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Islamophobia: An age-old smoldering volcano


Abdul Rasool Syed |

The blatant display of savagery by the assailant in the Christchurch attack that claimed precious lives of fifty peaceful Muslims engaged in worship at the mosque is the latest reminder of Islamophobia– that is surging exponentially in the west.

Islamophobia is not a novel phenomenon but has existed for over a long period of time. It was in making like lava in the smoldering volcano which has now started erupting; though of centuries-old as proven by the surveys and other documents, it has increased in intensity due to a spiraling number of Muslims citizens and asylum seekers in the west. The western media and imperialist political echelon have exploited it in their favor to galvanize support for the war on terror, the occupation of a foreign land and to multiply their political fortunes.

The Ottoman advances in the 15th and 16th centuries led to a further chapter of anti-Muslim diatribe. Fred Halliday suggests “this experience above all shaped European attitudes.”

What is more painful, given the predominance of the west, the scholarly community has miserably failed to focus its attention on the mushrooming islamophobia that has jeopardized the lives of millions of peace-loving and law-abiding Muslims living in the west. Consequently, the gulf between the Muslims and the west is widening day in day out.

What is Islamophobia?

The “Islamophobia Observatory” at the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) defines Islamophobia as “an irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam”. Its manifestations include prejudice, stereotyping, hostility, discriminatory treatment, denigration of the most sacred symbols of Islam and also non-recognition of Islam and Muslims by the law of the land.

The Runnymede Trust report defines Islamophobia as: “…unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.”

Read more: UK press spreading Islamophobia, says British-Pakistani politician Sayeeda Warsi

Moreover, The Runnymede Trust identifies eight components of Islamophobia as follows: 1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change; 2. Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them; 3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist; 4. Muslims are seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilizations; 5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage; 6. Muslim criticisms of the West are rejected; 7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society; 8. Anti Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

History of Anti-Muslim Tirade

Chronologically, Islamophobia, as mentioned earlier is not a new phenomenon; it has been a prominent feature of western societies for centuries. Men of letters like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare depicted the Saracen, Moor and the Turk in less than positive terms. In addition, a plethora of literature appeared in justification of the crusades for the repossession of the Holy Land by the western Christendom from the Muslim occupants.

A missile defence system will begin to change that. But change must go deeper still. The west as a whole needs to strengthen its resolve against rogue regimes and upgrade its defenses.

The Ottoman advances in the 15th and 16th centuries led to a further chapter of anti-Muslim diatribe. Fred Halliday suggests “this experience above all shaped European attitudes.” The Ottomans were dreaded as the “public calamity” and were regarded as “a dull and backward sort of people.” The idea of barbaric, uncivilized, fanatic Muslims was used to justify conquering the Muslim land and colonizing its people. Colonialism was a mission to civilize the “natives”.

During the colonial period, Orientalists became more active and started the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims, which until now, continues unabated. It could be hypothesized that Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilization’ thesis has its roots in Orientalist scholarship. Edward Said’s analysis of 19th century orientalism shows clearly the myriad ways in which the West have stereotyped Islam, Muslims and the Arab world.

Islamophobia, for Electoral Campaigns

The contemporary manifestation of Islamophobia can be attributed to opportunistic politicians, biased media and prejudiced academia. These are the feeding forces of fanning the fire of Islamophobia in the west. To substantiate the claim let me quote an article entitled as “Islamism is the new Bolshevism”, in which Margaret Thatcher wrote: “America and its allies, indeed the Western world and its values, are still under deadly threat.

Read more: ‘Increasing Islamophobia’: FO rejects US religious freedom report

That threat must be eliminated, and now is the time to act vigorously… Islamic extremism today, like Bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees… The United States should strike at centers of Islamic terror that have taken root in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”

She concluded that:

“We have harbored those who hated us, tolerated those who threatened us and indulged those who weakened us. As a result, we remain, for example, all but defenseless against ballistic missiles that could be launched against our cities. A missile defence system will begin to change that. But change must go deeper still. The west as a whole needs to strengthen its resolve against rogue regimes and upgrade its defenses. The good news is that America has a president who can offer the leadership necessary to do so.”

Moreover, during the electoral campaign, The New Yorker magazine published a satirical cover that showed Senator Barack Obama in a Muslim robe and turban, his wife, Michelle, as a terrorist holding a machine gun, the American flag burning and a picture of Osama bin Laden in the background. The intention obviously was to further instill fear in the minds of American people should Obama, alleged to be a Muslim, be elected President of the United States.

