Islamophobia: A Call to Confronting a Creeping Disease
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 mosaic…”
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 organizations.
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.
This article is a condensed summary of a longer paper available at http://aninsight.org/2007/03/islamophobia-call-to-confronting_28.html
Dr. Louay M. Safi writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog: http://blog.lsinsight.org