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What are the Real Reasons behind the Rising of Islamphobia?

Shaza Zafer Al Jundi, PhD
2010 / 1 / 8

What are the Real Reasons behind the Rising of Islamphobia?

By Shaza Zafer Al Jundi, PhD

Discrimination based on racial and religious intolerance is a major human rights challenge of our times. The right to freedom of religion –and to be free from discrimination based on religion -- is long enshrined in international law, from the UN Charter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other instruments. United Nations special rapporteurs continue to monitor the exercise and infringements of this right, and to recommend ways to combat Islamophobia and other forms of racism and intolerance. Manifestations of these phenomena are expanding and its implications growing. Hate speech targeting Muslims, physical attacks, targeting of businesses, cultural centers, mosques and religious symbols of Muslims are on the increase. The increasing campaign of Islamophobia is leading to social disharmony and erosion of the basic human rights of Muslim minorities in many societies. Increase in verbal abuse, slur and discrimination at places of work obviously add to the social disharmony and lead to conflict in societies. Hate crimes against Muslims have shown a startling surge. Muslims and people of Arab descent are the most frequent victims of inhuman and degrading treatment, covert detentions and deportation.

Special Rapporteur Doudou Dienne, in his report entitled “Situation of Muslims and Arab peoples in various parts of the world” (1) has presented a comprehensive analysis of the increasing trend of Islamophobia and has suggested wide-ranging measures to effectively stem it. He has concluded that (a) there was a serious upsurge in Islamophobic incidents; (b) the central theme of these manifestations is hostility towards Islam itself and its believers; (c) there is open validation of Islamophobia in intellectual discourse; and (d) association of Islam and Muslims with terrorism with excessive emphasis on containment from the security angle through control of Muslim education and monitoring of places of worship and congregations.

How the new phenomenon of “Islamphobia” has emerged
The term islamphobia is a controversial neologism (a word, term which has been recently created) defined as the phenomenon of prejudice against or demonization of Muslims, which manifests itself in general negative attitudes, violence, harassment, discrimination and stereotyping (particularly vilification in the media). The term dates back to the late 1980s or early 1990s, although its use has increased since September 11, 2001 attacks.

Some sociologists and cultural analysts argue that, during the 1990s, there was a shift in forms of prejudice from race-based prejudice to discrimination based on culture and religion.

The UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan noted in his Address to the seminar on "Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding:

“When a new word enters the language, it is often the result of a scientific advance or a diverting fad. But 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. The word seems to have emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the phenomenon dates back centuries. Today, the weight of history and the fallout of recent developments have left many Muslims around the world feeling aggrieved and misunderstood, concerned about the erosion of their rights and even fearing for their physical safety” (2)

Annan stressed that Islamophobia is at once a deeply personal issue for Muslims, a matter of great importance to anyone concerned about upholding universal values, and a question with implications for international harmony and peace. We should not underestimate the resentment and sense of injustice felt by members of one of the world s great religions, cultures and civilizations. And we must make the reestablishment of trust among people of different faiths and cultures our highest priority. Otherwise, discrimination will continue to taint many innocent lives, and distrust might make it impossible to move ahead with our ambitious international agenda of peace, security and development.

An honest look at Islamophobia must also acknowledge the policy context. What are the real reasons behind the rising of Islamphobia?

It is important to mention five important causes that were behind the rise of Islamphobia:
1- The unresolved conflicts in the Middle East (Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, etc).
2- The rise of political Islam, with roots in the sociopolitical conditions of Muslim countries.
3 -Globalization and the global implications under the veil of freedom of expression.
4- Neoconservatives and the American foreign policy.
5- The increase of Number of Muslims in Europe and USA.

I- Domination by the West and the Unresolved Conflicts in the Middle East
For more than half a century the people of Palestine, and other occupied Arab territories, have been victims of a great injustice and human rights abuses. The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has worsened in recent months due to a rise in indiscriminate attacks by the occupying power killing and injuring the civilian population.

Thousand of Muslims have been killed as a result of US wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, adding to the thousands of innocent Muslims killed or imprisoned since the "end" of these wars. The so-called"democracy" and "freedom" have been denied to the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan. The "war on terror" is a distraction, and it is nothing but an extension of globalization fuelled by anti-Muslims racism to wage war and control vital resources located in the Muslim world. With the destruction and occupation of Iraq by US forces, we are witnessing more dramatic misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims. Muslims who opposed to this imperial ideology are portrayed, as "terrorists", and Islam will continue to be reduced according to this Western ideology. (3)

Most politically conscious Muslims believe that all Muslims are potential “Palestinians,” the ultimate outsiders, who can be dispossessed and dishonored with impunity, and the justice of whose cause will always be dismissed by the West, and particularly by the United States, as irrational fanaticism.(4) The occupation of Iraq has further fueled Muslim anger against the United States since it is seen as a ploy both to control the oil wealth of the Middle East and to consolidate Israeli hegemony in the region.

