By Robert Ellis
The OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) has in its Sixth Observatory Report on Islamophobia documented what it considers to be “a culture of intolerance” of Islam and Muslims in the West.
The report deals with the rise of Islamophobia in Europe and the USA and mentions that in the Netherlands more than three quarters of the Dutch believe that Islam is not an added value to the country. More than half, 55 percent, are in favour of stopping immigration from Muslim countries, 63 percent oppose the building of mosques, 72 percent favour a constitutional ban on Sharia law and nearly three quarters see a relationship between Islam and the recent terror acts in Boston, London and Paris.
In Germany a study entitled “Fear of the East in the West” showed that more than half of the German population believed that Islam was prone to violence, had a tendency toward revenge and retaliation, was obsessed with proselytizing others, deprived women of their rights and was associated with religious radicalism and fanaticism.
By contrast, a small minority associated Islam with love for neighbours, charity, openness and tolerance. Not surprisingly, the study concluded that the image of Islam in Germany was “devastating”. In France, 74 percent of the people polled thought that Islam was an “intolerant” religion, incompatible with the values of French society, and 8 out of 10French people thought that the Muslim religion sought to impose its way of life on others.
Before dismissing the majority of the European population as prejudiced or ignorant, Turkey would do well to consider the basis for these views, especially as it is now preparing a renewed push for EU membership. The OIC report regards Islamophobia as “a deliberate scheme to distort the teachings and principles of peace and moderation engrained in Islam” but the response of many Europeans is more empirical than ideological.
Like 9/11 in the USA, the Madrid and London bombings together with other incidents have made an impact. After all, the mass slaughter of civilians is not guaranteed to engender support for any cause, let alone another religion. The bestial attack by two converts to Islam on a British soldier in Woolwich in May has not improved matters.
Added to this, there is the fact that non-Western immigrants, particularly from North Africa and the Middle East, figure prominently in statistics over crime, unemployment and welfare benefits.
Furthermore, the OIC report accuses the Western media of propagating fear and negative stereotypes against the Islamic faith and its followers. According to the OIC, the media should “exercise responsibility” and refrain from serving as a platform for the dissemination of hate speech and instead present “the true positive nature of Islam.”
The social media are also criticized, as “they enjoy a free hand in inciting intolerance of Islam and Muslims under the pretext of freedom of expression”.
Consequently, the OIC in partnership with Turkey organized an International Conference on Islamophobia in Istanbul in September 2013. The Conference endorsed the creation of an Advisory Media Committee, to be headquartered in Istanbul, with a view to building an effective media strategy to combat Islamophobia.
Therefore, President Abdullah Gül’s speech at the OIC’s economic conference (COMCEC) in Istanbul in November came as a breath of fresh air. The President condemned “the violence and terrorist activities, which some evil people and circles exploiting our sacred Islamic values for their heinous aims, have a big role in the perpetuation of this problem.” And concluded: “There is no room for terrorism in Islam.”
Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.