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The West, Islam And The Muslim : Islamophobia And Extremism

Abdul Rashid Moten


Islamophobia and extremism reinforce each other and the two terms are alike in their hatred of the ‘other’. Islamophobia is akin to extremism whose practitioners provoke reactions from Muslims leading to an inflationary spiral of violence. Though of centuries old, Islamophobia, as proven by surveys and other documents, has increased in intensity due to, among others, the fear of the increasing number of Muslim citizens and asylum seekers in the West. It has been propagated by the media and the political leaders to galvanise support for the war on terror and for the occupation of alien lands. The authorities should criminalise Islamophobia and extremism and adopt strategies, in collaboration with Muslim and non-Muslim organisations, to promote understanding and respect for each other’s faith. Western major powers could assist greatly by adopting a balanced approach to solving international conflicts.


Islamophobia and extremism have two things in common: the hatred of the ‘other’ and the resultant militancy and violence in both the camps. The two terms are also related in the sense that the more Islamophobia rises and manifests in extremism, the more Muslims organise against it and inversely, the more the Muslim resistance, the more Islamophobic tendencies amplify. Given the predominance of the West, the scholarly community has emphasised the need to quell Muslim extremism without focusing much on Islamophobia which is manifested through extremism that gives rise to Muslim extremism. This study aims to break the vicious cycle and restore sanity to the world that has gone awry.


Islamophobia and the Islamophobes

Islamophobia is a neologism used to refer to an irrational fear or prejudice towards Muslims and the religion of Islam as it condemns Islam and its history as extremist, and regards Islam as a problem for the world. The “Islamophobia Observatory” at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) defines Islamophobia as “an irrational or very powerful fear or dislike of Islam”. Its manifestations include prejudice, stereotyping, hostility, discriminatory treatment, denigration of the most sacred symbols of Islam and also non-recognition of Islam and Muslims by the law of the land. The Runnymede Trust report defines Islamophobia as:

“…unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.”

According to Esposito and Mogahed (2007), “Islamophobia was coined to describe a two-stranded form of racism – rooted in both the ‘different’ physical appearance of Muslims and also in an intolerance of their religious and cultural beliefs.” 

The Runnymede Trust identifies eight components of Islamophobia as follows:


1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change;

2. Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them;

3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist;

4. Muslims are seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a clash of civilisations ;

5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage;

6. Muslim criticisms of the West are rejected;

7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society;and

8. Anti Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.


The West has maligned Islam, from its inception, as a religion of terror and extremism. This attitude has become much more pronounced in the 21st century and is a cause for concern to the Muslim world. As pointed out by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan:

“Islamophobia is at once a deeply personal issue for Muslims, a matter of great importance to anyone concerned about upholding universal values, and a question with implications for international harmony and peace. We should not underestimate the resentment and sense of injustice felt by members of one of the world’s great religions, cultures and civilizations.” 

Particularly in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Islamic and Muslim values and attitudes have systematically been characterised as being incompatible with ‘Western values’. Muslims are often stereotypically portrayed in media reports as a devoutly religious and undifferentiated group sharing a fundamentalist version of Islam. A number of events like the Rushdie affair, the September 11 terror attacks, bombings in Bali and Madrid, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and the July 2005 London bombings have “exacerbated the growth of Islamophobia almost exponentially.” 


In the West, Muslims and Islam are under attack. In Britain, for instance, Muslims are characterised “as a ‘problem community’ in much of the media and through statements made by Government and police officials. These have contributed to a growing anti-Muslim climate in the U.K.” There is a mass of polling data that shows hostility to Muslims in various guises and under many headings. In his analyses of data relating to Islamophobia in the U.K., for the years 1988-2006, Clive Field has observed that, “There appears to be an increasing perception that Muslims in Britain are slow to integrate into mainstream society, feel only a qualified sense of patriotism and are prone to espouse anti-Western values that lead many to condone so-called Islamic terrorism.”  Many of the features of Islamophobia that Clive Field has identified in the U.K., can in fact be found in other European countries, as well as in the United States of America (U.S.A.).


