By Seema Sengupta
22 February 2016
What is it like to be a Muslim in today’s world, where even a Muslim-sounding name or appearance resembling that of a stereotyped Muslim can evoke extreme reactions?
Indeed, the extent of intolerance against followers of Islam has reached alarming limits since the ghastly 9/11 attacks, though typecasting of the faith have gone on in the West for quite some time now. The hard fact is Islamophobic myths did not arise spontaneously after the demolition of New York twin towers or the end of the Cold War. Pathological fear of Muslims is in fact rooted in centuries of conquest and colonialism, right from the days of the Crusades to the present day “war on terror.”
To be precise, manufacturing fictive enemies out of fanciful delusions has been the cornerstone of imperial hegemony. Indeed, there is no denying that Islamophobia and imperialistic geopolitics has long been intertwined. And a systematically circulated myth has helped sow the seeds of anti-Muslim paranoia in popular psyche across the globe. So intense is the resultant hatred that there are several instances of people from India’s Sikh community being targeted fatally in the United States only because they resembled Arab Muslims.
Thankfully, senior American leaders have started realizing that overplaying this anti-Muslim hysteria can be self-defeating, which probably prompted President Barack Obama to candidly admit in his recent address at the Islamic Society of Baltimore that Americans need to re-dedicate themselves to religious tolerance. The worrying trend of commoners and even responsible political personalities riding the wave of Islamophobic fear-mongering has troubled strategic-security experts like Colin Powell, who dealt with America’s foreign affairs strategy as the Secretary of State. Powell feels that there is nothing wrong with being Muslim and Muslim-American kids have the legitimate right to believe that he or she can someday grace the highest presidential post. And yet Powell admits candidly that even Obama’s own Democratic Party colleagues had reservations about him assuming the presidency because of his genealogical link to a Muslim father.
Unfortunately, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America, Islam has somehow turned into an existential threat to the existing world order even though this great faith has nothing to do with the violent militancy organized by self-appointed vanguards having little knowledge about Islam that exhorts the faithful to a life dedicated to peace and justice. The situation has come to such a pass that anything related to this “religion of peace” is causing consternation, with security agencies hounding Muslim youths anywhere and everywhere and ordinary non-Muslim citizens shuddering at the prospect of keeping relationship with an adherent of Islam. From vicious attempt to project Islam as a radical religion preaching hate and violence — because jihad or holy war is an integral part of Islamic teachings — to labelling Muslims as intolerant fanatics, a sustained effort to create phobia against Muslims in popular mind is going on continuously in nuanced and often direct manner.
While this targeted propaganda may serve as a perfect alibi for a powerful few — with eyes on global natural resources — to spread influence by force and even help the anti-Muslim right-wing religious forces to prosper in many places, it is, most worryingly, shaking the very root of a faith that has positively contributed to the advancement of egalitarian ideals through its unflinching commitment to compassion, mercy, justice and charity. With extremist fringe hijacking the religion and finding front page and prime-time coverage in print and electronic media, ordinary peace-loving Muslims are facing the wrath every passing second and are being pushed to the wall gradually.
Extremism will win if a section of humanity continues to vilify Muslims and perpetuate prejudice and discrimination against them. As the United Nations voiced serious concern over the rising graph of hate crimes against Muslims all over the world and mooted the idea of combating Islamophobia through interfaith cooperation, the Muslim Ummah must take the lead in fostering intra-faith harmony simultaneously so as to preserve the glory and dignity of Islam in the eyes of non-believers.
This is the right time, as Pakistani diplomat Maleeha Lodhi rightly observed, to stand in solidarity in defence of our values and respect for each other’s faith. Agreed, this problem will not disappear overnight. But at least some genuine progress can be achieved by accommodating one another’s point of view. By celebrating the incredible diversity of different faiths and understanding and respecting their unique traditions, extremism can be defeated. No religious scripture ever legislates for or commands acts of terror against innocents. Rather, they inspire followers to wrestle with the demons lying deep within. The holy prophet (peace be upon him) had forewarned about difficult times, likening the struggle of remaining attached to the faith to that of holding on to embers.
Whatever the pain, Muslims world over must not let the burning charcoal slip through their hands under any circumstances. Yes, these are trying times and everything might seem to be upside down. But there will be light at the end of the tunnel, since good triumphs over evil ultimately.