By Ammar Anwer
It is true beyond any doubt that the anti-Muslim bigotry in West has witnessed a significant spike since the attack on Twin Towers in 2001. New data from researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, shows that hate crimes against American Muslims increased by 78 percent over the course of 2015. There were 257 incidents of anti-Muslim bias in 2015, compared with 154 in the previous year. The number is second only to the surge in hate crimes following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 when 481 incidents against Muslims were reported.
Like the United States, other western states, including the multi-cultural United Kingdom, is no exception to the growing wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.
The number of anti-Muslim incidents recorded by the Metropolitan officials increased by 70 percent in 2014.
Tell Mama, an organisation that monitors Islamophobia, revealed that there were 115 attacks in the week after the terrorist attack on Paris — an increase of more than 300 percent.
Most victims of the UK hate crimes were Muslim girls and women aged from 14 to 45 in traditional Islamic dress. The perpetrators were mainly white males aged from 15 to 35.
Similarly, in France, hate crimes against Muslims have tripled since the attack on Charlie Hebdo Magazine in January 2015, according to the official figures. Police or soldiers now guard about 1,000 of France’s 2,500 mosques.
A survey taken by the Pew Research Centre shows that in several European nations, unfavourable views of Muslims seem to have surged in 2016.
From the above facts and figures, it becomes evident that anti-Muslim bigotry is real and is on a rise.
There are genuine anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe and we do need to fight those sentiments. It seems that people have failed to draw a line between a Muslim and an Islamist, leading to the generalisation, and in some cases, even marginalisation of Muslims. A Muslim is someone who believes in Islam just like any other adherent of any other religion. An Islamist, on the other hand, is someone who wants to impose his particular version of Islam over another community.
However, I do consider Islamism to be a cause for the growing anti-Muslim sentiments. I absolutely maintain the fact that Muslims are not monolithic and not all of them carry the same perception of Islam either. However, it is getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between an ordinary Muslim and an Islamist. This is because Islamists often play the deception game—not expressing their views publicly. I regard the Europe’s impotent vetting system responsible for the current disarray. By not doing a proper background check before letting someone in, Europe has invited a trouble not only for itself but also for the Muslims living there, who now suffer discrimination only because someone else from someplace else committed a terrorist act.
This being said, I still believe that using Islamism as a conduit to rationalise these growing anti-Muslim sentiments is not entirely accurate. This is because Muslims themselves are the prime victims of Islamism. You do not have to be a genius to figure that out. Just take a quick glance at Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and other Islamic countries. Since the attack on twin towers, more than 30,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives due to extremism.
Attacks similar to the one in Paris or Brussels might take place once in a year, which of course must be condemned, but this remains a day-to-day routine for Muslims living in states where Islamists have a free hand. Those who hate Muslims would continue to do, just like those who hate the Jews. Anti-Muslim bigotry would exist with or without Islamism. Islamism has only exacerbated this by providing the bigots with a shelter to propagate their hateful sentiments.
All being said, I believe that the term “Islamophobia” is very problematic. I believe this because it conflates and confuses the criticism on Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry. Criticising, scrutinising or even mocking an ideology, including religion, does not mean that you are a bigot towards all the people who follow it. People criticise and mock Christianity. Do we call all such people “Christianophobes”? Of course not, because there is a fundamental difference between freedom of speech and bigotry. Islam is no exception to this rule either.
The term “Islamophobia” is also used to smear all those as “Anti-Muslim” who even dare to use the term “Radical Islam’’ as if no such thing even exists. Even Maajid Nawaz, a reformist and liberal Muslim was smeared as “anti-Muslim”. This term is often used to shut all rational discussion on Islam.
When people like Adam Saleh make fake cases of anti-Muslim bigotry, they do not really contribute towards kerbing it rather they only diminish the importance of the real anti-Muslim bigotry that not only exists but is also on a rise. They only add into the miseries of the real sufferers of anti-Muslim hate.
As we continue to fight radical Islam, it is absolutely imperative for us to keep the distinction between Islam and Islamism in Mind. Muslims are not enemies, our enemies are the Islamists who are also the enemy of ordinary Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry exists and we need to acknowledge it. That is the only way we can pave a path for a progressive and pluralistic society.
Ammar Anwer is a journalist and human rights activist based in Islamabad, Pakistan