The media imply that Arab and Muslim-Americans are more linked to Muslims in other countries than to other people in the U.S. and that Muslims around the world are seen as so devout that they are on the verge of becoming fanatical.

More recently, how Donald trump played Muslim antipathy card by proposing a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US to get leverage in the electoral run and thereby win the vote of white supremacists is also a testimony to the fact that Islamophobia is blatantly being used by the politicos to gain their vested interests and political mileage.

Media Fanning the Fire of Islamophobia

The western media is also equally biased towards Muslims. It has played an instrumental role in shaping the anti-Muslim minds. The media have consistently been using value-loaded and inaccurate language to portray Islam as a dangerous religion rooted in violence and irrationality.

The media portrays Islam as profoundly different from and a serious threat to the West on the world stage and Muslims within Britain as different from and a threat to ‘us’. The Mayor of London, Kenneth Robert Livingstone, who commissioned the study, said the findings showed a “hostile and scaremongering attitude” towards Islam.

Read more: Growing Islamophobia and a divided Muslim World

“Facts are frequently distorted, exaggerated or oversimplified… The tone of language is frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist.” To prove that media coverage is having an influence on attitudes, the Report quotes a U.K. survey, which establishes that “74 percent of Britons… claimed that they know ‘nothing or next to nothing about Islam’.” Of these, 64 percent claimed that their knowledge of Islam and Muslims is gained through the media.

The media in US and Europe is also dancing to the same tune as played by U.K. Sam Harris of Washington Times commented that “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with ‘terrorism’. We are at war with Islam… The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us…” Dr. Suad Joseph and her team of researchers systematically analyzed news reports in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal for the period of 2000-2004. ).

This, he called, “a clash of civilizations”, a notion popularized by Samuel Huntington, a Professor at Harvard University, who has set an example of an Islamophobic mindset by clearly articulating his hatred for Islam.

They found, among others, that the media regularly represents Arab – and Muslim-Americans as more attached to their country of origin than to the U.S. The media imply that Arab and Muslim-Americans are more linked to Muslims in other countries than to other people in the U.S. and that Muslims around the world are seen as so devout that they are on the verge of becoming fanatical. According to Suad, distorted press coverage “narrates Arab and Muslim Americans in ways that enable racial policing of Arab and Muslim Americans as marginal, suspect citizens.

Western Intellectuals Instilling the Hatred

The western literati, notably islamophobes, have also put their fair share in portraying the negative image of Islam and Muslims through their writings. Pat Robertson, a Christian evangelist, called Islam a “bloody, brutal type of a religion” and referred to Muslims, who protested against controversial cartoons, as “motivated by demonic power.”

Read more: Turkey & Pakistan join forces to combat Islamophobia

Charles Krauthammer, the American political columnist, wrote about “an Islamic World united under the banner of Iranian-style fundamentalism in an existential struggle with the infidel West.”

Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, warned that “Keeping Islam at bay was Europe’s preoccupation from 1359, when Gallipoli fell to the Turks, until the last occasion in which the Ottoman soldiers stood at the gates of Vienna, in 1683. Islam is once more a preoccupation in the face of the Islamic Revolution.”

Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, cautioned of “the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”

The Muslim world that is comprised of fifty-seven countries and has no permanent seat in United Nations Security Council should exert diplomatic pressure on UN for seeking permanent seat.

This, he called, “a clash of civilizations”, a notion popularized by Samuel Huntington, a Professor at Harvard University, who has set an example of an Islamophobic mindset by clearly articulating his hatred for Islam. Huntington wrote: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, different civilisations whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power…”

How to Counter Islamophobia

To encapsulate, the rightly guided Muslims scholars should come forward with their written and verbal contributions to project the true image of Islam that stands for peace, pluralism and universal brotherhood and develop a well-knit strategy to counter the growing Islamophobia across the globe particularly in the west.

Read more: Rise of militant Islamophobia: The West helps by ignoring it

The Muslim world that is comprised of fifty-seven countries and has no permanent seat in United Nations Security Council should exert diplomatic pressure on UN for seeking permanent seat so that we could effectively use this international forum to get our voices heard…revamping of OIC is also inevitable to turn it into an effective organization.

Advocate Abdul Rasool Syed is legal practitioner-cum-columnist based in Quetta Balochistan. He contributes articles to various national and international newspapers. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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