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تاریخMay 29, 2020

Islamophobia and Challenges to Western Democracies (A Detail Analysis)

Khalid Talat

Islamophobia has emerged as one of the most unfortunate realities of the 21st century. Muslims across the world have been subject to the worst forms of discrimination and terrorism because of their religion. The menace of Islamophobia is widening the gap between the Muslim communities and the west. Islamophobia can be characterized by several social and racial causes. The most highlighted ones include the negative role of media, terrorism incidents, especially the 9/11 incident, and racism. Numerous cases of Islamophobia have emerged across the world, particularly in Europe and America. Muslims are subjected to adverse treatments and are not given proper human rights due to their religion. Some of the gravest examples of Islamophobia include Christ Church mass-shooting in Newzealand in March 2019, attack at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, etc. Western countries consider Muslims as a threat to their norms and values. They are in fear of the dominance of western countries by Muslims. They perceive Islam as a great challenge to their liberal democracies comprise the non-compatibility of Islam with modern secular values and fear of the “The Great Replacement”. This grave issue cannot be merely addressed by condemnation but additionally requires a thorough analysis to help chalk out remedial measures. Some significant ways to overcome Islamophobia include the need for education, formulation, implementation of a visionary plan, a collaboration between Eastern and Western countries, changes in the law, etc.

The term “Islamophobia” has a fairly recent origin. The term itself describes the prejudgement and stereotypes that a Western world has about Muslims and acts of fear or hospitality towards followers of the Islamic religion. This unjustified fear has contributed immensely to the discrimination of Muslims across the globe. It is a base point for the isolation of Muslims in the political arena and affiliate social classes in society. The Berkeley University Islamophobia Research and Documentation project suggested the working definition. Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceiving 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. Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.

While every single day passing, Islamophobia is escalating in Europe and other countries of the world. The most highlighted cause of growing Islamophobia is the negative role of media. As the media always highlights negative news involves the degradation of Muslims and never shows the positive side. the absence of positive and more representative stories helps people form stereotypical opinions of Islam. It has been empirically proved that people who do not have direct interaction with Muslims and for whom the media is the primary source of information tend to have more negative opinions about Islam than those who interact with Muslims in their neighborhoods, and places of work, etc. By focusing on the limited voices within the Muslim community, the western media allows other commentators to shape the worldview of local citizens about Islam and its followers. Even before 9/11, Muslims were portrayed negatively. However, the hospitality towards them increased manifold after the attacks. Western media in general and the American media in particular, has used the terrorist and culturist frames in a manner to suggest a connection between Muslims and terrorism.

Likewise, the 9/11 incident added fuel to the growing trend of Islamophobia. Days following 9/11, Muslims or those who looked like Muslims, became victims of hate crimes. Since 9/11 the anti-Muslim prejudice in the US and around the world has increased extremely and hastily. Until today no action has been put to effect since the alarm was first raised concerning the devastating effects of Islamophobia. The post 9/11 scenario has witnessed a shift to more focused and concentration on Islam and some western media organizations made news coverage reports and published news articles, in which Muslims and Islam are targeted.

Numerous cases of Islamophobia have reported in the world, particularly in Europe and America. There are the following some recent examples of Islamophobia.

The first and the most highlighted is the Christchurch mass-shooting in Newzealand on March 15, 2019, when two mosques were targeted while Friday prayer, in which, at least 50 people were killed including 9 Muslim citizens of Pakistan and more than 40 others were injured. The attacks occurred while worshippers attended Friday prayer. The main attack happened at the Masjid Al Noor in central Christ church, the largest city on the country’s southern island, where 42 people were killed.

Similarly, another manifested example of Islamophobia is the attack on 5 mosques in Birmingham. After the incident of Christchurch’s mass-shooting, five mosques in the central English city of Birmingham had been attacked overnight, with a man wielding a sledgehammer seen smashing windows at two places of worship. This incident also happened in March 2019.

Further, attack at Finsbury Park mosque in north London dated back on 19 June 2019 is also manifested example of Islamophobia. On that day, a van was driven into pedestrians in Finsbury Park, London by Darren Osborne causing one death and injuring at least nine people. This occurred near the Muslim welfare House, 100 yards from Finsbury Park Mosque.

