The Rise of Islamophobia
How to tackle the challenge
Asfand Yar Bhutto
The Muslim world, today, is caught in a vicious cycle of internal and external challenges. As far as internal problems are concerned, it is more than evident that social, political, sectarian cleavages abound with the plight of crumbling economy further adding insult to injury. Externally, the most daunting challenge, the Muslim world confronts is the pervasive Islamophobia. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry is rising at lightning speed and has emboldened the rightwing populists and white supremacists (extremists) across the globe. This rising xenophobia has its roots deeply embedded in the 9/11 attacks that the United States and the West termed an act of ‘Islamic terrorism’. In the aftermath of those attacks, the Alt-right bluntly classified the religion of Islam as a potent threat to the Western world and that fear caused the right-wing extremists hate Muslims across the globe.
The term ‘Islamophobia’ was developed to fear Islam and the Muslims as a social group. Thereafter, Muslims were generally taunted, ridiculed and perceived as terrorists in America and other regions of the Western world. Since then, anti-Islamic sentiments have been intensifying with each passing day. Over the past few years, hostility toward the Muslim immigrants has increased dramatically, resulting in the persecution and even killings of Muslims in their worship places. The Western media has also left no stone unturned to disseminate the anti-Muslim rhetoric, hatred against Muslims and to hold them responsible for any terrorist attack happening anywhere in the world.
What does Islamophobia actually mean?
Islamophobia refers to extreme dislike, hatred, fear and prejudice against Islamic religion and Muslims as a geopolitical force, and a ‘source of terrorism’. It encompasses violence against Muslims in the form of physical assaults, verbal abuse and vandalization of property such as mosques, Islamic schools or Muslim cemeteries. The UK-based non-profit Muslim organization MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) defines Islamophobia in two parts: “the overt part; Islamophobia is a prejudice, aversion, hostility or hatred towards Muslims, and the hidden part that adversely affects all Muslims both as individuals and as a collective group; that is the discrimination that excludes or confines Muslims’ equal exercise of fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other realm of civic life.”
Driving Islamophobic rhetoric: The Islamophobia Industry
The ‘Islamophobia Industry’, also known as Counter-Jihad Movement, comprises a massive interconnected and well-funded nexus of think tanks such as Henry Jackson Society, media outlets like Breitbart and Rebel Media, public figures, politicians and policymakers that advance, disseminate and perpetuate negative discourses about Muslims and Islam for economic and political gains. The whole industry, largely guided by rightwing and neoconservative ideologies, employs the rhetoric of a number of experts to spread misinformation and fear about Muslims and Islam by perpetuating the myth of an Islamic invasion of the Western world.
How the West constructed the Hydra-headed Monster in the form of Islamic terrorism and Islamophobia
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no enemy left for the West. Therefore, there was a desperate need for a new enemy. The biggest enemy, Communism, was subdued and the Islamic civilization was perceived to be the next big obstacle to Western civilization, as stated by Samuel P. Huntington in his famous ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory. The 9/11 tragedy indicated the West that the enemy they were looking for was Islam and its followers, the Muslims. The discourse of Islamic terrorism was constructed and the new enemy was identified along with new strategies to be activated accordingly. Since then, the Muslims all over the world have been seen through the lens of terrorism. It would not be wrong to say that modern Islamophobia was born on 11th September 2001.
Islamophobia is real, deadly and mushrooming around the world
The horrendous incident of 9/11 had far-reaching ramifications for Muslims around the world. It metamorphosed the discourse regarding Muslims, and justified the rhetoric that breeds hatred. Over the past couple of years, deadly Islamophobic incidents continue to surge in Europe and North America. In 2017, Jeremy Joseph Christian became furious when he saw a young Muslim woman donning hijab on a commuter train in the US. He kept abusing her verbally and used a knife to kill two passengers who tried to intervene. The same year, Darren Osborne carried out a van attack against Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park in London. During his trial, it was revealed that he had threatened to kill all Muslims. In the UK, more than half of religiously-motivated attacks in 2017-18 were directed at Muslims as per statistics released by Prevent, the country’s terrorism prevention programme. It also encompasses that extreme rightwing activity surged by 36% and radical Islamism decreased by 14% in 2017-18. Moreover, in the US, hate crimes against Muslims jumped by 15% for a total of 300 incidents in 2017, according to data from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Last but not least, live-streaming the murderous rampage by an Australian white-supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, in Christchurch mosques, shows a new-fashioned Islamophobia.
Burgeoning hostility towards Muslim Immigrants
The anti-immigrant sentiment has been gaining traction, and fuelling political sea change across the globe. US President Donald Trump and the radical far-right in Europe have delineated Muslim immigrants as the most despised group of invaders in the West.” It is rightly said that “politicians can set the tone of tolerance and unity, and they can also set the tone of division and violence’’. President Trump has repeatedly used anti-immigrant discourse that Muslims should be banned from entering the US and his toxic campaign rhetoric towards Muslims was a contributing factor to the rise of Islamophobia phenomenon. The view that all Muslims are dangerous and terrorists, can stoke further racial and faith-based schisms.
How Islamophobia is broadcast?
It is alarming to see how the Western media outlets show prejudice against Islam and Muslims, and spread Islamophobia. When there is a report of attack carried out by a Muslim, they would call that the Islamic terrorism. On the other hand, when a non-Muslim carries out the same attack, they would label him mentally-distressed lone wolf. This is the extreme level of bias that is deeply entrenched in the Western Media. The media must acknowledge that terrorism has no religion, race, color or creed, and it must stop demonizing the Muslims and holding them culpable for anything bad that happens to the world.
To put an end to the rising Islamophobia, political leaders and those in government or places of authority around the world must stop their anti-Muslim rhetoric. They must stop dehumanizing Muslims and demonizing Islam owing to the problem that terrorism is a global conundrum which needs to be tackled through collective efforts. Conclusively, the media should play a pivotal role to quit prejudiced reporting because it is the entity that controls the minds of the people and therefore, should broadcast positive posture to get rid of Islamophobia.
The writer has done masters in International Relations from National Defence University, Islamabad.