II- The Rise of Political Islam, with Roots in the Sociopolitical Conditions of Muslim Countries
Political Islam is a modern phenomenon, with roots in the sociopolitical conditions of Muslim countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is a product of the Muslim peoples’ interaction—military, political, economic, cultural, and intellectual—with the West during the past two hundred years.

Since the United States is the leader of the West, the Muslim sense of outrage usually takes the form of anti-Americanism. For most Muslims, this antipathy toward America is not based on opposition to American values but is grounded in opposition to aspects of American foreign policy, especially with respect to the Middle East.

Mohammed Ayoob (5), in his article on political Islam argues that In Western perceptions, political Islam is unique not because it uses religion for political purposes in order to create national identity or transform society. It is seen as uniquely threatening because it can also be used as an instrument to challenge, sometimes by violent means, the West’s continued global dominance. It is this dimension of political Islam that makes it appear threatening to the dominant powers in the international system.

This Western perception does not, however, negate the fact that political Islam is a multifaceted phenomenon and is in almost all instances context specific, circumscribed by the borders of individual states. The overwhelming majority of Islamist political activity is conducted through peaceful means within constitutional limits, even where governments are unsympathetic to the Islamists’ cause. Transnational extremist activities, including acts of terrorism, are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to political action undertaken in the name of Islam.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was one of the most pivotal events in the development of contemporary political Islam. The Iranians have enjoyed some success, especially among the Palestinians, but the real impact of their revolution has been indirect. The Iranian revolution convinced other Muslim revolutionaries that they could realize their dream of establishing an Islamic state. It also helped fill their ranks with waves of new cadres inspired by events in Iran. Finally, it cast the United States in a new role as an enemy of Islam. By showing what could be done, the Iranians inspired a new generation of revolutionary Muslims and encouraged them to take an ever more militant stance, particularly toward the United States.

What makes the Islamic Revolution in Iran worth a second look is the possibility that its history will repeat itself elsewhere. The Middle East has more than a few regimes resembling the Shah s government (corrupt, undemocratic and repressive), and plenty of Islamic opposition groups similar to the Islamist network that overthrew the Shah (well-organized, determined, and prone to making big promises with vague specifics).

III- Globalization and the Global Implications under the Veil of Freedom of Expression
With transnational media and forces of globalization, we can no longer think purely at the local level; the global implications need to be considered. Under the veil of freedom of expression, is a rise in Islamphobia, especially following 911 in the USA and 77 in the UK. It is important to note, however, that most Muslims are not extremists and do not believe in violence. Most moderate Muslims welcome intellectual dialogue and debate. The world-wide protests over the publication of cartoons involving our Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) have been termed an over-reaction by many liberal critics. The caricatures clearly embody the progressive growth of Islamphobia. This, in some ways, as with the politicization of religion, is a move by a few extremists to perpetuate their own self-interest for power and influence in the political realm.

The caricatures issue has revealed a misleading tendency to project a contradiction between respect of religions and the freedom of expression. This is not correct. The relevant articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention for Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination as well as several regional instruments including the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms clearly establish that: (a) the right to freedom of expression is not absolute; (b) it is subject to certain restrictions, responsibilities and duties necessary for respect of rights or reputations of others and; (c) it should not be used to incite national, racial or religious hatred. In fact, the rights to freedom of speech and respect for religions are complementary, not contradictory (6).

IV- The Neoconservatives and the American Foreign Policy
Neo-conservatism is a political movement, mainly in the United States, which is generally held to have emerged in the 1960s, coalesced in the 1970s. Neoconservative politicians, policy analysts, and journalists often dubbed “neocons” by supporters and critics alike, have been credited with (or blamed for) their influence on U.S foreign policy. Aggressive support for democracies is founded on belief that, over the long term, it will reduce the extremism that is breeding ground for Islamic terrorism... neoconservatisves believes that lack of freedoms, lack of economic opportunities, and the lack of secular general education in authoritarian regims promotes radicalism and extremism. Consequently, neoconservatives advocate the spread of democracy to regions of the world where it currently does not prevail, most notably Middle East, China and North Korea.

