ODVV Interview: As the war on terror lingers,...
A distinguished American academician says as long as some version of the "war on terror" project lingers, Islamophobia continues to be a prominent problem.
Todd Green, an Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College and a recognised expert on Islamophobia says some world leaders have done a good job in vocally condemning anti-Muslim discrimination, even though their record in standing by the Muslims and minorities has been mixed. Prof Green, however, believes that some leaders continue to foment and encourage Islamophobia and America's Donald Trump and Hungary's Victor Orban are cases in point. Todd Green recently served as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. State Department under President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry, where he analysed and assessed the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe on countering violent extremism initiatives, refugee and migrant policies, and human rights.
In an interview with Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence, Prof Green detailed his viewpoints about President Obama's approach to relations with the Muslim world, the growth of anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States under President Trump, Islamophobia in Europe and the role of Muslims in depicting a realistic and balanced image of their faith to the global public.
The following is the text of the interview.
Q: You served as a Franklin Fellow at the U.S. Department of State under President Obama analysing the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe in countering violent extremism. How much difference do you see in the approach of the former U.S. president towards Muslims and that of the current president? Does Donald Trump accept the fact that he is alienating a large population in this country from their American roots, beliefs and convictions through adopting policies based on double standards?A: The Obama administration was far from perfect when it came to Islamophobia. Its program of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in particular reinforced the notion that Muslims should be thought of first and foremost as latent security threats. This securitizing of Muslims is a manifestation of Islamophobia since it is predicated on the false assumption that Muslims are more prone to violence than other populations. On the other hand, the Obama administration openly confirmed that Islamophobia was a problem that needed to be acknowledged and challenged, and he made explicit efforts to acknowledge the contributions of Muslim Americans to the United States. All of this was on display in his speech to the Islamic Society of Baltimore in February 2016.
If the Obama administration’s approach to Islamophobia can be described as ambivalent, the Trump administration is anything but ambivalent. From his time as a presidential candidate into his tenure as president, Donald Trump has overtly and explicitly invoked Islamophobia. His presidential campaign succeeded in part because he instrumentalized Islamophobia; he tapped into pre-existing fears and anxieties toward Muslims in certain segments of the U.S. population and channelled these negative feelings into votes. Trump flirted with Muslim ID cards, and Muslim registration systems. He called for a complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States, which has been translated into various iterations of the Muslim Ban. He once stated that “Islam hates us.” All of this was a deliberate attempt to stir up hatred of Muslims and to use this hatred to galvanize voters. And it worked. We should expect President Trump to continue to use Islamophobia to reach his base and to fortify his support there.
Q: London Metropolitan Police reported that violent crimes against Muslims in Britain increased fivefold after the London Bridge attacks. France and the United States also experienced huge spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the recent years. What is the most effective response the heads of these countries can give to the rise and growth of Islamophobia?A: Hate crimes targeting Muslims have become a massive problem in Europe and the United States. Both sides of the Atlantic witnessed a significant rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2014 to 2015. Some of this was due to the heated political rhetoric emanating from political campaigns. It should also be noted that anti-Muslim hate crimes tend to spike in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks. Examples of this include the London Underground attacks of 2005, the Paris attacks of November 2015, the Brussels attacks of 2016, and the Manchester and London Bridge attacks of 2017.
The leaders of these countries must be firm and steadfast in their condemnation of hate crimes against Muslims. They should be as unequivocal in their condemnation of anti-Muslim hate crimes as they are in their condemnation of terrorism.
President Trump is a prime example of what leaders should not be doing. He is often slow to condemn attacks on Muslims, if he condemns these attacks at all. When the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, was bombed in August 2017, Trump made no public statement condemning the attack. In fact, Sebastian Gorka, then Deputy Assistant to the President, went on television and justified Trump’s silence by insinuating that Muslims have a tendency to fake hate crimes against them, and until it was proven that the attack in Bloomington was not a fake hate crime, the White House would remain silent. Even after three members of the white patriot movement were arrested for the bombing, the White House remained silent. This amounts to a tacit acceptance of anti-Muslim violence. It’s also fairly typical of the current U.S. president.
Beyond condemning anti-Muslim attacks, politicians can divert more resources into tracking anti-Muslim hate crimes and offering better training to law enforcement agencies on how to identify such crimes and record them. These hate crimes are significantly underreported, and until this improves, we will not have a clear grasp of just how large the problem is and how best to respond to it.
Q: Following the 12 June 2016 attacks at the Orlando nightclub, you wrote an article, posing the question, "Is Islam Responsible For The Orlando Nightclub Shooting?" The U.S. president Donald Trump rushed to Twitter to condemn "radical Islam" for that incident shortly after it happened. But, what is the reality? Is the mainstream approach in the United States still predicated on condemning a faith and its entire followers over individual wrongdoings or the crimes the perpetrators of which are not identified?A: Perpetrators of terrorist attacks who have a Muslim background may justify their actions by appealing to Islam, but Islam is not the cause of these attacks. We have plenty of evidence from both academic studies and government studies suggesting that those from Europe or even the U.S. who join ISIS or al-Qaeada or who carry out attacks in their names have very little knowledge of Islam.
