A Discussion on Islamophobia: An Interview with...
Islamophobia means an unnecessary and groundless culture of fear against Muslims anhttp://www.veteranstoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Chandra-Muzaffar.jpgd Islam. Namely, “Islamophobia term may be defined sociologically as the fear that mostly the Western society has against Muslims”.
The causes and characteristics of Islamophobia are still debated. Some scholars have defined it as a type of racism. Some commentators have posited an increase in Islamophobia resulting from the September 11 attacks, while others have associated it with the increased presence of Muslims in the United States, the European Union and other secular nations.
Today, unfortunately the Islamophobia and anti-Islamism, which are growing fast, are subconsciously inherent in Westerners along with abuse and aggression of some political, religious, radical Western groups and some Muslim groups’ murdering innocents people, that subconscious fear comes out and become a serious threat for Muslims.
Due to the importance of the issue and since extremism and violence are major challenges to civilization today as well as the necessity of distinguishing extremism from Islamic behaviour, the ODVV delegation had an interview with Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)*, who had come to Tehran to speak at an international conference on “Commemoration of Dr. Ali Shahriati and the future of Human sciences” in Espinas Hotel on 16th December 2015.
In this regard there is a need to raise awareness on analysing Islamophobia, root causes of terrorism and how to combat the menace.
Not only JUST and ODVV could for instance interact with one another through different channels on this issue of terrorism and extremism, but also all other humanitarian organizations and human rights defenders can work jointly in this field and define the issue as their goal.
Q: What are the key features of Islamophobia? Tell us about its causes and roots.
A: Islamophobia is a negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims borne of prejudice and hatred towards the religion and its followers manifested in the speech and behavior of segments of the non-Muslim populace in the West and elsewhere.
Though the terminology is contemporary, the phenomenon itself is deeply rooted in history. A negative outlook on Islam began to develop within Church circles in the Christian world from around the 9th century onwards as a result of the dramatic rise of Islam in the 8th and 9th centuries as the new faith spread rapidly across the Mediterranean and North Africa and on to the Iberian Peninsula in Europe itself. Because it was perceived as a challenge to Christian power, the Church and Christian groups began to disparage Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. It was partly because of this antagonism towards Islam, that the Church and a section of the European aristocracy embarked upon the Crusades from the end of the 11th century. When the Crusades aimed at restoring Christian suzerainty over Jerusalem and the Holy Land failed, after an initial triumph, Christian groups became even more antagonistic towards Islam and Muslims. Concerted attempts at demeaning Islam and demonizing the Prophet reached a crescendo during the epoch of Western colonial dominance from the 18th to the 20th centuries when most Muslim countries came under colonial sway.
It is against this historical background that one should view contemporary Islamophobia. It came to the fore again after the Palestinians and other Arabs began to act, through militant and non-militant ways, to win back their territories usurped by Israel, backed by a number of Western powers, in 1948. When Muslim states began to assert their rights over oil in the early seventies and oil prices hitherto dictated by Western oil companies began to increase, the Western media once again began to smear Islam and to denigrate Muslim leaders especially those who were brave enough to stand up to Western dominance.
In the first two decades of the 21st century, three additional factors seem to have contributed to Islamophobia. One, the violent reaction of some Muslims to renewed Western conquest of, or intervention in, some Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Somalia. Two, acts of terrorism committed by some Muslims in various parts of the world which may not be related to Western policies of conquest or intervention or hegemony in general. Some of these acts of terrorism may even be part of some misguided dream of establishing a global Muslim Caliphate. Three, the growing presence of Muslims in Western countries and certain aspects of their lifestyle related to their practice of Islam ranging from attire to abstinence from alcohol which segments of the European or American or Australian majority as the case may find unacceptable. This in turn reinforces prejudice leading to Islamophobia.
Q: How can Islamophobia be a form of racism as Islam is not a race?
A: I do not regard Islamophobia as a form of racism since the communities that are targets of the phenomenon in Europe and the United States are from diverse cultural communities. Besides, if one reflects on the origin of this negative outlook on Islam and Muslims going back more than a 1000 years, as I have pointed out, it is linked to religion. It was not just the irrational fear of another religion but the fear in Europe of a new power. Indeed, power was, and is, a fundamental factor in the relations between Christian and Western communities, on the one hand, and Islam and Muslims, on the other.
Q: To what extent would you agree that ‘Islamophobia’ is more a form of racism than religious intolerance?
