Islamophobia like 1930s anti-Semitism: Islamic forum head

Published: November 5, 2010
Men watch as Muslim men kneel in prayer during a Mosque Open House at the Muslim Center of Long Island in Bay Shore. PHOTO: REUTERS

Men watch as Muslim men kneel in prayer during a Mosque Open House at the Muslim Center of Long Island in Bay Shore. PHOTO: REUTERS

JEDDAH: Growing Islamophobia echoes the rise of anti-Semitism in the 1930s with US leaders resisting it but Europeans abetting the trend for political gain, the head of the world’s largest Islamic group said.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said xenophobia directed at Muslim immigrants was taking hold, especially in Europe.

Vote-seeking politicians were advancing extremist groups behind the anti-Muslim sentiment.

“This issue has become a political agenda item,” the Turkish head of the 58-member OIC told AFP in an interview, while stressing that Islam was also a European religion.

“What worries me is that political authorities or political parties, instead of stopping this, or fighting this, some of them are using this for their political ends, to gain more popular support in elections,” he said.

“I’m afraid that we are going through a process like the beginning of the ’30s of the last century, when an anti-Semitic agenda became politically a big issue (together with) the rise of fascism and Naziism…. I think now we are in the first stages of such a thing.”

A “pandemic of Islam vilification” is rising steadily, he warned, as documented by the OIC’s newly-established office to monitor Islamophobia around the globe.

Ihsanoglu pointed to the protests in the United States against the “Ground Zero” Islamic centre in New York City, to the anti-burqa movement in Europe, to physical attacks on Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic.

The problem which most concerned him was the institutionalisation of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe, citing Switzerland’s ban on minarets atop mosques and the movement to ban Muslim women’s “burqa” full-face covers.

“This burqa business is really a sad story, it’s only a few people who are doing this (wearing the burqa)… It’s just part of old habits of certain tribes in certain countries, it’s not at all to do with Islam.”

Yet countries like France, Spain and Holland were reacting with legislation.

The OIC chief from secular Turkey predicted that time would take care of problem issues such as the burqa, as Muslims from less-developed cultures reach “a modern way of life.”

But focusing on assimilation was the wrong approach.

“Why assimilation? If Europe and the West are advocating the rights of minorities all over the world, why then when it comes to Europe do we speak about assimilation? Again, that shows the double standard.”

“Europe has to understand the reality of Islam today, and the reality that Islam is not an alien religion of Europe. Islam is a European religion, and Europe has to come to terms with Islam.”

Mustachioed, with the erudite bearing of a scholarly British diplomat, Ihsanoglu is an expert in Islamic cultural history and the history of science, with a long career as a professor and department head at Istanbul University.

Born in Cairo in 1943, he has led the Jeddah-based OIC since 2005 through a period when the Islamic world has been mired in cultural wars with itself and with the West.

Ihsanoglu spoke to AFP before the massacre of more than 50 Christians by al Qaeda members in a Baghdad church on October 31. In an official statement, he has vehemently condemned the killings as a “criminal and terrorist act.”

While such violent attacks feed anti-Islamic hate, he argued Islamophobia arised separately from them. “I think we have to keep extremism out of this discussion, which is a different topic.”

The real issue, he insisted, was how anti-Muslim sentiment was included in high-level policy debate in some European countries.

In the United States, he said, Islamophobia was not as virulent. One reason was that Muslim immigrants to the US were better-educated and fitted in more easily.

A key difference was how Washington had consistently resisted admitting anti-Islamic emotions into public policy.

“For instance, this marginal pastor who wanted to burn Korans. The (US) government took responsibility and talked to him and convinced him not to do that.”

While he advocates cultural compromise, Ihsanoglu draws the line at certain things, like the Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammed that sparked outrage among Muslims worldwide after they first appeared in 2005.

“Asking us to accept the cartoons is asking to accept insults as a norm. How can people ask us to accept the cartoons? This is indecent,” he said, adding a warning that radicals on both sides should not be allowed to set the agenda.

