For instance, individuals are accused of separatism and cultural isolation, ignoring the endemic economic crisis that, along with the racial division of labour, nurtures a growing racialised geography and school segregation. To illustrate, the chances of being flagged as a risky subject dramatically rise when students rely too much on ‘cultural and religious’ peers, because as the document states ‘the school has difficulties in promoting an inclusive environment’.Footnote 45 The tools, far from helping the school to better understand these difficulties, seem to present them as elements of suspicion. As we can see, the pernicious consequences of the racial neoliberal project are datafied and hidden under an aura of false technological neutrality, just to be weaponised against its victims.

Finally, as multiple scholars have warned, predictive and preemptive tools used across the public sector (welfare, CJS, policing, and surveillance) entail considerable risks especially for already vulnerable and racialised populations.Footnote 46 This has been demonstrated in recent scandals involving classist and racist sociotechnical systems deployed in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, to name a few. It was Bernard Harcourt who famously stated that these technologies can ‘create a vicious circle, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy’Footnote 47 contributing to ‘reinforce[ing of] stigmatisation, significantly undermining living conditions of certain population groups and restricting the possibilities of insertion of the individuals belonging to them’.Footnote 48 Some have rightfully described the plans to prevent radicalisation in Spain as an example of neoliberal exceptionalism.Footnote 49 A system that ‘employs surveillance technologies and situational crime control measures and that minimises or curtails a variety of social welfare programs’ against vulnerable people, producing it as dangerous population and criminalising it accordingly. Far from preventing any potential harm, the datafication processes triggered by tools like the ones analysed increase the occurrence of racial pre-criminality and reinforce the socially harmful policies. Our aim in the following sections is to contextualise the ongoing actuarial and datafication processes within a longer history of Islamophobia that far predates contemporary forms of datafied governance.

8.3 Southern European Neoliberalism Fundamentals

Multiple local organisations and antiracist grassroots movements such as the Asociación Musulmana por los Derechos Humanos [The Islamic Association for Human Rights],Footnote 50 SOS Racisme CatalunyaFootnote 51 have denounced how institutional, political, and social Islamophobia narratives run rampant in Southern Europe. They are not alone in their criticism. Higher supranational instances have also pointed in the same direction. For instance, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief released in 2021, a report on anti-Muslim racism informing how government-driven securitisation processes severely affect Muslim rights to freely exercise their religion, with intelligence services surveilling mosques, and governments such as the French restricting the ability of Muslim communities to stabilising charitable institutions.Footnote 52 However, these efforts can do little against the Islamophobic narrative deployed at every institutional and social level. In the media, a wide variety of actors, from so-called liberal philosophers to well-known white feminist writers have contributed to the production of the Islamic otherFootnote 53 with labels such as ‘backwards’, ‘antimodern’, ‘violent patriarchal’, and ‘dangerous’.Footnote 54 As the report highlights, these stereotyped narratives promoted by ‘prominent politicians, influencers, and academics’ who ‘advance discourses online on both social networks and blogs that Islam is innately antithetical to democracy and human rights, particularly gender equality, often propagating the trope that all Muslim women are oppressed’. Sociologist Sara Farris has coined this ideological, neoliberal political-economy convergence as Feminacionalism.Footnote 55 Despite meaningful divergencies in other political arenas, neoliberal politicians, right- and far-right nationalist parties and feminist bureaucrats, or ‘femicrats’ seem to agree on the intrinsic dangers of Islam in general and male Muslims in particular.

Politically, far-right parties cashed the endless succession of crises caused by financial capitalism, becoming key political actors in Spain (third political party), Portugal (third political party), Greece (formerly third political party), Italy (first political party). The most impoverished and discriminated segments of populations were used by the far-right as a scapegoat of the 2008 and 2021 crises, and accused of stealing jobs, being responsible for an inexistent wave of criminality, and the destruction of moral values and social coexistence. Rising neofascist political parties such as Vox in Spain (a spin-off of the conservative Popular Party) have, for instance, proposed to reverse the already granted Spanish citizenship to ‘dubious migrants’ stating that ‘[c]itizenship is a privilege’.Footnote 56 These discriminatory discourses permeate the political landscape across the political spectrum due to the modern transhistorical persistence of what Edward Said described as Orientalism.Footnote 57 Islamophobia is indeed one of the defining features of the Southern European iteration of racial neoliberalism. Although sharing some common traits with its Global North counterparts, Southern European racial neoliberalism emerges from a different genealogy and is built upon different socioeconomic and ideological structures, presenting thus its own characteristics.Footnote 58 While the main objective of the chapter is to focus on the Islamophobic Consensus, it is worth highlighting some distinguishable elements of Southern European neoliberalism.

