The Beleaguered Faith: Negotiating Islamophobia In Sociological Contour – OpEd


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Fear or hatred of Islam or of Muslims is now generally understood as Islamophobia. Its origin and causes may be debatable, but particularly after 9/11, the phrase gained much popularity and proliferated across the globe with the trend of dislikenness. This trend toward Muslims has included calculated discrimination, illicit labeling, negative stereotyping, violence in the form of ban on veil (Hijab) in France, physical assault and passing of insulting remarks on Muslims in many other countries. Additionally, this apprehensive and distrustful outlook, especially toward beard wearing Muslims as anti-social elements, has led to an increase in arrests, captivity and incarceration rates of Muslim youth, tortures and other physical and psychological violence and cinema of and on portraying Muslim cultural or religious features or demeanor like traditional dress patterns, beard wearing as terrorist symbols in films, serials, etc,. Even now more often than not, terms like Islamic fundamentalism, militant Islam, radicalism, pan-Islamic terrorism, Talibanization, extremism, orthodoxy, etc, are used synonymously with Islam.

Muslims praying

Muslims praying

The anti-Muslim stance of the west for Islam being a growing trend in Europe and a big schema of communal hate mongers and their unswerving failure to keep masses away from embracing Islam or get influenced with it, like Tony Blaire’s sister-in-law’s accepting Islam and her statement of feeling more secure in pardah, after converting to Islam, etc,. Their consistent but futile attempts of maligning it like Kurt Westergaard’s blasphemous cartoons in Jyllands-Posten (Danish daily) ,Gujarat Massacre and series of anti-Muslim riots in India, Rohingya Muslim carnage in Myanmar, Terry Jones’ Qura’an burning threats on 9/11 anniversary in Florida (forgetting that it will in turn magnetize more people to read and get influenced with the holy revelation) and America’s speedy role and quick partaking of its cronies against war on muslims, attacks on diverse Muslim ethnicities under the garb of so called ‘war on terror. The worst is that the countries of Europe are now even contending and competing among themselves on Islamophobia actions.

Besides Western media’s redefining Islam in the context of dividing Muslims into self formed groups like secularists, liberal Muslims, democracy loving Muslims, fundamentalists, pan-Islamists, Islamic militants, terrorists, good Muslims, bad Muslims, broad minded and free thinking, etc,. Simply to befool innocent non-Muslims and simultaneously to create divisions and flourish hatred and abhorrence among Muslims of diverse backgrounds and regions across the globe.

The phobia in Islamophobia reduces the complex set of institutionalized discrimination against European Muslims to a psychological state in the minds of Christians and secular Europeans. Dictionary definitions refer to phobia as an intense, abnormal, or illogical fear. Yet Muslim relations with Christians in Europe involve much more than fear of the former by the latter. Recent research in the United Kingdom demonstrates that Muslim residents have the lowest levels of income and the highest levels of unemployment, receive the fewest health care services, do poorly in the school system, and have the worst living conditions ‘(E. Ozyurek, ,2005).

Way back in November, 2009, John Esposito, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a renowned writer on Islamic issues, wrote in his article, titled, ‘Are Swiss Alps Threatened by Minarets? ‘That Swiss people voted and urged to approve a move to ban the construction of new minarets in the country. He further argued, “Last year (2008) at a European meeting of intelligence officials from the US and Europe, a Swiss participant commented on this referendum on minarets. He was sure it would go nowhere since, as he said, Switzerland is a very pluralistic society, its Muslim population is relatively small (about 400000) and there were few mosques with minarets. However, this stunning Swiss vote (57 percent) approving a referendum to ban minarets, was really not all that surprising, considering the growing power of Islamophobia. In both Europe and America right-wing politicians, political commentators, media personalities and religious leaders continue to feed a growing suspicion of mainstream Muslims by fueling a fear that Islam, not just muslim extremism, is a threat’.

The term Islamophobia has now become popular more or less every where particularly in Europe, where the Islamic threat is considered the enemy within, where as another nomenclature for it is, Islamic terrorism, which is on the rise in the United States, where the new enemy is perceived to be external. Defining and explaining political relations in terms of religious categories is the new trend. Similar to Islamic terrorism, Islamophobia also assumes a homogenous religion and culture. Furthermore, it conceals that real people, rather than an abstract category of religion or culture, are being discriminated against. Matti Bunzl, a European anthropologist in his paper, ‘Between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Some thoughts on the new Europe’, (American Ethnologist) argues, ‘anti-Semitism was invented in the late 19th century to police the ethnically pure nation-state.  On the other hand, Islamophobia is a recent formation that seeks to make the supranational European Union a fortress against migrants.  He goes further: traditional anti-Semitism has run its historical course with the end of the nation-state, and, consequently, Islamophobia is becoming the defining condition of the “new Europe.(Sharif Islam quotes Bunzl in his article titled, ‘A New Europe: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Nation-State IN Monthly Review,2006).

This goes without saying that the relations of Muslims with others be that in west or anywhere else in the contemporary era are based primarily on fragile calm, false sense of mutual respect and silent distrust to the core. It is wrong to assume that non-Muslims are anti-Islamic or anti Muslim but the fact of the matter is that the idea of Muslimness has been wrongly portrayed and interpreted by the media, the repercussions of which are manifest in the ongoing anti-Islamic propaganda, blasphemies against Islam every now and then, stereotypes against Muslims as violent, terrorists, fundamentalists, etc leading to the acute, polarization, marginalization and Ghettoization among them. Such a perpetual chaos has affected their psychology and sociology as well. Hallow and blind labeling against them amidst the issues of insecurity in minority belts has restricted them to their own communities, affected their social mobility, social demeanor, education, career prospects, women emancipation and empowerment, etc.

