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Islamophobia in the West: Playing into the Hands of ISIS

by Ehsan Ahrari on April 18, 2016, No Comments

Fear of Islam and Muslims has been a visible trend since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  In Europe, this trend was given fictional respectability in the name of freedom of speech.  However, the same alleged commitment to freedom of expression was not applied to those who denied the Holocaust.  The point here is not that anyone should deny the Holocaust.  Rather, the point of emphasis here is the hypocritical application of the selective use of that practice and the related double standard.  The same hypocrisy was applied in various cartoons disrespecting the Prophet of Islam.  For those who only read how capable the Europeans can be about insulting or even hating other religions need no proof other than the frequent nefarious acts of insulting the Prophet and Islam through the drawing of these offensive cartoons.

Europe was a region where human beings were gassed by other human beings because they happened to be Jews.  In more recent times, Europe was the continent where 8,000 Bosnian Muslims became the victim of genocide by the Serbian Fascists.  Today, “civilized” Europe is manifesting a comparatively less acute loathing of Muslims, probably because, in the age of global social media, villains not only are promptly identified but just as promptly brought to justice.  Still, we continue to witness a number of right-wing parties and their leaders in Europe that recurrently remind those who listen to their babble that Islam is “alien” to the “democratic” constitutions of a number of Western countries.  The believers of this new form of racism either know nothing about the fact that democracy, as a governing arrangement, not only guarantees the rights of its citizens to practice the faith of their choice but also protects them from the tyranny of a racist and bigoted group, or they are suffering from purposeful selective amnesia.

In the context of Islamophobia, the United States was a somewhat different case. because it is a nation of immigrants.  Needless to say, it has its own long hatred of ethnic and religious minorities, and it remains a place where Black-Americans are still suffering from a palpable manifestation of racial hatred.  However, America is also a place where a powerful current flows to outlaw such nefarious trends.

Lately, hating Islam and Muslims has been made “respectable” in the United States by Donald Trump, who mastered the highly bigoted and correspondingly uninformed anti-Muslim rhetoric in the name of denigrating political correctness.  Since Trump’s candidacy also emerged in an era of the so-called “angry” white men who arguably felt that the existing system is working against them, and the fact that, in the same era, ISIS-sponsored or encouraged attacks are taking place in Europe and the United States, Trump’s anti-Muslim bluster has not been given the denunciation and scorn that it rightly warrants.

Recently, a report issued by the Freedom House states that the growing Islamophobia in Europe is threatening democracy.  The same report, referenced in an article published in Asharq al-Awsat, said that Freedom House   picture of the state of liberal values in parts of Europe, highlighting a number of worrying trends in 29 countries in Eastern and Central Europe, as well as former Soviet states in Central Asia.

Another “sobering” as well as vexing feature of this report is that it discussed a recent survey in which 38 percent of Americans said “they would refuse to vote for a ‘well-qualified’ Muslim candidate for US president.”  The Brits also manifested a similar attitude by articulating their view that Islam is a threat to western liberal democracy.  Viewing this mounting Islamophobic trend from the point of multiculturalism, the Brits are divided along the following lines: 38 percent say it would make their country a worse place, while 37 percent think it would be a better place.  The numbers on “Don’t know” and “No difference” categories were 6 and 19, respectively.

Multiculturalism has remained one of the most controversial features of the policies of countries with large Muslim populations, such as the UK, France, and Germany.  As one study noted, “Different countries…have followed distinct paths [of multiculturalism]:

  • The United Kingdom has sought to give various ethnic communities an equal stake in the political system.
  • Germany has encouraged immigrants to pursue separate lives in lieu of granting them citizenship.
  • And France has rejected multicultural policies in favor of assimilationist ones.”

These policies are generally aimed at sustaining the distinctiveness of ethnic cultures in those countries, except for France.  In reality, those policies have become a convenient excuse on the part of the leadership of those countries for not integrating the Muslim population into the mainstream culture through targeted educational programs and vocational training programs aimed at enhancing the employability of Muslims, thereby leaving them in a marginalized status.  For the chronic social and economic separation of Muslims from the mainstream population, those governments ought to share a majority of the blame.  A noted French academic, Gilles Kepel, writes,

Neither the blood spilled by Muslims from North Africa fighting in French uniforms during both world wars nor the sweat of migrant laborers, living under deplorable living conditions, who rebuilt France (and Europe) for a pittance after 1945, has made their children, as far as the French or indeed Europeans in general are concerned, full fellow citizens.  Since they are denied such recognition, the author [a radical leader of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, a group associated with the Muslim Brotherhood] demands “Oh sweet France! Are you astonished that so many of your children commune in a stinging naal bou la France [f*ck France], and damn your Fathers?