In the U.S., several key polls have indicated that not only does Islamophobia exist but it also continues to rise on a yearly basis. According to the U.S.A. Today/Gallup poll, 39 per cent of Americans felt some prejudice against Muslims. Almost the same percentage favoured requiring Muslims, citizens and non-citizens alike, to carry a special ID as a “means of preventing terrorist attacks in the United States”. Some 22 per cent of the respondents of the U.S.A. Today/Gallup poll would not want American Muslims as their neighbours. Interestingly, Representative Virgil Goode slammed the proposed use of the Qur’an for the congressional swearing-in ceremony for Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in America elected to Congress. The New Yorker magazine published a satirical cover that shows Senator Barack Obama in a Muslim robe and turban, his wife, Michelle, as a terrorist holding a machine gun, the American flag burning and a picture of Osama bin Laden in the background. The intention obviously was to further instil fear in the minds of American people should Obama, alleged to be a Muslim, be elected President of the United States. 


It has been said that the West’s depiction of Islam and the Muslims as the ‘other’, derives from centuries-old stereotypes of Muslims as violent, oppressive and intolerant. Moreover, prejudice against Muslims has increased since the September 11, 2001 incidents. A Washington Post/ABC News Poll in 2006 found that the negative view of Islam among Americans had increased by seven percentage points, from 39 per cent to 46 per cent. The poll also showed that the proportion of Americans holding the view that Islam/violence against non-Muslims had more than doubled since the 9/11 attacks, from 14 per cent in 2002 to 33 per cent in 2006. A Pew Research Centre survey found about a third of Americans, (36 per cent), believing that Islam encourages violence among its followers. Many human rights organisations have also documented this recent increase in Islamophobic events and hate crimes against Muslims, which, Kofi Annan referred to as “increasingly widespread bigotry…a sad and troubling development.” 


This development is related to the writings of some Westerners, notably Islamophobes, who “have denigrated and demonised Muslims as ‘the others’, juxtaposing them with idealised images of ‘civilised’ Americans.” Pat Robertson, a Christian evangelist, called Islam a “bloody, brutal type of a religion” and referred to Muslims, who protested against controversial cartoons, as “motivated by demonic power.”  Charles Krauthammer, the American political columnist, wrote about “an Islamic World united under the banner of Iranian-style fundamentalism in existential struggle with the infidel West.”  Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, warned that,  “keeping Islam at bay was Europe’s preoccupation from 1359, when Gallipoli fell to the Turks, until the last occasion in which the Ottoman soldiers stood at the gates of Vienna, in 1683. Islam is once more a preoccupation in the face of the Islamic Revolution.”  Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, cautioned of “the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both.”  This, he called, “a clash of civilisations”, a notion popularised by Samuel Huntington, a Professor at Harvard University, who has set an example of an Islamophobic mindset by clearly articulating his hatred for Islam. Huntington wrote: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.” 


Likewise, the Western media’s portrayal of Islam and Muslims are Islamophobic. The Western media has consistently been using value-loaded and inaccurate language to portray Islam as a dangerous religion rooted in violence and irrationality. The media is the most accessible and indiscriminate disseminator of Islamophobic ideas at the local and global levels. Barring some “responsible” media publications, certain specific and often predictable sources have been attributing to all Muslims, the entire spectrum of negative characteristics that are fundamental to Islamophobia.


A report commissioned by the Mayor of London looked into the portrayal of Muslims and Islam by the U.K. national media in 2006. It analysed, among others, 352 articles dealing with Islam and Muslims in the British press for the duration of one week, from Monday May 8 to Sunday May 14, 2006. The daily newspapers varied in terms of coverage. The Guardian published over 50 articles, The Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph and Independent published over 40 but the Sun, Mirror, Express and Star published less than 20. Of the 352 articles, 288 (82 per cent) were news reports. The others included 27 (eight per cent) editorials or comment pieces, 26 (seven per cent) features (i.e. non-news coverage typically in supplements or the more central pages of a newspaper), and five (1.5 per cent) cartoons.


