By Mehmet Çelik
Thirteen years after Sept. 11, 2001, the term "Islamophobia" continues to be an inevitable topic when discussing contemporary culture and politics. Islamophobia can be defined as prejudice against, fear of, or hatred towards members of the Islamic community, Muslims or those ethnic groups that are identified or perceived as Muslim. In other words, xenophobia is motivated by unfounded fear, mistrust and hatred of Muslims and Islam. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word means "intense dislike or fear of Islam, especially as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims," and although the term has gained particular popularity since the 9/11 attacks, it is to be found in English as early as 1923. The belief, rather than the term, of course, dates back to the Crusaders, in their ferocious holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East.
More recently, it has been a term put forward as a type of racism, while its underlying concept or meaning has been a topic of discussion by scholars. The contemporary major Islamophobic incidents include the assimilation campaign against Bulgarian Muslims, which forced 310,000 Turks to leave Bulgaria in 1989, the Srebrenica Massacre of Bosnian Muslims, the killing of Uyghur Muslims in China and violence against Muslim minorities in Burma, and many other incidents against Muslim populations continue to be committed throughout Europe, North America and other parts of the world.
The Hijab ban in France in 2010, the cartoon incident in Denmark in 2005, the Bosporus serial murders that took place between 2000 and 2006 in Germany and many other incidents in the U.K. and Italy, including U.K. Minister Peter Hain's statement that Britain's Muslim community is "isolationist" in 2002, as well as Italian ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's public claim that Western civilization is "superior" to Islam. These are some of the contemporary examples of the religious intolerance built against Islam and Muslims in Europe. Although these are individual incidents, what is more striking is the current European Parliament election results that revealed that radical right-wing tendencies will continue to challenge European Muslims on a daily basis, whether be it due to their skin colour, their beard, Hijab or simply because they eat Halal meals.
The situation is no different in North America. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim sentiments have increased since the tragic 9/11 attacks. It was, unfortunately, expected to see incidents similar to those in Europe in the United States, but what surprises many is the fact that such behaviour exists and in fact is on the rise in Canada. It is seen as a surprise because Canada has been known and portrayed as the peaceful nation of kind citizens’ vis-à-vis its southern neighbour. Like many other countries, Canada has experienced growth in the numbers of its minority population, in particular in the number of its Muslim population. Immigration from the Middle East and South Asian countries has signiﬁcantly increased Canada's cultural diversity in the past few decades.
Islamophobia in Canada has been a topic of recent debates in the media. The issue has been highlighted as a result of a few incidents that were brought to the attention of the public: The Quebec provincial government's proposal that aims to prohibit provincial employees from any gear that would expose obvious religious attire and jewellery while on the job; and similarly, in July 2011, the Christian Heritage Party, the Jewish Defense League and the Canadian Hindu Advocacy group protested against the Toronto District school Board, because it had allowed Muslim students to pray in a public middle school. Individual experiences have also been brought to the attention of media. One of these cases is of Inas Kadri, a Muslim woman from Mississauga, Ontario, who had her Niqab pulled from her face at a local shopping mall in November 2011. Kadri says her young children no longer feel secure with only her nearby. In May 2014, the Assahaba Islamic Community Centre, a Montreal mosque, was attacked five times by vandals. In the last attack, the vandal attempted to throw a Molotov cocktail through the window, but he was caught by the police.
While the mainstream media covers such prominent examples, Islamophobia can take much more subtle forms expressed in the ways that people relate to Muslims in their workplaces and in society. The subtle forms are those that can lead to "hidden discrimination" since they are not explicit. And no, this is not "paranoia," as some who are blinded to such societal problems call it.
Last year, in October 2013, a poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion for Maclean's magazine exposed the increasing Islamophobic attitude in the Canadian public, while the opinion towards other major beliefs, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism remained the same. The poll found that while 69 percent of the Québécois held an unfavourable opinion of Islam; in the rest of the provinces this figure was 54 percent, which was a sharp rise compared to another poll conducted in 2009. Similarly, In Quebec, 48 percent found it unacceptable for one of their children to marry a Muslim, while in the rest of Canada the figure rose to 32 percent from 24 percent. The poll also indicated that rejection of a child marrying into other religions, other than Islam, remained considerably low.
While these rising figures are discouraging for those who work hard to improve positive perceptions of Islam and to integrate within the rich multicultural Canadian society, Islamophobia, just like anti-Semitism, should also be seen as a threat to the essential and foundational Western liberal values, such as tolerance and egalitarianism. Nevertheless, such figures should be taken seriously and studied closely, as they can be the emerging symptoms of societal and systemic complications. In order to avoid further divisions and malaise within society, the Canadian state should remain as the impartial guard of the religious rights and freedoms of Muslims and all other minorities living in Canada. Policy makers should emphasize diversity and equity in education for children in earlier grades. Furthermore, dialogue and relationship building among faith and other various ethnicity-based communities should be promoted to eliminate such racist behaviour from Canadian society.
The multicultural mosaic of Canadian society is a micro example of the "global market" we have created. As such, the aim within Canada should be to create an "alliance of civilizations" rather than a "clash of civilizations." While the job of building such an "alliance" is on the shoulders of NGOs in Canada, the government should continue to support the protection of all the rights and freedoms of all Canadians under the law. Such an attitude and harmony will provide a safer society for all members of Canada's ethno-cultural, racial and religious mosaic where they all feel that they are included.
On a final and different note, the issue around the veil or the Burqa or other means used to put forward anti-Muslim tendencies raises two questions. First, we can approach the issue from the side of superficial reasons such as the veil or the Burqa, et cetera and ask whether or not cultural differences coupled with racist individuals are the real reason leading to such behaviour? Or we can ask whether the rising Islamophobic tendencies on a global scale are, rather, the results of the ongoing tense climate against Muslims around the world put forward by a not easily defined agenda, be it political or economic. I believe the emphasis and effort should be put on answering the second question. It is worth-mentioning that creating the artificial "other" within domestic politics is one way states formulate their foreign policies and vice-versa. The challenge for us is to identify this global industry that attempts to present Muslims around the world in general, and in the West in particular, as the "new other" [artificial threat] in the absence of the "red threat," in the post-Cold War conjecture.