Let’s not forget the story of Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, two men from Birmingham, England, who set out several years ago to engage in violent jihadism in Syria but who logged onto Amazon before leaving in order to order books such as Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. They were ready to go out and defend Islam with their lives, and yet they clearly knew little to nothing about the religion for which they were presumably fighting. But religious illiteracy is not the exception among terrorist wannabes. It’s often the norm. We’ve learned of how widespread Islamic illiteracy among terrorists is from leaked MI5 documents in 2008 which noted that few people involved in terrorism have religious literacy or practice Islam with any regularity. Other studies have made similar observations.
Invoking the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” is a political manoeuvre that demonizes all followers of an entire religion and conveys the false notion that Islam is the “root cause” of this form of violence. Politicians like Trump make this move because it works, not because of the evidence. In fact, there is no evidence of an organic link between Islam and violence. Such assumptions reflect a fundamental misunderstanding not only of Islam but of religion more generally and how it factors into violent extremism. Until politicians and policymakers develop a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of religion and how it does, and doesn’t factor into violent extremism, the main result from counterterrorism programs and policies will be more Islamophobia.
Q: How much is the U.S. foreign policy to blame for the expansion and promotion of anti-Muslim sentiments? How do verbal attacks by the U.S. president against the leaders of other countries, including Muslim nations, his nuclear double standards and the policy of selling arms to certain Middle East nations en masse stimulate Islamophobia?A: There’s no doubt that the U.S. war on terror was predicated on Islamophobic motifs, including the belief that Islam is inherently anti-democratic, violent, and misogynist. During the Bush administration, proponents of the war frequently used language such as “Islamic radicalism” and “Islamo-fascism” to describe the threats posed to the United States. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush also invoked oppressed Muslim women as a reason why the United States must engage in aggressive military action abroad.
President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is undoubtedly a reflection of a deeper Islamophobia in the current Republican Party that sees Iran as an existential threat because of its Islamic identity. Of course, President Trump does send mixed messages to Muslim-majority countries. He’s been much more accommodating to Saudi Arabia, for example, than to other countries, in part because of his own financial interests, not to mention the economic and military interests of the United States. We must bear in mind that Saudi Arabia is a major purchaser of weapons from the United States.
Nevertheless, the ongoing military action in Muslim-majority countries creates an atmosphere in which Muslims are cast as enemies of the United States. Under these circumstances, Muslims at home become symbolic stand-ins for the Muslim enemy abroad. As long as some version of the war on terror lingers, Islamophobia will continue to be a prominent problem.
Q: What is the role of Muslims in changing the portrayal of Islam? Have American Muslims been successful in depicting a realistic and heartening image of their religion? How is the public image of Islam affected by the achievements made by Muslim athletes, artists, authors, academicians and entrepreneurs?A: American Muslims have done a great deal of reaching out the larger public to educate the majority population about Islam. Frankly, I’m not sure American Muslims can do much more to counter this prejudice than what they are currently doing. And while having Muslim sports icons, authors and entrepreneurs can help, it can only do so much in the fight against Islamophobia.
More to the point, I don’t think Muslims have the primary obligation to fight Islamophobia, even though it’s understandable that American Muslims are very much involved in this fight. Islamophobia, however, arises not from the failures of Muslims to present a more positive image of Islam. Such a belief assumes that Islamophobia is primarily driven by a misunderstanding of Islam. It is not. Islamophobia is a form of racism, and this racism emanates from the majority population and is often manufactured by politicians and members of the Islamophobia Industry for political and financial gain. Moreover, it’s a racism that’s been around not for a few years or a few decades but for centuries.
Anti-Muslim racism has been employed by Western nations in modern history to achieve larger political or imperial goals. That’s what we must recognize with Islamophobia. And that means that it's the majority population and those in political power who have the responsibility – morally and politically, to combat Islamophobia. Until more people from the majority population join in the fight against Islamophobia, we will not see the needle move on Islamophobia in any significant way.
Q: Do you see this determination and willingness in the leaders of Europe and North America to condemn Islamophobia loudly and make it clear that they fight for the rights of their minorities and faith groups and stand by them?
A: Some leaders have done a good job in condemning Islamophobia, even if their record in supporting Muslim populations is mixed. But we must recognize that some leaders have actively contributed to and encouraged Islamophobia. On this end of the spectrum, we have leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary and Donald Trump of the United States. We also have prominent members of far right parties who may or may not be part of governing coalitions but whose careers nonetheless depend on promoting Islamophobia. Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen of the National Front in France come to mind. This tactic of encouraging Islamophobia, as opposed to condemning it, will continue to be used by far right and populist parties for the foreseeable future precisely because it helps them gain support from key elements of the electorate.
By: Kourosh Ziabari