“We are getting held hostage by the marginal groups on the European side and on the Muslim side,” he said.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • anon
    Nov 5, 2010 - 4:38PM

    Why don’t you fight for rights of people of other faiths in the muslim countries? Why do you kill people that leave islam? You need to start in your own back yard before worrying about your neighbors.Recommend

  • Nov 5, 2010 - 6:58PM

    Firstly, ‘Anon’ we at the Association of British Muslims are fighting for everyones right to believe or not believe whatever they wish.

    Secondly, Islamophobia is a real and very dangerous issue – aided and abetted by extremists both from Al Qaeda and Tea Party types/ Southern Baptists in the US and European nations.

    Thirdly, It is increasing like Anti-Semitism – but Muslims are some quarter of this worlds population not less than 1% like the Jews were in 1930s – if left unchecked we will be heading towards more violence and hate and believe me the next war will be the last one on this planet if the extremists have their way – we the majority from all sides need to tackle this hate now Recommend

  • European
    Nov 5, 2010 - 8:34PM

    “Asking us to accept the cartoons is asking to accept insults as a norm. How can people ask us to accept the cartoons?”

    Then stay away from free countries. In US and EU freedom of speech is paramount, no one is sacred: not Jesus, not the President, and especially not the Pope. If you don’t agree to that, then you are not compilable with the European ideals. All religions and all ideologies are discussed, scrutinized, made off, that’s the European way.

    No one forces anyone to come to Europe. If I go to Saudi Arabia, I have to accept their 7th century way of living or leave. Why isn’t the OIC asking the Arabs for churches since you want understanding and equality? Recommend

  • Ashutosh
    Nov 5, 2010 - 11:19PM

    Agreed with European 100%.

    I never want to visit any of these IOC countries even as a tourist because they not only backward culturally but also some of their laws and punishments are barbaric. All in the name of Islam. And fatwa may be issued against visiting against countries banning burka.

    Similarly, IOC countries should offer all those burka clad women in the affected countries, to migrate to their nation so that they can enjoy uninterrupted burka not only in the day but is night as well.

    Any law, including a ban of burka, it an internal affair of a country and IOC should keep out of it. Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Nov 5, 2010 - 11:54PM

    Muslims everywhere have trouble adjusting for one simple reason – the belief that Islam is the only true belief system, and everyone who is not, is not worth the time. Once every Muslims will acknowledge the fact that all belief systems lead to the same divinity, they will be more welcome.

    In addition, Muslims are very hypocritical people – wanting one set of accommodations for themselves, but at the same time, not wanting to accord the same accommodations to others.

    Also it helps a lot if Muslims would follow the culture of the host nation, and not entertain the idea of changing the local culture to suit Islam. After all, why leave your Islamic paradise if you are so sensitive about protecting your Islamic culture ?

    The rising Islamophobia is of your own doing. No sympathies there.Recommend

  • Nov 6, 2010 - 2:30AM

    Well then I guess we will let the extremists win from AQ/Taliban and their assorted apologists on one side and the Tea Party/Nazis and assorted extremists such as the Southern Baptists on the otherside.

    Billions will die…. I guess we rather just let things be!Recommend

  • Mike Sullivan
    Nov 6, 2010 - 5:01AM

    @ European: Freedom of speech, eh?
    For your information a large proportion of the Arab world is Christian. They have had Churches since the days of Jesus Christ. The faithful have lived and worshipped peacefully in these countries for centuries.

    @ Ashtoush: Banning burka in a country is an “internal affair” you say. Isn’t wearing a burka a personal affair? Shouldn’t the countries you do want to visit, even as a tourist, because they are not backward culturally (and by the way, must feel great to be on the higher cultural/moral ground to pass that verdict!) not meddle with personal choices of an individual? Wouldn’t that make their laws and subsequent punishments barbaric?

    @ Arijit Sharma: Please substitute ‘democracy’ and ‘The West’ for ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ in your statement. See how different you feel then.