Of the 352 articles that referred to Islam and Muslims during the week in question, 91 per cent of articles were judged to be negative in their associations, four per cent positive, and five per cent were judged neutral. Almost half of the articles represented Islam as a threat. “A consequence of implying that all Muslims are a threat is that all activities distinctively undertaken by Muslims are seen as threatening, even such activities as attending a mosque for Friday prayers.” In this “normal” week, the Report explains:


… the vast majority of representations of Islam and Muslims were overly and overtly negative, cutting across tabloid and broadsheet with little apparent differentiation or clear ground between them. Crisis and threat informed, determined and overshadowed much of the reporting and subsequent understanding. In this same “normal” week, Muslims both from Britain and abroad – indeed everywhere across the “Muslim world” and also the globe – were seen to be one and the same, without difference or diversity. In this same “normal” week, Muslims were being identified and confirmed as challenging all that “we” are understood to be: challenging “our” culture, values, institutions and way of life. It is “common sense” that no common ground between Muslims and non-Muslims exists, or can exist.

In general, the media portrayed Islam as profoundly different from and a serious threat to the West on the world stage and Muslims within Britain as different from and a threat to ‘us’. The Mayor of London, Kenneth Robert Livingstone, who commissioned the study, said the findings showed a “hostile and scaremongering attitude” towards Islam. “Facts are frequently distorted, exaggerated or oversimplified… The tone of language is frequently emotive, immoderate, alarmist.” To prove that media coverage is having an influence on attitudes, the Report quotes a U.K. survey, which establishes that “74 per cent of Britons… claimed that they know ‘nothing or next to nothing about Islam’.” Of these, 64 per cent claimed that their knowledge of Islam and Muslims is gained through the media. Interestingly, Livingstone was later defeated in his second re-election bid by Conservative candidate Boris Johnson on May 1, 2008.


The U.S. news media’s portrayal of Islam and Muslims is in tune with those found in the U.K. and Europe in general. Sam Harris of Washington Times commented that, “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with ‘terrorism’. We are at war with Islam… The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us...” Dr. Suad Joseph and her team of researchers systematically analysed news reports in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal for the period of 2000-2004. Assessing the texts qualitatively (for how they represent Arab and Muslim Americans) and quantitatively (analysing the use of 1500 words that recur frequently in articles) they found, among others, that the media regularly represents Arab - and Muslim-Americans as more attached to their country of origin than to the U.S. The media imply that Arab and Muslim-Americans are more linked to Muslims in other countries than to other people in the U.S. and that Muslims around the world are seen as so devout that they are on the verge of becoming fanatical. According to Suad, distorted press coverage “narrates Arab and Muslim Americans in ways that enable racial policing of Arab and Muslim Americans as marginal, suspect citizens.” She found that “through word choices, rhetorical moves, and thematic patterns, Arab and Muslim Americans are racialised as different types of ‘others’ and as dangerous citizens.” 


Jack G. Shaheen after analysing more than 800 feature films and hundreds of television newscasts, documentaries and entertainment shows found that:

… lurid and insidious depictions of Arabs as alien, violent strangers, intent upon battling non-believers throughout the world are staple fare. Such erroneous characterisations more accurately reflect the bias of Western reporters and image makers than they do the realities of Arab and Muslim people in the modern world…. On the silver screen the Muslim Arab continues to surface as the threatening cultural ‘other’.

According to Anthony Lane, “the Arab people have always had the roughest and the most uncomprehending deal from Hollywood, but with the death of the Cold War the stereotype has been granted even more prominence.” Clearly, there exists an unending barrage of hate-filled images, equating Arabs with terrorists and Muslims with fundamentalism, bent upon destroying the West. These stereotypes are continuously repeated, leading to a surge of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and racist attitudes. 


Forces Feeding Islamophobia

Hostility towards Islam and Muslims has been a feature of Western societies for centuries. Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet from Florence, had placed Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) in the circle of hell reserved for heretics. This antithetical relationship was perpetuated by the Crusades. A plethora of popular literature has appeared in justification of the Crusades for the repossession of the Holy Land by Western Christendom from the militant, fanatic, illegitimate Muslim occupants. The Muslims were portrayed as the ‘other’ because they fanatically believe in the wrong religion. Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare depicted the Saracen, Moor and the Turk in less than positive terms.


