By Zahid Mehmood Zahid
December 20, 2019
Pluralist Western societies are facing a grave threat of exclusivism – Islamophobia, founded in speeches of political figures and actions of the violent perpetrators. Divisive politicians instrumentalize history by importing past events, such as crusade wars and terrorist events with Islamic connections and create security suspicions by labelling Muslims as ‘aliens’ to be feared of.
Islamophobia is toxic campaign and prejudice against Muslims that leads to incitement and intolerance. It is often defined as, “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” This is in sharp contrast to the spirit of the liberal political ideas that prohibit the discrimination of people on the basis of race and religion. Islamophobia, in fact, is an identity claim that represents Muslims as threat to the Wester way of life based on oppositional binaries – ‘us’ versus ‘they’ and ‘in’ versus ‘out’.
It has two aspects: strategic and populist. Former has more international dimension; whereas, the later primarily deals with domestic dimensions. Both are identity inspired and mutually constitute each other for palpable political purposes. China’s rise and ensuing balance of power thinking has diminished the strategic dimension; however, domestic economic crisis and upsurge in right wing nationalism have given way to the populist aspect of Islamophobia.
Populist dimension is an emotional rhetoric that takes roots from subjective interpretation of history that represents Islam regressive anti-modern force, anti-Western, inherently authoritarian, and Muslims as terrorists – a threat to the Western value system. Evidently, this environment under self-fulfilling assumptions produces a reaction by Muslims, which in turn further intensifies the Islamophobic sentiment among Westerners.
In the aftermath of 9/11, liberal values have intelligibly been represented as an ‘object to be defended’ against the existential threat posed by Islam. This securitization process shifts the ordinary issue into the realm of security. This is done with speech acts [what to fear from and what to defend] that ask for emergency measures. Through speech acts threats are inflated in monstrous form to justify extraordinary actions.
Muslims are described as threat, capable of taking over Western values, demography and economy; solution of which lies in reducing them to an ‘object of governance’ and ‘to be ruled product’. For that matter, they [Muslims] are re-inscribed in public sphere and policy discourses as Muslim first and foremost, as if their Muslimness is the only thing people should know and understand ‘who they are’. Paradoxically, in the era of nation state, they are described as Muslims than their national identity.
It is noteworthy that much discussed ‘Islamist’ violence has strategic rationale grounded in ‘Clash of Civilizations’ and ‘End of History’ theses: and, is a response to the grievances [perceived or actual], starting from colonization to the Western interventions into Muslim states. In the similar vein, the ongoing populist feature of Islamophobia has not only formed an environment where hate and bigotry have been practiced as norms and immigration is comparable to invasion, but also carries great potentials of recruitment and violence for IS and alike organizations against the West.
Karen Armstrong, a celebrated author on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), highlights that Islam does not see Christianity and Judaism as ‘others’ to go against, but as revealed religions from Allah. Similarly, as John Esposito, well-placed George Town University professor on Islam, recognizes that Islam does not claim to be coming on the religious scene from nothing, rather it declares to reaffirm the very truth that was advocated by the prophets of Christianity and Judaism.
Evidently, religions are not at war but exploited by politically motivated hate-mongers who divide the people and drive them crazy. The prevalence of Islamophobia in Western world is equivalent to the anti-Semitism of the past. It helps re-appropriate the responses that are used for political expedience.
Owing to the challenge posed by the Islamophobia to the Muslims and Islamic symbols – mosques, veil, and beard, Muslims are now more determined to preserve their religious identity by adhering to Islamic way of life. This amount to securitization versus securitization: Westerns want to securitize liberal values by demonizing Islam; whereas, Muslims respond them by strictly adhering to the Islamic symbols and rituals. This vicious cycle goes on.
Western public and policy circles must realize that Islamophobia is a perfect recipe that can undermine their democratic credentials. For meaningfully countering Islamophobia, reconciliation between Islam and Christianity is the need of the hour the way it was done between Judaism and Christianity in the face of anti-Semitism few decades ago.
Zahid Mehmood Zahid is a PhD candidate at National Defence University Islamabad
Original Headline: Islamophobia: Securitization of Liberal Values
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan