By Syed Qamar A Rizvi
10 August 2017
THE OIC forum on Islamophobia held in London (July15-16) underscores Muslims plight in the West caused by the growing spike of Islamophobia. Recently German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued: “Islam is not the source of terrorism” but the Christians who make Muslims feel angry because of “Islamophobia”. Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source: An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
The 10th OIC Observatory Report (issued on July 11, 2017) on Islamophobia describes the increasing trend of Islamophobia under the reviewed period, indicated by the growing fear against Islam and Muslims in certain parts of the world, which led to negative perceptions among non-Muslims. This negative trend, according to the report, was assessed to have been boosted mostly by three factors, namely: The US elections, Immigrant issue in Europe, and the rise of Populism and Far-Rights in Europe. In his foreword to the report, the OIC Secretary General Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen observed that the 10th Report of the Islamophobia Observatory being released today “vindicates our position that the growing trend of Islamophobia has not subsided in any tangible way.”
“Muslims have been terrorized and discriminated. Islamic sacred symbols have been insulted. People with Islamic attires were targeted with hatred. Women with Hijabs were abused on streets and public spaces. Certain governments outlawed Islamic attires or applied restrictive access for Muslims to have prayer facilities. Right-wing Politicians and media spread evil images of Islam,” said Al-Othaimeen. “Acts of radical and extreme groups in the name of Islam have provided xenophobes with excuses to further their agenda. Their statements and acts have not only been irresponsible, but also conducive to the radical narratives of violent groups and terrorists, jeopardizing the positive image of Islam and boosting Islamophobia across the globe,” he added.
According to the UK-based Runnymede Trust report, Islamophobia existed in the arena of international affairs before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade. Globally, many Muslims report not feeling respected by those in the West. Significant percentages of several Western countries share this sentiment, saying that the West does not respect Muslim societies. Specifically, 52% of Americans and 48% of Canadians say the West does not respect Muslim societies. Smaller percentages of Italian, French, German, and British respondents agree. Several elements can affect the interactions and degree of respect between Muslim and Western societies. Differences in culture, religion, and political interests may shape one population’s opinion toward the other. Definitions of Islamophobia tend to attribute fear or hatred of Muslims to their politics or culture, and to Islam and the religiosity of Muslims.
The EUMC, which has now become the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has cited incidents “ranging from verbal abuse to physical attacks and arson” but added that little data was available on them as most EU countries do not report suspected racial or religious motivation behind many crimes. “The failure of many member states to collect effective data means that it is very difficult to develop workable policies to counter racism,” Anastasia Crickley, chairwoman of the EUMC management board said in the statement. The report called on EU countries to implement more anti-discrimination measures, facilitate integration and improve employment opportunities for minority youth. About 13 million Muslims live in the European Union, according to official data and estimates from non-governmental organizations, making up 3.5 percent of the entire EU population, the EUMC report said.
US former President Obama once remarked: ‘’I do however see violence, and patriarchy in Muslim world. And blaming culture or denying the fact that these people are actually Muslims is in my opinion not doing anything to help solve these problems. It is a way of deflecting responsibility, and it is a form of denial. When I hear Muslims complain about Islamophobia, and a negative perception of Islamic religion, they often simply blame colonialism and also Western media for representing the actions of a few extremists as reflective of entire group’’.
There is truth to this. Western Imperialism has wrought havoc across the Muslim world (and still is). And the media does deserve blame, it just doesn’t deserve all of it. And rather than simply complaining about this, and waiting for the West to right its wrongs (which at least some Westerners are attempting to do although they are few), And it has to be fairly admitted that the West’s political deprivation of Muslims political rights and inequality between the developed and developing world paved way for harbouring some extremist tendencies in Muslim communities.
In this backdrop, Pope Francis peace message is a recipe for thought— advocating an interfaith harmony — is the paramount need of the day. A process of cross- fertilization of ideas between the Western and the Muslim communities may provide a boulevard towards a peaceful coexistence. Ahmad Davutoglu, Turkey’s former PM said it was important to fight all forms of Islamophobia in Germany. Speaking later in Berlin, Davutoglu said that if Turkey was accepted in future as a European Union member it would send a powerful message of how Muslims and Christians could live together in peace in Europe.
Syed Qamar A Rizvi, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.