ISLAMOPHOBIA: A CALL TO CONFRONTING A CREEPING DISEASE
Middle East Online
The last time a world religion was considered a problem and a question
was in late-nineteenth-century Europe. Then, the `Jewish Question' was
widely debated by both the enlightened and bigots among European
thinkers, says Louay Safi.
President Bush reacting to the unearthing of the alleged bombing plot
over the Atlantic August 10 remarked: "This nation is at war with
Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who
love freedom, to hurt our nation."
On Aug. 7, during a press conference from his ranch in Texas, he said
terrorists "try to spread their jihadist message - a message I call
... Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism". A moment later, he said
"Islamo-fascism" was an "ideology that is real and profound". White
House spokesman Tony Snow told the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" Aug.
11 that the president will continue to use the phrase.
This is not the first time that Bush and members of his Administration
have used this deliberate coupling of Islam with evil ideologies or
actions, such as fascism or terrorism. Bush referred to
"Islamo-fascism" in his address to the National Endowment for
Democracy, Oct. 6, 2005. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) addressing
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) held their first Washington-Israel
Summit in Washington D.C., July 2006, declaring "Islamic fascism is a
Media baron Rupert Murdoch pontificated in Sydney, Australia June 26,
2006: "You have to be careful about Muslims who have a very strong, in
many ways a fine, but very strong religion which supercedes any sense
of nationalism wherever they go."
The term is coined, and was initially used, by radical Zionist pundits
and their allies in the Far Right, and is intended to drive a wedge
between Western and Muslim communities. The fact that it is already
being used by President Bush and his top lieutenant underscore the
extent to which Islamophobia is gradually creeping into public discourse.
Blaming Islam and Muslims for the rise of terrorism that threatens the
U.S. and the West is at the heart of the strategy developed by
individuals and groups whose systemic attacks on Islam and Muslims,
borne out of either ignorance or hatred, constitute the recent and
painful reality : Islamophobia.
Islamophobia reflects an attitude and a posture normally associated
with the Far Right, but that has been creeping slowly to the center of
political debate. Islam and Muslims are separated out from the
citizenry and increasingly presented as a problem to be addressed and
a question to be tackled. The last time a world religion was
considered a problem and a question was in late-nineteenth-century
Europe. Then, the "Jewish Question" was widely debated by both the
enlightened and bigots among European thinkers.
Islamophobia is a strategic weapon in the campaign to marginalize
Muslim Americans by ideological extremists and paranoid bigots. On one
level, Islamophobia stems from ignorance, deception, and
misrepresentation. On a deeper level, however, it stems from a very
basic human instinct to dominate, exploit, and abuse, combined with a
scrupulous attitude that refuse to recognize moral principles and
boundaries. While Islamophobia has existed since centuries, perhaps
the term became public in Europe in the 1990s.
The twentieth century witnessed great struggles all over the world to
overcome bigotry and racism, and to create more open and inclusive
societies in which different races, ethnicities, and religions live
side-by-side and cooperate for the betterment of society. After many
devastating tragedies and wars, including two world wars that wiped
out more than 80 million people, a holocaust, and a long civil rights
struggle, chauvinism, racism, and bigotry were finally condemned,
though not totally rejected. By the mid-twentieth century, the concept
that individuals must be treated on the basis of their individual
characters and actions, and that no individual or group should be
targeted on the basis of religious, ethnic, racial, or national
affiliations became widely accepted.
Therefore, the recent efforts that aim at presenting Islam as a
challenge and Muslims who practice their faith as a problem are both
disheartening and disquieting. They represent a dangerous move to
reverse human progress and return to the age of outright racism and
intolerance. This renewed focus on Islam as a problem has been
justified by invoking security concerns. Many voices, particularly
within the U.S. policymaking community, either out of ignorance or
prejudice, decided to place the blame for terrorism squarely at the
door of Islam.
The decision to ignore complex and painful realities that give rise to
discord and tension between Western and Muslim countries, and to blame
it all on a major world religion and its practitioners, will only
exacerbate an already dire situation. This exercise in self-delusion
can only distract us from confronting the real sources of the concerns
on both sides and delay the efforts to bring forth a permanent and
lasting solution. Meanwhile, tremendous resources are wasted, and the
credibility and prestige of the United States are being undermined.
The failure to understand the profound changes taking place in the
Muslim world is not simply a matter of ignorance and lack of insight
into Muslim cultures, but a reflection of the bewildering stubbornness
of neoconservative analysts in the U.S. and Europe, and their comfort
in employing the archaic Orientalist attitudes and tools to analyze
relationships between the West and the Muslim world. Muslims are not
awarded the dignity of equal human beings with intrinsic values and
legitimate concerns, but are often presented as thoughtless and
violent masses incapable of articulating their conditions and solving
their problems. Consequently, no effort is made to initiate dialogue
and exchange, and all energy is focused on devising strategies for the
manipulation and control of the Muslim world.
Many self-proclaimed experts on Islam continue to behave as if Islam
and Muslims are a distant part of reality and an external problem to
address, rather than partners for dealing with common problems and
challenges. An increasing number of Muslims are proud Americans,
serving American society as professors, businessmen, medical doctors,
engineers, lawyers, sports stars, firefighters, police officers, and
teachers. Many experts in Middle East and Islamic Studies departments
have their ancestral roots in Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures. Many
Muslim Americans are active in the debate on how best to bridge the
divide, or at least change the perceptions of a divide, between the
Muslim world and the West.
Muslim Americans are well positioned to expose the deceptions of power
hungry unilateralists, and bridge the divide between Muslim and
Western countries. They equally reject the bigoted spirit of
exclusivist ideologies that use religion in all its forms as a weapon
for achieving political supremacy, and demonize and dehumanize
political opponents. Muslim Americans should take a firm and resolute
stance against individuals and groups that use violence and terror
against civilians in the name of religion, and condemn all campaigns
of terrorism by groups like al-Qaeda, as they do condemn those who
justify violence and aggression against Muslims in the name of
biblical prophecies and religious supremacy.
The time has come for the world to undertake a profound shift in
political thinking and practice, similar to the one achieved in Europe
in modern times. A democratic and free Europe came to life when the
feudal system that privileged a small class of European elites was
rejected and replaced with a system based on political equality and
the rule of law. A democratic and free world will be achieved when the
current political structure that perpetuates political and economic
disparity is replaced with one in which all are equally treated under
international law, and have fairly equal access to international
For two centuries, America has shown that it is capable of
transcending its limitations and marching behind those who struggle to
realize the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality. And throughout
its history, America stood behind those who fought for equal rights
and equal dignity against self-centered groups that wanted to preserve
their privileges. American Muslims must take a firm stand against the
militant Religious Right that is bent on denying them the equal
dignity they deserve. As long as they uphold the values of freedom,
justice, and equal dignity for all, and reach out to other fellow
Americans who share with them deep commitment to these values, they
are destined, with the grace of God, to defeat the unscrupulous and
mean-spirited attacks led by hate mongers and religious bigots.
Dr. Louay M. Safi writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam,
American Muslims, democracy, and human rights, leadership, and world
peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog: Insight.
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