Islamophobia In the West: How Muslims Should Respond

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JMD Morgan

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May 10, 2009, 1:44:38 PM5/10/09
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Islamophobia In the West: How Muslims Should Respond

By Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Islamophobia is by no means a new phenomenon. Rather, it goes back to
the earliest period of Islamic history. A massive storm of anti-Muslim
hatred emerged and spread across large parts of the then Christian world
with the expansion of Muslim political rule, from the early eighth
century onwards. It was this that, in large measure, propelled the
Crusades, which played a major role in propagating and perpetuating
deeply-held negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims in the West. A
major role in this regard was played by the Church and Christian
polemicists. They spread such erroneous propaganda about Islam which
today many Christians themselves feel embarrassed about.

The legacy of this medieval Christian Islamophobic propaganda lives on
even today. Thus, according to a recent survey conducted by an American
Muslim organization, Council for American Islamic Relations, a fourth of
Americans hold extremely negative views about Islam, and half of all
Americans see Islam in a negative light. Only two per cent of Americans
have a good knowledge of Islam. It can thus be said that despite the
centuries of Muslim-Christian relations, most Westerners have no proper
idea of what Islam actually is.

From the late eighteenth century, an increasing number of Western
scholars and travellers began taking an interest in studying Islam and
Muslim societies. This soon took the form of a veritable movement or a
specialized discipline, known as Orientalism. From its inception,
Orientalism was deeply influenced by the Christian missionary agenda as
well as by Western imperialism, both of which it served. Although, in
this way, Orientalism had a very stark negative dimension, it played a
crucial role in seeking to bridge the divide between the West and the
East. Orientalists produced a massive amount of literature on �Oriental�
societies, including on Muslim societies and Islam. According to Edward
Said, in the period between 1800 and 1950 alone, Orientalist scholars
penned some 60,000 books, mainly in different European languages, on
West Asia.

Following the Second World War, Western and Muslim scholars began moving
in the direction of seeking to understand each other in a more balanced
and serious fashion. A major cause for this was the migration of a
sizeable number of Muslim scholars to the West. Another reason was the
emergence of serious initiatives to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue
and harmony. However, the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in
1979 led to the rapid upsurge of Islamophobic sentiments in the West.
And, after that, it appears that carefully-organised attempts are being
made on a menacing scale in the West to further fan these hatreds by
seeking to project, through very poisonous propaganda, the image of
Muslims as allegedly bloody monsters. The attacks of 9/11 gave a
tremendous boost to this Islamophobic discourse, the ideological
groundwork for which was done by self-styled Islamic �experts� such as
Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis.

The Present Context

The present context, following the events of 9/11, has proven to be
horrific as far as Muslims are concerned. Islamophobia has now taken the
place once occupied in the Western imagination by Anti-Semitism, and
aggressive efforts are underway in the West directed against Islam and
Muslims. Earlier, this was the handiwork mainly of certain extremist
Christian evangelical groups, but now key political and social groups
and forces in the West are also engaged in it. In fact, these groups and
forces are, in a sense, even more virulent, and their propaganda and
actions more hard-hitting, than that of fiercely anti-Muslim Christian
organizations because, particularly in Europe, the latter do not enjoy
overwhelming public support. It is clear that these forces are directly
opposed to Islam as such, acting on the advice of the likes of Samuel
Huntington, who argues that the underlying problem of relations between
the West and Muslims is not �Islamic fundamentalism�, but, rather, Islam
itself.

The anti-Islamic project and propaganda in the West can be attributed,
then, to two basic forces: �secular fundamentalists� and �religious
fundamentalists�. The former have a huge influence in Western
governments, bureaucracies, multinational corporations, the media,
universities, strategic think-tanks, charitable foundations and branches
of the United Nations. These forces can, as I have suggested earlier, be
regarded as a greater challenge and threat to Islam and Muslims than
Western Christian and Jewish religious fundamentalists, because they
have a much greater influence and say in their own societies as well as
globally. They have a decisive role in moulding the opinions of
governments and peoples. Unfortunately, Muslims focus all their
attention and ire not on these forces but on Western religious
fundamentalists instead.

