By: Abdul Rasool Syed 

An Ages-old, Smouldering Volcano 

The blatant display of savagery by the assailant in the Christchurch attack that claimed precious lives of fifty peaceful Muslims engaged in worship at mosque is the latest reminder of Islamophobia that is surging exponentially in the West.

Islamophobia is not a novel phenomenon; it has existed for over a long period of time. This lava in a smouldering volcano was in the making since long and has now started erupting with renewed intensity due to spiralling number of Muslim citizens and asylum-seekers in the West. The Western media and imperialist political bigwigs have exploited it to their favour in order to galvanize support for the war on terror, the occupation of foreign lands and to multiply their political fortunes. Even more painful is the fact that given the predominance of the West, the scholarly community has miserably failed to rise up to the challenge of mushrooming Islamophobia that has jeopardized the lives of millions of peace-loving and law-abiding Muslims living in the West. Consequently, the gulf between the Muslims and the West is widening day by day.

The “Islamophobia Observatory” at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) defines Islamophobia as ‘an irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam’. Its manifestations include prejudice, stereotyping, hostility, discriminatory treatment, denigration of the most sacred symbols of Islam and also non-recognition of Islam and Muslims by the law of the land.

The Runnymede Trust report defines Islamophobia as: “…unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.”

Moreover, the Runnymede Trust identifies eight components of Islamophobia, which are as follows:

1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change;
2. Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them;
3. Islam is seen as inferior to the Western culture. It is barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;
4. Muslims are seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilizations;
5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage;
6. Muslims’ criticism of the West is rejected;
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society; and
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Chronologically, Islamophobia, as mentioned above, is not a new phenomenon; it has been a prominent feature of Western societies for centuries. Men of letters like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare depicted the Saracen, Moor and the Turk in less than positive terms. In addition, plethora of literature appeared in justification of the crusades for the repossession of the Holy Land by the Western Christendom from the Muslim ‘occupants’.

The Ottoman advances in the 15th and 16th centuries led to a further chapter of anti-Muslim diatribe. Fred Halliday suggests that “this experience … shaped European attitudes.” The Ottomans were dreaded as the “public calamity” and were regarded as “a dull and backward sort of people.” The idea of barbaric, uncivilized, fanatic Muslims was used to justify conquering the Muslim land and colonizing its people. Colonialism was a mission to civilize the “natives”. During the colonial period, Orientalists became more active and started portraying the negative image of Islam and Muslims, which until now, continues unabated. It could be hypothesized that Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilization’ thesis has its roots in Orientalist scholarship. Edward Said’s analysis of the 19th century Orientalism shows clearly the myriad ways in which the West has stereotyped Islam, Muslims and the Arab world.

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