Islamophobia is on the rise in the Western world. Anti-Muslim hate has become a fuel for right-wing organizations, particularly as a strategy to garner electoral support in the US as well as Europe. In the guise of protecting national interests and safeguarding the native “superior culture” from “others,” the right-wing political parties have slowly mainstreamed anti-Muslim hate and prejudice across the Western world -this explanation of the rise of Islamophobia is accurate though incomplete.
For an average person, Islamophobia as a phenomenon emerged post 9/11 and became politically acceptable during the 2010’s decade. An examination of Western discourse on the Islamic world, however, suggests that stereotyping of Muslims is an old phenomenon, which at some levels began to take shape when Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula clashed militarily with the Byzantine and Persian Empire. Throughout the centuries, various Christian empires and entities continued to perpetuate stereotyping of Muslims to rally domestic political support, particularly through literature and art.
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Now the latent Islamophobia which existed throughout the Islam
West relations have become active and manifest in the form of mainstreamed anti-Muslim prejudice and acceptability of that prejudice in the public discourse and ascension to echelons of power by anti-Muslim far-right political parties. The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in a philosophical and ideological gap of sorts for the Western countries, which since the rise of liberal world order -and preceding it- during the industrial revolution, maintained not only technological, scientific, and cultural hegemony over the rest of the world but also had a “common enemy” or the “other” to rally against.
The reasons behind constantly requiring an “enemy” are rooted in a lack of collective Western self-identity. The presence of a common enemy provides a sense of collective identity to the versatile and diverse Western world. A collective sense of identity prevents the rise of complex intra Western world conflicts and unites the Western world in a cultural sense. In terms of common foes, first, it was the “savages” and “’ uncivilized” people of the East -which the Western world colonized, in the second phase, Nazism was the existential threat for the Western world, in the third phase, Communists became the ideological foes of the Western civilization while in the post cold war world, Muslims and Islam emerged as the core threat.
Even as this article is being written, the global political order is already undergoing a transformation, and the West, in particular, the Anglosphere countries, have already updated the “common enemy” list, and China has been elevated to the status of being a primary foe of the Western world. Post Cold War intellectual movement spearheaded by Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama “constructed” Muslims as the main foe of the Western world. The post 9/11 rise in Islamophobia is, in fact, a practical manifestation or an update of the scholarly tradition set by several key Western academics of the nineties.
The already existing though previously dormant Islamophobia was stoked with a series of writings, such as the “Clash of Civilizations,” “ The Roots of Muslim Rage,” “The End of History” –which portray Islam and West as incompatible and destined to clash, affirm the superiority of Western culture and declare Islam as a threat. During various periods in Western history, including the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Colonial period, the post-Cold War world, and the post 9/11 world, Islam and Muslims remained “otherized” in the intellectual and cultural discourse. The only exception was the post-WW-II period when communism was the key threat, and the Sunni Muslim world was aligned with the Western world.
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A primary event that triggered the latent Islamophobia during the post-WWII phase
It was the Iranian Revolution that saw the ransacking of the US Embassy in Iran along with the entire Salman Rushdie controversy. However, the rise of Al Qaeda and global jihadism provided the most valuable contribution to the Western intellectuals and right-wingers trotting Islam as the enemy. Post 9/11 world, particularly the post-2010 decade, saw electoral successes of extreme right-wing political parties and the politicians-a logical culmination of sustained Islamophobia rooted in history and revived through the intellectual writings of the nineties and re-enforced through instances of terrorism.
In the US, for instance, Islamophobia combined with anti-immigration rhetoric resonated well with a particular section of American society. The Republican Tea Party fraction was the first mainstream US political party to promote and resort to anti-Muslim rhetoric post-President Obama’s election to the White House. Its consequent electoral successes proved a litmus test for mainstreaming Islamophobic policies and narratives in the public sphere. President Trump as a Republican nominee went as far as to say that “I think Islam hates us.” Later on, key officials in Trump’s administration continued to enforce their Islamophobic views; his National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn stated that “Islam is a political ideology …It’s like cancer, malignant cancer in that case”.
President Trump’s Senior Counsel Stephen Bannon went as far as to compare Sharia Law to Nazism. The sole reason President Trump lost the election to Joe Biden was because of his botched-up handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. His rhetoric remains as popular as ever with his base, and he could very well win the next Presidential election. In the case of Europe, a number of right-wing parties carved up their shares in an electoral pie by stereotyping Muslims and Islam. Anti-Muslim hate and propaganda actually brought several political parties on the fringe into the mainstream, prominent examples being the Freedom Party of Austria, Lega Nord in Italy, Front National in Belgium, Swiss People’s Party in Switzerland, Alternative for Germany in Germany, The Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Danish Peoples Party in Denmark, Golden Dawn in Greece along with parties in Finland and Sweden.
Along with right-wing organizations and political parties, media has played a secondary role in enforcing anti-Muslim rhetoric. According to a study conducted by scholars at the University of Alabama, ideologically driven acts of violence carried out by Muslims get “357percent more media coverage than those by other groups”. According to another research by Georgia State University between 2006 to 2015, Muslims committed only 12% of all terrorist acts carried out in the United States, however in the case of a Muslim terrorist, the media disseminated 105 headlines on average in comparison to 15 headline average when the terrorist was a non-Muslim or a right-wing nationalist. News media, as well as entertainment media, has played a crucial role in hyperbolizing anti-Muslim prejudice.
By “otherizing” Muslims and stoking fear, Western media houses earned their fair share of profit. For instance, the Charlie HebdoMagazine generally sold 100,000 copies; however, its edition, which disparaged Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), sold over 400,000 copies. Media framing is just one aspect of the greater conscious effort of “cultivating” Islamophobia in Western discourse and the public sphere.
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A book titled What is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements, and the State identify five major sources and contributors of Islamophobia in the Western world, including state institutions, far-right movements, neoconservative movements, the Zionist movement, and the liberal pro-war left-leaning groups. This assortment includes all major movements and pillars of public life in Europe and the US. Islamophobia as a prevailing phenomenon is not just an accident that resulted after pan jihadism, but a concentrated effort of the Western elites, which sought a common enemy to rally against.
Hafeez Ullah Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.