There is no doubt that there was a significant impact of the events of 9/11 as well as the perception of Islam and Muslims across the world (mostly the West), and neither is there doubt about the way in which 9/11 have fed the growing Islamophobia and anti-Muslim attitude and hatred. There is also no denying of the routine derision of Islam and its followers, as well as a plastered consequential trait from 9/11 to other terrorist acts to date, whether committed by Muslims or not.
Of course, Islamophobia existed as much on 10th September 2001 as it did on 12th September 2001. The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) noted in its report on Islamophobia across 15 EU states following the attacks in U.S; “much of what occurred post- 9/11 drew heavily upon pre-existent manifestations of widespread Islamophobic and xenophobic attitudes”. 9/11 simply “gave a pre-existent prejudice a much greater credibility and validity”. Perceiving Islamophobia as a mere post-9/11 phenomenon makes it easy for its detractors to make simplistic assumptions: stop the terrorism and the Islamophobia will stop also. Reiterating how Islamophobia preceded 9/11 – how it was already being recognised as a phenomenon that was extremely dangerous – will help to negate this lazy argument.
Nevertheless following the events of 9/11 and 7/7 a large number of ‘security’ measures were taken, ’counter-terrorist’ strategies if you will, such as random checks, personal investigations, full body scans and so forth. This school of thought is the Apology of Suspicion. It relies on the opinion that there is a link between terrorist acts and Muslims as a suspect group, immediately framing the Islamic faith as a whole. Because clearly, ‘random’ checks stop becoming random when all randomly selected individuals are brown, and either have beards and headscarves or even named Mohammed with a Casio watch; you immediately purchase a ticket to Guantanamo. Such measures which aren’t designed to detect potential terrorists. Rather they are designed to find potential Muslims. It assumes a regular and stable pattern in the act of terrorism, which is false. Over the last 10 years, terrorism by ‘Muslims’ (anybody who commits such acts as the like of 9/11 aren’t even considered Muslims by the wider Muslim society itself) accounted for only 1% of all terrorist actions and every attack involved individuals of highly different socio- economic backgrounds. So are we reinforcing security or just our perception of it? Institutionalised suspicion of Muslim citizens is one of the most critical aspects of a systemic form of Islamophobia. The consequence of this is that all citizens give up part of their freedom in exchange for a higher feeling of visible security – which the government absolutely loves, giving you the illusion of a protective armour when it is simply mental and physical enslavement.
But what is Islamophobia? To put it simply, one would argue it as a racist phenomenon directed at Muslims by non-Muslims, fairly acknowledged in the European, specifically in the British political sphere. A 2007 article in Journal of Sociology defines Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism and a continuation of anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism. It is widely believed that today’s ‘contemporary Islamophobia’ – as a concept and neologism – has its origins in Britain. Whilst the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the term was first used in print in the American periodical, Insight, in 1991, it would now seem that the first usage was in France by Etienne Dinet and Slima Ben Ibrahim, when in 1925 they wrote, “accès de délire islamophobe”. There are varying arguments, but the term Islamophobia most likely evolved out of the grassroots situation being faced by Muslims in the London Borough of Brent in the early 1980s, where a distinct anti- Muslim prejudice was first being identified as well as other ethnicities, specifically of Black people with first generation immigrants of British Empire’s former colonies.
In the West, we can identify two forms of racism which have survived as products of the colonial era. One is based viewing human races at different levels with specific physical and mental characteristics; an ideal way to legitimise the colonial project as a whole, by depicting the local colonised population as not being human. Taking away the humanity of a particular people allowed justification of the conquest, along with barbaric treatment of indigenous populations. The second is one founded on myths, one of such which presents the targeted people in need of help and reformation: “We are going to help you because you can’t help yourselves” ideology; most recently act being the Kony2012 campaign , “helping African countries develop” and to “free the Iraqi people” from their myths and superstitions; and to “free Muslim women in Afghanistan” and the usual malarkey.
It may not seem quite apparent, but Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have much in common, though they arose from nearly opposite historical circumstances. Both are expressions of racism. Both refer to irrational fears directed toward a specific human group. Both are deeply embedded into the very fabric of Western culture and society. And ironically, Muslims and Jews tend to be guilty of these prejudices against the other. Both are forms of bigotry seeking to dehumanise a large group of people, stripping them from their dignity. The only variation now is that Muslims have now become scapegoats of the 21st century. There has been and are foreign occupations in the Middle East, which happen to be Muslim countries in particular, with anti-Islamic sentiments being carried out, such as the burning of Qur’an in Afghanistan by American forces, urinating on dead bodies, raping its girls and the usual sadism that has become far too common. And here is another parallel with anti-Semitism. Although Islamophobia is a recently coined term,it refers to a long history of fear and hatred of Muslims in the West that, like anti-Semitism, has had a long time to become implanted into the collective Western psyche.
