“So far as the West is concerned, Islam represents not only a formidable competitor but also a late-coming challenge to Christianity.” Edward Said
Islamophobia has become a topic of increasing sociological and political importance. Islamophobia is irrational fear of or prejudice against Islam, rather than simple criticism, prejudice against, or hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims . Criticism of Islam has existed since Islam‘s formative stages. Early written criticism came from Christians, prior to the ninth century, many of whom viewed Islam as a radical Christianheresy. Later there appeared criticism within and also fromJewish writers and from ecclesiastical Christians. According o Wikipedia, the term seems to date back to the late 1980s, but came into common usage after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States to refer to types of political dialogue that appeared prejudicially resistant to pro-Islamic argument.
The word Islamophobia is a neologism formed from Islam and–phobia. Phobia is the extreme and irrational fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. A phobia is classified as a type of anxiety disorder (a neurosis), since anxiety is its chief symptom. Phobias are generally believed to result when fear produced by an original threatening situation (such as a near-drowning in childhood) is transferred to other similar situations (such as encounters with bodies of water), the original fear often being repressed or forgotten. Behaviour therapy can be helpful in overcoming phobias, the phobic person being gradually exposed to the anxiety-provoking object or situation in a way that demonstrates that no threat really exists.
The compound form Islamo- contains the thematic vowel-o-, and is found in earlier coinages such as Islamo-Christianfrom the 19th century. As opposed to being a psychological or individualistic phobia, according to associate professor of religion Peter Gottschalk, “Islamophobia” connotes a social anxietyabout Islam and Muslims
In 1997, the British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as the “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, to the fear and dislike of all Muslims,” stating that it also refers to the practice ofdiscriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation. It includes the perception that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideologyrather than a religion. Professor Anne Sophie Roald writes that steps were taken toward official acceptance of the term in January 2001 at the “Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance”, where Islamophobia was recognized as a form of intolerance alongside Xenophobia and Antisemitism.
A perceived trend of increasing “Islamophobia” during the 2000s has been attributed by some commentators to the September 11 attacks, while others associate it with the rapidly growing Muslims populations in the Western world, especially in Western Europe, due to both immigration and high fertility rate. In May 2002, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), a European Union watchdog, released a report entitled “Summary report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001″, which described an increase in Islamophobia-related incidents in European member states post-9/11. Although the term is widely recognized and used, it has not been without controversy.
- Some of the negative perceptions highlighted through western media campaign are:
- Islam is projected as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
- It 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.
- It is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
- It is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
- It is seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
- Criticisms made of “the West” by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
- Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
- Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.
Some scholar opine that ”Islamophobia”, through a new terminology, has always been present in Western countries and cultures. In the last two decades, it has become accentuated, explicit and extreme.” An observatory report on Islamophobia by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference similarly states that Islamophobia has existed for as long as Islam itself.
Criticism of concept:
The concept of Islamophobia has been criticized on several grounds. Some critics argue that it is real, but is just another form of racism and does not require its own category, while others argue that it is used to censor criticism, that its use threatens free speech, or is used to silence issues relating to Muslim populations in Western countries.
Some opponents argue that Islamophobia is justified. Others, such as Edward Said, consider Islamophobia as it is evinced in Orientalism to be a ‘secret sharer’ in a more general antisemitic Western tradition. However, Daniel Pipessays that “‘Islamophobia’ deceptively conflates two distinct phenomena: fear of Islam and fear of radical Islam.”
The concept of Islamophobia as formulated by Runnymede is criticized by professor Fred Halliday on several levels. He writes that the target of hostility in the modern era is not Islam and its tenets as much as it is Muslims and their actions, suggesting that a more accurate term would be “Anti-Muslimism.” Poole responds by noting that many Islamophobic discourses attack what they perceive to be Islam’s tenets, while Miles and Brown write that Islamophobia is usually based upon negative stereotypes about Islam which are then translated into attacks on Muslims. Halliday argues that the concept of Islamophobia unwittingly plays into the hands of extremists.
Neuroscientist and best sellingauthorSam Harris has openly criticized the term Islamophobia in an article stating:
There is no such thing as Islamophobia. Bigotry and racism exist, of course—and they are evils that all well-intentioned people must oppose. And prejudice against Muslims or Arabs, purely because of the accident of their birth, is despicable. But like all religions, Islam is a system of ideas and practices. And it is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe.
