Causes, Instances and the way forward
Different experts and scholars have defined Islamophobia differently. Generally, Islamophobia is defined as ‘fear of or hatred against Islam and the Muslims perceiving them as a political force or community which is against the West and Western values and involved in terrorism’. But this definition is subject of debate.
Oxford Dictionary defines Islamophobia as:
“Intense dislike or fear of Islam especially as a political force; hostility and prejudice towards the Muslims.”
Mattias Gardell, a noted Swedish historian and scholar of comparative religion, defined Islamophobia as:
“Socially reproduced prejudices and aversions to Islam and the Muslims as well as acts that attack, exclude and discriminate against Muslims.”
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance defined Islamophobia as “fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them which either takes the shape of discrimination on daily basis or more violent forms – it is a violation of human rights and threat to social cohesion.”
In 1996, the Runnymede Trust established the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (CBMI) chaired by Gordon Conway, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex. Its report was published in November 1997 which defined Islamophobia as under:
“An outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination.”
¨ The term is formed from ‘Islam’ and ‘phobia’ – the latter a Greek suffix which denotes aversion or fear.
¨ The term was found in the PhD thesis published by Alain Quellian in 1910 to describe the prejudice against the Muslims that is widespread among the Western society.
¨ The term re-appeared in an article authored by Georges Chahati Anawati in 1976.
¨ The term entered into common usage with the publication of the Runnymede Trust’s report in 1997.
¨ It also appeared in the Muslim world in the 1990s as the Arabic word ‘Ruhab-al- Islam’ which means fear of Islam.
¨ The then-Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, asserted at a 2004 conference entitled ‘Confronting Islamophobia’ that the term Islamophobia had to be coined in order to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry.
Other allied terms which convey almost similar meanings
¨ Anti-Muslim prejudice/bigotry
¨ Anti-Muslim racism
Manifestations of Islamophobia in non- Muslim societies
¨ Social anxiety
Findings of the Runnymede Trust Report
The Runnymede Trust Report states that there are certain misperceptions about Islam at the foundation of Islamophobia. These misperceptions are as under:
¨ Islam is monolithic, static and unresponsive to change.
¨ Islam has no values in common with other cultures, and remains unaffected by other cultures and has no influence on others.
¨ The believers of this religion are violent, aggressive, threatening and supportive of terrorism.
¨ It is a political ideology used for political and military advantage.
Some scholars say Islamophobia is a form of racism.
Allan Johnson – a British politician – said that Islamophobia can be nothing more than xenophobia or racism wrapped in religious terms.
Sociologists Yasmin Hussain and Paul Baggauley stated that racism and Islamophobia were analytically distinct but empirically interrelated.
Instances of Islamophobia
¨ The most recent wave of Islamophobia, which was initiated through media, came from Denmark. On September 30, 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published controversial editorial cartoons which led to violent demonstrations across the Muslim world in January-February 2006, resulting in more than 250 deaths. The United Nations expert Doudou Diene called for international mechanisms including the UN General Assembly to treat such cases not as a clash of civilizations but as a debate on balancing of two rights – freedom of expression and respect for each religion.
¨ The wave of Islamophobia was even severer in France, and it continues till date. The unfortunate aspect is that there is a kind of state-sponsorship of Islamophobia or hatred against Islam. In 2006, Charlie Hebdo – a French satirical weekly magazine – republished Jyllands-Posten controversial caricatures which attracted violent protests from all over the
Muslim world. In 2010, France banned face coverings, for women particularly. Many physical assaults on women wearing hijab were reported. On November 03, 2011, the same magazine featured the controversial cartoon. The newspaper office was fire-bombed and its website was hacked. In 2012, Charlie Hebdo published controversial satirical cartoons prompting the French government to close embassies, consulates and international schools in 20 Muslim countries. On January 7, 2015, two French Muslims, armed with weapons, entered the offices of the newspaper and killed 12 people and injured 11 others. On October 16, 2020, Samuel Paty, a French secondary school teacher, was killed in Paris as he had shown the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons of 2012 on the pretext of freedom of expression. On October 21, 2020, two Muslim women were stabbed in Paris in reaction to Samuel Paty’s murder, allegedly.
¨ On March 15, 2019, in New Zealand, a terrorist named Brenton Tarrant committed two consecutive terror attacks at Al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, killing 51 people and injuring 50 others. The terrorist live-streamed the 17-minute shooting spree on Facebook. He cited Anders Behring Breivik as his inspiration.
o On July 22, 2011, in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik — an Islamophobic terrorist conducted two consecutive terrorist attacks in which 77 persons were killed. The first attack was a car explosion in Oslo. In the second incident, the terrorist opened fire at a summer camp on an island. These were the deadliest attacks in Norway since the second World War. His anti-Islam views were proved by the compendium titled as ‘A European Declaration of Independence’ authored by him which he emailed to different addresses hours before the attacks.
