Assaults on Islam Come Fast and Furious
It’s becoming hard to keep up with the steady stream of attacks on Islamic or its traditions coming out of the mouths of Western political and religious leaders. It’s almost as though hunting season has been declared on a quarter of the world’s population, with the most unlikely individuals queuing to take pot shots.
Within just one year we’ve witnessed Danish cartoons denigrating the Prophet (peace be upon him), the self-styled leader of the so-called free world declaring war on “Islamic Fascists”, his subservient buddy across the pond promising to combat “an evil ideology”, and Pope Benedict getting in a dig against Islam by quoting an obscure 14th century Byzantine emperor.
Then last week, there was once again something rotten in the state of Denmark when the youth wing of the Danish People’s Party organized a competition for “the most demeaning depictions of the Prophet”, shown on state-run television.
British politicians have also jumped into the fray with both feet. Last month, Home Secretary John Reid lectured British Muslims on how to teach their children not to hate.
Then last week, the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw admitted he has asked female Muslim constituents to remove their niqabs — a covering that exposes only the eyes — while visiting his constituency office. He described it as a bar to effective personal communication as well as an obstacle to inter-community relations.
Many moderate British Muslims were sympathetic at first, but that soon changed when Straw later disclosed his desire to see Muslim women abandoning the head scarf or hijab. What was he thinking? This is a man known to carefully weigh his words and who has had close contact with Muslims for many years.
He must have been aware of the sensitivities surrounding this subject and could hardly have forgotten the outcry when France banned female students from covering their heads. In fairness, Straw stressed there should be no compulsion and he was merely expressing his personal viewpoint, but others have latched on to his words to suit their own bigoted agendas.
The racist British National Party said it has been calling for a change in Muslim dress code for some time and accused Straw of diminishing their political capital. A group of young thugs threw a newspaper at a terrified young Muslim girl, saying Jack wants you to take off your veil, while a 45-year-old woman suffered the indignity of having hers grabbed from her head.
Even worse, a Tory MP is advocating a change in the law to ban the wearing of the veil so as to preserve Britain’s “Christian heritage”.
When Muslims reacted strongly to George W. Bush’s use of the word “Crusade” post-Sept. 11, they were generally accused of being oversensitive but five years on it looks as though their worst fears might be materializing.
Indeed, this anti-Islamic momentum is being embraced by right-wing parties throughout Europe.
In the run-up to Austria’s parliamentary poll in October, Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party has taken to scaremongering. Depicting Islam as a threat to Austria’s Christian identity it has produced an advertisement showing an Islamic crescent above an ancient church with this words: “This is the true hidden desire of Muslims”.
This comes on the heels of the country’s interior minister calling for the banning of hijab-clad teachers and asserting that 45 percent of Muslims within Austria defy assimilation.
In Belgium, the right-wing party Vlaama Belang has put aside its anti-Semitism in favor of attacking Islam and in doing so has gained an increasingly large Jewish vote, especially among Antwerp’s Hassidic Jewish community. The editor of Het Volk insulted the local Muslim community by referring to it as “a breeding ground for thousands of Jihad candidates”.
Germany’s Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries admitted earlier this year that many Germans wrongly associate Islam with terrorism, saying, “Many Muslims are faced with discrimination because of their faith as some people link the Muslim faith automatically with Al-Qaeda and terrorism.”
Results of a poll jointly conducted earlier this year by the Washington Post and ABC News were shocking. Apparently 46 percent of Americans think poorly of Islam with 40 percent admitting to feeling prejudice against Muslims. Some 22 percent would not want Muslims as neighbors.
Where did all this hatred come from and how can the tide be turned?
I believe it has its roots in America’s reaction to 9-11. The 19 who committed that heinous crime weren’t called criminals. They weren’t even called terrorists but rather “Islamic terrorists” whereas members of, say, the IRA or the Basque separatist group ETA was never referred to as “Christian terrorists”. Thus the words “Islamic” and “terrorist” became enjoined in the minds of the ill informed.
As to the cure, Muslims are divided. Moderates call for inter-religious dialogue.
They believe the xenophobic masses could benefit from understanding the essence of Islam. Other Muslims believe their leaders should get tough with such Western counterparts who aren’t doing enough to quench the flames. Fundamentalists burn flags or turn to violence, playing right into the hands of those orchestrating an anti-Islamic agenda.
Personally, I believe there needs to be a shift change both on Pennsylvania Avenue and on Downing Street. Hopefully the next shift won’t be in the business of manufacturing enemies and invading nations on false pretexts. Until then, Muslims in the West should brace themselves. Sadly, in the short term, there may be worse to come.
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