The Ottoman advances in the 15th and 16th centuries led to a further chapter of anti-Muslim diatribe. Fred Halliday suggests “this experience above all shaped European attitudes.” The Ottomans were dreaded as the “public calamity” and were regarded as “a dull and backward sort of people.” The idea of barbaric, uncivilised, fanatic Muslims was used to justify conquering the Muslim land and colonising its people. Colonialism was a mission to civilise the “natives”. During the colonial period, Orientalists became more active and started the negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims, which until now, continues unabated. It could be hypothesised that Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisation’ thesis has its roots in Orientalist scholarship, the tradition and scholarship by which Western civilisation portrays Islam and Muslims. Edward Said’s analysis of 19th century orientalism shows clearly the myriad ways in which the West have stereotyped Islam, Muslims and the Arab world. To Said, orientalism is a “corporate institution for dealing with the Orient” beginning in the 18th Century and is “a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient.”


Contemporary manifestation of Islamophobia is also related to largescale Muslim immigration to Western countries. A report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia alludes to “the presence of some fifteen million Muslim people in western European countries.” Muslims have lived in Western countries for centuries. However, most Muslims living in Europe and America arrived during the economic boom of the 1960s as migrant workers and also as asylum seekers in the 1990s. “The majority initially settled in capital cities and large industrial areas.” Muslims have a high birth rate, as reflected in their demographic profile, which is reportedly younger than the general population. “In the U.K., for example, in 2001, one third of the Muslim population was under the age of 16 compared to one fifth of the U.K. population as a whole. The average age of the Muslim population in the U.K. is 28, which is 13 years below the national average. On 1 January 2004, some 38 per cent of Muslims in the Netherlands were not migrants, but of migrant descent.”36 It is estimated that Muslim population in Europe as a whole would double by 2015.


With the increase in their number, Muslims have demanded and established their mosques, schools, provision of halal meat and separate Muslim cemeteries. There are also several organisations engaged in introducing Islam to the members of host countries. Thus, Muslims have emerged gradually as a ‘minority’, clearly distinct from the rest of the population, giving rise to the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ phenomenon. They are no longer ‘temporary guest workers’, but a permanent feature of Western national landscapes. Yet, thirteen European states reportedly do not recognise Islam as a religion. Many of them do not even bestow minority rights embodied in their Constitutions on Muslims because they are not a recognised ethnic group. On top of that, Muslims are also resistin assimilation into secular societies and are only willing to integrate without losing their Islamic identity and practices. 


There has been a fear that Muslim immigration would result in the Islamisation of Europe, transforming Europe into “Eurabia”. It has given rise, according to Justin Vaisse, to four inaccurate premises:

“Myth number one is about demography. It is the idea that Muslims taken as a demographic bloc are gaining against the native population. The second myth is about sociology and culture. It is the idea that Muslims form “a distinct, cohesive, and bitter group” in the words of a 2005 Foreign Affairs article. Myth number three is about political attitudes. The alarmist view has it that Muslims seek to undermine the rule of law and the separation of church and state in order to create a society apart from the mainstream whether by imposing head scarves on young girls, campaigning for gender segregation in public institutions, defending domestic abuse as a cultural prerogative, or even supporting terrorism. The fourth and last myth is about domestic and foreign policy. Because they supposedly form a bloc, Muslims are supposed to influence more and more heavily the political process whether in domestic issues or, more importantly, in foreign policy issues. The idea is that France, Europe in general, but France more precisely, is kind of held hostage by its growing Muslim population and that it is tilting towards a more anti-Israeli and anti-American position.”

“The increasing Muslim presence in Europe has reopened debates on several issues: the place of religion in public life, social tolerance in Europe, secularism as the only path to modernity, and Europe’s very identity.” The Economist has warned that this “could be a huge long-term threat to Europe.” The French Commission, which recommended banning the Islamic headscarf, declared that the secular state was under “guerrilla assault” by Muslims. The Middle East editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung depicted the situation as “frightening”, since, according to him, “at least 10 per cent of Germany’s Muslim population - 400,000 individuals - are followers and supporters of radical Islam, whose aim is the establishment of an Islamic state.” Bernard Lewis reinforced such fear by declaring in the Jerusalem Post in 2007 that Europe would be Islamic by the end of this century “at the very latest”.


