Islamophobia: Genesis, Challenges & Response

Abstract

Islamophobia is the irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture, and active discrimination against these groups or individuals within them. It manifests itself through individual attitudes and behaviours, and the policies and practices of organizations and institutions.

This article attempts to clarify the concept, identify its various manifestations, analyse the underlying causes and suggests a comprehensive plan of action to counter it effectively.  

What is Islamophobia ?

Despite its universal and decades old existence, there is no consensus on an adequate definition of Islamophobia- the irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture, and active discrimination against these groups or individuals within them. The University of California at Berkeley’s Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project suggested this working definition:

“Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve ‘civilizational rehab’ of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.”

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) defines Islamophobia as

“the fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them”, adding that whether “it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion”.

According to Khaled A. Beydoun of California Law Review (CLR) Forum

“Islamophobia therefore has three dimensions: structural policy, pri­vate animus, and the dialectical process by which the former legitimises and mobilizes the latent and patent bigotry of individuals and private actors

l  Private Islamophobia: the fear, suspicion, and violent targeting of Muslims by individuals or private actors. This animus is generally carried forward by non-state actors’ use of religious or racial slurs, mass protests or rallies, or violence against Muslim subjects.

l  Structural Islamophobia: the fear and suspicion of Muslims on the part of institutions—most notably, government agen­cies—that is manifested through the enactment and advancement of policies. These policies are built upon the presumption that Muslim identity is associated with a national security threat, and while they are usually framed in a facially neutral fashion, such policies dispropor­tionately target Muslim subjects and disparately jeopardize, chill, and curtail their civil liberties.

l  Dialectical Islamophobia: a systemic, fluid, and deeply politicized dialectic between the state and its polity: a dialectic whereby the former shapes, reshapes, and confirms popular views or attitudes about Islam and Muslim subjects inside and outside of America’s borders. Therefore, the third dimension of Islamophobia focuses on “dialectical Islamophobia,” which is the process by which state policies legitimize prevailing mis-con­ceptions, misrepresentations, and tropes widely held by private citizens.

History of Islamophobia

The term was first used in the early 20th century, emerging as a neologism in the 1970s. Its use increased during the 1980s and 1990s and reached public policy prominence with the report by the Runnymede Trust’s Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia (CBMI) entitled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All (1997). The introduction of the term was justified by the report’s assessment that “anti-Muslim prejudice has grown so considerably and so rapidly in recent years that a new item in the vocabulary is needed”.The meaning of the term continues to be debated, and some view it as problematic.

Manifestations of Islamophobia

According to the Runnymede Report, the following views are equated with Islamophobia:

  1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
  2. It 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. It is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
  4. It is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
  5. It is seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.

Islamophobia, particularly in the West including North America, in manifests itself through individual attitudes and behaviours, and the policies and practices of organizations and institutions. Examples—which vary across countries and time—include the following:

  1. Verbal threats/attacks on persons, Islam or their cultural/religious symbols, beliefs and practices. These attacks could be either face to face or through media-print, electronic or social.
  2. physical attacks on property, places of worship, and people—especially those who display a visible manifestation of their religious identity such as women wearing the hijabor niqab
  3. policies or legislation that indirectly target or disproportionately affect Muslims, and unduly restrict their freedom of religion, such as bans on wearing visible religious and cultural symbols, laws against facial concealment, and bans on building mosques with minarets
  4. discrimination in education, employment, housing, or access to goods and services
  5. ethnic and religious profiling and police abuse, including some provisions of counter terrorism policing
  6. public pronouncements by some journalists and politicians—across the whole political spectrum—that stigmatize Muslims as a group and disregard their positive contributions to the communities and countries in which they live
  7. Criticisms made of “the West” by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
  8. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
  9. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.

Cora Alexa Døving, a senior scientist at the Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, argues that there are significant similarities between Islamophobic discourse and European pre-Nazi antisemitism. Among the concerns are imagined threats of minority growth and domination, threats to traditional institutions and customs, skepticism of integration, threats to secularism, fears of sexual crimes, fears of misogyny, fears based on historical cultural inferiority, hostility to modern Western Enlightenment values, etc.

