Complaints of prejudice against Islam and Muslims in western societies are often brushed aside as oversensitivity on the part of Muslims. But spiralling hate crimes in the West show it is not just a case of oversensitivity, it is part of a campaign creating a morbid fear of Islam and the systematic distortion of the image of Muslims — a phenomenon called ‘Islamophobia’.
A recent decision of the French government to ban burqas is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is more deep-rooted, indicative of growing antipathy towards Muslims in the West. Islamic practices and rituals are increasingly becoming targets of criticism and Muslims are pilloried for the wrongs of a handful of obscurantist elements. A recent report says, “Violence and intimidation of Muslims and their places of worship has been at unacceptable levels in the West since 9/11.” The report — part of a 10-year Europe-wide research project sponsored by the al Jazeera Centre for Studies — documents 42 cases in which pig heads, bacon and pork have been used to incite anti-Muslim hatred at mosques and other Islamic institutions. The report says Muslim women wearing burqa and niqab are targets of verbal abuse and intimidation.
This Eidul Azha, an ugly incident in the Greek capital marked the latest streak of anti-Islam sentiments. Members from ultra-right Greek group, Chryssi Avghi, played loud music, threw eggs and jeered at the immigrants who gathered to offer Eid prayers in the city's Attiki Square. Alarmingly, the news media, particularly print, has also been instrumental in the making of this mindset which is contrary to the western concept of a multicultural, pluralistic and democratic society. This was pointed out by Professor Gordon Conway of the University of Sussex in Britain who said that in the tabloids, the attack against Islam is usually harsh and savage while in the “respected” papers it is more subtle. This attitude is alienating young Muslims in western societies and accentuating the appeal of self-styled jihadists.
Take Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young Nigerian who attempted to blow up a transatlantic flight last Christmas. Take Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb at New York City’s Times Square in May this year. And take Ramy Zamzam, Umer Farooq, Waqar Hussain, Ahmed Minni and Aman Hassan Yemer — all naturalised American citizens arrested in Pakistan in December 2009 for plotting terror attacks with the Taliban.
This growing bias against Muslims is creating unease in the Muslim world. In June, this year, Muslim states said ‘Islamophobia’ is sweeping the West and its media and demanded that the UN takes tougher action against it. I think western intelligentsia, especially the media, should come forward to stop this demonisation of Muslims, or else the widening gulf between ‘us’ and ‘them’ will become unbridgeable and the myth of Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ may become a reality.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2010.
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