By Mehboob Makhdoomi
Islamophobia is now a vital area of interest in sociological, political and anthropological circles. Although, many scholars term it a European phenomenon and believe it always existed, but it conspicuously transmuted from being merely an ideology to its explicit expression by those who believe in it, towards the Muslims, mainly because of two events. One, Ayatollah Khomeini’s denigration of Salman Rushdie’s book-The Satanic verses and the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. Academicians like Chris Allen, an expert on the topic of contemporary Islamophobia, from the University of Birmingham, UK believes that definitions propounded from various quarters are vague, unclear & evolving. However, The Runnymede Trust, which is a left-wing British think-tank, also credited with coming out with a widely accepted report on anti-Semitism in the UK, namely ‘A very light sleeper-The persistence & dangers of anti-Semitism’ came up with a report called ‘Islamophobia challenge for us All’, which has been widely accepted even by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism & Xenophobia.
Following are the eight components which they claim define Islamophobia:
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 West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist. 4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'. 5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage. 6) Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand. 7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society. 8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.
Generally, there are two perceptions of Islamophobia. One is the Phobia of Muslims and the other is the Phobia of ‘religion of Islam’. The third perception would be mixture of the two. The above eight components of Runnymede trust ascribe this phobia to Islam, while the Wikipedia defines Islamophobia as the prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of Muslims or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim. I am more inclined towards the Runnymede explanation, based on the experience I have had. I do not deny that merely a Muslim identity or a lineage can land you in trouble at times, but I believe phobia of Islam as an ideology is more widespread & prevalent, across the world.
Let me substantiate my argument. Take India as a case. As in every Muslim-minority nation, there is a prejudice toward Muslims and Islam as a religion. However, Indians refute such allegations and present handful of Bollywood stars and some other influential Muslims as a proof for not being Islamophobic. I argue, how about if these Super Khans really behave as normal Muslims are supposed to. Imagine, they wouldn’t be alcoholic, do not participate in ‘Ganesh Pujas’, refuse to act in movies which promotes what Islam calls out rightly ‘Haraam’ in the movies they act in, deny romancing or physical proximity with strange women (co-stars) even on the sets. Would they still be treated and revered as super-stars in India? Frankly speaking, such people are known as the bunch of fundamentalists, outdated and unfit for the 21st century India, by the Indians. Their argument of Muslim stars may exonerate them of the allegation of being Muslimophobic but not Islamophobic. It means they do not mind people with Muslim names or writing ‘Islam’ as a religion on their passports as long as they do not follow Islam. In fact such Muslims are the strategic assets of Islamophobes, as they can present them as the defence if they are accused of ‘Islam baiting’. It is important to understand the difference between Islamophobia (hatred of Islam) and Muslimophobia (hatred of Muslims).
My point is that Islamophobic use the proof of not being Muslimophobic, to conveniently counter the allegations of Islamophobia and we are convinced. In fact, such Islamophobes themselves do not realize they are actually Islamophobes. Even those non-Muslims who defend the attitude of ‘Prejudice against Muslims’, defend them Islamophobically. I have witnessed many such Pro-Muslim activists addressing their own people, saying, ‘’Well, I have many Muslim friends, who drink with me, who have girl/boyfriends, who go for clubbing with me. They are normal people. Come on guys! They are just like us, just like you & me’’. To me, this statement is the most Islamophobic statement, ever. These so called Muslim defenders implicitly say that these guys do not follow Islam, like us. So, why discriminate against them. It also means they wouldn’t support any Muslim who actually follows the tenets of his faith. This makes it amply clear that they are also against ‘Islam as a religion’ but are only open to those Muslims who relinquish Islamic practices and beliefs and be like them. Why do we need to have their habits to be respected? Why can’t we be respected the way we are?
Islamophobia needs to be deliberated upon in the South Asian context, especially India where Muslims are a minority, in the same way as Western academia has risen to the challenge. If there are fascists like ‘English Defense League’(EDL), there are also pressure-groups like ‘United against Fascism’(UAF) with support from the MP’s of all UK political parties including the current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and the Labour politician Tony Benn. In the United States, there are Islamophobic groups like Act for America, American Freedom Defense Initiative, American Freedom law centre, Atlas Shrugs, Centre for security policy, David Horowitz Freedom Centre, Investigative project on Terrorism, Jihad Watch, Middle-East Forum, The Clarion Project. At the same time, to counter them, there are groups like Jews against Islamophobia coalition, Anti Defamation League, Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and many more. In India, there are open Islamophobic groups like Shiv-Sena, Bajrang-Dal, RSS and many more to the extent that they influence the political parties of the national level and have been able to push one of their ground worker as the possible Prime Minister of India, whilst the pressure-group phenomenon, opposing this fascism is not even in its infancy.
I would like to conclude with a small experience I have personally had. Back in 2008, in Newark city of the USA, once I had decided to do all my prayers on time, I was driving back from my office and it was prayer time. I didn't want to go against my resolution and I decided to steer my car off the road, crossed the by-lane and prayed in an open field. People started to come out of their houses and assembled around me. When I was done, I saw them terrified. They began asking questions as to what was I doing. I said it’s the prayer time and I was praying. Some even mumbled that they should call 911. While answering them, I walked swiftly to my car and drove away as I feared they might hurt me or hand me over to the cops.
Mehboob Makhdoomi is an MBA from Pennsylvania University (IUP) United States with a research degree from Cardiff University, United Kingdom