Back in 2019, Pakistan presented a six-point mechanism in the United Nations (UN) against Islamophobia and hate narratives. It was a much needed and long-awaited initiative. The narratives are fanning the flames of bigotry, intolerance, anti-Muslim hatred and xenophobia. Language of primitive hate that once spawned discriminations like anti-Semitism, apartheid, racism and now manifested in Islamophobia — is being used to secure narrow political and electoral gains.
The Muslims are being portrayed as barbaric, and outdated. Consequently, an anti-Muslim society in the west has emerged. Unfortunately, besides a lack of political will, comprehensive and research-based response to counter such narratives academically is lacking in the Muslim world. Therefore, Muslim societies in general, and governments in particular, remain passively tolerant of such narratives and acts of violence. Modern Islamophobia originates from a historical trajectory, stemming from anti-Muslim sentiment held by European Christians.
There are a plethora of explanations which define Islamophobia, but the most pertinent is “irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam”, as OIC defined. The phobia is fed by the intentionally invoked hate narrative against Islam and Muslims. It implies medieval crusader enmity in the post-Cold War context whereby multiple objectives are envisioned e.g., military, political, social, and economic.
The tactics and tools for this moral panic projection were the same as been used against the Soviet Union such as media, academia, far-right political leaders, and the church. The recent hate narrative took twenty years to evolve from 1990 to 2010. It is now yielding results reflected in War on terror, Christ Church like events, populist politics of Trump and Modi’s Hindutva.
Prime Minister Imran Khan calls for effective measures to counter hate speech and Islamophobia.
— Azhar Leghari (@AzharLaghari_) September 25, 2019
Islamophobia has increased in intensity due to a spiralling number of Muslim citizens and asylum seekers in the west perceived as responsible for the economic fears and identity crisis. It helped to model the conceptual framework of the West manifested in its policy framing. To understand the current wave of Islamophobia, one must go through the related literature published in the early 90s — the time when it was created.
Muslims’ relations with the Judo-Christian world
Historically, Islamophobia emerged when Spain’s Count Julian of Ceuta invited Tariq ibn-Ziyad to invade southern Spain on April 30, 711. Muslims introduced a pluralistic and tolerant society which offered great respect to the minorities in Spain. The Western response to this Muslim conquest came in the first crusade 1099 AD with the conquest of Jerusalem. Salahuddin regained the sacred city in 1187 AD nonetheless the bitter sense of enmity left lasting imprints on Western subconsciousness.
English classical and neoclassical literature is rife with historical allusions of crusades that keeps the bitter memory of enmity afresh throughout the generations. It was only in the twentieth century when the West had become more powerful and threatening for the Muslims after WW1 with a neo-crusade of Western Imperialism. Islamophobia then implied in Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” was meant to civilize the rest of the world. Orientalists came forward as an auxiliary of the imperialist powers to disfigure the image of Islam and Muslims, which until now, remained unceasing.
WW2 and ensuing Cold War provided a respite to the long term animosity. Western friendship evolved with Jihadist Islam to counter atheistic communism successfully. The US money and weapons were handed over to the Afghan Jihadist and provided with ISI training and strategy. Afghan Mujahedeen fought fearlessly with Soviets and won.
The dénouement of the Cold War ended bi-polarity and the US emerged as the unipolar power unparalleled in military, economic and political might. Now, the hate narrative against supposedly barbaric Muslims as a new enemy drafted self-righteous American imagination to do anything to win over this historical conflict.
Eurocentrism: West has the power to define
Zia Uddin Sardar, in his essay, “The Development and Locations of Eurocentrism” observed that ‘the real power of the West is not located in its economic muscle and technological might. Rather, it resides its power to define. The West defines for example what freedom is, progress etc. The non-Western civilizations have simply to accept these definitions or simply be defined out of existence.’ Therefore, the West is the dominant outlook of the planet.
The Islamophobic narrative construction triggered when Paul Kennedy (1987) provoked a debate in his book ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers’ that the United States was a declining power. Defying Kennedy’s stance, Francis Fukuyama in his work The End of History and the Last Man, recognized an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism. His core argument was that the whole world was moving towards a liberal democratic capitalist system that was destined to be the final socio-political paradigm of all human evolution.
Earlier, Bernard Lewis identified the obstacles to the liberal order, in his influential essay “The Roots of Muslim Rage” which argues that Muslims are inimical to the West.