Responses to criticism
Edward Said, in his essay Islam Through Western Eyes, stated that the general basis of Orientalist thought forms a study structure in which Islam is placed in an inferior position as an object of study. He claims the existence of a very considerable bias in Orientalist writings as a consequence of the scholars’ cultural make-up. He claims Islam has been looked at with a particular hostility and fear due to many obvious religious, psychological and political reasons, all deriving from a sense“that so far as the West is concerned, Islam represents not only a formidable competitor but also a late-coming challenge to Christianity.”
Karen Armstrong, tracing what she believes to be the West’s long history of hostility toward Islam, finds in Muhammad’s teachings a theology of peace and tolerance. Armstrong holds that the “holy war” urged by the Qur’an alludes to each Muslim’s duty to fight for a just, decent society.
William Montgomery Watt who in his book Muhammad:Prophet and Statesman addresses this issue. He claims that “Of all the world’s great men none has been so much maligned as Muhammad [pnuh].” Watt argues on a basis of moral relativism that Muhammad should be judged by the standards of his own time and country rather than “by those of the most enlightened opinion in the West today.”
Cathy Young of Reason Magazine claimed that the growing trend of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment stemmed from an atmosphere where such criticism is popular. While stating that the terms “Islamophobia” and “anti-Muslim bigotry” are often used in response to legitimate criticism of fundamentalist Islam and problems within Muslim culture, she claimed “the real thing does exist, and it frequently takes the cover of anti-jihadism.”
Deepa Kumar, the author of Outside the Box: Corporate Media, Globalization, and the UPS Strike, in her article titled ‘Fighting Islamophobia: A Response to Critics’ says “The history of Islam is no more violent than the history of any of the other major religions of the world. Perhaps my critics haven’t heard of the Crusades — the religious wars fought by European Christians from the 11th to the 13th centuries”referring to the brutality of the crusades and then contrasting them to forbidding of acts of vengeance and violence by the Sultan of EgyptSaladin, after he successfully retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Speaking on the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy (which resulted in more than 100 deaths, all together), she says “The Danish cartoon —- is nothing if not the visual depiction of the racist diatribe that Islam is inherently violent. To those who can’t understand why this argument is racist, let me be clear: when you take the actions of a few people and generalize it to an entire group — all Muslims, all Arabs — that’s racism. When a whole group of people are discriminated against and demonized because of their religion or regional origin, that’s racism.” And “…Arabs and Muslims are being scapegoated and demonized to justify a war that is ruining the lives of millions.”
Edward Said, in his essay Islam Through Western Eyes, stated that the general basis of Orientalistthought forms a study structure in which Islam is placed in an inferior position as an object of study. He claims the existence of a very considerable bias in Orientalist writings as a consequence of the scholars’ cultural make-up. He claims Islam has been looked at with a particular hostility and fear due to many obvious religious, psychological and political reasons, all deriving from a sense “that so far as the West is concerned, Islam represents not only a formidable competitor but also a late-coming challenge to Christianity.”
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Impact of Media and Social Media on Islam and Muslims
Do you remember what your life was like ten years ago? How you communicated with people? How you received your news? Shared information? In this past decade our lives have been forever transformed and the power of media, specifically social media, has significantly impacted the world around us.
In the last few months we have seen more than ever just how important social media is, as we watched three of the most powerful dictatorial regimes of the Arab and African world being toppled, organized and facilitated in no small part via social networking sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Even as those revolutions are changing the Middle-East region, it seems a transformation is also taking place within the Muslim community. “Social networks and media have definitely changed the spread of Islam and the perception of Muslims in the minds of many,” said author and professor at DeVry University, Suzy Ismail in an email interview. “The impact of Facebook and Twitter in changing entire nations can be seen in the uprisings of the Arab Spring that were largely dependent on social media as a means of communicating and fueling the passions of the people who overthrew their countries’ dictators. The same can be said of Islam’s relation to social media.”
Social media presents a huge opportunity for us to reach out to people who may not know about Islam or Muslims. Thousands of Americans have never met a Muslim but they have access to us through social media
Muslims Under the Media Microscope
In the post 9/11 era, the growth of electronic and, in particular, social media has had a significant impact on the lives of Muslims around the world. Khurram T. Dara, author of the “The Crescent Directive: An Essay on Improving the Image of Islam in America” remarks that “every scandal, controversy, or violent terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims is put under the microscope.” Dara goes on to say that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the media has been trying to “spin stories” one way or another about Muslims and Islam. “Of course, you have commentators and networks out there with agendas they want to push, but for the most part the impact the media has had comes in its evolution into a 24/7 industry. Everything is covered, regardless of whether it is quality journalism from reliable sources.”
