ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/22 August) – Islamophobia is similar to Anti-Semitism in the sense that it is bigotry and prejudice coupled with malice and hate whether conscious or subconscious focused on one particular race or distinction, as in the case of Anti-Semitism anger and hate directed towards Jews while Islamophobia is directed towards Muslims and Islam.
Media, a potent tool of globalization and western media in particular, has been partisan and particularly hyped in a sense sparking and inflaming Islamophobia, being the so-called “enemy of the day” (blame it on sensationalism as a mechanism of popularity).
This prejudice can be illustrated by two terms that we will constantly use throughout:
People Like Us are those people influenced by media by a concept of uniformity and conforming to the globalized scheme of things.
People like Them are those that do not conform and possess the same cultural values norms or traits that media project of a globalized culture, the demonized enemy or “the other”.
This divide sparks the issue of prejudice and bias towards people looked upon as “the other.”
This divide also can refer to institutions that may subscribe or conform to the global scheme on one end as opposed to institutions that are “different.” In a way this is a “culture control” that subconsciously discriminates and segregates those that subscribe to a different worldview, in the end perpetuating bias and eventually phobia.
Conflicts or crises require a confrontation of sides and the elucidation and definition of the PLT’s (people like them), illustrated as an implacable enemy, lacking civilization and being the subject of demonization.
By playing on the marked differences between PLT’s and PLU’s (people like us) like culture, landscape, physical features and most crucially religion. The more pronounced the differences and the more marked it is, it is easier to get support and drumbeat for hostile action against them as a perceived threat.
Combating and addressing Islamophobia should be done on several levels, Muslim organizations, civil societies and governments as well.
Governments should continuously enable legislation that would aim to eliminate bias and ensure protection of Muslims’ religious rights, policies that would ensure that government monitors and security bodies would be more capable in handling Muslim issues and mitigate if not eliminate discrimination. Active appointment of Muslims to government posts and positions that require the participation of Muslims as well as to areas where Muslims form a significant portion like hospitals, prisons and community schools. Interfaith/intercultural initiatives both at community, academic and corporate landscapes.
Pressure points of Discrimination and Islamophobia
- Hate crimes
- Prisons and Hospitals
- Bureaucratic Inaction on Grievances aired by Muslims
- Policies and legislation that allow less protection or disenfranchisement of Muslims or incite hate and bigotry against them.
Globally, the Muslims have become in the language, the “Global Black.” Despite the different governments’ repeated avowals that ordinary Muslims are not implicated in the anti-terrorist crusades, at times the condemnation that Muslims regularly give becomes a sort of an inverse apology for acts of terrorism befalling the world. And Muslims are expected to feel guilty forever. An irony as Muslims also lost lives in the global terror crusade through innocent blood and collateral damages.
The entrenchment of Islamophobia is felt in schools, institutions and most significantly in Media, and it must be immediately confronted and addressed.
Proposed Integration points for eliminating Islamophobia and discrimination of Muslims in non-Muslim countries (integration wish list) for policymakers:
- Muslims are able to fully participate in the political , cultural, social and economic life in the country.
- Their voices are heard and held in the same respect as the voices of other communities and groups.
- Their contributions, individually and collectively will be acknowledged and accepted as part of the country’s heritage.
- Islamophobic behavior will no longer be tolerated in public and publicly condemned.
- Legal sanctions on religious discrimination and dealt with severely
- The state system acknowledges an inclusivity allowing the entry of religious care and addressing the educational, medical, cultural and other concerns of Muslims. One good indicator would be the academic achievement of Muslim students would stand equal to the academic standings of students from other groups.
- Institutions are compliant to legal provisions that demonstrate regard for cultural diversity.
Historical Context of institutional Islamophobia
Hostility towards Islam and Muslims is not a recent trend. It has been present in European societies since the 8th century, only changing its manifestations and the geographical reach affected by Colonization, Imperialism and recently, Globalization. Each phase is different from the other with its own features and similarities.
Today’s Context is Global geopolitics, 9-11 and the Arab Winter.
Contextual factors affecting Islamophobia
- Media demonization of PLT’s
- Secular agnostic outlook of Media, although it also attacks the Christian churches, but since the Christian Churches are systematically well organized and have a unified system of governance, they are able to effectively respond and defend themselves. Muslims are unable to do this due to the diversity and plurality of groups and organizational structures and lines.
- Government’s foreign policies that are dependent and influenced by external factors which put Muslims at risk.
The result of these contextual factors is that the cumulative effect on Muslims (is that they) are not wanted in these countries and are considered to be a risk and thought of as the fifth column.
Extremism and the implications towards propagation of Islamophobia
The recent events of the Arab Winter, wherein different Arab regimes collapsed under the sway of Islamist movements, hijacking the genuine people’s struggle against oppressive regimes, presents another problematic issue.
The collapse of the rather stable yet repressive regimes of Tunisia and Libya are clear cut examples, where civil war has now occupied these countries (no thanks to western intervention) due to the noticeable lack of governance structures demolished by these Islamist groups who effectively destroyed governance in these two countries.
What makes things worst in these two countries is that extremist groups have attempted to supplant the homegrown practice of Islam by demolishing the symbols and identity of the Islamic heritage in these sites like the graves and monuments of great Islamic personalities who have contributed to the Islamic world. And although Western media has no longer given attention to these two countries, they are still experiencing civil unrest and bloodshed perpetuated by these groups.
The current humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq has been perpetuated by these Islamist groups who in the guise of helping legitimate struggles have in fact supplanted it by establishing a neo-caliphate which for all points and purposes have began one of the most bloody campaigns to rid of non-adherents to their brand of Political and ideological understanding of Islam.
Due to the success of this movement (although they are now gradually encountering strong resistance from local Arab and Kurdish groups), other groups based in other countries known for their notoriety in conducting terrorist and revolutionary activities such as the Jamaah Islamiyah (Indonesia), the Abu Sayyaf Group (Philippines), Philippine Converts (both who are incarcerated and not) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (Cotabato, Philippines) have among many other groups sworn allegiance to the Islamic Caliphate (formerly known as ISIS/ISIL).
The result of which considerably show that increasing threats to national security would increase the level of Islamophobia among government agencies and noticeably in Media.
Given these issues present the major question would be: How do we address Islamophobia without necessarily sacrificing national security concerns?
The ongoing concerns of both the issue on Islamophobia as well as addressing National Security would require a clear balance from both sectors in the government, academe, ulama and civil society groups in balancing needs of the community and needs of the state to protect the people.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Prof. Yusuf Morales has recently been appointed as Muslim Concerns Coordinator of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University. He is also a member of the Board of Advisers of the Ateneo de Davao University’s Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities.)