In short, the West sees Muslims as a direct challenge to the collective identity, traditional values and public policies of their societies and thus a major source of Islamophobia. The issue of Islam and its “challenge to the West” was fuelled by events such as the Salman Rushdie affair, the September 11, 2001 incidents, the attacks in Bali and Madrid as well as the July 2005 London bombings. The Muslim reactions to the cartoon controversy also demonstrated an apparent popularity of the perception that “Muslims are making politically exceptional, culturally unreasonable or theologically alien demands upon European states.” It is, therefore, the fear of a “crash of Western civilisation” that has ignited the discourse on the clash of civilisations.


Finally, leaders may also use Islamophobia to wage war of aggression against the Muslims. During times of international conflict, the media and political leaders demonise the enemy and idealise their own side. Religion is used as an instrument to mobilise support and maintain morale. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Historically, religious faith has too often been the language of the powerful, the excuse for oppression, the alibi for atrocity.”46 After 9/11 and during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, politicians and newspaper editors maintained that terrorists were totally opposed to all things Western. “The perpetrators acted out of hatred for the values cherished in the West such as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage.”47 President George W. Bush spoke of “a monumental struggle of Good versus Evil.” In an article entitled “Islamism is the new bolshevism”, Margaret Thatcher wrote:


“America and its allies, indeed the Western world and its values, are still under deadly threat. That threat must be eliminated, and now is the time to act vigorously… Islamic extremism today, like bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well- armed devotees… The United States should strike at centres of Islamic terror that have taken root in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.”

She concluded that:

“We have harboured those who hated us, tolerated those who threatened us and indulged those who weakened us. As a result, we remain, for example, all but defenceless against ballistic missiles that could be launched against our cities. A missile defence system will begin to change that. But change must go deeper still. The west as a whole needs to strengthen its resolve against rogue regimes and upgrade its defences. The good news is that America has a president who can offer the leadership necessary to do so.”

Thus, the U.S. Islamophobia is related to the emergence of the United States as a global power, its pursuit of control over the strategically significant Middle East, and its sinister alliance with hegemonistic Zionism. The West needed an enemy to maintain social cohesion and certain deference towards political leaders and to maintain public support for expenditure on weapons programmes dividing the world into “us” (good guys) and “them” (bad guys). Consequently, Islamophobia became widespread and respectable but at the cost of menacing world peace.


Extremism and the Extremists

Most Islamophobes are extremists. Extremism refers to any attitude, action or reaction that deviates from the norms or common moral standards. It denotes hate directed at the ‘other’, which may be expressed through vitriolic rhetoric, discrimination, and/or physical acts of violence. At the root of extremism are radical beliefs and pent-up anger and frustration that may lead to violent acts ranging from hate crimes to terrorism. Islamophobes believe that Muslims in their countries have a strong sense of Islamic identity and hence resist adopting their nation’s customs and way of life. Hence, they use ‘violence’ to intimidate Muslim minorities into silence and to enforce the will of the majority constituency. Many organisations have documented increasing hate crimes against Muslims. The ferocity and extent of hate crimes against Muslim individuals and institutions soared after September 11, 2001 incidents. Muslims suffer verbal abuse, physical assaults, property damage, and murder. According to the FBI, there was a seventeen-fold increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes between 2000 and 2001 (from 28 to 481). At least seven people were murdered because of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred.


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) documented 1,717 incidents of violence against Muslims ranging from verbal taunts to employment discrimination to airport profiling from September 11, 2001 through February 2002. In its June 2007 report on the status of Muslim civil rights in the United States, CAIR counted 2,467 incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination in 2006 compared to 1,972 cases in 2005. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported 301 cases of Muslims having been dismissed from their jobs. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), as of June 2002, had investigated 111 complaints of airline passengers being singled out at security screenings because of their ethnic or religious appearance. For the same reason, additional 31 passengers were barred altogether from boarding airplanes.


The anger and bitterness provoked by the Islamophobes did lead to extremism among the Muslim minorities. Muslims in the Western societies have vented their anger at the deliberate, specific acts of Islamophobia through peaceful protests and demonstrations. In Muslim majority countries, the demonstrations became violent leading to the destruction of properties and loss of lives.


The publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses in 1988 in London by Viking/Penguin is another case in point. The novel had angered many Muslims, as it was insulting to their sacred religion. They requested the publisher, through thousands of letters and phone calls, to withdraw the novel but to no avail. Peaceful protests against the blasphemy of the novel were held in London, followed by the symbolic burning of a copy of The Satanic Verses by Muslims protesters in Bradford and the fatwa (ruling) of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, which sentenced Rushdie to death. The book sparked violence in Muslim majority countries, the protesters clashed with the authorities, resulting in many deaths and injuries. 


The Western media turned against Muslims during the Rushdie Affair carrying articles that showed Muslims as aliens because of their inability to appreciate the value of free speech and to assimilate into British/Western society. The symbolic book burning was featured as Islam's intolerance and the fatwa as the sinister Islamic “death sentence”. Salman Rushdie was showered with the Whitbread Novel Award, the “Best of the Booker” prize and, in June 2007, was appointed a Knight Bachelor for “services to literature”. In the wake of the Rushdie Affair, Islam emerged as the enemy of everything that the West stood for. 


A similar story unfolded when twelve editorial cartoons were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 as an exercise for the rights of free speech. The cartoons were a clear manifestation of Islamophobia intended to humiliate the Danish Muslim minority by insulting their Prophet. Muslim organisations responded by holding peaceful public protests, which were retaliated by the reprinting of the cartoons in other Western countries. The ensuing Muslim protests in the Muslim world escalated into violence leading to hundreds of deaths and injuries. Muslim attempts to boycott Danish products were countered in the West by “Buy Danish” campaigns. Fitna is yet another manifestation of Islamophobia aimed at humiliating the Muslims. It is a short film produced in 2008 by a Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, showing the linkage between the Muslim’s revealed book, the Qur'an, and terrorism. Muslims worldwide condemned the film and its producer and attempts to organise boycotts against Dutch products were retaliated in similar forms by the establishments and organisations in the West. Evidently, there is a circular relationship between Western Islamophobia and Muslim extremism.


Admittedly, the blasphemous Satanic Verses, irreverent cartoons, insulting Fitna and other similar provocations have given rise to extremism and violence among the Muslims all around the world. Many of these incidents were reportedly isolated and uncoordinated and did not persist beyond a month of the Islamophobic provocations. However, they did reinforce the feeling among the Muslims that their religion and way of life is under attack from the West. To this should be added the perceived anti- Muslim foreign policies of Western governments, particularly the U.S. and Britain. The blatant Western bias in Israel’s favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and the American projection of power (whether direct or by proxy) have been perceived as aiming at weakening the Muslims. The American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and later of Iraq under the false pretext of destroying weapons of mass destruction have added to the already existing fury in many parts of the Muslim world. The despicable acts of torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib Detention Centre and other American detention facilities have further inflamed the passions of Muslims around the world. The belief that a nation has the exclusive right to wage war against another country under the ‘pre-emptive strike’ doctrine and/or to impose ‘regime change’ has paved the way for brutal occupation, radicalised insurgency, civil war and chaos. This has led Muslims to increase in-group solidarity, strengthening their self-identification as Muslims rather than by ethnic labels and condoning and eventually participating in anti-Western terrorist acts. These acts are described in the West as a pathology that is intrinsic to the faith resulting in the inflationary spiral of violence. 


Studies conducted on extremism, however, have shown that very few Muslims subscribe to terrorism. Gallup poll conducted, between 2001 and 2007, among residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations found that only 7 per cent of the respondents thought that “the 9/11 attacks were completely justified. Among those who believed that the 9/11 attacks were not justified, 40 percent were pro-United States.” It must be noted that those 7 per cent of the respondents who justified 9/11 attacks did not indulge in any terrorist acts.