The role of the Neoconservatives in moving Washington to war with Iraq and war on terror were clear in their publications, history, networks, strategic alliances, as well as the dangerous consequences of their policy and their formidable political savvy in Congress; their bureaucratic skills within the administration; their ties to the mainstream media, particularly those outlets – such as Rupert Murdoch s media empire led by Fox News and the Weekly Standard, right-wing radio talk shows, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page – that eagerly recycled their ideas; and their longstanding alliance with the Christian Right to create an "echo chamber" that succeeded in moving public debate after the 911 attacks toward the threats allegedly posed by Iraq and the necessity of war against it (7)

The critical issue is to determine the extent to which neo-conservatism is a Jewish movement—the extent to which Jews dominate the movement and are a critical component of its success. In the case of neoconservatives, an important line of evidence is to show their deep connections to Israel, and especially to the Likud Party. (8)

The first generation of neoconservatives, including Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Irving Kristol and Norman Podoretz, were former liberals who believed that America needed to stand up and fight communism. Accusing their former colleagues on the left of going soft, they claimed that America’s survival and the fate of the free world required toughness, not compromise. (Kristol defined a neoconservative as a “liberal mugged by reality,” which goes a long way to explaining why the ideology gained new adherents after 911.) The second generation of neocons, including Robert Kagan, William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, continued to believe in American exceptionalism and the virtues of force, but they added an idealistic note: America should not just battle evil but also promote democracies around the world. They wanted America to exercise “benevolent global hegemony.” It was axiomatic that what is good for America is good for the rest of the world (9).

The neocons’ attachment to the Israeli right naturally carried with it a whole series of assumptions about the Middle East, about terrorism, about Arabs, about the Palestinians, about Islam, and about how American should conduct its Mideast policy. The neocons, following the eminent pro-Israel Arabist Bernard Lewis, argued that the Arab world had only itself to blame for its backwardness. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was trotted out by a moribund Arab culture as an excuse. In any case the Palestinians had lost any moral claim because of their recourse to terrorism. America should stop trying to placate the Palestinians and impose a Pax Americana on the region. The Arabs, who respected only force, would fall in line. (10)

The point is that the Middle East is far more complex in every way than the neoconservatives ever acknowledged. Take “terrorism,” that bogeyman of neocon moralists. Both the Iraq mess and Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians prove that reifying terrorism as an absolute evil, and basing foreign policy on defeating it without regard to the grievances or historical context out of which it comes is self-defeating. As everyone who has studied terrorism knows, powerless people turn to terrorism (11).

What do neoconservatives believe?
Neoconservatives "Neocons" believe (12) that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world:
* Neoconservatives believe modern threats facing the US can no longer be reliably contained and therefore must be prevented, sometimes through preemptive military action
* Most neocons share unwavering support for Israel, which they see as crucial to US military sufficiency in a volatile region. They also see Israel as a key outpost of democracy in a region ruled by despots. Believing that authoritarianism and theocracy have allowed anti-Americanism to flourish in the Middle East
* The post 911-campaigns against regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate that the neocons are not afraid to force regime change and reshape hostile states in the American image
* Neocons believe the US must do to whatever it takes to end state-supported terrorism.
* Neocons envision a world in which the United States is the unchallenged superpower, immune to threats. They believe that the US has a responsibility to act as a "benevolent global hegemon." In this capacity, the US would maintain an empire of sorts by helping to create democratic, economically liberal governments in place of "failed states" or oppressive regimes they deem threatening to the US or its interests
* In the neocon dream world the entire Middle East would be democratized in the belief that this would eliminate a prime breeding ground for terrorists. This approach, they claim, is not only best for the US; it is best for the world. In their view, the world can only achieve peace through strong US leadership backed with credible force, not weak treaties to be disrespected by tyrants.

David Brines (13) in his article on Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War criticizes neocons that many neoconservatives speak of struggle, even war between the Christian and Muslim worlds. They call for a return to values-based decision making in American society, with those values clearly and explicitly rooted in core religious traditions. While emphasizing cultural conflict with liberals and humanists within Western Civilization, they promote aggressive opposition to non-Western cultural styles overseas.

Kirkpatrick s (14) also criticizes neocons and their influence on the American foreign policy, in her article, "Dictatorship and Double Standards," was a ferocious attack on American foreign policies for trying to "impose liberalization and democratization" on other countries. She mocked "the belief that it is possible to democratize governments anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances." Democracy, she said, depends "on complex social, cultural, and economic conditions." It takes "decades, if not centuries."

V- The Increase of Number of Muslims in Europe and USA
Islam is widely considered Europe s fastest growing religion (89 million) with immigration and above average birth rates leading to a rapid increase in the Muslim population (see number of Muslims in different countries in Europe).(15)

In the US there is an on-going debate as to the true size of the Muslim population. Various institutions and organizations have given widely varying estimates about how many Muslims live in the US. Encylopedia Britannica estimates that there are 4.7 million (2005) (16) [1.5% of national population].

Muslims in Europe and USA are facing rising "Islamophobia" ranging from violent attacks to discrimination in education, housing and jobs (17). In 2004 the EU published a report on “Muslims in the European Union - Discrimination and Islamophobia”. The report cited hundreds of reported cases of violence or threats against Muslims, including vandalism against mosques and Islamic centers, abuse of women wearing Islamic head scarves and physicals attacks.

