ODVV interview: Islamophobia as a form of...
Islamophobia has long been one of the major plagues of the Western societies. The rise of far-right in Europe, the exacerbation of global refugee crisis with the wars and conflicts that are breaking out across the Middle East and the surge of racial intolerance in the United States with the coming to power of Donald Trump make Islamophobia a concern that needs to be seriously addressed.
Academics and researchers are the best people who can respond to unsettling questions about Islamophobia adequately.
Farid Hafez is a distinguished Austrian political scientist and university lecturer. He is a senior fellow at the Bridge Initiative hosted by the Georgetown University and a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Salzburg. Since 2010, he has been the editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook. Dr Hafez believes academia can always do something to teach and enlighten people regarding race relations and interfaith dialogue, but the problem, according to him, is that "Islamophobia as a form of structural racism is about power relations. In order to challenge these power relations, we need to have open discussions about inequalities."
In an interview with the Organisation for Defending Victims of Violence, Farid Hafez shared his views about Islamophobia in Europe and the United States, the global immigration crisis and the role of media and academia in setting off a reliable and valid debate about anti-Muslim prejudice.
Q: Far-right parties have assumed power in parts of Europe and the national narrative in countries such as Hungary and Austria is not simply opposition against but promoting hatred of the immigrants and asylum-seekers and this justifies violence against many citizens coming from the Middle East and North Africa to these countries in search of better and more peaceful lives. What's your take on that?
A: We can observe two different phenomena. One is on behalf of political parties. The right-wing parties, who mostly have a history that goes back to the Fascist, Nazi [and] other openly white supremacist political parties, do openly promote this kind of hate. This also leads to violence against these people, who feel empowered once a right-wing party is in power or has large support in the electoral. Then, there are those nominal centrist parties, mostly but not always, from the right, who are less blatant in their racism, but do promote many of the anti-immigrant, anti-asylum, and anti-Muslim agendas, but in a much more ‘civilized’ manner. The kind of nationalism that is recurring, is less built on the notion of defending the borders of a nation state, because at the end, the European Union comprises 28 countries with different languages, ethnicities, etc. Today’s nationalism builds on the notion of values and culture and is much more supranational. Hence, Muslims and African people have become the most symbolic form of ‘the other’.
Q: Studies and figures show that Muslims in the West have come to accept stereotypes and false convictions about themselves as Islamophobia continues to be promoted by the European and American media. This means Muslims are internalizing Islamophobia. Do you think there's any way to change this process?
A: I think critical reflections on race, racialization, and racism as well as class and gender are most crucial for Muslims to find an exit strategy from this vicious circle.
Q: The approach of many governments in Europe and Americas to handling the race relations and the freedoms given to the Muslim citizens is such that it's possible to noticeably see the emergence of identity crisis among the young Muslims and the citizens of faith in these countries. Does the grappling of a large population in Western countries with identity crisis promise a bright future for these societies?
A: I still see more possibility for the American social fabric to include Muslims, while Europe with a much narrower notion of national identity that often is equivalent to a white and Christian identity, is in a crisis. Identities are fluid and multiple, but the way it is discussed these days is to see identity as something exclusionary.
Q: Do the Western governments consider themselves responsible for the international immigration crisis? Immigrants come from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya and these countries are exactly the nations which were either occupied or attacked by the European governments or their allies in the past, or still continue to experience their military presence. How is it possible to preclude the further production of immigrants and what is the role of the Western governments in this regard?
A: I think this important aspect is very much out of sight and widely ignored. I do not see a lot of critical discourse on the post-colonial dimension of this geopolitics. I think this is also one of the main effects of Islamophobia, which leads the masses to think that a religion is responsible for these political crises, rather than to analyze political turmoil from a political and economic perspective that is intertwined with our very European presence.
Q: These days, frequent reports emerge from across Europe, Canada and the United States about attacks on mosques and the Islamic centers belonging to Muslims. Do you think the Muslims in the West are sufficiently entitled to practicing their faith and their worshipping places are adequately protected by the governments?
A: Two thoughts: First, religious freedom is a norm in most countries. Cases like Switzerland with a ban of minarets are more an exception than a rule. But the problem, which many Muslims face, is that citizens and Islamophobic groups are rallying to make constructions of mosques impossible. So this is less of a problem of the governments than the people. But this is if we have a very narrow definition of religion. Because, second, there is a problem of giving Muslims the space to live how they want. Especially in Europe, limitations on Muslim women’s dress are a regularly occurring problem. Here, it is governments that limit the activities of common Muslim women to work and be free citizens.
Q: The peaceful co-existence between Christians, Muslims, Jews and the followers of other faiths in secular and multicultural societies demand dialogue and understanding between them. How much have the universities and academia been successful in this regard and how are they able to tangibly impact this understanding? Is it possible to fight intolerance and religious and racial inequalities through academic work?
A: Academia can always do something to teach and enlighten people. And this is very necessary especially for school curricula. But the problem again is that Islamophobia as a form of structural racism is about power relations. In order to challenge these power relations, we need to have open discussions about inequalities.
By: Kourosh Ziabari