Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish journalist and senior fellow at the Cato institute, (Author of Islam without Extremes; long listed for Lionel Gelber Prize, best in non-fiction award) wrote an op-ed Muslims Should Disarm Islamophobia with Kindness in The New York Times on 27 Feb.
Akyol attempted to dissect the issue, its complexity, and explored different dimensions to offer ‘an agreeable’ solution to the world. But as a Muslim from Pakistan with postgraduate degree in Politics and International Relations from a reputed university, I was quite able to read out what was missing or deliberately not written but thoroughly conveyed by the author; Islamophobia is a challenge created, developed and aggravated by the Muslims.
Muslims need to win over Islamophobia through kindness?
Akyol categorically suggests that the Muslims through their kind and tolerant behaviour should tackle the issue of anti-Muslim hate which is becoming “a norm in the west”.
Interestingly, Turan Kayaoglu, a professor of International Relations in Politics, Philosophy and Economics Program at the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Department of the University of Washington, Tacoma, wrote a rebuttal Are Muslims to Blame for Islamophobia? for Siyasa, a little known website.
Kayaoglu schooled Akyol on the subject, and pointed out that “Akyol’s argument recreates dangerous stereotypes”. “Blaming Muslims for Islamophobia is as illogical and counterproductive as blaming blacks for racism or Jews for anti-Semitism,” he adds. Finally, he rejects Akyol’s proposal and calls it “flawed” which is “unlikely to accomplish much”. Kayaoglu, on the other hand, proposed that “the solution to anti-Muslim hate is not Muslims getting better at liberal Islam but at liberal democracy”.
Anti-Muslim Mindset inculcated after fall of Soviet Union?
A careful reading of the both pieces reflects the fact that the matter has been over-simplified and presented something as trivial as anything. As a matter of fact, Islamophobia did not just happen. It is, in my view, a worldview which has been inculcated in the minds of the people across the west including Germany, UK and the USA. IT was deliberately drafted in a way that it helped shaping mental framework of many modern-day white supremacists leading far-right movements in these countries.
The anti-Muslim mental framework was created in the USA in 1990s after the fall of the USSR. Scholars, think tanks and political leaders played decisive role to create an anti-Islamic community in the west to begin their new program; invasion of the Muslim world. The NYT published so many anti-Muslim articles in the last decade of the 20th century.
Notably, the western world has been using their “inferiors” for their political, economic and strategical interests since long. Whether it’s the use of vaccine of Coronavirus on the Africans for their scientific experiments or shaping the narrative of anti-Muslims to cover up their brutalities committed in the name of human rights and promotion of democracy.
West supported extremist Muslim ideologies?
There is an interesting example; America not only supported but also funded the spread of Wahhabi wing of Islam, which gave more importance to jihadist ideas, during the Cold War. Americans wanted the Muslims to fight against the communist USSR to prevent encroachment in the former’s countries by the later, stated Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman in an interview on 22nd March 2018. Similarly, Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of the State, admitted that the USA created Al-Qaida for its strategic purposes.
An important piece by my IUPUI colleague, Edward Curtis: The Forgotten History Behind Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Terrorism https://t.co/k7FC9FJ8ts
— Rachel Wheeler (@rmwheelz) March 21, 2019
Once the USA had won the war, it started targeting its allies e.g. jihadists. The western world with its propaganda machinery (mis)used the rise of religious extremism and autocratic political developments in the Muslim world (Afghanistan) and portrayed the distorted version of Islam and Muslims. Hence, my point is that Islamophobia did not spread thorough any stereotypical physical attribution but thorough the misrepresentation of the Muslim world by the western media and the scholarship.
Edward Said, a renowned professor of literature, fairly noted that the Muslims’ culture, art, social norms, and philosophy of life was presented as barbaric and outdated. He maintains that the negative of the Muslims was created by presenting them as misogynists, barbaric and anti-democracy. Such image, a sane mind dictates, would never have created a pro-Muslim community in the west. This academically drafted imagination helped the self-righteous America to do anything to modernize these ‘anti-west beasts’.
In the contemporary western world, the matter has become even complex as the populism is a dominant political expression due to economic challenges. Quite recently the President Donald Trump, a populist leader representing many from the west, put a ban on the immigrants particularly the Muslims, making them responsible for the economic uncertainties and Americans’ identity crises.
The existing anti-Muslim cultural discourse aided by social scientists helped him gain popular approval and support for such racist, discriminatory decisions.
Still Mustafa Akyol in his article suggests the Muslims to be tolerant and kind as if the cause of Islamophobia is mere the attitude of a few Muslims living in the western countries. Factually speaking, Muslims are in minority and have long been subjected to majority’s supremacist, racist and extremist worldview.
Western Media & Academia set the stage for Islamophobia?
They face discrimination on racial and religious grounds on daily basis, and sometimes become a target of the brainless violence by the far-right extremists like the Christ church shooter who attacked a mosque and murdered many innocent Muslims. Several studies have documented a clear addition of such incidents in Canada, UK and US in recent years. The Muslims remain passively tolerant as it’s the only option left for them (in the western societies) but incidents tend to increase anyway.
For Kayaoglu, the solution lies in spread of liberal democracy in the west. Without getting into the myth of liberal democracy, I would like to point out the fact that this is not what the Christ shooter had thought independently that the Muslims have invaded their societies and caused severe economic challenges rather it was academia, media and far-right politicians that induced an anti-Muslim framework in his mind.
Hence, the problem does not lie in the common Americans or Germans, the problem lies in those who create and destroy identities for political purposes. In the instant case, a politically motivated ideological construction of Islam is the problem which needs to be corrected.
To conclude; I would encourage Akyol and Kayaoglu to unveil the historical processes which created anti-Muslim discourse in the west. Once the origin of the problem is identified, it will be easy to combat the exclusivist political forces in the west.
This is not what Muslims’ behavior or more democracy can do in the face of populism rather the civil society in the developed world must work on re-reading the Muslim societies across the world, and creates an inclusive worldview at home so that hate does not become a norm. Once violence becomes an accepted expression then, as history tell us, it becomes the only force in the town to settle daily life affairs. Yes, violence begets more violence.
The writer is a Lahore-based political analyst. She tweets at anwar_saleha. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.