By İHSAN YILMAZ
11 September 2013
I may be wrong, but it seems that parallel to our government's worsening relations, mainly at a rhetorical level, more and more state-sponsored events and conferences on Islamophobia have been organized in Turkey.
Islamophobia is, of course, a serious problem and I have also worked on this issue. In the Islamophobia conferences that I attend, I mention how my life changed in London after 9/11, 7/7 and my marriage to a headscarved lady which turned a dark-haired white Mediterranean academic with no moustache and beard to a “dangerous alien” in the eyes of a few bigots.
While I was alone, there weren't any problems but when I had my wife with me, I had trouble. I was once spat in the face. On another occasion, I was called a bomber from Pakistan. When she saw both of us at a bus stop and no one else, a bus driver once refused to stop. She then had to stop 50 meters away because of a red light and it was impossible to get her to open the door even though most of the seats were empty. To cut a long story short, as not only an academic who has lived in the West for several years and has tried to tackle the problem but also as a practicing Muslim with a headscarved wife, I am very much aware of the problem and I am not underestimating it. But, I am worried about both the government's intentions and the harm its overemphasis on the problem could inflict on the minds of our young people.
As academics and also practicing Muslims, we have an obligation to provide a balanced and objective picture to our audiences. Yes, I have had the abovementioned experiences and many Muslims have had worse, but those Islamophobes have always been in the minority and officials have almost always been on our side against them. Moreover, my wife and I and many other Muslims have been treated very nicely by thousands of non-Muslim inhabitants of Western lands. The first academic research on Islamophobia was done with a grant by a non-Muslim British foundation (the Runnymede Trust) and non-Muslim English academics worked on the project. If our officials, politicians and academics overemphasize the problem of Islamophobia without showing, at the same time, the anti-Islamophobic activities and behaviors of Western politicians, academics and citizens, it will create an unbalanced image in the eyes of the young population that has never been to the West.
During the Islamophobia conferences that I attend, I also underline that the mistakes of Muslim countries, people, politicians and Muslim minorities should also be analyzed and we must be self-critical. I am not blaming the victim but am trying to be just. This is also helpful for empathy. If a Westerner reminds us that in their countries, a lady with a headscarf can be a teacher, a police officer, etc., but in Turkey, this is impossible, we do not have an answer. Forget the Gulf countries, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, Muslim suicide bombers and so on and just look at how, at the moment, some of us have been treating Syrian refugees, who are Muslim and Sunni, in our southern cities. Newspapers are full of reports about how they have been mistreated by some of our citizens, how some have been working for only peanuts and how their rents have quadrupled. Do not tell me that those who are shockingly benefitting from the miserable fate of our guests are only in the minority and that our state, officials and the majority of people have been heroically helping them. That is exactly my point about Islamophobia in the West.
As a good Edward Saidian academic, I am not underestimating the influence of Orientalism, the distortion of some Western media, political calculations and manipulations, Crusader history, bigotry, prejudices, etc. on the minds of “Western” people, but to tackle this we must do more than only keep talking about Islamophobia which will create an unhealthy “Westophobia” and Occidentalism. Proactive and constructive work in the West, similar to the activities of the Hizmet movement, must be amplified.
Lashing out at the West at every opportunity while receiving military, political and financial help and investment from it is not helpful in solving the Islamophobia problem as far as the perception of the ordinary Western man on the street is concerned.