Islamophobia: a Rising Ideology Around the World
How it works
For centuries, minorities have been suffering in first world countries from decisions made by certain elites in power. Whether it be in Western countries like the USA, or European countries like France, many groups have faced discrimination based on their skin color, race, or religion. This research focuses on a specific group of minorities; Muslims, who have been facing prejudice because of a concept that is not theoretically classified however, is based on a few aspects that includes the portrayal of Muslims by the media or the stereotypes of Muslims being terrorists and hating Western civilization and its people (Sayyid). The basic definition of Islamophobia describes the concept as the fear or hatred of Muslims, based on their belief in the Islamic religion.
Whether Islamophobia is theoretically classified as an actual concept or not, it is real and is widely prevalent in predominantly, western countries or non-Muslim countries in general. The focus of this research paper is Islamophobia because in today’s world of rising atheism and disbelief in a God, religious minorities like Muslims and Jews have always been an easy and safe target for discrimination or hate crimes. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. The goal of this paper is to raise awareness of such acts and to put an end to the violence and prejudice against minorities, specifically religious minorities. Such acts of discrimination can be based on several issues including political agendas, terror attacks, or just hatred against a certain group.
How it works
There have been hundreds of cases where Muslims have been targeted solely because of their beliefs. According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics from 2017, there were 314 offenses against Muslims because of “anti-Islam” motivation (FBI: UCR). Women who wear the hijab (head scarf) have statistically been the victims of several hate crimes because their appearance gives away their faith. In the UK alone, there were about 2,965 crimes motivated by bias against Muslims in 2017 (OSCE Hate Crime Reporting). Community Security Trust (CST) reported that there were 191 crimes reported against Muslims out of which 43 were threats. In 2014, 40% of French people responded that they found the Islamic faith a threat to themselves or society in general (Abdelkader). This rising hatred of Islam has affected millions of Muslim lives as many live-in fears of hate crimes, threats and many females also fear getting their hijabs pulled off in public. Even in the United States, Muslims are not considered “real Americans” by many people. Several cases have been reported where Muslims are harassed or sometimes even assaulted and told to “go back to their countries”, when most of them are American-born.
Some research has shown that discrimination against Muslims or groups of people perceived as Muslims such as South Asians, Arabs or Sikhs etc., is sometimes associated to poor health or psychological conditions that may have long-term effects on one’s health (Samari, et al.). Among Muslim Americans in the state of Oklahoma, discrimination was associated with “higher levels of paranoia”. Experiences of discrimination among South Asians in the states of California and Illinois were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms and anger. Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Haiti and South Asia who have faced discrimination due to their race or beliefs have been reported to have higher psychological distress and has led many to self-harm due to bullying in schools or continuous discriminatory incidents. Statistically, Muslims in the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and the UK, have experienced a higher rise in discrimination or racist incidents attributed to 9/11 (Samari, et al.). The common aspect in most of these incidents is that the violence by the attacker towards the Muslims is unprovoked and often in public places like parks or sidewalks. These incidents can vary from physically harming Muslims or damaging property by acts such as vandalism on mosques (Sayyid). Many attackers are regular individuals filled with hatred or from certain racist groups who plan and manipulate people to harm Muslims or their properties.
A major factor in the discrimination against religious minorities such as Muslims is the media. The portrayal of Muslims on TV as terrorists, effects millions of minds and their opinions on that specific group. 9/11 was a major turning event and impacted millions of lives. It was an attack on American citizens, but it changed and affected a lot of Muslim lives around the world too. It started an endless war against terror that has cost the US an estimated of $5.9 trillion; in direct-war and war-related spending. This does not include the funding to Israel but does however include the expenses of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan (Watson Institute). Brown’s research estimates that at least 480,000 people have been directly killed during the war against terror, whereas more than 244,000 of them being civilians. If the conflicts in countries such as Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, where the US has conducted major military operations, had been included, the toll of the people killed would have been significantly higher.
Coming back to the fact that the media barely mentions any of this information and majority of Americans are unaware of the costs of the war on terror is overwhelmingly shocking. Thousands of Americans believe that all Muslims are terrorists whereas most of them argue that Islam is a religion that incites fear and violence against infidels (non-believers of the religion). There is an ideology spreading worldwide that all terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists. This concept incites hate against a group of people who are not even responsible for the acts of the sadistic terrorists who claim to be followers of Islam. Most Americans who consider Islam as a religion of violence, don’t personally know or have interacted with Muslims. This also explains why many people don’t understand Islam and its values. Instead, they consider it ISIS, which does not represent the Islamic values. According to a survey conducted by Pew research Center in 2017, respondents were asked to rate Muslims from 0 to 100; 0 representing the most negative feelings whereas 100 being the most positive feelings. On average, American respondents gave Muslims a 48, which is quite low compared to other religious groups. (Pew Research Center). According to a survey conducted in 2012 asking respondents in different countries whether they believed Muslims were associated with terrorist organizations or not, 68% of Spanish respondents and 54% of Americans believed that Muslims were associated with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, whereas 22% of Germans, 27% of British and 28% of French citizens believed so too (Ciftci).
