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The March of Militant Islamophobia

Armed member of anti islamic group BAIR following an American Muslim women (Source Fox News)

An attack on a mosque in Quebec on January 29, 2017 has sent shockwaves across the world. Six Muslim worshippers were murdered in cold blood by an attacker who was initially asserted to share the same faith due to a mistake by witnesses. The attacker was later found out to be a 27 year old white nationalist Alexandre Bissonette.  He faces six counts of first-degree murder and five attempted murder charges, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec. Bissonnette followed several profiles that espoused right-wing ideologies on his Facebook page, including that of Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader of France’s National Front.

However this atrocity comes in the backdrop of a heightened atmosphere of Islamophobia across the world specifically in the West. According to Oxford English Dictionary, Islamophobia is referred to as “Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” In a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report defined it as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The Center of race and Gender, University of California, Berkely has elaborated it further as “Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure.  It is directed at a perceived 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 (Muslim or otherwise).  Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.”

Islamophobia is asserted to have been first used in 1910 by French Intellectuals during the colonization of West Africa, a Muslim majority region. In L’Orient vu de l’Occident the authors use “Islamophobie” to designate the deliberate perversion of Islam “in the hope of bringing Islam down once and for all.” Islamophobia is not act of misrepresentation of Islam but the guiding force behind it. It is a hostile attitude against Muslims on the basis of their religion and a desire to annihilate Islam as a religion.

Europe has traditionally been the haunt of Islamophobia where attrition between the locals Muslim and non Muslim communities have been colored by a sense of difference and exclusion. These tensions have been exacerbated by the aftermath of the economic crash of 2007 and the rise of populist nationalist politicians. They have also been aggravated by high-profile terrorist attacks carried out by Muslim extremists.  Islamophobia has infiltrated into the higher echelons of power with various discriminatory practices against Muslims such as minaret ban in Switzerland, veil bans across Europe, the Burkini ban in France and mosques bans in parts of various European nations.

North America which was traditionally more open and removed from the rather traditional animosity against Muslims of Europe has steadily become a bastion of Islamophobia especially after the 9/11 attacks. The wars initiated in the MENA region by successive American governments such as Afghanistan and Iraq have all involved the vilification of entire regimes, and in addition, the peoples of those nations. The resultant destabilization and violence was capitalized by certain figures in North America to be used a means to exploit public fears and demean Muslims and Islam for political gains.

The greatest exploiter of Islamophobia has been the regime of Israel. Israeli state machinery has tried to take advantage of Islamophobic sentiments through its social media campaign called Hasbara and even state machinery like embassies.  For example in 2014, the Israeli diplomatic staff was criticized by the Europeans for spreading Islamophobic propaganda projecting an Islamic takeover of the continent if Israel wasn’t helped in its brutal occupation.

However, Islamophobia has not remained limited to mere rhetoric. Like other hate before it like Anti Semitism and anti black racism, Islamophobia has often taken a violent form. It has manifested itself in the wars of the West against Muslim nations as well as brutal attacks on Muslims and those considered near to them in Non Muslim majority countries. There has been a steady increase in violence against Muslims since the last two decades by what can be considered a decentralized movement revolving around Islamophobia.

Militant Islamophobia has manifested itself in the form of intimidation, arson, mosque bombings, harassment and assault of Muslim women, desecration of Muslim holy texts, verbal and written abuse, disfigurement of graves, murder and last but not least terrorism. Since the election campaign that brought Trump to power initiated in March 2015 through February 2016, Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative has documented 180 incidents of anti-Muslim violence, including 12 murders, 34 physical assaults, 56 acts of vandalism, nine arson attacks and eight shootings or bombings in the US alone.

However the aspect of terrorism by individuals or outfits with specific political agendas has been the most troubling of all. Alexandre Bissonette, the Quebec mosque attacker was known for being a fan of US President Donald Trump, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the Israeli army and other far-right groups. He is also known for bearing a “grudge against the Left”. In October 2016, a militia group called the ‘Crusaders’ plotted to target Muslim immigrants in order to “wake people up”. Robert Doggart, a potential congressman tried to recruit men and material for an attack on a Muslim community. He was arrested and has recently evaded terrorism charges because “federal law focuses almost entirely on foreign extremists ”.

However till date the most infamous of Islamophobic terrorism has been the 2011 Norway attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, a far right Islamophobic militant killed eight people by detonating a van bomb amid the Regjeringskvartalet in Oslo, and then mass murdered 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utøya. Breivik was categorized by analysts as being a right-wing extremist with an entrenched revulsion of Islam who deemed himself a defender of Europe committed to curtailing Muslim immigration into Europe.

Breivik called himself a member of a transnational terror group called Knights Templar Europe. According to him, nine far-right extremists from different European nations gathered together to form the group and pledged to seize political power and drive Islam from the continent. Many have doubted his claims yet in 2012, Breivik’s “deputy” threatened key Norwegian figures through letters. A website The Knights Templar Europe Report is up and running detailing the activities of members. It claims to be behind the failed attacks by Vojtěch Mlýnek in Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third largest city and Brunon Kwiecień in Poland who killed his own mother in order for secrecy. It has also claimed that Pavlo Lapshyn who was jailed for 40 years for the murder of Muhammad Saleem and mosque bombs in UK, is a member.

The West is not the only region afflicted by Islamophobic terrorism. India has seen a large rise in attacks against its Muslim community by state and non state actors especially after the ascendancy of the Hindutva group BJP to power. In Buddhist majority Myanmar and Sri Lanka, religious nationalist groups like the Ma Ba Tha, Bodu Bala Sena and Ravana Balaya have been found complicit in terror attacks on Muslims and other minorities. In Africa, urban-nomad divide, political differences are wedding with Islamophobia enabling groups like the Anti Balaka movement to perpetuate ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Despite the massive increase and threat imposed by militant Islamophobia, the Western world has largely ignored this menace. Islamophobia is derided by many in the West as a form of “political correctness” or a “rational fear of a political system” who brush Islamophobic terror under the carpet or become apologists for it. The most recent example is the White House under Trump who vindicated their Muslim ban by citing the Quebec attacker as a Morrocon Muslim but completely went mum when the truth came to light of the attacker being an Islamophobic terrorist.

The unnerving reality is that Islamophobia is a murderous and dangerous world view. In both its violence and rhetoric, It has killed and is still killing people in Asia, Europe and America. It will keep on perpetuating death and destruction across the world if it is not tackled in time.

Jawad Falak

is an M. Phil scholar in the discipline of International Relations at the NDU.

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