Terrorism, therefore, is a global phenomenon that is not related to any religion, race or country. As Robert Pape points out, “…overwhelmingly suicide terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.” Islam does not sanction the killing of innocent civilians. Muslims do, however, claim the existence of a united Muslim world, the Ummah, and resent the West because of the West’s “sexual and cultural promiscuity”, “ethical and moral corruption” and “hatred of Muslims”. An overwhelming majority of Muslims view the U.S. as “ruthless 68 percent, aggressive 66 percent, conceited 65 percent, and morally decadent 64 percent.58 Studies have also shown that it is the Western foreign policy towards Muslims and not the Western culture and ways of life that causes Muslims to rise in opposition to the West. Many Muslims claim a common cause with suffering brethren in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territories, as well as in Iraq, Chechnya and elsewhere. They tend to view the “war on terrorism” as a war on Islam and perceive an unjust double standard at work in the foreign policies of the U.S. and many European governments. The 2004 Defence Science Board study found that “Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies… The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states… Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”


Interestingly, the U.S. fights its extremist Muslim adversaries not on its soil but offshore, through military action and foreign assistance to its allies. This is not the case in Europe. It has been claimed that the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. were planned from a base in Europe. Since 9/11, US officials have expressed concerns about Europe becoming the launching point for further attacks on the U.S. interests. Though the vast majority of Muslims in Europe are not involved in radical activities, Muslim extremists and vocal fringe communities that advocate terrorism exist in a broad range of European countries. Melanie Philips argues that London has become the hub of European terror network and would soon be transformed into “Londonistan”. The most dreaded is the al-Qaeda and its affiliates who have claimed responsibility for several terrorist acts on European soil including the double suicide bombings in Istanbul in November 2003, the March 2004 Madrid bombings, the assassination of Dutch artist, Theo van Gogh, in November 2004 and the July 2005 London subway and bus bombings. However, there are a variety of transnational groups who spread extremism by claiming to be non-violent.


The governments of European countries are worried that an increase in terrorist activities will feed an expanding popular backlash in Europe against Muslims which will, in turn, drive new converts into the extremist Islamic camp. Consequently, European governments have sought to contain radical extremists by tightening security measures and reforming immigration and asylum laws. Muslim religious groups are investigated, mosques monitored, and radical Muslims expelled. Attempts are also made to make Muslims embrace the native cultures of their host countries through assimilation policies and by promoting secularism. The French government, for example, has banned “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools, including headscarves for Muslim girls.61 Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobic violence against Muslims, resist these measures. Within a year of the London bombings in 2004, there have been over 180 incidents of racial violence targeting London’s Muslim population including the killing of one Muslim by British youths. Many experts, therefore, believe that European Muslim youth feel disenfranchised, as the society does not fully accept them. They appear to turn to Islam as a badge of cultural identity and are then radicalised by extremist Muslim clerics. Muslims desire to be integrated and not assimilated; they would like their governments to arrest Islamophobia and to correct anti-Muslim foreign policies.


Policy Prescriptions

The policy prescriptions to deal with Islamophobia and extremism vary depending on the way the problem is perceived. The Runnymede Trust’s report concerning Islamophobia is addressed to the government. It lists a number of steps that the government should adopt to tackle the issue of Islamophobia, including a greater range of positive images of Islam in the media, a more balanced and responsible use of Muslim spokespersons, more expert use of public relations methods, modification and strengthening of existing codes of practise, appointment of more Muslim reporters and journalists and provision of seminars and training to raise awareness of Muslim issues and cultural particularities among journalists and the media generally.


The OIC Observatory Report is addressed to two parties: (1) the OIC and the Muslim World and (2) the Western World. The recommendations are divided into two parts, i.e., short-term for immediate action and long-term for subsequent or simultaneous actions on legal aspects, inter-cultural dialogue, the media and at the level of civil society. The report suggests, among others, that the OIC member states should help the Observatory to project Islam as a religion of moderation, peace and tolerance. They should monitor all Islamophobic incidents and report to the Observatory and assist the victims of Islamophobia to file complaints under the Human Rights Council Complaint Procedure, promote inter-cultural dialogue and encourage the Islamic media to react against negative reporting of Islam and Muslims. Muslims in the West need to become pro-active respondents rather than passive recipients. They should also make use of all available democratic channels to promote inter-faith understanding in the hope that it would end the demonisation of their faith.


Likewise, the Western world should take necessary steps to “protect Muslims as a vulnerable group” from all sorts of discrimination, hostility and violence and to prosecute and punish perpetrators of such acts. They should take “necessary measures against publications of inflammatory, insulting and provocative materials in the media or postings of such in websites.” The OIC Observatory Report suggests that governments “avoid using Islamophobic rhetoric used in the war against terror.” The concerned authorities should strengthen law enforcement against violent hate crimes and “ensure that provisions covered by international legal instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are applied equally to all.” The UN General Assembly Resolution adopted in its 61st Session emphasises effective measures to prevent tarnishing the image of any religion in general, and Islam and Muslim in particular, specifically in the arena of human rights.