Today they are the prisoners of their own consciousness and spatial restrictions and clustering has reduced them to nothing but a herd of species that purely goes together for they profess a common faith.

Islam means peace, but its enemies like Zionists and secular Europeans never let its actual meaning to flourish instead whole lot of world terror activities are labeled as Islamic and people who are not familiar to the Islamic ethos are made to believe that it is the religion of terror. Muslims need not to get provoked what Zionist’s aspire for. Esra Ozyurek writes in her article, “The politics of cultural unification, secularism, and the place of Islam in the new Europe; (American Ethnologist, 32:4, 509-12). ‘The post-Cold war understanding of Europeanness in cultural and religious terms transformed the cluster of exclusionary and oppressive practices directed toward the Muslim populations of Europe. Activists and intellectuals who wanted to attract attention to and fight against these practices coined the term Islamophobia. Although this neologism is gaining popularity in Europe, I believe that the term is itself indicative of the exclusionary place envisioned for Muslims in the new Europe.

Hence, I want to problematize several assumptions underlying the choice of this term for a large set of interrelated practices. I suggest that the term reveals how people reduce complex relations of power between majorities and minorities to issues of culture and psychology. Particularly for this reason, use of the term Islamophobia limits the otherwise well-intended efforts of those fighting against racism, xenophobia, and discrimination in Europe.

Academically speaking, several authors have emerged on Islamophobia like Asad Talal( Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity.2003), Balibar, Etienne(We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship. 2004) Mamdani, Mahmood (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. 2004) ,Taylor, Charles( Modes of Secularism. In Secularism and Its Critics.1998), Matti Bunzl (Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe, 2007), Gordon Conway(Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997) and Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy by peter Gottschalk in 2007 and the most recent one, ‘Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims’ by Stephen Sheehi, 2010 ,who have written on the theme by and large.

The need of the hour is to address the issue of the enlarged societal hostility towards Islam as a belief system and towards Muslims and the issue of Islamophobia, the fear of Islam along with the stereotypes, prejudices and intolerance that are building up against Islam and its followers. In an era when many Americans wonder whether Islam and the West inherently must clash, Islamophobia explores how this view in part derives from centuries-old stereotypes of Muslims as violent, oppressive, and intolerant. America’s casual demonizing and demeaning of Muslims and Islam is multiplying.

Peter Gottschalk, the author of ‘Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007) ,argues that Islamophobia-a racist like bias against Muslims based on stereotypes, is very real, manifesting in some cartoons that are obviously biased and others that appear on the surface to be more sympathetic. Cartoons, symbolic of wider feelings and fear about Islam, reflect misunderstandings and prejudice among Westerners and, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, often serve to widen cultural rifts particularly between Muslims and American Christians. Symbols and cartoons, like the veil, the mosque, scimitars and large-nosed profiles, can be misused or conflicting.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world in general has led to a chaotic situation and the brand of Islamophobia has fostered a sense of insecurity among all people on the globe, for Muslims fear that they are Muslims and will be besieged by non-Muslims and non-Muslims scared of Muslims for they (Muslims) have a label of fundamentalists, hardliners, religious fanatics,non-secular, irrational, orthodox, old minded, undemocratic, pre-modern, backward, uncultured terrorists and finally violent in actions on them ,across the globe which is a repeated lie and has turned to the understood truth among majority, creating panic among all and a clear connection between the fear and hate exhibited towards Muslims and Islam has contributed to unfriendly nature among people for each other. Also the way Muslims are represented in the media, though primarily in political cartoons, irreverent statements and cartoon pictures of the prophet Mohammad, offensive and hateful comments against Islam, etc, reinforces the common stereotypes for Muslims which often adds fuel to the fire simply breeding hatred, violence, chaos and confusion among each other.

Muslims undoubtedly are today living a life of chaos, dilemma and alienation. Where west has been showing increasing trends in Islamophobia, the east has impoverished and linked them to terrorism if not branded or attacked their faith directly. Massacres and carnages against them go unaccounted and unreported like the recent slaughter of Muslims in Rohingya of Myanmar. Today they are living the life with a burden of poverty, marginalization, spatial and security issues and what not. Right from the west and the horn of Africa to Arab block to South Asia and in all other zones of the globe, they are not without labels and issues living a life of apprehensions or poverty or insecurity or oppression. Muslim exclusion needs an immediate redress and United Nations must play a key role in this.


About the author:

Adfar Shah

Adfar Shah shuttles between New Delhi and Kashmir writing on South Asian societies and Politics for several publications besides Eurasia Review like Analyst World, South Asian Idea, Countercurrents, Amazons.com, Kashmir Monitor, Kashmir Images and other web portals and newspapers. Adfar is a Sociologist and researcher (at SNCWS, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi) who continues to understand the Gender question, South Asian politics, Kashmir in conflict, Military sociology and Indian Military Apparatus, Af-Pak strain and Muslim identity issues. Contact him at [email protected]

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