¨ There are many examples of incidents pertaining to Islamophobia in different countries of the world.
Causes of Islamophobia
¨ Western media played a negative role to spread Islamophobia. Muslims’ viewpoint was underrepresented. Muslims and Islam were depicted as threat to the Western culture and values. It used certain terms, e.g. Islamic terrorism, Islamic bombs and violent Islam, which caused Islamophobia. John E. Richardson criticized the British media for propagating negative stereotypes of Islam and fuelling anti-Muslim prejudice. He further concluded that 85 percent of the newspaper articles considered Muslims as threat to British society. The researchers at the University of Georgia and Alabama in the United States found that the terrorist attacks committed by the Islamic militants receive 357 percent more coverage than those committed by the non-Muslims.
¨ Islamophobic teachings are part of certain ideologies such as:
o Rightwing Christian evangelical groups
o Jewish supremacists who claim Muslims are anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.
o White supremacists who believe that Muslims are of dark races, ergo inferior.
o Hindutva supremacists who believe that Muslims in India should be converted to Hinduism – Ghar Wapsi campaign.
o Buddhist supremacists who want to cleanse Myanmar of Muslim presence.
¨ ISIS and violent Muslim groups are also held responsible for causing fear of Islam in the Western world. These militants believe that they have a license to kill everyone, and they portray themselves as Muslims. Their violent activities cause Islamophobia.
¨ Bernard Lewis, a British-American historian specializing in Oriental Studies, initiated an intellectual debate on the interaction between Islam and the West. His views are said to have laid the foundation of Islamophobia at intellectual level. For example, he was of the view that the Christian world and Islam as civilizations have been in perpetual collision since the advent of Islam. He authored the essay ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage (1990)’, which introduced the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ to North America. This essay has been credited with coining the phrase ‘clash of civilizations’. Later on, Samuel P. Huntington authored an article and later a book titled as ‘The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order’ in 1990s which predicted that people’s religious and cultural identities would be the source of conflict in the post–Cold War world. This debate gradually spread to the public.
¨ Al-Qaeda in 1990s declared that war against the United States is Jihad. Then, the 9/11 incident and the US-led war on terror added an impetus to the Islamophobic sentiments in the Western world. In consequence of the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorist incidents occurred in US and Europe. Unfortunately, the Western media portrayed these terrorists as the face of Islam.
¨ Poverty in the Muslim world caused migration of Muslims from their countries to the Western world. Different cultures and belief systems interacted but could not assimilate as they failed to reconcile the differences at some places that gave rise to Islamophobic feelings.
¨ To curb the Islamophobic trend in the non-Muslim world, joint/collective efforts by the Muslim world are need of the hour. In this regard, role of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is very significant as it is mandated to look after the interests of the Muslim Ummah. There is a need to shun the sectarian and other differences between and among the Muslim countries. The Muslim world should realize that they should invigorate the OIC so that it can play an active role in overcoming the challenges including Islamophobia. The OIC and the Muslim world may make arrangements for propagating literature on the true face of Islam and in this way, counter the Islamophobic literature and misperceptions about Islam and the Muslims.
¨ The United Nations can play an effective role by integrating the contents of global education systems which should focus on multiculturalism. The educational systems should teach tolerance, forbearance and respect for different cultures, religions and belief systems. Educational systems and media should come forward to de-radicalize the youth.
¨ The international media should focus on objective analysis and reporting of facts pertaining to different cultures and religions. Objective reporting can exterminate the Islamophobic misperceptions.
¨ The opinion leaders and the think tanks of the world should realize that absolute freedom of expression is dangerous for global peace and harmony. The right of absolute freedom of expression comes in conflict with another right, i.e. the right to interfaith harmony and respect for all religions. There is a need to balance between the two rights, and this can be done by curtailing the right of freedom of expression to suitable limits, and respecting the religious and cultural differences.
¨ Last but not least, the world should realize that terrorists have no religion. They are enemies of humanity. The world should make efforts to root out terrorism in all forms, Apart from this, the Muslim world should condemn the terror attacks done by the militants. All the Muslim countries should ensure that their territories are not used by the terrorists to launch terror attacks on other countries.
To conclude, it can be stated that Islamophobia is not only a challenge for the Muslim world but also a threat to the modern Western values. Islamophobia can be curbed with the help of organized efforts to be made by the Muslim world. Better future of humanity lies in interfaith harmony and respecting the religious and cultural differences.
The writer is a civil servant, belonging to Police Service of Pakistan (PSP).