Esposito and Mogahed (2007) argue that “diagnosing terrorism as a symptom and Islam as the problem, though popular in some circles, is flawed and has serious risks with dangerous repercussions.” They emphasise that Anti-western feelings result not from Western culture and way of life but from Western policies and actions. The Gallup data confirms “the crucial issues in improving relations are the beliefs and perceptions of “the other” which affect and need to inform foreign policies”. They stress the need to win the ‘minds and hearts’ of ‘the other’. This, they suggest, “requires a public diplomacy that addresses the ideological dimensions of war: the war of ideas and the foreign policies created.”


However, the policy prescriptions by the former U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, fit neatly with the analysis of the problem attempted in this study. Kofi Annan suggests eight steps to ‘unlearn intolerance’ that include: (1) enforcement of the right to freedom of religion and to be free from discrimination based on religion as enshrined in international law and other instruments; (2) educating the public about all religions and traditions; (3) preventing the media and Internet from spreading hatred; (4) condemning Islamophobia and enforcing laws on non-discrimination by public authorities; (5) the need for Muslim immigrants to Western countries as well as the host countries to understand each other’s expectations and responsibilities and to jointly act against common threats such as extremism; (6) organising inter-faith dialogues to demystify the ‘other’; (7) adopting policies to deal with unresolved conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere; and, (8) condemning terrorism and violence carried out in the name of Islam. This should be the responsibility of Muslims to stop the few who “give a bad name to the many”.



Muslims have been living in the West for a long time. Since 1960, however, their number has swelled and millions of Muslims are now living in the West permanently. This fact is associated with the emergence of political movements aimed at liberating and protecting Muslim lands from the clutches of occupying Western powers that use terrorist acts. These developments have reinforced anti-Muslim and anti-Islam prejudices in the West resulting in the coinage of the term Islamophobia, which was first used in print in 1991. Islamophobes are considered as extremists, who demonise Islam and Muslims, destroy mosques, attack people wearing Muslim religious dress and deny Muslims their human rights. There is a widespread negative stereotype in all sections of the Western press. Islamophobia inhibits the development of a just society, characterised by social inclusion and cultural diversity. 


The cumulative effect of Islamophobia’s various features is that Muslims are made to feel that they do not truly belong to the civilised world. Muslims living in the West are seen as “an enemy within”. Muslim insights on various local and global issues are looked upon with disdain. These feelings are accentuated by the double standard in the foreign policy of major Western powers that are unabashedly pro-Israel. The international Muslim community sees the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of war on terror, as acts against Islam. 


Perceived Islamophobia in the West and in the Western media may cause some Muslims to become extremists. Some may feel isolated and alienated leading to a rejection of democratic and multi-cultural values. Most of them develop a strong sense of Muslim identity and strict adherence to traditional Islamic teachings. Some advocate or support terrorist attacks against Western interests and probably only a minority of those holding such views join the movements to fight American, British and allied forces. The number of Muslims actively espousing extremist politics is very small but Islamophobia may help swell their numbers. Experts are of the opinion that the young generation of Muslims in the West are feeling disaffected, alienated and bitter.


It is in the interest of non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, therefore, that Islamophobia and extremism be rigorously tackled and removed. The West must adopt strategies to combat Islamophobia in the West and address the political, economic, social and cultural causes of extremism through development programmes and the resolution of long-standing conflicts. There is a need to deal with the great media hype about ‘political Islam’. The OIC and other organisations are placing great emphasis on inter-civilisation and inter-faith dialogue to help promote respect for all faiths. The major Western powers must pursue courageous, energetic and balanced policies to establish peace in the Middle East and in the world as a whole. On their part, Muslims need to be pro-active in living according to the true teachings of Islam, condemning violent extremism and terrorism, and in acquiring the Islamic vision, knowledge and initiative to lead the humanity towards a just and peaceful world order.

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