Rising Islamophobia

  • The trend is all over


It is alarming to see how Islamophobes have begun to dominate secular forces in ‘civilised’ Western democracies. During the 2008 US presidential election several Republican politicians asserted that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. During the 2010 mid-term elections a proposed Islamic community centre was dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” and during the 2016 presidential election, ‘Republican nominee Donald Trump proposed banning the entrance into the country of all Muslims’. When British Prime Minister Teresa May ‘criticised Trump for re-posting material from the far-right Britain First. Trump retorted ‘it would be better if she dealt with the “destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom” rather than focusing on him’.

In Denmark, the emergence of two new far-right parties in the country, Hard Line and The New Right may threaten the re-election of the ruling centre-right alliance by in the June 17 election. Hard Line, founded in 2017, held ceremonies to desecrate Holy Qur’an (by burning or hurling into the air) at public meetings. It demands deporting Muslims back to their country of origin. Danish courts set Islamophobes free with a slap on wrist. Hard Line founder Rasmus Paludan is free despite a 14-day conditional jail sentence for racism toward a spokeswoman for Black Lives Matter movement. Paludan, a software engineer, developed the ‘Paludan game’, which requires ‘Christian players to catch Muslims and Jews, put them in cages and insult them’.

The rising wave of Islamophibia manifested itself in dress codes for the Muslims

In Germany, there had been around 71 attacks on mosques and 908 crimes against German Muslims (ranging from verbal to physical attacks and murder attempts), besides 1,413 attacks on refugees. Similar attacks took place in other European Union states and Britain. EU and other states shrug off the existence of Islamophobia. Thus, Islamophobes have a free hand discriminating against Muslims in various forms (race, religion, workplace, and so on). On 14 March 2017, the European Court of Justice passed two ineffectual judgments to rule on non-discrimination at work on religious grounds.

In Europe, France spearheads abhorrence of the veil, scarf, burka, niqab (call it by any name). The Sikhs’ turban and the Jews’ kippah have quasi-religious significance. John R Brown points out that “French public figures seemed to blame the headscarves for a surprising range of France’s problems, including anti-Semitism, Islamic fundamentalism, growing ghettoisation in the poor suburbs, and the breakdown of order in the classroom”.

He observed that legislation against headscarves was portrayed as support to “women battling for freedom in Afghanistan, schoolteachers trying to teach history in Lyon, and all those who wished to reinforce the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity”. The veil was considered a “symbol of mounting Islamism and decaying social life”.

Brown shows the political motives of the French Stasi commission. ‘The Commission was forced to work quickly so that a law could be passed before the spring regional elections. In such a short period of time, banning the veil was the only way to show that the politicians of the “sensible centre were responding to France’s new enemies”. Brown reminds: “The Stasi Commission had proposed banning political signs as well and many observers commented that Nike symbols had no place at school, either”. But, follow-up action is awaited. The law was ostensibly based on recommendations of the commission. But it was itself formed under stimuli from the anti-Muslim media and politicians.

The media, through its reportages and cartoons, portrayed headscarves as a “great danger to the French society and its tradition of secularism”. Legislation against the veil is likely to further corner Muslim women, particularly Pakistani immigrants. Anti-Muslim perceptions show themselves in diverse ways.

The European legislation on the dress code is likely to be counterproductive as was the past legislation in the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215 ruled that Jews and Muslims must be distinguishable by their dress. Pope Paul IV ordered in 1555 that in the Papal States it must be a yellow, peaked hat, and from 1567 for 20 years it was compulsory in Lithuania.

In 850, Caliph Al-Mutawakkil ordered Christians and Jews to wear a sash called ‘zunnah’ and a distinctive kind of shawl or headscarf called ‘taylasin’ (the Christians had already been required to wear the sash).

In the 11th century, Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim ordered Christians to put on half-metre wooden crosses and Jews to wear wooden calves around their necks. In the late 12th century, Almohad ruler Abu Yusuf ordered the Jews of the Maghreb to wear dark blue garments with long sleeves and saddle-like caps. His grandson Abdallah al Adil, after appeals from the Jews, relaxing the requirement to yellow garments and turbans.

In the 16th century, they could only wear sandals made of rushes and black turbans or caps with an extra red piece of cloth. Ottoman sultans continued to regulate the clothing of their non-Muslim subjects.

In 1577, Murad III issued an edict forbidding Jews and Christians from wearing dresses, turbans, and sandals. In 1580, he changed his mind, restricting the previous prohibition to turbans and requiring ‘dhimmis’ to wear black shoes; Jews and Christians also had to wear red and black hats, respectively.

Observing in 1730 that some Muslims took to the habit of wearing caps similar to those of the Jews, Mahmud I ordered the hanging of the perpetrators. Mustafa III personally helped to enforce his decrees regarding clothes. The last Ottoman decree affirming the distinctive clothing for ‘dhimmis’ was issued in 1837 by Mahmud II. Discriminatory clothing was not enforced in those Ottoman provinces where Christians were in the majority, such as Greece and the Balkans.

Interestingly, wearing a scarf or a kippah is a custom with common meaning: recognition that there is someone ‘above’ human beings who watches their every act. According to Scripture, such a precept was made by Moses.

The rising wave of Islamophibia manifested itself in dress codes for the Muslims. There is abhorrence of the veil, scarf, burka, niqab (call it by any name) for quasi-religious significance, but not of the Jews’ kippah or the Sikhs’ turbans. Muslims, like Jews, need legislative protection to live in peace like other communities.