A: As the above answer shows, it is religion not ‘race’ that is at the core of Islamophobia. But it is more than religious intolerance. In the early centuries it was religious hatred, religious prejudice that shaped the outlook of influential Christian elites in Europe towards Islam and Muslims. Today, partly because Europe as a whole is less inclined towards religion, it is antipathy towards the Muslim ‘other.’ In the US, negative sentiments towards Muslims and Islam are driven by religion, in the form of Christian Zionism, influential pro-Israel lobbies, and, of course, politics.
Q: What are the consequences of terrorist attacks, e.g. Paris attacks, on Muslim communities?
A: Every time a Muslim group commits an act of terror on Western soil or against Westerners in some non-Western country, Muslims living in the West and I dare say Muslims living in other non-Muslim majority countries feel the backlash. There are many instances where Muslim women in hijab have been subjected to severe harassment and have even been physically abused. Arab looking males have also been attacked physically and in one or two cases, even murdered. The demonization of Islam and Muslims in the media also becomes more pronounced in the wake of terrorist attacks. And, as one should expect, politicians start exploiting Islamophobia, hoping to reap a political harvest. Hence, reckless statements by people like Donald Trump calling for the banning of Muslims from the US. In a nutshell, whenever acts of mass violence are committed by Muslims, it is Muslims who pay the price and Islam is sacrificed at the altar.
Of course, Muslims have been vocal in denouncing terrorism. They never cease to emphasize that the terrorists are an insignificant minority within the Muslim community and their ideology and their actions do not represent Islam in any way. It is unfair, they often argue, to tarnish an entire religion or community because of the heinous deeds of a few.
But there is something else that Muslims should also do. When an act of terror is linked to Muslims or for that matter any other religious or even a secular group, ask openly what are the root causes? What explains the readiness of these young men to commit acts of terror? Who is funding these terrorists? Where are they getting their weapons from? In the case of groups like Daesh which is purportedly responsible for the recent 13th November Paris massacre who provides these terrorists with ‘terror’ skills?
Since terrorism is so inextricably intertwined with Islamophobia --- it has exacerbated Islamophobia --- by delving into the roots of current terrorism, we are in fact also exposing the underlying causes of Islamophobia.
Q: Practical response – what can be done to prevent the expansion of Islamophobia? Whose responsibility is it to address Islamophobia, the West, Muslim world or civil societies?
A: The West has the greatest responsibility for checking and eradicating Islamophobia. If it is true that certain governments and intelligence agencies in the West are sponsoring terrorism in order to achieve their geopolitical goals such as regime change in Damascus, --- and it is a fact that terrorism has aggravated Islamophobia --- they should be named and shamed by the Western media which claims to be a champion of freedom and democracy. Islamophobia, we have shown, is also a consequence of Western conquest and hegemony. If policies that seek hegemony come to an end, the reaction to hegemony which feeds Islamophobia will also cease.
The West should undertake a massive programme to educate its citizenry about the presence of ‘the other’. The mass media, schools and communities should be mobilized to the hilt. While similarities in value-systems and social practices should be highlighted, the differences between the majority Western societies and the Muslim Other should also be recognized and appreciated. How these differences contribute to the enrichment of religious and cultural diversity and how such diversity enhances the vitality and dynamism of the larger nation is a message that should be put across to the entire population.
It is not just establishing genuine empathy with the other that is important. The West, especially the influential stratum of society and the young, should through education and awareness-raising, develop a more holistic understanding of how Islamophobia originated and evolved through the ages. This requires a willingness on the part of the West to be self-critical and introspective. It must be prepared to admit that it continued in the past and continues at present to fuel Islamophobia.
Muslims should also examine critically their own attitudes and actions which may have contributed towards the fostering of negative perceptions of Muslims. In this regard, the use of violence to achieve one’s goals, however noble they may be, should be jettisoned totally. Let Muslims struggle for justice and change through non-violent means. Indeed, liberating the entire Muslim world from terrorism and violence should be the aspiration of every Muslim.
Islamophobia will also decrease if some Muslims in the West and in non-Muslim majority societies became less exclusive, less dogmatic and less bigoted in their approach to Islam. Muslims in Muslim majority societies should also be more inclusive and more universal in their understanding of religion. The time has come for Muslims and people of other faiths to give substantive meaning to a highly cherished religious ideal: the oneness of the human family.
By: Leila Shabani
*For further information about JUST you can visit their website: http://www.just-international.org/