By Maha Akeel
Last week, the world’s largest Muslim
organisation - the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) - the second
biggest intergovernmental body after the United Nations made up of 57
Muslim-majority countries - released its annual Islamophobia report at a conference
Our new report confirms that Islamophobia
is a rising trend across the West, and concludes that Islamophobia must be seen
not simply as a scourge against Muslims, but rather as a scourge against the
heart of all civilised societies. At the reviewed time period of the report,
the negative trend of anti-Muslim hate was assessed to have been boosted mostly
by three factors, namely: the victory of Donald Trump, the immigrant issue in
Europe, and the rise of far-right populism in Europe.
Far-right extremist narratives have for
years portrayed Muslims in Europe as foot-soldiers in a stealth demographic war
against western civilization. It is no surprise then that even as
Daesh-inspired terrorist attacks on Europe have escalated, so too has the trend
in anti-Muslim hate crimes, where the whole Muslim community is punished for
the horrendous acts of a few.
In Britain, the attack on the Finsbury Park
mosque and the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox were both motivated by an ideology
that rejects the viability, or even desirability of Muslims and non-Muslims
coexisting peacefully in the same societies.
But it is not widely recognised that such
episodes are part of an escalating spectrum of sporadic attacks on Muslims
across the US, Britain and Western Europe.
In the US, we have had the Chapel Hill
murders of three Muslim students; the Portland stabbings of two bystanders who
defended a Muslim woman being harassed; the assault and murder of a Muslim
teenager on her way home from a mosque near Washington.
In Canada, six Muslims were killed in a
mosque shooting in Quebec by a man known for his far-right views, including
support for Marine Le Pen in France and for Donald Trump.
Across the West, we have seen a dramatic
rise in violent arson attacks on mosques; physical assaults on Muslims,
especially women wearing headscarves; harassment, threats and hate speech; and
even discrimination in employment and education.
Our report found, disturbingly, that there
is a connection between these rising trends on different sides of the Atlantic.
On the one hand, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign repeatedly used rhetoric
that seemed openly hostile to Islam. This was reinforced by his Muslim ban.
The latest Pew Research Centre survey of
Muslims released a few days ago confirms that the early days of Donald Trump’s
presidency have been an anxious time for many Muslim Americans. Overall,
Muslims in the United States perceive a lot of discrimination against their
religious group are leery of Trump and think their fellow Americans do not see
Islam as part of mainstream US society.
Since then, to his credit, President Trump
has dialled back on such rhetoric. But there has been little condemnation from
his administration of the increasingly toxic environment of anti-Muslim hostility
resulting in hate crimes, murders, shootings and arson attacks.
Unmistakably, our report finds that the
rightward shift of the US government has emboldened far-right political parties
and movements in Europe. Many of the leaders of these groups, such as Le Pen or
Geert Wilders in the Netherlands - who have openly demonised Muslims wholesale
- were the first to welcome Trump’s victory.
But it is not just far-right parties that
are voicing these sentiments. Mainstream political leaders and figures have mingled
fear of immigration with the idea that “Islam” in general is a problem because
it supposedly does not align with western values, forgetting that Islam has
existed there for centuries and that their own laws protect freedom of
religion. In Europe, this view has led to more restrictive legislation on
In France, 30 towns banned the so-called
‘Burkini’ swim suit, despite it being barely any different in appearance to a
wet-suit. The ban was later declared a serious breach of basic freedoms by France’s
higher administrative court, but revealed how widespread anti-Islam sentiment
was becoming across the country.
Since then, the European Court of Justice
has ruled that employers should be allowed to ban their staff from wearing
headscarves if they see fit. Muslim women who choose to wear a headscarf are
thus not only finding that they are less likely to be employed, they are also
more likely to be attacked in the street.
These trends show that in many ways,
Daesh’s campaign of terror in the West is working. Daesh’s goals are to use
violence to create a weak, divided and fearful West, where Muslims and
non-Muslims cannot live and work together in peace and mutual respect.
We must remember that the Islamic world is
as much a victim of Daesh and al-Qaeda as the West. According to the Counter
Terrorism Centre of the US Military Academy at West Point, al-Qaeda kills over
seven times more Muslims than non-Muslims. Similarly, the UN reports that
Muslims are the largest victims of Daesh attacks, most of which are being
carried out in different Muslim countries. Those refugees trying to reach the
shores of Europe are escaping the horrors of Daesh and deserve to live in
Terrorism and Islamophobia are two sides of
the same coin of hate; they feed off each other. The distorted views of the
‘other’ held by both terrorists and Islamophobes, along with their extremist
ideologies and convictions, are linked in a vicious cycle that is affecting
world peace and security.
The OIC’s annual Islamophobia report did,
however, note many positive developments in the West at the policy and court
levels, as well as community and interfaith levels, which countered the
negative trends. We need to do more of that, more dialogue aimed at fostering
mutual understanding and respect, as well as better measures to stop
discrimination and encourage social integration.
The first source of Islamophobia is the Shiia-Sunni
and the sectarian divides, Muslims’ phobia for Muslims – and everybody else for
that matter -- in the guise of political and religious strategies for
domination. Removing this Belly Button fluff must be the first priority of the so
called 57 Muslim majority countries.