    Folks please don’t hate what you do not know. Instead of believing what your media is feeding you about Islam, please read/visit/meet, try to discover things for yourself. Elements in the Muslim world that seek to destroy peace on the basis of the grudges and grievances they have with the West are no different from the Islamophobes on the other side of the divide. Generalising your discords to the Islamic world would only add fuel to the fire.Recommend

  • Arslan
    Nov 6, 2010 - 7:20AM

    Why you people are becoming so judgmental. You people call yourself the leaders of so-called freedom of speech.What precisely freedom of speech is? Why you always like to impose your so-called modernity and liberalization on Muslims? Is it freedom of speech to criticize others faith? You are free to do and say whatever you want, but no sensible human being, ideology or religion can allow you to force your values on other people. Muslims have never forced any non-muslim to wear burqa. Its the choice of the individual what he adopts. No body has given right to these so-called leaders of freedom of speech and modernity. What is the problem with you people if any individual decides to wear Burqa? Why its disturbing you? Recommend

  • anon
    Nov 6, 2010 - 3:44PM

    All this OIC group wants to do is make it a criminal act to criticize islam.

    If someone says islam is violent, the OIC wants to do violence to that person. Like make them lose their job, for example… Juan, right guys?

    Welcome to Orwellian double think. Double plus ungood.Recommend

  • Nov 6, 2010 - 8:03PM

    yes may be.. OIC group wants to make it a criminal act to criticize Islam…. and perhaps they should have pushed for it long ago….
    Its long been a criminal act to critisize jewish state or its people…
    Any criticism… is instantly regarded and labelled anti-Semitic….
    so why not??Recommend

  • Anoop
    Nov 6, 2010 - 10:56PM

    They are completely different things. Anti-Semitism was based on irrational hatred of jews for being who they are and doing it successfully.

    Islamophobia is due to the recent Terror attacks on Global non-Muslim targets by elements from the Muslim world.

    I am not saying one is better than the other but both are not right to be compared.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Nov 7, 2010 - 1:57AM

    @ Mike Sullivan,
    Friend, I feel that most of the member of IOC member nations do not follow secularism, human rights and rights of minorities. Probably that might be the way the citizens of these countries want to live. Therefore I keep way until I run out of options. Similarly muslims who don’t like burka ban can stay away from countries that imposes burka ban. These are simple personal preferences. I hope I am clear now.

    As for as the affected Muslims, who are citizens of a democratic countries, have democratic rights, fundamental human rights and have recourses in their own constitutions. This may be difficult to understand for a IOC member nations.

    IOC members nations themselves frame rules and regulation that is derogatory and discriminatory to minorities. How come they object to burka bans by other nations. It would be a better idea to improve their own track record first before preaching secularism, freedom of speech etc. to others. My objection and anger is towards IOC which is trying to preach what they themselves don’t follow in their own countries.Recommend

  • Ali Zaidi
    Nov 7, 2010 - 4:28AM

    Although it did really take off after the events of 2001, Islamophobia first surfaced as a phenomenon in the 80s and was in fact recognised as a term before September-11.

    What is most irrational about it is that it is often directed against people who have nothing to do with terrorism and do not subscribe to terrorist ideologies, which constitutes the overwhelming majority of the Muslim population. Which doesn’t really help isolate the terrorists.Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Nov 7, 2010 - 8:34AM

    A key difference between “anti-semitism” and “islamophobia” that makes this analogy null and void. The Jews didn’t go around threatening to blow up civilized society to smithereens. Nor did they wage global jihad.Recommend

  • anon
    Nov 7, 2010 - 7:24PM

    It’s not criminal to insult Judaism, it’s actually the national pasttime in muslim countries.

    OIC “If you say islam is mean, we will throw you in jail.” Therefore proving the truthfulness of the islam is mean statement.

    We know the agenda is to institute shariah law worldwide and make it a criminal act to speak out against it. We aren’t stupid. shariah is in direct conflict with gov’ts that want to be free. Shariah is a way to close a society and take away freedoms that people hold dear. To worship FREELY. We see the way people are treated in muslim countries, it’s horrible. We do not want it here.Recommend

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