By Munawar A. Anees
25 July, 2015
Beyond the legacy of colonialism, the often frosty relations between Islam and the West have come to be defined largely by post-Sept. 11 ideas and events. Several narratives such as "the clash of civilizations," the "war of ideas," the "war on terror," the Crusades and Islamofascism have thus been used in vogue in reference to this relationship.
In the West's cultural delirium, the military, economic and political mindsets involving the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and covert and not-so-covert intrusions into Pakistan, the most prominent target is the life, personality and character of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamophobic literature of the current decade, for which the Internet is a fertile breeding ground, has the omnipresence of former "Muslims" (e.g. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and Walid Shoebat) and others with pseudonyms (such as Ibn Warraq or Ali Sina) who have attempted to present neo-Orientalism in a theological garb -- as opposed to Orientalism as a way of depicting people of the East in a condescending manner ("the other," "the savages"). Moreover, the instantaneity with which the text, graphics and audiovisual bits are transmitted today has added new dimensions to this intensified diatribe. Portrayal of the prophetic life these days is a pointed vilification manifested in its focus on pedophilia, slavery, polygamy and "holy" war. In the past, the dominating Orientalist approach used philology, history and comparative religion to describe the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
The hate, rage, calumny and prejudices against Islam in the West do not distinguish between the Quran, the prophet and Muslims at large. Both neo-Orientalism and Islamophobia, though recognizing the archetypal status of the prophet, target one and all in their relentless assaults upon Islamic dignity and integrity. It may be argued that such an ideological blitzkrieg often culminates in the invasion and occupation of Muslim lands.
In 2011 in Gainesville, Florida, an American evangelical pastor supervised the burning of a copy of the Quran in a church after finding it "guilty" of crimes. It is not an isolated incident. There is a pattern to it. The story of the desecration of the Quran at Guantanamo Bay prison was well documented: it was reportedly flushed down the toilet to rattle Muslim detainees (The story was later retracted by Newsweek, but similar incidents have occurred). The same year, American jailers splashed a copy of the Quran with urine, kicked and stepped on it and soaked it with water. A German businessman printed the name of the Quran on toilet paper and offered the rolls for sale. Incidents such as the use of Quranic verses as a tattoo on the lower dorsal side of female body, their imprinting on leather used for women's shoes and garments printed with these verses worn by half-naked female models in fashion shows are not entirely uncommon. The Dutch MP Geert Wilders issued on the Internet a poor collage entitled Fitna, and compared the Quran with Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf." And joining the Islam-bashing bandwagon was none other than Pope Benedict XVI with an affront to the prophet and highly derogatory remarks about Islam.
These incidents are only a tiny fraction of the events and materials that continue to target Islam, its prophet and Muslims in the most denigrate and despicable manner. The language and the graphics employed to create this avalanche of bigotry is, to say the least, unthinkable by any civilized person in any time and age, save for the horrific expulsion of Jews and Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula after the Christian Reconquista.
The verbal and visual onslaught, especially experienced by Muslims who frequent the Internet, hardly ever gets reported in mass media. The magnitude of this hate can be gauged by entering a simple keyword on Google. Early this week, use of a single search term -- Islamophobia -- yielded some 2,000,000 results; over 2,000 for books on the subject and nearly 1,000,000 images out of the keywords "Islamophobia images."
I am awestruck to witness what is depicted in the name of the Holy Grail of freedom of expression. Invoking the maximum reach of modern technology to broadcast hate, no other faith has been maligned like Islam. No prophet has been subjected to such atrocities as the prophet of Islam. No other group of believers has been made to suffer such deep and lasting emotional scars inflicted by this "freedom." However, rising Muslim anti-Semitism, something that has been largely non-existent in the long peaceful history of Jewish-Muslim relations -- a la convivencia -- is a cause of serious concern because it opens up a new gate of hate.
We would be amiss to believe that these statements were made in a "politically correct" context and had transitory value. Nay, they have come to define the way the West looks at Islam, its prophet and Muslims. We do not need to dig any deeper to understand the influence of these opinions in academia as well as the public square. Not to mention reformulation of old state policies or introduction of new controls.
The Oriental romanticism, mystique and the mystery of Arabia deserta with the feuding Bedouins and the opulent harem now is replaced with a new plethora of stereotypes for the "Arabian prophet" and his worldwide followers. They now are cast in new dyes.
Over the last decade we have witnessed a slow death of multiculturalism, an end to liberal thinking, increasing curbs upon personal freedom, enhanced surveillance of individuals, a lowered threshold of tolerance, harassment, unlawful detention and ultimately a ban on Shariah. In public life, travel restrictions, discrimination, violence, profiling, ban on the Burqa, denial of permission to raise minarets or to build mosques and restrictions on Halal manufacturing are but some of the prejudices faced by Muslims.
Extrapolating the atrocities committed by the so-called Caliphate installed by a bunch of ISIS terrorists, over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide now face the daily burden of collective guilt for the reports of the alleged crucifixion of spies, child rape, slaughtering of non-Muslims, mass execution of children, burning alive of enemies, savage beheadings, looting and burning of libraries, killing caged enemies by drowning, sexual slavery, stifling human rights of minorities, training of children as executioners and suicide bombers and massive destruction of antiquities, including the tomb of Prophet Jonah, among many other sordid tales of death and destruction. None of the ISIS acts are sanctioned by Islamic doctrines. Yet, the Islamophobes are never tired of chanting the mantra: ISIS is Islam; Islam is ISIS.
It is erroneous to assume that the new brigade of Islamophobic authors is a pseudonym for neo-Orientalism. On the contrary, it is a new genre of its own, devoid of intellectual honesty, conscience or any moral underpinning. In spite of having carved a new path to profit -- for the Islamophobia industry is a money cruncher -- some of them have laid claim to neo-Orientalism.
The classical Orientalism neither had the means nor the evil imagination to portray the prophet in a manner akin to what we are observing today. The paradigmatic shift is, to a large extent, technology-mediated and no longer makes pristine intellectual pursuits a trait of this academic discipline. Truth stands sacrificed at the altar of political expediency to the extent that benign scholarship is made to appear as suspect. In the name of "revenge" for the Sept. 11 attack, an intellectual and political noose is being tightened and attempting to distort the personality and the message of Muhammad.