Islamophobia is one of the most contentious concepts today. Literally translated as the ‘fear of Islam’, many argue that no such phenomenon exists. Yet far from being an intellectual debate, Islamophobia or anti-Muslimism is a glaring reality. Since the September 11 attacks and the London bombings 2005, Muslims throughout the West and wherever they are living as a minority have come under severe scrutiny as well as blatant attacks. Many conflate the term with ‘Islamic extremism’; however the concept itself is extremely dangerous. It indirectly legitimizes apathetic stereotypes such as equating Muslims with terrorists, ultimately licensing fascist groups to make offensive comments against Islam and Muslims. The phenomenon highlights how prejudice can pit one culture against the other thereby subjugating minorities and creating fault-lines across the globe. Islamophobia is a tragic reality that challenges West’s claims of holding up noble human values. It victimizes Muslims on the basis of their culture and essential beliefs which are considered contrary to western values and societal setup.
Without intending to exaggerate the problem, facts on the ground confirm this concern. France and Belgium were the first countries to ban the wearing of veil (burqa and naqab) in public spaces. In November 2009, Switzerland became the first country to ban the construction of new minarets of mosques. The rise of the far-right political groups in Europe, frequent utterances that ‘multiculturalism’ has failed and that there is no room for aliens in Europe, and the demands of stopping immigration from the Muslim world; all these instances highlight how the poisonous climate of hostility has spread from one European country to another. Islamophobia became evident following the Charlie Hebdo and Saint-Dennis attacks in Paris in 2015 and the refugee influx in Europe, leading to an increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim attacks.
In many ways Islamophobia is exploited by mainstream politicians by mobilizing the public and legitimizing their discriminatory policies under the guise of protection from ‘Islamization of Europe’, thus transforming public discourse and relegating Muslims from the mainstream. Far-right parties, particularly those having anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies, seem to cash in on economic slowdown and austerity measures. Since the Paris attacks 2015, the public has become more aggressive towards Muslims, not only in France but across Europe. Assaults against Muslims have skyrocketed. The attacks in Brussels and the developing discourse on Daesh have led to new social movements in Europe, such as the PEIGDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of West), with coordinated attacks on Muslims across Europe.
Amnesty International, in its report ‘Choice and Prejudice; Discrimination against Muslims’, documented the systematic discrimination carried out against Muslims in the European countries. Muslim women are denied jobs and girls are prevented from attending classes merely on the basis of wearing traditional dress and headscarf. Muslims make up 4 percent of the European continent but lack any meaningful economic and political influence. They are among the deprived members of the working class, suffering from economic discrimination and poverty. This in turn highlights the institutional discrimination against Muslims, prevalent in the European continent. Moreover, conventional media and the cyberspace has also been very vibrant in creating a negative atmosphere against Muslims through engaging the masses in a ‘them vs. us’ debate, thereby marginalizing Muslims on the basis of their faith and culture. Muslims are represented to be as closed societies who refuse to integrate and have incompatible belief systems.
In many ways Islamophobia is exploited by mainstream politicians by mobilizing the public and legitimizing their discriminatory policies under the guise of protection from ‘Islamization of Europe’, thus transforming public discourse and relegating Muslims from the mainstream. Far-right parties, particularly those having anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies, seem to cash in on economic slowdown and austerity measures. Since the Paris attacks 2015, the public has become more aggressive towards Muslims, not only in France but across Europe. Assaults against Muslims have skyrocketed. The attacks in Brussels and the developing discourse on Daesh have led to new social movements in Europe, such as the PEIGDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of West), with coordinated attacks on Muslims across Europe. The phenomenon of ‘homegrown’ terrorists has raised questions of cultural differences between Muslims of Europe and the host countries. This has led to a bigger debate on the assimilation of Muslims in wider communities, while completely neglecting the policy of multiculturalism.
To uncover the roots of Islamophobia we need to dissect the counter-terrorism policies of the West, which were devised after the 9/11 attacks as a part of the ‘War on Terrorism’. Features of emergency law which was enacted include suspension of habeas corpus, house arrest, use of torture, illegal detentions etc., all of which are opposed to basic civil liberties, leading to the marginalization of Muslims within western societies. Caused by an irrational fear of Islam, most Europeans consider Islam to be a grave threat to their culture and civilization, and believe that every young Muslim revealing the signs of radicalization should be monitored thoroughly. Muslims have time and again been targeted through exploiting laws, coercive counter-terrorism policies such as the Patriot Act and the Britain’s Prevent program, and increased surveillance, fast eroding civil liberties of Muslims and constraining their freedom of speech. The West has resorted to fighting terrorism and tyranny by using oppressive measures which has merely prolonged the vicious cycle of violence instead of remedying the original wrong.
One cannot deny the fact that the ‘Muslim question’ today plays a vital role in the ‘War on Terror’. Likewise extremists, particularly those involved in attacks on Paris and Brussels, used religious scriptures completely out of context to motivate their followers. However, the practice is not new. In fact the three holy texts- Torah, the New Testament and the Holy Quran- each contain passages that have been misinterpreted and used to justify heinous acts of barbarism. But alienating Islam as a set of belief is equivalent of holding 1.6 billion people responsible for the acts of a handful of people. The causes of conflict and strife in this world are many, and by reducing the entire world’s ill to a single cause or community will establish no justice. A concerted effort is required to fight the real enemy of terrorism and extremism. Most of the terrorist attacks occur in the Muslim world today. Thus it is important to deny leniency to the extremists present among us, to degrade their ability to perpetuate terror, and rob from them their recruits which they use to materialize their monstrous acts. Demonizing Islam and Muslims collectively and creating hysteria out of irrational phobia of Islam would merely exacerbate the problem instead of resolving it.