Why is Islamophobia an issue in Europe now?

In recent years, Islamophobia has been fuelled by public anxiety over immigration and the integration of Muslim minorities into majority cultures in Europe. These tensions have been exacerbated in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2007 and the rise of populist nationalist politicians. They have also been aggravated by high-profile terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremists. What are the implications of rising Islamophobia for the Western societies? Some of the ways they are adversely affecting them are as follows 

  • Divided Society: In a climate of rapidly expanding diversity in Europe, Muslim minorities have been portrayed as non-belonging and wanting to separate themselves from the rest of society. Government policies have failed to ensure equal rights for all, forcing significant sections of Muslim minorities to face unemployment, poverty, and limited civic and political participation, all of which aggravate discrimination.
  • Rise of Populist Far Right: Minorities often serve as scapegoats in times of economic and political crisis. Islam and the approximately 20 million Muslims who live in the European Union are depicted by some as inherent threats to the European way of life, even in countries where they have lived for generations. The myth of an ongoing European “Islamization” or invasion has been nurtured by xenophobic, populist parties that are on the rise across Europe. In fact, Europeans overestimate the proportion of their populations that are Muslim.
  • Tilted Policy Framework: The 9/11 terrorist attacks drastically changed public opinion towards Muslims. Since then, terrorist acts such as the attacks by violent jihadists in London, Paris, Brussels, and Barcelona have increased fear and anxiety. The use of Islam by extremists to justify their terrorist acts has made many Europeans regard Islam as a threat and fear Muslims as the enemy. Since 2001, some media in Europe have succumbed to reporting based on stereotypes and used the actions of Islamists to stigmatize Muslim populations. There are concerns that stereotypes and generalizations about Muslims are informing counter-terrorism measures in Europe that restrict liberties for all and negatively impact Muslim communities.
  • Disintegration of European Values: Islamophobia is a “symptom of the disintegration of human values,” according to former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg—values such as nondiscrimination, tolerance, freedom of thought, justice, solidarity, and equality. These values are supposed to be inherent to European societies; they are values upon which the European Union and the Council of Europe were built.

Causes

Any feelings, good or bad, about a person , a group of persons, society or country emerge from the perceptions people have about these. These perceptions are formed due to three main reasons-

  • Historical Memory– people have historical memory which passes on from generation to generation. For example, hatred against Jews due to their considered as accomplice to the death of Jesus or against the Muslims-a throwback of Crusades. Similarly, against the Turks for their invasion/occupation of many European countries. Several scholars consider Islamophobia to be a form of xenophobia or racism. A 2007 article in Journal of Sociology defines Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism and a continuation of anti-Asian, anti-Turkic and anti-Arab racism.
  • Cataclysmic Events: which reinforces these perceptions. Some commentators have posited an increase in Islamophobia resulting from the September 11 attacks, the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other terror attacks in Europe and the United States by Islamic extremists.such as 9/11, terrorist attacks inside Europe, etc
  • Mega Trends: -such as migration/increasing unemployment in Europe Some have associated it with the increased presence of Muslims in the United States and in the European Union, while others view it as a response to the emergence of a global Muslim identity.

These three factors namely history, events and trends, are then exploited by three sets of people to further their own respective agenda -populist leaders, press and organisations. They emotionally blackmail the general public by exaggerating the threat or perception of threat-they are killing our sons, they are taking over our jobs, they are converting our boys/girls to Islam etc. Technological development particularly electronic media and internet has further accentuated these cultural/religious fault lines-a globalisation of anti-Muslim narratives. Thus countries with very few Muslims, eg Czech Republic and Hungary, not only have similar narratives of anti-Muslim hatred around intrinsic terrorism, the subjugation of women and so on. 