And Islamophobic speech and actions are spreading increasingly ever more so widely in Europe today. In Britain, the English Defence League (EDL) is becoming bolder and more aggressive; with groups like Mosquebusters; bigots who have vowed to help British Islamophobes oppose any plans Muslims might have to erect mosques in the area they inhabit through planning permission prevention. In the Netherlands Geert Wilder’s party won 24 seats and has signed an alliance with the liberals, thus granting him legitimacy to seek actual power in the forthcoming elections. Right wing extremists maintain 20 seats in Sweden and 46 in Hungary (which represents 16.7%). In Germany, head of Conservative in Parliament said “Islam is not part of our tradition and identity in Germany and so does not belong in Germany,” but -“Muslims do belong in Germany. As state citizens, of course, they enjoy their full rights.” In Denmark, the nationalists have been participating in the government since 2007, and in Italy, Roberto Moroni, from the Liga del Norte, is Berlusconi’s Interior Minister. In America, there is a history of covert FBI operations infiltrating Mosques and Muslim communities in attempt to ‘entrap’ Muslims with ex-convict informants in disguise, pushing to hear statements of ‘jihad’ and so forth. I need not discuss the fear aroused in the Western discourse when such words like ‘jihad’ (struggle) and Allahu Akbar (God is great) of the sort is mentioned. In fact, some Muslims are sought out by the FBI, to be informants such as Tarek Mehanna who was imprisoned for 17 years and a half, in solitary confinement refusing to cooperate with them, and charging him with aiding ‘Al-Qaida’ and what have you. In France, the Hijab was banned in March 2004, in 2010 the Parliament banned the Niqab everywhere, minaret’s and praying on the street (due to full mosques) is also banned. The Paris-based National Committee for Human Rights (CNCDH) found a proportion of 18% French who say they have no problem with immigrants but have strong negative feelings about the practice of Islam.
Islamophobia in France involves Right wing individuals depicting Islam as an inferior culture/religion and try to minimise the impact of colonisation. As for Liberals and even the Left, tend to depict Islam and religion as a backward ideology and call for the need to ‘liberate’ Muslim women when Islam includes feminist ideology, and liberation for arab countries from its Islamic oppression(?), when its just the usual dictatorship which exists equally in the West through the illusion of democracy. Such claims and perceptions often translate into a series of Islamophobic actions on the ground. In France, every 3 days a Muslim is attacked on the streets; every 3 weeks a Mosque is profaned or damaged; and some 41% of Islamophobic acts are done by civil servants: police, schools, universities, and so forth.
Some Islamophobic acts however, are also done by pro-Zionist, anti-Muslim, European individuals. Breivik is the most recent and most significant example we have today. He defines and essentially is the product of institutional racism. He said his attacks were necessary for a ‘civil war against Islam in Europe’. He trained using war stimulation games, ones which are developed with data collected from US occupation of Iraq/Afghanistan. I wonder if Tarek Mehanna used such games in aid for Al-Qaida? I wonder if Shaker Aamer planned to decapitate an MP using the bayonet of his rifle and then video it on his iPhone as Breivik wanted to? And I’m sure, that alleged terrorists, all of whom are in Guantanomo Bay Prison or in a high security US prison, when brought to trial, didn’t get the treatment Breivik is getting. Testifying for 5 days and the monopolised media dismissing it as such an individual’s ideology. And I’m also sure that their personal life histories, psychology and hobbies (video games in Breivik’s case) were not probed and analysed. As for the British and American soldiers, massacring Afghan civilians whose names we are not told, are escorted away not to be put on trial and just explain it as an act of ‘madness’ stemming from ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ of some kind.
I wonder if 15-year-old Omar Khadr went into a US military base and took out 69 victims with a rifle? Though truth be told, if he had, we shouldn’t be calling him a terrorist, but a rebel. When Muslims attack US troops that have invaded and occupied their country, it is not an act of terrorism. The deep embodiment of Islamophobia has successfully allowed us to think as so, when it is simply armed resistance – it is just warfare. But as Tarek Mehanna pointed out in his sentencing statement, the term “terrorism” is subjective in American and British discourse, because the term is only valid when the enemy acts against them. And immediately, we wind up back to square one, the dehumanisation and demonisation of Islam and its followers in order to declare ‘wars’ upon their land for imperial interest and global hegemony. It’s a cycle. One that is so embedded that nobody refers to Breivik as a Christian or Norwegian terrorist. No. He had to be declared as insane at first, because only an insane white man, or brown Muslims can commit acts of terrorism. Breivik has demonstrated to us what we already knew about Islamophobia; from individual opinion to the institutional embedding of it.
It is a sad time when we must coin a term to describe a wide scale phenomena based on absolute ignorance and bigotry. It is especially a sad time when Western governments create and strive on such ignorance and bigotry. Islamophobia is no more different from institutional racism practiced in America today, whether its Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis, Stephen Lawrence, Shaker Aamer, Luis Ramirez, Shaima Alawadi and countless other victims lost because our ignorance, and the system’s institutionalised dehumanisation of human beings. Institutional racism is alive – and on our shoulders.