Another report published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) (18) says it has documented a wide range of anti-Muslim or Islamophobic abuse across the EU s 25 member states. It says that Muslims are confronting a rise in racism ranging from violence through to discrimination in housing and employment.

The EUMC s report lists hundreds of reported cases of violence or threats against Muslims from across the continent. These incidents include attacks on mosques, verbal abuse of women wearing veils or headscarves and other forms of discrimination. However it says it is difficult to fully understand what may be happening because so few countries collect data on religiously-motivated hate crimes. The report says the UK is the only member state currently publishing crime statistics on hate crimes against Muslims.

Recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest American Muslim civil rights group, reported that it processed a total of 1,522 incident reports of civil rights cases last year—a 49 percent increase in cases of harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment from 2003. That s the highest number of Muslim civil rights cases ever reported to CAIRIn addition, CAIR received 141 reports of actual and potential violent anti-Muslim hate crimes, a 52 percent increase from 2003. Georgetown University law professor and civil liberties expert David Cole has said that, “Thousands were detained in this blind search for terrorists without any real evidence of terrorism, and ultimately without netting virtually any terrorists of any kind.”

There is a need for a strategy to combat Islamphobia that is based on addressing the real causes of the phenomena described above. Muslims and Arabs suffer discrimination in the West, but the extent of the problem is hidden by lack of mechanisms in many states to monitor racism. There is a need to address Islamphobia through education, public awareness programmes, political leadership, intercommunity dialogue, policies and legislation, and by outlawing religious discrimination.

The strategy should focus on the following:
1- Institutional responses to eliminate racial discrimination by adhering to the international and regional legal standards against racial and religious discrimination;
2- Educational and public information programmes to promote tolerance and respect for diversity through promoting multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism;
3- Establish mechanisms to monitor the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims, and other expressions of Anti-Arabism and Islamophobia and take effective measures to prevent the emergence of movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas concerning these communities;
4- Develop national plans of action to combat racism. Within the national action plans, clearly defined aims and objectives should be outlined and procedures and communication should be transparent;
5- The United Nations treaty bodies monitoring implementation of the seven principal human rights conventions are encouraged to coordinate their actions, with the objective of establishing a consistent, integrated and structured approach to the protection of the rights of all persons.
(1) Special Rapporteur Doudou Dienne, in his report No. E.CN.4200617 entitled “Situation of Muslims and Arab peoples in various parts of the world, UN 2006.
(2) Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General statement, Office of the Spokesman, New York, 7 December 2004 - Address to the DPI seminar, "Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding"
(3) Muslims Portrayed, By Ghali Hassan, 17 July, 2004, Countercurrents.org
(4) Mohammed Ayoob, Political Islam: Image and Reality, ARTICLE: Volume XXI, No 3, Fall 2004, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL
(5) Mohammed Ayoob, Political Islam: Image and Reality, ARTICLE: Volume XXI, No 3, Fall 2004, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL
(6) Statement on behalf of the OIC by Tehmina Janjua, Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the First session of the Human Rights Council under agenda Item Implementation of General Assembly Resolution A60251 “Human Rights Council”, Geneva, 26 June 2006
(7) Neoconservative, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiNeoconservative
(8) http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiNeoconservative
(9) Ibid
(10) By Gary Kamiya,The Neoconservatives RIP, http:www.salon.comopinionkamiya20061114neoconsindexnp.html
(11) GoodbyeNeocons,http:www.whereistheoutrage.networdpress20061115goodbye-neocons
(12) Neocon 101, some basic questions answered, What do neoconservatives believe,http:www.csmonitor.com
(13) David Brines, Neoconservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War, 2004.
(14) J. Kirkpatrick, Dictatorship and Double Standards: Rationalism and Reason in Politics (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982).
(15) Muslims in Europe, Islam in Europe, Country Guide: http:news.bbc.co.uk2hieurope4385768.stm
Albania (2.2 million 70% of population), Number of Muslims by country; Austria (339,000, 4.1% of population), Belgium (0.4 million 4%) Bosnia (1.5 million 40% of population) Denmark (270,000 5%), France (6 million 9%), Germany (3 million, 3.6%), Italy (825,000, 1.4%), Macedonia (630,000 30%), Netherlands (945,000, 5.8%), Serbia and Montenegro (405,000 5%), Kosovo - about 1.8 million (90%), Spain (1 million 2.3%) Sweden (300,000, 3%), Switzerland (310,800, 4.2%), Turkey (68 million 99%), United Kingdom (1.6 million 2.8%)
(16) Encyclopædia Britannica Book of the Year 2005
(17) Muslims in the European Union - Discrimination and Islamophobia, EU 2004
(18) The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)

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