How to counter Islamophobia

Unfortunately all the above reasons are true to some extent but are not helpful in the short to medium term solution of the issue. Following plan of action may become a starting point for discussion to find the solution

  1. Define the term: Any plan of action to counter Islamophobia depends upon the perspective one has in mind regarding the reasons for its emergence and widespread prevalence. If you think clash of religion is the main reason for hatred between the followers of two Abrahmic religions, then remedy would be initiation of inter-faith dialogue. Even though, interfaith dialogue is the need of the day, yet this would take decades if not centuries to remove the misunderstanding among the Muslims and those hating them for their religious beliefs. On the other hand, if you think the attitudes and behaviour of the Muslims, living as migrants is the cause of creating feelings of hatred for them among their hosts, then the onus of improving the situation lies on the Muslim expatriates. Similarly, if the terrorist activities of a few disgruntled Muslims are causing the rise of Islamophobic feelings among the non-Muslims in general and the Europeans in particular, then it would require another set of solutions relating to finding causes of terrorism and their removal.
  2. Documenting Islamophobia cases: Once we have adequately defined what Islamophobia is, there is a need to systematically collect the data about the incidence, frequency and intensity of Islamphobic incidents , their perpetrators and regions most affected. By identifying the cases of Islamophobia, we will not only know the intensity of these feelings but will also know the areas and groups of persons, organisations and institutions involved. This information will help the state and the concerned agencies to come up with proper policy framework and targeted action.
  3. De-constructing the Narrative: In order to effectively counter the Islamophobia, we must know what type of arguments these people are presenting in support of their point of view. By thoroughly examining this literature, we will be able to identify the weaknesses of their narrative in terms of design, logic, facts and figures.
  4. Counter Narratives: Finally, it is not enough to identify and point out the deficiency in the narrative of the anti-Muslim people and the organisations. We must come up with a positive counter narrative to present the positive image of Islam and the contributions of Muslims in the development of the Western societies as well the contributions being made by the immigrants in accelerating the economic growth of their respective countries. A reconstruction of mainstream ideas surrounding Islam and Muslims , one that is closer to the realities of the faith and its practice, is therefore the need of the day.  This means that dominant ideas about Muslims and Islam that circulate in popular culture should reflect the diverse everyday experiences of Muslims and their faith.
  5. Legal Framework: Common demand of Muslims should be to make Islamophobia utterance a cognizable offence like they have done for Nazi slogans, anti-Semitism and Holocaust
  6. House in order: Blaming Europeans all the time for Islamophobia is not the solution; Muslims must take the share of the blame where due. While there is a need for the muslim diaspora to make all out efforts to integrate themselves with the societies they are living in, Muslim countries should make all out efforts to curb extremism/terrorism from their own countries. Similarly, there is need to streamline the immigration as illegal migrants are one of the reasons for creating xenophobic sentiments among Europeans. Underdevelopment, bad law & order situation and lack of peaceful conditions in Muslim majority countries are the main reasons for pushing out their citizens to the green pastures of Europe-these need to be tackled
  7. Interfaith Dialogue: Interfaith dialogue, a cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious tradition at both the individual and institutional levels has become even more imperative today in the wake of increasing wars and conflicts. Throughout the world, there are recorded examples of interfaith initiatives with varying levels of success in establishing understanding, teamwork, or tolerance. In 2016, President Obama outlined the following eight principles of interfaith relations:
  1. Relationship building requires visiting each other.
  2. Relationship requires learning about the others’ history.
  3. Relationship requires an appreciation of the other.
  4. Relationship requires telling the truth.
  5. Relationships depend on living up to our core theological principles and values.
  6. Relationships offer a clear-headed understanding of our enemies.
  7. Relationships help us overcome fear.
  8. Relationship requires solidarity.

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative to prevent violence and support social cohesion by promoting inter-cultural and interfaith dialogue, needs to be pushed further for creating harmony among the religions and thus reduce the Islamophobia

Conclusion

“There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions” by Hans Kinga Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Global Ethic Foundation is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago.

From the ebook “20 Global Issues: A Handbook” by Shahid Hussain Raja, published by Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C1BT6KD

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