In a more elaborated way, Samuel P. Huntington defines Muslim civilization as irreconcilable to western civilization therefore, it stands as a tangible irritant in the way of liberal values. He argues, “the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural …… The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics”. Huntington points out that conflict that had been directed between the West and Communist bloc is now being redirected through civilizations.
Huntington brands Confucian and Islamic civilizations as most unfavourable to western value, but singles out Islam as a prime enemy. Huntington’s thesis proved a catalyst to the campaign of disfiguring Muslim image. A whole lot of scholars wrote in the same vein to prove that Islam and Muslims’ culture, is barbaric and outdated and therefore a grave threat to the western modern way of life.
So much misunderstanding and hate has been directed at Muslim Americans in the wake of the horrendous attacks on September 11th.
Today should be a day to remember heroes and it should be a day to teach people about respecting others and countering Islamophobia and xenophobia.
— Alex Morash (@AlexMorash) September 11, 2019
The debate of Fundamentalism
The Western subjective assumption about Islam pervaded in their psyche since the success of the Iranian Revolution and the demise of USSR with the help of Jihadist Mujahidin symbolized as a revitalized spirit of Islamic Jihad. These two developments raised hackles in Western political circles. Consequently, to fill the political-ideological vacuum left by the Soviet Union, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ came to dominate the ‘them vs us’ syndrome which permeated the western strategic psyche prior to that.
Dr Shireen concluded that “Huntington’s emotive “Clash of Civilizations” thesis added an intellectual force for this mind-set and 9/11 has provided the final proof of this thesis!” English lexicons in the 80s defined the term fundamentalism as “to believe the literal truth of the Bible against evolution.” The definition denoted the stance of the Christian Orthodox Church against Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In the Oxford dictionary 1990, the term fundamentalism was equated with Islam and defined as “strictly maintenance of ancient doctrine of any religion, especially Islam.” Hence, Muslims were labelled as fundamentalists. Out of it, an extended argument was established that fundamentalists are extremist—intolerant. Finally, 9/11 concluded the debate that Muslims were terrorist with all said tags. Afghanistan was beleaguered and a holy crusade against terror was waged that later engulfed Iraq as well.
With the labels associated with Islam, the Western critique took a sharp turn to disrespect prophethood manifested in a cartoon controversy. The West claimed that Islamic ideology is the prime root cause of terrorism in the world and that Islam provoked its followers to do terrorist acts against the non-believers particularly Christians and Jews. Despite the fact, terrorism could not be associated with any specific religion. It might be a reaction to oppression or exploitation.
Western scholars, Media and far-right politicians have defined a politically motivated ideological construction of Islam that provoked an anti-Muslim conceptual framework. This Islamophobia not only made the lives of Muslims difficult in Europe but also was an impetus of Western wars against Muslim states for multiple objectives. Thanks to the fear of a rising hegemon and the Asian Century, enemy construction was redirected from Muslims to emerging China and resurgent Russia.
How to counter Islamophobia?
The government of Pakistan suggested six points to counter Islamophobia. The Muslims world should have good relations with the West for a peaceful, and inclusive world. However, the historical conflict requires a historical sense to the response. The situation post 9/11 might have resembled to an extent, the post-1857 in sub-continent.
Sir Syed’s reconciliatory time tested model to counter British-cum-Hindu Islamophobia, is still relevant to engage the west. He set into motion modern Muslim renaissance through education and cordial relations with the British. He defused Muslim confrontational mode and evaded the wrath of colonial power to survive and flourish. Despite reconciliatory overtures, he was vigilant to offer a counter-narrative against any intellectual diatribe to humiliate Islam. Sir Syed’s strategy is still relevant today.
Muslims should adopt inclusive strategies by employing education and building institutions of research on the counter, alternative and assertive narrative. They should play an active role in political life wherever they live to influence Islamophobic policies. Muslim states must revisit the concept of Ummah that can lead to a unified approach to counter Islamophobia. The west has a unified outlook for Muslims, irrespective of their cultural and religious fault lines as the narrative suggests. Therefore, a unified approach is a compulsion of the time.
Dr Naeem Mahboob Malik has done his PhD from The Department of Political Science Baha Uddin Zakariya University, Multan. He is now visiting faculty in the same department. He is teaching CSS Current affairs, International Relations and Political Science in KIPS. His research interests are international relations, comparative politics, strategic & security studies. (firstname.lastname@example.org). The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.