Even though enlightened European leaders refuse to acknowledge any linkage between their multicultural policies and Muslim alienation, the fact of the matter is that, as a result of the long-standing practice of multiculturalism in the aforementioned countries, a large number of Muslims suffer from low levels of education, high unemployment, and consequent alienation.  In that psychological state, they remain easy prey to the incendiary religious rhetoric of ill-educated and West-phobic imams.  The general and ill-conceived impression, on the part of mainstream populations in the aforementioned countries, is that multiculturalism has failed to integrate Muslims, and it should be abandoned.

In the United States, Muslim alienation has remained comparatively low for two important reasons.  First, a majority of Muslim immigrants to the United States have been highly educated in technical fields and do not suffer from ill education or high unemployment rates.  Thus, a great majority of them have traditionally rejected the angry and prickly sermons of the radical imams in American mosques.

Second, and most importantly, the American political culture has been legendary in accepting “hordes” of global masses from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and religions as its own.  In the post-9/11 era, highly publicized denunciation of terrorists like Osama Bin Laden by the United States through the use of highly antagonistic Islamic rhetoric, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and, recently, even more belligerent anti-US rhetoric of ISIS has created a backlash in the form of Islamophobia.  When Bin Laden declared jihad against the United States in a so-called fatwa of 1996, and the intermittent calls of ISIS to kill Americans became frequent global headlines, Islamophobia also became a frequent (if not respectable) practice of politicians, the so-called strategic thinkers, and counterterrorism “specialists” in the United States.

Consequently, Muslims citizens in the West have become a toy, if not a pawn, in the hands of Western Islamophobes and al-Qaida/ISIS.  Muslims and their religion are targets of haranguing by the Islamophobes, while ISIS gleefully tells Muslims in the West that the West hates Islam.  Through its global use of social media, ISIS invites Muslims to kill Westerners. Western Islamophobes have been successful in providing persuasive video clips to the ISIS propagandists when they denounce Muslims, question their commitment to the countries of their citizenship, particularly when they offend Islam and the Prophet of Islam.

In an essay trenchantly entitled, “ISIS Wants You to Hate Muslims,” The Nation magazine was spot on in the following observation:

The Islamophobia is racist, of course, but it also plays right into the hands of ISIS, as does the war fever. The terror group has been quite clear that its strategy is to eliminate what it calls the ‘grayzone’ where Muslims and non-Muslims live in harmony. It aims to provoke Western governments into clamping down on their own Muslim populations, the better to drive them into ISIS’s arms. In its magazine Dabiq, ISIS applauded George W. Bush’s post-9/11 language: ‘Bush spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” I.e. either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.’ Les extrêmes se touchent.

If a Republican is elected President of the United States, the post-Obama era is going to be very challenging in terms of the escalation of Islamophobia.  A Republican president may be too eager to deploy ground troops to both Iraq and Syria in order to “wipe out” ISIS.  While ISIS is not likely to be wiped out, the ensuing destruction of the Levant will become a place for further mushrooming of the transformed (and even vilest) version of ISIS.  No one knows how intense or diminished the trend of Islamophobia will be in the coming years under a Republican administration.

The election of Hillary Clinton to the White House is likely to be promising, in terms of tamping down the inflammable Islamophobic rhetoric inside the United States.  However, as a conventional liberal interventionist, Clinton is also likely to commit US troops to the Levant and even to Libya, where ISIS continues to grow its presence and its influence.  The recent history of American interventionism in the Middle East has proven that it has not lessened the tide of terrorism.  If anything, two victims of recent American invasions—Iraq and Afghanistan—have remained cesspools of terrorism, mayhem, and the resultant incendiary instability.

And ISIS in its transformed form is likely to further intensify its call: “Either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”  In its fight against ISIS and in its endeavor to eradicate Islamophobia from its borders, it is hoped that Western leaders remember the memorable words of the late Malcolm X: “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”