Islamophobia increasingly recognises no borders in Europe. Hate-driven attacks on the religion of Islam and the holy book will never cast a shadow on their sanctity. Such hate crimes vitiate those who commit them. Such seeds of hatred are poisoning and radicalising societies from within.
One need not look far to witness Islamophobia. To witness the verity of state-sponsored Islamophobia rear its ugly head, witness the Modi documentary by the BBC (better late than never) which unequivocally exhibits crimes against humanity committed by the ruling BJP and RSS against Muslims, including lynching brigades and anti-Muslim bigotry, documenting how police beat a Muslim to death.
Modi and his acolytes are well-known Islamophobes and now what becomes eerily alarming is how the contagion of Islamophobia is epidemically spreading across a rabidly right-wing cesspit that is increasingly the continent of Europe.
Earlier this week in The Hague, Netherlands, in an act that made US right-wingers resemble beacons of tolerance, Edwin Wagensveid, the Dutch politician from the extreme-right Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) group, publicly desecrated a copy of the Quran and broadcast a video of the heinous act on social media.
We eerily witness a pattern emerging as over the weekend Rasmus Paludan, political leader of the Danish far-right party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), burned a copy of the Quran close to the Turkish Embassy in Sweden.
Indicating that the hateful events in Sweden and the Netherlands constitute part of a wider premeditated hate campaign against Muslims, as he ripped pages from the Quran, as expected, just as the professional provocateurs sought, protests burst forth throughout the Muslim-majority world. Western politicians subsequently retorted by patronisingly preaching and moralising to Muslims on the nuance of free speech and “respect” for diverse viewpoints.
Past this tired clichéd pattern of vexatious Islamophobic baiting/Muslim anger/ensued by Western snobbish haughtiness, a more important question to pose is: does targeting susceptible minorities (Muslims in Europe) have any repercussions on the societies where they take place? Should non-Muslims residing in Western cities care if a holy book they disbelieve in is used in an odious publicity stunt? The reply is a resounding “yes they should”. Since the proliferation of anti-Muslim bigotry renders democracies less free, tolerant and safe — not just for Muslims, but for all and sundry.
Global Islamophobia Indices, from Pew Research and a 2020 study by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) among many others, benchmarking Islamophobia prejudice, forecasting anti-Muslim acts, and other variables illustrate that anti-Muslim clichés are predictably aligned with state policies persecuting Muslims. For example, mosque surveillance and Trump’s “Muslim ban” which banned travel to America from multiple Muslim-majority nations. However, Islamophobic zealots are not just trigger-happy to purge Muslims rights. Empirical evidence since 9/11 onwards indicates that anti-Muslim extremists are glad to renege on their own rights and tilt toward totalitarianism. Citizens who believe that Muslims are partly to blame for violence conducted by other Muslims (collective punishment and condemnation) or that Muslims are less cultured than others are likely to favour an erosion of media freedom and an interruption of fundamental freedoms during a terrorist attack. In summary, the promulgation of Islamophobia weakens the roots of civil liberties, and a free and fair society — namely a nonconforming, questioning and critical citizenry.
Moreover, Islamophobia precipitates other forms of hatred. Violent extremist researchers and pollsters such as Gallup and the International Alliance for Peace and Development (IAPDA) and the OHCHR, have, for years, discovered that Anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism are amongst the main forecasters of Islamophobia.
Indeed, miscreants “claiming” to act in the name of Islam exploitatively manipulate Western anti-Muslim political ideas to head-hunt citizens to their extremist ideologies.
Empirical studies reveal that anti-Muslim tropes such as their being more prone to violence is a fallacy. People tolerant of Islamophobia are also likely to condone violent attacks and the killing of civilians by armies. The alarming upsurge in white supremacist violence in Europe and in America as the major terrorist menace to American lives during the Trump epoch comes as no surprise.
The aforementioned does not imply that cheap publicity stunts and hate speech such as those we saw in Europe last week should be rendered illegal or censured. That would, in certain eyes, legitimise their violence. As a believing Muslim, as an observer of sociology, as an analyst of extremism and theology, I know that the messenger of God (Peace be upon him) encountered much worse in his own life and that the divine scripture and revelation of God does not need our frail and delicate protection; it was, in fact, divinely revealed as a protection for us.
Furthermore, we should not fan the flames of immaterial provocateurs as bastions of “free speech” by muting them. The most lethal penalty we can offer them is to assign them the attention they deserve: none. Hate speech seeking to ignite sparks of Islamophobia must be interpreted by wider civil society for what it actually is, not a vindication of democracy, but an assault against it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2023.
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