By Linda S. Heard
2 June 2015
Islamophobia is a relatively new phenomenon. When I was growing up in London during the early 1970s the word didn’t exist in the English language. Britain’s capital welcomed the influx of vacationing Muslims — in particular Arabs and Iranians — with open arms, as did most other European and American cities. I certainly didn’t come across anyone in those days expressing an irrational dislike of Muslims. If anything, people tended to be respectful of the faith and fascinated with the Islamic culture.
Then, there were no laws banning the veil or barring the construction of minarets. There were no newspapers or magazines running disrespectful cartoon contests. Muslim graves weren’t vandalized and mosques weren’t firebombed as so many have been in France and Sweden. There were no “Burn a Quran” days. No anti-Islamic posters plastered on the sides of New York buses and heavily armed right-wing thugs didn’t congregate outside mosques to hurl insults at worshipers as occurred in Phoenix, Arizona last Friday.
Moreover, Muslims were able to fly without being humiliated by their fellow passengers or discriminated against by cabin crew, as Tahera Ahmad, a director of interfaith engagement at Chicago’s Northwestern University, recently was when a United Airlines flight attendant refused to give her an unopened can of Diet Coke claiming she could use it as a weapon. Then minutes later, that same attendant merrily offered a closed can to another passenger. When Ahmad complained and looked to other passengers for support, one swore at her; another told her to shut-up.
So why is Islamophobia on the increase globally, as asserted by the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion during meetings with EU representatives?
The reasons given are anti-terrorism concerns combined with escalating illegal immigration, primarily from predominantly Muslim countries in the throes of conflict. There’s no doubt that ordinary folk are appalled at the sheer bestiality of terrorist groups purporting to be Muslim and it’s true that European countries are being swamped by an influx of migrants fleeing wars and poverty. But for people to tar 1.6 million Muslims representing a quarter of the world’s population with the same brush is not only utter stupidity but also blatantly unjust.
In reality, some of the root causes of this current tsunami of Islamophobia date back to George W. Bush’s responses to the 9/11 attacks when the entire Muslim world was asked to apologize for the crimes of 19 men, while their countries were being invaded and occupied. The word Islamophobia came to the fore in 2001 when thousands of Muslims in America were detained without access to family members or lawyers, hundreds were flown to Guantanamo, chained, hooded and gagged or abducted to countries willing to extract confessions using torture.
Passenger fears led to turbaned Sikhs, and Muslim men seen praying or simply wearing a T-shirt embossed with Arabic, being ejected from American flights. Women were accosted in the street by bigots, who removed their headscarves. Unfounded mass paranoia built to the extent that all Muslims were drawn into a web of suspicion. In 2001, anti-Muslim attacks rose by 1,700 percent on the previous year.
Worsening Islamophobia will continue to be one of the factors eliciting anger among young Muslims born in western countries who feel so alienated from the mainstream they are susceptible to radicalization and the lure of a caliphate — even one that’s constructed on the skulls of innocents.
Terrorism and Islamophobia are alike; they both feed off loathing. In many parts of Europe, notably, France, Italy, Sweden, Greece and The Netherlands — extreme right-wing parties proudly touting their anti-Islamic/anti immigration policies are gaining ground. The US has also witnessed a spike in Islamophobia since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the release of the movie “American Sniper” and videos of the Islamic State’s beheadings on social media.
Put simply, Muslim peoples are being sandwiched between ignorance and hatred on the one side and ignorance and terror on the other. More Muslims have been killed by car bombings, suicide bombings, and IEDs than the adherents of any other faith and, making their situation even worse, they’ve been placed under the microscope of western governments and are liable to being harangued on US and European streets. Governments must come together to find solutions to this widening chasm before it becomes an unbridgeable problem destined to tear their societies apart.