First, Southern European racial neoliberalism does not stick to a single ideology, policy, technology, and regulation, nor univocally attached to exclusive forms of domination. Instead, it is composed by a baroquianFootnote 59 multilayered structure encompassing traditional and latest technological developments (including ADM and AI) with colonial and postcolonial practices of racialised governmentality developed through centuries of colonialism. These proto-racistFootnote 60 dynamics defined by pre- and capitalist cultural and religion discrimination practices, still inform the performativity of the Spanish racial formation. For instance, the colour-line created during the slave economy still works as a racialising technology in the current welfare, migration, and criminal policies.Footnote 61 As Deepa Kumar stated: ‘While race is dynamic, contingent, and contextual, the ideology of Islamophobia attempts to fix what it means to be Muslim and to create a reified Muslim whose behaviour can be predicted, explained, and controlled.’Footnote 62 Because of the above, racial politics, deeply bound with the legacies of coloniality, operate with significant differences from other countries in the Global North. For instance, Romani people, an extremely diverse and historically oppressed minority,Footnote 63 is also celebrated as quintessential of the Spanish and Catalan popular cultures. As the global success of the Catalan singer Rosalia stresses (see, for instance, her video ‘Málamente’), folklorised values and aesthetics associated with Romani people are appropriated by individuals and institutions and commodified, while Romani people are discriminated at every level.Footnote 64

Secondly, the public sector plays a key role in the societal, economic, and political dimensions. It controls significant aspects of key ideological apparatuses such as schools and media. It holds a vast influence over the workforce through direct employment of relatively significant segments of population.Footnote 65 Unlike other polities such as the United States, Southern European countries have not fully privatised their criminal justice systems, retaining much of the organisational, operational, and designing sovereignty over these areas.

Thirdly, the privatisation of democracy described by Basque philosopher Jule GoikoetxeaFootnote 66 as the hijack of public institutions and common assets by corporations and private interests, and the perceptible sacrifice of social rights for the sake of the capitalist class has not fully impacted the entire population. As a plethora of feminist researchers demonstrate, women, especially those belonging to racialised communities, have disproportionally paid a heavy price containing what would have been otherwise a societal tragedy.Footnote 67 They have disproportionately sustained the family structures that have safeguarded the well-being of entire families, especially taking care of dependents. In the following section we will focus on two dimensions of what we identify as the Southern European path to neoliberal racism, what here is called the Islamophobic Consensus: Islamophobia as a racialised epistemic formation, and as a form of governmentality.

8.3.1 Islamophobia as an Epistemic Formation

During his courses in the College du la France (1977–1978) French philosopher Michel Foucault described how the western European states slowly switched their object and subject of governance from the vagueness of kingdoms and nations to the scientific and measurability of territories and population. The rise of governmentality and the birth of biopolitics placed life as something to govern, to manage, to commodify, and reproduce.Footnote 68 In his landmark book The Taming of Chance, Ian Hacking explained how during 1860–1882 the expansionist Prussian State developed one of the most powerful statistical apparatuses of the era.Footnote 69 One of its most unsettling results was the emergence of a distinguishable and previously inexistent population within Prussia: the Jews. Under the Enlightened Prussian direction, racialisation of German Jews started through the act of being counted and measured as a category separated from true Germans of the Empire and a dangerous population to be controlled, to be governed.

A new interest for counting and measuring bodies, goods, commodities grew as a consequence of the expansion of new governmental techniques.Footnote 70 This led to a transformation in the way decision, policies, and laws were produced, and how they were re-centred to producing and managing territories and population under a securitarian regime. How many people, of what kind, creed, were born and deceased? How many apples were picked? How much gold, iron, how many roads? Numbers became the glorified signature and evidence of a scientifically based knowledge. Nature was subjected to the apprehension of its intuited regularities, so did societies. Natural and social phenomena were no longer discernible through the lens of mechanicist eternal laws in motion. Instead, they were the result of complex interactions between a nearly endless succession of events determined by chance and apprehensible through mathematical probabilistic models … if enough data was available.Footnote 71 That was the first step towards the dethroning of law as the inspiring principle of the state and its substitution by the actuarial dispositives, or as Alain SupiotFootnote 72 put it, ‘the beginning of the governance by numbers’.

However, as Aimé Césaire explains in his powerful work Discourse on Colonialism,Footnote 73 almost all major institutionalised crime against the ‘white man’ had already been practised in the colonial laboratory against non-Europeans. The very first to be counted, numbered and managed, to be commodified, to be produced and reproduced, to be scientifically governed and datafied were not white subjects of the metropolises, but racialised dominated subjects. The first systematic censuses were undertaken not in European metropolises as Hacking mentioned, but in Al-Andalus, Peru, and Mexico, where Whites, Catholics, Moriscos, Jews, and Converses (to name some of the endless racial categories) were counted in order to inform political, economic, ecclesiastic, and social decisions.Footnote 74 The will to exploit and colonise lands and peoples fuelled much of the sociotechnical developments nowadays considered modern science. An army of colonial scientists swarmed the colonies measuring forests and lakes, mines, and dunes. Counting bodies, scrutinising eyes, arms, and craniums. Evaluating the fertility of the land and of the women’s wombs.Footnote 75

Fifteenth century Iberian Peninsula’s politics and heated intellectual debates testify to the interconnected genealogy of the birth of the colonial enterprise, racial capitalism, and population control technologies.Footnote 76 The most renowned intellectuals of the time, gathered around the School of Salamanca, demanded a shift from medieval politics cantered in aristocratic factions and vague notions of territory, towards the government of the population. As has been stated the School of Salamanca advanced much of the early capitalist political economy, and, as we are just now starting to unveil, they also set the grounds for the ideological justification of opprobrious forms of human exploitation.Footnote 77 For instance, the commonly cited theological debates of Valladolid allegedly discussing whether Indigenous people had souls were not a backward Byzantine debate, as it has often been depicted. They were instead highly sophisticated negotiations between colonial factions arguing whether ‘Indians’ and ‘Moros’ were to be massacred, enslaved, or included within the political body of the empire.Footnote 78

Accordingly, the state governmental strategies switched from regarding the population as a passive element, to contemplating it as an active resource that needed to be governed and mobilised. The new morals demanded mechanisms for counting, controlling, multiplying, governing, and mobilising the population along the States’ needs. But also, to control, regulate, and punish its ‘ill’ and ‘impure’ elements. For that, the Spanish colonial State developed sophisticated technologies of power aimed at producing racialised subjects ready to be governed and exploited in the mines, plantations, and endless public and private operations.Footnote 79 For instance, the consideration of humans as a resource to be controlled appears as early as 1499 in a document signed by the Catholic Monarchs. There, the ‘gitanos’, traditionally nomadic and thus unfixed to a specific sovereign, were regarded as an unproductive and dangerous population. Those ‘gitanos’ with no profession should be physically punished or vanished from the territory, claimed the norm.Footnote 80

A thick network of legal measures plagued the Spanish Empire, underpinning a profoundly racialised epistemology of power. That is a system of knowledge designed to produce dominated political subjectivities bound to inherited tasks considered to be of inferior status.Footnote 81 The infamous statutes of ‘pureza de sangre’ [purity of blood] are a well-known example of it. Designed by one of the most advanced political bodies of European modernity: the Inquisition, they consisted of a decentralised and granular system of population classification articulated through parishes and churches, entrusted with certifying the alleged Christian blood purity of a family’s genealogy.Footnote 82 Those unable to prove their intergenerational purity (more likely conversos, Jewish, and Muslims) were prohibited from accessing positions of social, political, military, religious, and economic relevance.Footnote 83 Along with the ‘estatutos de limpieza de sangre’, endless instruments were deployed to expel ‘indios’, ‘negros’, ‘mulatos’, ‘moros’, ‘mestizos’, ‘gitanos’, and anything in between, from the most socially rewarded and profitable activities.Footnote 84 Unlike other previous forms of domination, the new technologies of power configured an inferior subjectivity with hereditary, collective, and functional character. It sought to target and mark entire populations, for exploitation and control. Legalised social status fixations, and consequently the impossibility of social progress for Blacks, Roma, Jews, Muslims, and converts, lies at the very foundations of the Spanish nation-state.

8.3.2 Islamophobia as a Governmentality Strategy

As we have briefly seen, Spanish historiography is plagued with examples of racialised governmental technologies. However, for the purpose of this analysis it is worth highlighting two (relatively) recent developments. The first Spanish Immigration law (1985) turned the Muslim Arab-Amazigh population living in the peninsula into ‘illegal immigrants’. The colonial dominion of the Spanish state over north African territories lasted until the late 1970s, when Sahara gained independence, with several enclaves, such as Ceuta and Melilla, still controlled by Spain. Former (post)colonial subjects, living in Spanish territories for years, overnight were denied any recognition of residency and citizenship. In other words, they became the new other and were expelled from the symbolic and material benefits of their political community.Footnote 85 This measure responded to the forthcoming integration of Spain in the European Union (and therefore, becoming one of the southern borders of Europe) and the new role of the Spanish state, switching from migrant-sender to a migrant-receiving country.Footnote 86 The country was transitioning towards neoliberal way of managing subaltern and racialised people locating the dominated within a racially hierarchised labour system. The aim was to prevent them from equal access to the best remunerated jobs through a set of formal and informal mechanisms, that began with the production of differentiated categories in citizenship and residency with different access to rights and work permits, as well as by not recognising foreign degrees certificates, thus deploying discriminatory practices in hiring.Footnote 87 The new racial division of labour was especially perceptible in global hubs such as Catalonia. On the one hand, migrants from European Union member countries were rebranded as expats, and accepted as designers, executives, teachers, and scientists. On the other hand, the African and Latin American precarious subaltern were funnelled to the agricultural and construction sectors, both characterised by the poor if not nonexistent labour political and social rights.