Suzy Ismail believes that the media has played a crucial role in the way Muslims and Islam have been perceived over the years. “It would be hard for anyone to say that they have not ‘heard’ of Islam with the amount of coverage that our deen has received in recent years through so many different media outlets. However, because of media filters and biased reporting or media coverage, it’s impossible to control the presentation of the deen to those who may not be familiar with the concepts and tenets of Islam.” Ismail continued, stating that especially since 9/11 “Islam and Muslims have been both vilified and simultaneously victimized. There seems to be two extreme reactions to the deen itself. One is sincere curiosity and interest that motivates education and the other is blind hatred and misunderstanding that leads to scapegoating and stereotyping.”
Being constantly in the media has been both a blessing and curse for Muslims and Islam. Due to the spike in media’s coverage of Islam in recent years it has “definitely increased general awareness of our faith,” said ICNA IT Department Content Manager, Rida Bint Fozi. “The portrayal varies across news outlets, but I think it’s great that Islam remains a hot topic in the media and people are curious and ask questions. It gives us the opportunity to answer them.”
However, it also means often “having to hear a whole lot of nonsense about sharia and the threat of Muslims,” says Dara. “These days the media is a sort of ‘eye in the sky,’ able to scrutinize any and all actions. The best way to counter some of the negative coverage would be to prevent these types of situations from occurring. We can use the media to our advantage if Muslims are the ones out there tipping off law enforcement about any sort of radicalism they see, or if Muslims are the ones on the frontlines stopping homegrown terrorists.”
As Muslims demonstrate their commitment and positive contribution to American society, “the media will (eventually) cover it, and if not, the people who have actually gotten to know Muslims will discredit media sources which report negatively about Muslims,” say Dara.
To counteract the growing anti-Muslim backlash, many Muslims, especially the youth, have started using media sites to create “virtual” communities where they are able to re-define themselves by coming together to debate pressing issues, connect with individuals in similar situations, ask questions and find answers. Social media has opened the “flood gates,” says Dara. Social media allows “anyone [to] be a reporter or commentator. All kinds of views can be expressed.” This phenomenon has become a vital tool for Muslims to use to dispel negative stereotypes and misinformed notions about Islam.
SM Increases Learning Opportunities
In the past, seeking knowledge about Islam was mainly restricted to the Masjids, educational institutions, and learning from imams and sheikhs. These traditional learning opportunities remain intact. However, now Muslims are also able to learn, question, teach, and network through social networking sites. “There are more avenues by which to learn about Islam. The Internet has given the public access to all kinds of information and made Islamic literature so much more accessible,” said Fozi. On YouTube, for example, you can listen to a lecture in any language you want, whenever you want. Blogging sites such MuslimMatters.org and SuhaibWebb.com have become extremely popular with both Muslims and non-Muslims as a way to gain information and learn about Islam.
Twitter and Facebook, though, have undoubtedly been the two networking sites with the most active Muslim users. These sites have allowed us to connect with imams and sheiks, political leaders, scholars, and journalists. Furthermore, they have enabled us, at a moment’s notice, to share news and information that matter to us. Nevertheless, Fozi points out that “unfortunately there’s a flipside to being in the limelight. Those who want to cast a negative light on Islam are just as active online and easily perpetuate stereotypes about Muslims through their posts, tweets and videos. It can be overwhelming to contend with, but we need to remember that social media has also empowered us and given us that same platform to express ourselves. We can increase the positive impact of media/social media on the portrayal of Islam by being more active and vocal about our faith.”
The Muslims who are using these platforms are slowly but surely on the frontlines changing the perception of Islam from that of an old-fashioned, authoritarian religion to one people can comprehend and relate to. “Social media presents a huge opportunity for us to reach out to people who may not know about Islam or Muslims. Thousands of Americans have never met a Muslim but they have access to us through social media,” said Fozi. “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as lone individuals that can’t make a difference; get on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Instagram and add our voices to the mix.”
Dara adds that if “we [Muslims] focus on our actions, build personal connections with our fellow Americans and display investment in American society, people will sift through the noise. If we develop better reference points for others on Islam, the irrational claims and hateful rhetoric will be washed away to the empty corners of the Internet.”