On the topic of media, the portrayal of Muslims in movies and TV has also been somewhat the same. Many movies and TV serials have depicted Muslim or Arab males as stereotypical men with long beards who represent terroristic ideologies. Certain storylines show Muslims as villains who hate the western life and its people. These films and serials do nothing but feed the stereotype and misinform the general audience. However recently, popular Muslim celebrity figures, have started to portray the religion in a positive way on TV shows such as Patriot Act hosted by Hasan Minhaj. These TV series and films are major factors when it comes to showing the world that Muslims are regular people just as any other human being on the planet.
Let’s change courses and focus on China for the next one. China is conducting a systematic campaign of human rights violation by putting Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps to end “religious extremism and sectarianism”. The Uyghurs make up roughly about 40% of Xinjiang’s 19 million population and over a million of these people have been forced to go to concentration camps (Nugent). Most of the Uyghur people are Muslims who are forced to eat pork, drink alcohol and pledge allegiance to the Chinese government. The campaign has also divided families and mobilized over a million officials and police officers to monitor people through “intrusive programs” (Human Rights Watch). The Chinese government denies accusations and claims that these camps are for “educational purposes”. Even after multiple reports to the UN, no major officials, except the President of Turkey, has condemned or protested these injustices. Thousands of Uyghurs have reported these crimes and have even been interviewed by some media outlets but are immediately called “insane” or mentally unstable by authorities.
This anti-Muslim sentiment by world leaders and media is the biggest cause of hate and prejudice against Muslims around the world. “I think Islam hates us”, said Donald Trump replying to a question by Anderson Cooper. Majority of the Islamophobic or racist incidents experienced by Muslim Americans have been from the far-right conservative groups, particularly inspired by leaders like Trump. The recent Christchurch mass shooting by a white supremacist is a prime example of this ideology. The shooter wrote a manifesto in which he listed some of the famous far-right leaders, including Donald Trump, who had inspired him to attack and murder over 50 Muslims where they were the most vulnerable. This concept that Muslims hate the west and promote violence against non-believers of Islam is a common myth, and the proof of this statement is the fact that Muslims have been the biggest victims of terrorism. During the time period of 9/11 till 2008, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were a few of major Muslim countries that suffered the most from terrorism and the sectarian violence. In fact, more than a quarter of the world’s terror attacks took place in Iraq during this time period (Roser, Nagdy, Ritchie). There are multiple ways to prevent and put an end to the radicalizing of the conservative far-right and terrorist groups. One way not to approach this issue is preventing Muslims from debating on the nature of Islam that allows the right-wing groups to demonize Islam.
As a civilized society, it is our responsibility to form strategies and effective ways to counter the rising Islamophobic sentiment in western countries. The first step is to identify the problem and conduct research on the nature and locations of these attacks. Identifying the areas of such incidents, what kind of background the attackers come from, and their motivations are some of the basic requirements for such a research. Social media is a big medium for hate speech and individuals to get together and plan terror attacks. Websites like 8chan and 4chan are not monitored enough and anonymous users, particularly racists, spark hatred by posting offensive and discriminatory content. Many white supremacists in the past have uploaded their plans of attacks on minorities on such websites and there were no consequences until it was too late. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter should review their policies and implement tighter and stronger security checks on suspicious accounts and pages. There are still certain pages on Facebook that openly promote violence against minority groups, and nothing is done about it. Live streaming should also be monitored so that such violent incidents cannot be shared by the attackers. In order to implement such policies, larger entities like the government need to be involved.
Government officials who express Islamophobic or racist views should be held accountable for their words. Stronger policies that hold officials accountable will reduce and expose the Islamophobic voices in the media and our government. The law must consider Muslims as equals and embrace them in order to put an end to this war on terror (Bazian). The roots of terrorism are linked to dividing societies and communities. Therefore, we need to realize that, and stand with minorities to develop agendas for the betterment of society in general. Embracing Muslims however does not mean avoiding criticism of Islam and its followers but recognizing that “the political debate about Muslims has nothing to do with the religion, theology or history of 1.6 billion people” (Bazian).
Hatem Bazian from UC Berkeley Center for Race and Gender lists steps and responsibilities of a civil society to counter Islamophobia. Bazian mentions how we would need to create new civil rights coalitions to “carry the political agenda forward”. The author also mentions developing and funding a civil society “rapid response team” to focus on instant or immediate measures to counter and undo the effects of Islamophobic campaigns and agendas and reduce their impact on the mainstream media (Bazian). Focusing on minimalizing the impact of such campaigns by right-wing groups and Islamophobics on the media will directly affect how the future generations think about Muslims around them. The media, news and social media play a vital role in countering islamophobia as it is a platform that millions use everyday but are often misinformed about such issues. Basically, promoting proper research about Islam and its followers will introduce non-Muslims to the religion and lead them to be properly informed about it.
There is no specific solution to counter and end bigotry and discrimination against Muslims in the west but small steps as a society will help raise awareness and lead communities to at least understand what Islam is. The Islamophobia industry is fueled with misinformation and hatred against Islam. Interacting with local Muslims can help debunk certain myths about the religion and will guide people to realize that not all Muslims are terrorists, but instead are regular people. I would like to mention a powerful quote by Mike Barnicle where he says that, “We live in a culture where everyone’s opinions, views, and assessment of situations spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, where much of it is shaped by mindless, meanness and ignorance”. Ideologies such as Islamophobia are rooted with ignorance therefore, we as a civilized society have a responsibility to gain legitimate knowledge, inform ourselves and try to put an end to such ignorant and discriminatory concepts.
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