The second wave of Islamophobic legislation came enshrined in the wide context of the US-led war on terror. The 2004 Madrid terrorist attack accelerated the neoliberal punitive turn with multiple counter-terrorist policies specifically designed to fight the ‘jihadist’ threat.Footnote 88 The new measures steadily increased policing and judicial powers, and more importantly, validated a securitarian narrative by which entire populations become suspicious. The concept of terrorism itself also shifted to encompass a wide range of activities and behaviours ranging from the mundane, to political and civil activism, the expression of solidarity with international causes or the contentious self-indoctrination. The framing served the purpose of institutionalising racially defined securitarian spaces turning the rhetoric of prevention as political common sense. Herein it becomes normal aligning hard and soft State power (police and welfare surveillance) to surveil neighbourhoods framed as dangerous environments, immersed in ‘radicalising’ atmospheres. It was during this last period when welfare and police surveillance, everyday stop and frisk, arrests and extrajudicial killings fuelled a climate of unrest and repression for many communities while reinvigorating the transhistorical moral panic of the ‘Moros’.Footnote 89

To sum, while it is true that Islamophobia as governmentality builds on fictional beliefs that have become western ‘common sense’, it will be a mistake to consider it just a set of discriminatory narratives. The Islamophobic Consensus operates under the code of a colour-blind racism and defends, reinforces, and produces an unequal distribution of goods and assets, that disproportionally benefits the right kind of citizens while punishes the others. In other words, the Islamophobic governmental apparatus was designed to legitimise and to justify very material relations of exploitation (Kumar, 2021).Footnote 90

8.4 Conclusion

In 2017 a series of attacks shocked Catalonia. A van was driven in the centric Rambla of Barcelona, killing fourteen people and injuring hundreds. Hours later in Cambrils (Catalonia), another woman was killed, and several others injured. According to the PRODERAE and PRODERAV tools, one of the most relevant factors in any type of radicalisation relates to the perceived sense of belonging and connection with a territory. However, a social educator from Ripoll, the hometown of the young adults who committed the attacks, said: ‘[t]hese boys were integrated; they spoke perfect Catalan and they became terrorists’. The attacks demonstrated the uselessness of the protocols, indicators, and criteria for detecting radicalisation. As we have seen, the PRODERAI/PRODERAEV are preventive actuarial methods aimed at measuring and preventing radicalisation. For that, the instruments draw on classic social risk factors (personal development, school context, family context, social context) along with other ‘radicalisation indicators’ inaccessible to the public. The concealment of these indicators from public knowledge hinders social and political opposition, precisely because it hides the explicitly Islamophobic character of the automated tools used. However, the problem will not be solved just by making these sociotechnical systems more transparent and accountable.

As we have demonstrated, the digital and analogue technologies used to control, surveil, and punish young Muslims are not ends by themselves, but rather they mean for reinforcing a socially harmful system of oppression rooted in the darkest moments of the global European domination. The Islamophobic Consensus, that is, the Southern European iteration of neoliberal racism, stands on centuries of eurocentrism and white suprematism articulated through intricate institutional, legal, political, and economic developments transcending regional and national boundaries. Similarly, today’s astonishing data gathering, data management and data analysis capabilities, and the ‘magic’ behind predictive automated tools are not spontaneous outputs but the result of centuries of training, experimentation, and scientific developments. From the early colonial censuses and regulations designed to protect the healthy Christian population from depraved Muslims and Jews to more recent forms of predictive policing and digital surveillance, numbers, statistics, and dozens of other governmental tools have served the interests of the powerful.

There are no shortcuts, neither technical, legal nor magical solutions for a global problem rooted in centuries of oppression, domination, genocide, and deprivation. No solution will come from a political party, a corporation, a new legal instrument (either National or Universal). The long history of struggles against colonialism, racism, and fascisms demonstrates that the perversity of domination extends from the most obscene and crude forms of domination to highly sophisticated and subtle alienation. To fight such massive structures we need, undoubtedly, powerful communities, and meaningful relations, let alone the energising voices of empowered singers such as Huda who reminds us to Keep It Halal. But we also need adequate epistemic tools to be able to think politically and historically about the events surrounding us. Hopefully, this chapter could help radical researchers and other folks in such endeavour.


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26 Footnote Ibid, 24–28.

27 On opacity and lack of transparency see also Chapters 2, 4, 10, and 11 in this volume.

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52 United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Countering Islamophobia/Anti-Muslim Hatred to Eliminate Discrimination and Intolerance Based on Religion or Belief, 9.

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