By Talha Aslam
Islamophobia, a term expressed to depict fear of Islam is widely used to connote indiscriminate attitudes, beliefs and emotions directed towards Islam or Muslims. In reference to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word Islamophobia means “Intense dislike or fear of Islam”. It was first coined by French Scholar Alain Quellien, as ‘’Islamphobie” in 1910 to describe a prejudice against Islam that is rife among the people of west. Later, it was adopted by English Literature in 1923.
As a concept in practice, it is considered a new word of an old notion presented by Edward Said in his work on Orientalism where West has always been associating derogatory sentiments and stereotypes to the practices of Islam. The term Islamophobia developed in late 1990’s and early 2000’s by political activists, non-governmental organisations, commentators, international organisation to draw attention towards the evils of a rhetoric bringing harms directed towards Muslims and Islam.
Yet Islamophobia emerged on the plane of International discourse with the publication of a report by the Runnymede Trust in 1997 titled; ‘’Islamophobia: A Challenge for all of us’’. It laid down the concept of Islamophobia as a useful shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam – and therefore, to fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.
In 2004 United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan opened a UN conference on “Confronting Islamophobia” with the lament, “When the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamophobia.”
According to Imam Dr Abdul Jalil Sajid, chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK, Islamophobia is “the fear and/or hatred of Islam, Muslims or Islamic culture and history. Islamophobia can be characterised by the belief that all or most Muslims are religious fanatics, have violent tendencies towards non-Muslims, and reject as directly opposed to Islam such concepts as equality, tolerance, and democracy” (RISC 2011).
The Terrorist Attack of 9/11 provided an impetus to the rise of Islamophobia. After the attack of Twin Towers, Islam was being viewed as a conservative, barbaric and intolerant perspective of life. Muslim was posited as blood thirsty savages under the banner of a monolithic religion. The West holding the power to Information Technology spread the acrimony, condemning Muslims to racial discrimination and ridiculed Muslim community as perpetrators of violence and unrest in society.
With the rise of Islamophobia across the board, the far-right political parties of liberal western communities gained momentum in exploiting the subjected minorities of Muslims to confer political gains. Islamophobia became a subterfuge to add defamation to Islam by public commentators and political actors. The 2016 presidential elections of America were one of the most acrimonious and confrontational campaigns in the history of America. Extraordinary political rhetoric, outbursts in distasteful discriminatory tones, and anti-Muslim invectives blemished the campaign of United States (US) Presidential Elections of 2016. To endorse his political agenda, Donald J Trump speciﬁcally focused upon Muslims as a grave issue, and likely toyed with the public pulses, which resulted in an unpredictable election result.
Mirroring the perceived reality, media as an invention of information shapes public opinion. Media reports after 9/11 specifically underrepresented Muslim views and negatively portrayed Islamic culture. Islam was painted as a religion of discrimination, radicalisation and regression by the western media. With the advent of digital media, providing a carte blanche demerited the situation further. The rhetoric of Islamophobia dispersed hatred speech and acts of defamation on social media websites backed by the freedom of speech narrative. Social Media being a personal medium of communication galvanised the connotations of Islamophobia and intimidated Muslim minorities living in liberal western communities.
Society deprived of inter-faith harmony glaringly promotes intolerance and rejection towards those who is considered other. European countries including America and Canada practiced anti-Semitism long before Islamophobia surfaced. The hate of Muslims towards Jews and of Jews towards Muslims persists even in today’s scenario. Terrorist attack of 9/11 and shooting in Orlando’s night club reinforced the primitive visceral hatred towards Muslims and Islam, exacerbating the discriminative attitudes and tarnishing the fabric of freedom for all narrative of western society.
Islamophobia, a narrative delegated to hatred and intolerance took its toll on the Muslim minorities resided in Europe and America. Bin Laden became a schoolyard taunt and banning Muslim women from wearing hijab, a public policy. Implicating Muslims with discriminations in political, social and civic life became a normalized attitude by the authorities. Surveillance by security agencies in order to keep radicalisation at bay and interfering with practices of Islam demonstrated consequences far beyond the imagination.
In the wake of events like 9/11 and with the rise of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, West launched a military operation to quell the terrorism machinations. In quest to quash Taliban of Afghanistan, a full-fledged operation was launched by Western forces on September 16, 2001. Furtherance of the military operation was seen by the world as Operation Inherent Resolve to quash the ISIS in middle east. Fallouts by use of cogency to suppress the militancy had adversarial effects. It led to displacement of indigenous innocents and anarchy for the state structures.
The aftermath of Islamophobia’s notion was evidently witnessed during the refugee crisis resulting from Arab Spring specifically during and after civil war of Syria. Hundreds of thousands were displaced and was seeking refuge in the modernised western states. Engulfed by the fear of Islam and hatred rooted deep in conscience towards Muslims, the European countries demurred the refugees entering their premises. The far-right political parties of the west depicted the war-torn refugees as invaders of freedom to culture and western values. Rallies and protests were carried out extensively against the refugee situation and the debate of Us verses Them surfaced in the legislative bodies of the western societies.
The provocative phobia of Islam, hurtling in the western society presents itself as propensity of violence and vandalism. The antipathy of westerners towards followers of Islam turned out as harrowing for Muslims in West. A report published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (US) states that more than two thousand anti-Muslim offenses have been perpetuated in United States alone. The Kingston mosque incident where English vandalised the holy premises of worship and attack of violent mobs in Hamilton city of Canada on Muslim Education centers and mosques is another story of the liberal region. One major incident reported as a backlash of Islamophobia was shootings in New Zealand, where 51 Muslims were subjected to death.
The pretext of ‘national security’ in a post-9/11 world is particularly useful, being an amorphous concept that can be made to fit any inconvenient truth and throttle indicted to discriminatory shenanigans. Alienation of Muslims from political and civic life in upgraded societies of west is an epitome of Islamophobia. The unemployment rate for followers of Islam was seen at pinnacle specially in United States and European countries. Subjected to discrimination in education sectors, the repugnancy of Islamic views with the values of West was deplored on behest of Islamophobia. Travesties of Muslims as subjugators, discriminatory attitudes of authorities were considered just.
Irreverent attitudes of the West towards the diaspora of the east proved to be harrowing for Muslim Women and children. The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ in California surveyed 11 to 18 years old Muslim students to examine their experiences in school and reported that 50 per cent American Muslim students were bullied based by the hatred towards Islam. In France, incidents of pulling scarfs of Muslim women in public was highly reported. Islamophobia, as a just reason of hatred provided abyss for the most vulnerable community of Muslims minority residing in the West.
As a principle, it is the duty of United Nations and its law enforcing organs to maintain International Peace and protect its subjects from Human Rights violations. The world post 9/11 witnessed the failure of United Nations and its law enforcing organs. A research conducted by Brown University states 200,000 & 40,000 civilian causalities in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. Arab League Envoy to Syria put out an estimate of 400,000 that had died in the civil war. The supreme of all states and International protector of civil rights was proved as a fiasco. The on-going atrocities of Indian Military on the besieged Kashmiri’s resulted in 51,000 civilian casualties from 1989-2018 but as the Guardian Angel of Human Rights, United Nations neutrality to the conflict is questionable for the supremacy of International Humanitarian Law.
The author is an academician and teaches in Pakistan’s top varsities. His area of interest is international politics and foreign Affairs.