Islamophobia has been fixed in the western psyche for centuries. There are several reasons for this. The early triumph and rapid expansion of an emerging Islam among Christian entities in West Asia and North Africa right up to the Tiberian Peninsula from the 8th to the 12th centuries; the onslaught of the European Crusades, their re-conquest of Jerusalem and their subsequent defeat at the hands of the Muslims between the 10th and 13th centuries; the rise of western colonialism from the 16th century onwards which led to the subjugation of most Muslim polities in Asia and Africa and the re-assertion of these polities from the middle of the 20th century as they seek to establish their own identities within a global order that centers around US dominance. All have contributed to the spread of a negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims in the West. History also shows that Islam spread quickly to the west thus threatened the position of the Christian church and the ruling class. The western elites became highly involved in projecting negative images about Islam.

The first challenge perceived by western democracies is the non-compatibility of Islam with modern secular values. They consider Islam as a threat because they have a notion that Islam is contrary to liberal democratic values. Further, the west, using the yardstick of the secular nation-state system, judge the Iranian revolution and the Taliban take over in Afghanistan as a return to theocracy – something the west abandoned in 1648 after a bloody protracted war. However, for Muslims, this is a return to the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Moreover, Orientalist scholars like Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, and Samuel P. Huntington use a one-dimensional literal interpretation that constitutes the indispensability of the enemy to go against. Having the luxury of semantics and self-serving generalization they foment a discourse of threats against the American and western values posed by the enemy. Once it was communism; now Islam and Muslims. There is literature that illustrates Islam as being equal to Hitler’s National Socialism in appeal and Stalinist in irreconcilability, creating a need to fight it with the force and rigor equal to what the US and NATO used during the Cold War.

Also, western countries are afraid of “The Great Replacement”. European and US debates centering on immigration, a focus on Islam and Muslims and formulated within a racist and Islamophobic paradigm, are constructed around a distorted clash of civilization arguments and set up to rally society into a renewed sense of the self. The number of immigrants arriving in Europe and the US has increased over the past 30 years, which is readily, documentable. People’s movement across borders is not new and we can trace the causes for such movements very easily throughout history. In the current context, the movement of a large number of people across borders is caused by 200 plus years of economic and political disruptions in the global south and the north. Right-wing parties have constructed an imagined and conspiratorial causality, which asserts that behind this movement of all these people is an attempt on the part of Muslims to convert Europe and the US to Islam and the quest to implement Sharia on the neighborhood at a time taking over the western world and replacing the white race with Muslims, Latinos and black and brown bodies.

Muslims are a huge population and cannot be controlled by hatred and suspicion, and by banning and labeling them as terrorists. There are the following significant ways to overcome the growing trend of Islamophobia.

Firstly, there is a dire need for education. Those who hate Muslims hate them because they do not know them. If only they understood Islam and knew Muslims better, they would change their minds and dispel the myths that exist until then, the distorted image of Islam and Muslims incited bigotry and hatred. Prejudice is amplified as its voice, strength, and momentum are promoted and popularised. The loudest voices, particularly from the far-right are often in positions of power. Instead of keeping these feelings contained, they are further fuelled, inflated, and inflamed by hate speech. The key to tackling Islamophobia, therefore, lies in educating the public.

Secondly, the formulation and implementation of a visionary plan is also a substantial measure to lessen the rising tide of Islamophobia. The establishment of a TV channel should be followed by research institutes and think tanks that are capable of generating ideas that can clarify misconceptions and win the battle of hearts and minds. It is time to be proactive, rather than reactive. To feel confident in their Muslim identity and overcome differences among themselves is the need of the hour.

Thirdly, there is a dire need for collaboration between the Eastern and the Western countries. There is an abundance of Islamic Institutes, yet they do not know of each other and never have reached out to each other. Muslims need to work with non-Muslims and work toward having a positive presence in the wider community. Muslims also need to have a rational approach, rather than an emotional knee jerk reaction every time an incident occurs.

Last but not the least, the time has come to push for changes in the law that will protect Muslims just as other religions are protected. Muslims must offer others the same respect that they wish for themselves otherwise there would be double standards.

To conclude, the world cannot be made a peaceful place to live in, in the absence of such an attempt to understand each other’s cultural restrictions and the reasons behind their particular behaviors. The significant way to mend the situation is a major dialogue between the east and the west about the regrets which they have for each other. Knowing each other’s stance will benefit them. Nothing else except understanding each other’s perspectives about life, narratives about ways of living, and purposes of existence would help to erase bad conceptions about each other’s suspecting. Suspecting every Muslim for a possible terror attack, banning hijab, bullying and attacking Muslims will not benefit westerners in any way. Simultaneously, the west also cannot be at peace in the presence of constant danger from the East. So, it is a dire need of the hour to settle their disputes through diplomatic negotiations and endeavor towards a harmonious and peaceful world.

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