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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

Islamophobia

The Runnymede Trust in Britain set up a Commission on Islamophobia in 1997. The report of the Commission titled Islamophobia: A Challenge to Us All, revealed that Islamophobia-fear of and hostility towards Islam and Muslims-was one of the chief forms of racism in Britain. The report pointed out that for many in the Muslim community, to demean and vilify Islam was as exclusionary as racism and sapped their confidence to engage with reassurance with the wider society.

The wide prevalence of Islamophobia in large parts of the world, especially in Europe, United States and Australia, is reflected in the vilification and demonization of Islam and Muslims, in the opposition to the visibility of Islamic symbols (such as the Islamic headscarf) in public places, in the distortion and misrepresentation of matters related to Muslims by the Western media, in the racial profiling and surveillance of Muslims (in the United States), in attacks on mosques, in the discrimination against Muslims in respect of employment, housing and education, and in the tirade against Muslim immigrants by the far-right political parties and racist groups.


It is widely believed in Europe that Islam is at variance with progressive values, that it encourages intolerance, fanaticism and aggression in its followers, and that it poses a threat to world peace. Nick Griffin, a leader of the far-right British National Party, had said in a recent speech that Islam was a vicious, wicked faith. He was tried for incitement to racial hatred, but on February 3, 2006 walked free at the end of the trial. In his defence, Griffin argued that he was attacking a religion (which, in the case of religions other than Christianity, is not an offence under British law), not a race.

Islamophobia has been fuelled by a cluster of circumstances, including the misrepresentation and disparagement of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, the controversy arising out of Salman Rushdie's novel Satanic Verses, the controversial debate over the Islamic headscarf in France in 1989 and in subsequent years, the Madrid train bombings of 2004, the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the highly provocative writings and utterances of some influential intellectuals and writers such as Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis, V. S. Naipaul and Francis Fukuyama, the murder of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004, and the terrorist attack on London in July 2005. The Salman Rushdie affair in 1988-89 created a wide divide between Muslims and the wider British society. Rushdie, a self-professed atheist, was accused by Muslims of defaming and slandering the Prophet and his wives. Copies of Satanic Verses were burnt on streets. Some Muslims in Britain sought a ban on the book by invoking the anti-blasphemy law in Britain but found to their dismay that the law protected only the official state religion, namely Anglicanism. Ironically, some books, such as Little Black Sambo, are kept out of libraries in the US because they cause offence to certain sections of society. But the same sensitivity was not shown to Muslims in the case of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

The resentment and hatred towards Muslim immigrants in European countries is sometimes manifested in assaults on Muslims and in the vandalization of mosques and community centres. In 1985 several mosques and Islamic centres were attacked and vandalized in several parts of the United States. Racist groups burnt a hostel for Turkish immigrants in Solinger in Germany in 1993. The opening of new mosques or prayer halls in Italy and Spain is often accompanied by protests by the local people. The far-right political parties in Europe, such as Front Nationale in France, the British National Party, Vlaams Belang in Belgium and Republikaner in Germany, are vocally anti-Muslim.

Islamophobia has been on the rise after 9/11, as the reports of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia testify (see http://www.eumc.eu.int). An Amnesty International report reveals that nearly 32 million people in the US, mostly Muslims from the Middle East and South Asia, have reported that they have been racially profiled in the wake of 9/11. The late UN human rights chief Sergio Vieirade Mello emphasized that the "war on terror" was exacerbating prejudices around the world, increasing discrimination against Arabs and Muslims and damaging human rights in industrialized as well as developing countries. Arabs and Muslims at large are experiencing increasing incidents f racial discrimination-singling out, finger printing and, in some instances, violence.

The Western media often distort and misrepresent news and events related to Muslims and thereby reinforce prejudices and stereotypes about the community. In the aftermath of 9/11, Italian television channels broadcasted visits by Italian officials and the police to local mosques in the southern and northern parts of Italy, which implicitly suggested that these mosques harboured Muslim fanatics and terrorists. This media focus created apprehensions in the local people about their own safety, who felt that the mosques should be closed down.

A recent manifestation of Islamophobia was the publication in September 2005 in a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of 12 highly derogatory caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. In one of them he was shown wearing a bomb-shaped turban (thus portraying him as a terrorist). In early February 2006 several newspapers in 22 European countries republished the caricatures. The publication of these sacrilegious cartoons generated an enormous amount of anger and resentment among Muslims across the world, which was expressed in massive protests and demonstrations and in the call to boycott Danish goods.

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