Christian evangelicals and Christian Zionists in the West, Jewish
Zionists in the West and Israel and Hindutva ideologues in India have
worked to create a climate of Islamophobia throughout the world. There
are now a vast number of fiercely anti-Islamic Christian preachers who
receive the open support of American imperialists. They call themselves
�Doctors�, �Professors� and �Reverends�, and this gives them and their
stridently anti-Islamic propaganda greater legitimacy among their flock.

Causes of Contemporary Islamophobia

Islamophobia can be traced to multiple causes. One of the most salient
of these is the fact that Islam represents a particular ideology and way
of life which is fundamentally opposed, in several crucial ways, to
Western liberalism, consumerism and capitalism. Of course, and
lamentably so, the Islamic ideology and system have nowhere been in
existence in their full or proper form for centuries. Yet, the West
regards these as a threat and challenge to the dominant Western
world-view. To add to this, the West needs an enemy to seek to justify
its global hegemony and its imperialist designs, particularly in poorer
countries of the global South. After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
it has conjured up Islam as its new opponent to serve this role. This
has been facilitated by the obvious fact that today, with the decline of
Communism, the only potent challenge that Western Imperialism and
Capitalism face is from Islam.

Yet another factor fuelling the Islamophobic rage in the West is the
alternative posed to the West by the Islamic moral code and its growing
popularity and revival among Muslims in many countries. Unfortunately,
the emotionally-driven methods that were sought to be used to enforce
this code in Iran and Afghanistan by Islamic groups have further
antagonized the West. To add to this is the issue of the strong
relations between the West, particularly America, and Israel. In these
countries, especially America, Jewish Zionist forces enjoy considerable
economic and political clout, and Israel itself, which is at the
forefront of global Islamophobia, serves as a major tool for American
imperialism and for keeping the Arab world under American control

What the Muslim Response Should Be

In this context, the crucial question to ask ourselves is how
Islamophobia, being so aggressively pursued and promoted by powerful
forces in the West today, can be effectively responded to.
Unfortunately, Muslim scholars and activists have not given this
question much serious consideration, being guided mainly by feelings of
revenge and reaction, mainly at the political level. They have not
worked out any effective intellectual, instead of simply physical,
response. Many of our intellectuals live in their own secluded ivory
towers, doing nothing at all practical. To make matters worse, they are
generally divided among themselves on narrow sectarian lines and seek to
promote sectarian interests. Many of these people are actually working
with, or being used by, Western anti-Muslim forces for their own ends.

Muslim scholars from South Asia have a particularly important role to
play today in countering Islamophobia, because, unlike in several
countries in the Arab world, there is much greater intellectual freedom
in this region. South Asian Muslim scholars must devote adequate
attention to studying and understanding the psyche, worldview and
ideologies of various Islamophobic forces, their methods of working and
the consequences of their activities and propaganda.

South Asian madrasas could have taken up this task more effectively than
other Muslim institutions. Unfortunately, however, much of their
syllabus is badly outdated and they have as yet developed neither the
consciousness of the need to study the challenge of contemporary
Islamophobia in a serious, scholarly fashion, nor the necessary
intellectual tools needed for this purpose. For this to happen, madrasas
must include such subjects in their curriculum as would enable their
students to gain a proper understanding of modern social, political,
economic and cultural conditions and challenges. This is indispensable
for them to be able to provide effective and appropriate guidance to
Muslims and to others as well in response to the phenomenon of mounting
Islamophobia worldwide.

--------

A graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband, and the Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa
in Lucknow, Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based
Urdu journal Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband
Madrasa�s Graduates� Association. He can be contacted on
mazhar...@gmail.com

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