By: Abdul Rasool Syed
An Ages-old, Smouldering Volcano
The blatant display of savagery by the assailant in the Christchurch attack that claimed precious lives of fifty peaceful Muslims engaged in worship at mosque is the latest reminder of Islamophobia that is surging exponentially in the West.
Islamophobia is not a novel phenomenon; it has existed for over a long period of time. This lava in a smouldering volcano was in the making since long and has now started erupting with renewed intensity due to spiralling number of Muslim citizens and asylum-seekers in the West. The Western media and imperialist political bigwigs have exploited it to their favour in order to galvanize support for the war on terror, the occupation of foreign lands and to multiply their political fortunes. Even more painful is the fact that given the predominance of the West, the scholarly community has miserably failed to rise up to the challenge of 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 by day.
The “Islamophobia Observatory” at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (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.”
Moreover, the Runnymede Trust identifies eight components of Islamophobia, which are 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 Western culture. 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. Muslims’ criticism of the West is rejected;
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society; and
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.
Chronologically, Islamophobia, as mentioned above, 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, plethora of literature appeared in justification of the crusades for the repossession of the Holy Land by the Western Christendom from the Muslim ‘occupants’.
The Ottoman advances in the 15th and 16th centuries led to a further chapter of anti-Muslim diatribe. Fred Halliday suggests that “this experience … 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 portraying the negative image 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 the 19th century Orientalism shows clearly the myriad ways in which the West has stereotyped Islam, Muslims and the Arab world.
Contemporary manifestation of Islamophobia can be attributed to opportunistic politicians, biased media and prejudiced academia. These are the forces that fan the flames of Islamophobia in the West. To substantiate the claim, let me cite an article entitled “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. 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 centres of Islamic terror that have taken root in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”
“We have harboured those who hated us, tolerated those who threatened us and indulged those who weakened us. As a result, we remain, for example, all but defenceless 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 defences. The good news is that America has a president who can offer the leadership necessary to do so.”
Moreover, during 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 instil fear in the minds of American people should Obama, alleged to be a Muslim, be elected President of the United States.
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 Islamphobia is blatantly being used by the politicos to gain their vested interests and political mileage.
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 which is rooted in violence and irrationality. The media portray 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’. A former Mayor of London, Kenneth Robert Livingstone, who commissioned the study, said the findings showed a “hostile and scare-mongering attitude” towards Islam. “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 UK 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 the US and Europe is also dancing to the same tune as played by UK Sam Harris of Washington Times commented: “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. They found, among others, that the media regularly represents Arab – and Muslim-Americans as more attached to their country of origin than to the US The media imply that Arab and Muslim-Americans are more linked to Muslims in other countries than to other people in the US 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.
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.” Charles Krauthammer, the American political columnist, wrote about “an Islamic world united under the banner of Iranian-style fundamentalism in 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 at 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.” This, he called, “a clash of civilization,” 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 civilizations whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power…”
To encapsulate, the rightly guided Muslim scholars should come forward with their written and oval 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. The Muslim world that is comprised of fifty-seven countries and still has no permanent seat in UNSC, 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.