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IS THERE AN ISLAMOPHOBIA OUT THERE?

 

[Dr. Mohamed Elmasry]

 

 

"A Muslim man has been beaten to death outside a corner shop by a gang of

youths who shouted anti-Islamic abuse at him," blared the headline of a

news story in the British paper The Guardian of July 13, 2005. "Kamal Raza

Butt, 48, from Pakistan , was visiting Britain to see friends and family. On

Sunday afternoon he went to a shop in Nottingham to buy cigarettes and was

first called 'Taliban' by the youths and then set upon."

 

"Nottinghamshire police described the incident as racially aggravated, not

as Islamophobic," the Guardian reported.

 

But Azad Ali who chairs the Muslim Safety Forum said, "You can't class this

as racist; there was no racist abuse shouted at him, it was Islamophobic.

It is good the police have made arrests. [But we] are disappointed that

they have misclassified it, especially after all the advice to be more

alert to Islamophobic hate crime."

 

Islamophobia, or fear of Islam, is defined as the unrealistic and

disproportionate fear of Islam and Muslims - a fear which cannot be

reasoned away.

 

Islamophobia is a serious form of discrimination, intolerance, and a clear

violation of basic human rights; the right to live without fear of attack

from those who see Muslims as "not like us." Islamophobia not only

reinforces centuries-old negative stereotypical representations of Islam

and Muslims, it also creates new ones.

 

In its 1997 report, "Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All" the British

Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as the "dread or hatred of Islam and

therefore ... the fear and dislike of all Muslims," stating that it also

refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims through excluding

them from the economic, social, and public life of nations. It includes the

perception that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is

inferior to the West, and is a violent political ideology rather than a

religion.

 

The Runnymede Trust report continued by saying that Islamophobia "has

existed in Western countries and cultures for several centuries, but in the

last twenty years has become more explicit, more extreme and more

dangerous. It is an ingredient of all sections of the media and is

prevalent in all sections of society."

 

What makes the Runnymede Trust report so significant is that this was the

first time the subject of Islamophobia had been comprehensively explored in

relation to a major Muslim population - that of the UK , which at the time

was estimated at 1.6 million. Sixty recommendations were put forward in the

Runnymede report; they were directed at government departments, political

bodies and agencies, local and regional statutory bodies, and voluntary and

private institutions.

 

Professor Anne Sophie Roald of Malmo University in Sweden writes that steps

were taken toward official acceptance of the term in January 2001 at the

Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance. There, Islamophobia

was recognized as a form of intolerance alongside Xenophobia and Anti-

Semitism.

 

Earlier, in 1992, Runnymede Trust had established a commission to consider

anti-Semitism in contemporary Britain . Its 1994 report, entitled "A Very

Light Sleeper," included in its recommendations a proposal that Runnymede

set up a broadly similar commission to consider Islamophobia, which it

proceeded to do.

 

On July 4, 2008 the Independent newspaper reported that Martyn Gilleard, a

Nazi sympathizer in East Yorkshire, England, was jailed for 16 years.

"Police found four nail bombs, bullets, swords, axes and knives in his

flat. Gilleard had been preparing for a war against Muslims. In a note at

his flat he had written, 'I am sick and tired of hearing nationalists

talking of killing Muslims, blowing up mosques and fighting back only to

see these acts of resistance fail. The time has come to stop the talking

and start to act'."

 

The Independent headlined the above-quoted report by journalist Peter

Oborne as "The enemy within? Fear of Islam: Britain 's new disease." The

article observed that "Suspicion of the Muslim community has found its way

into mainstream society - and nobody seems to care."

 

In fact, the Gilleard case went all but unreported. Had a Muslim been found

with an arsenal of weapons and planning violent assaults, it would have

been a far bigger story.

 

"There is a reason for this blindness in the media," Oborne continues. "The

systematic demonization of Muslims has become an important part of the

central narrative of the British political and media class; it is so

entrenched, so much part of normal discussion that almost nobody notices.

Protests go unheard and unnoticed."

 

Commenting on Canadian Prof. Sherene H. Razack's new book "Casting Out: The

Eviction of Muslims From Western Law & Politics," Dr. Ghassan Hage, Prof.

of Anthropology at the University of Sydney , observed: "Hannah Arendt

argued that Holocaust history shows that Jews were perceived and treated by

German society as marginal and expendable long before their extermination

was acted out. [This book] shows the complex ways in which Muslims in the

West are slowly being driven to become today's exterminables ... It is

worth remembering that the Holocaust was not a historical inevitability.

Those struggling against the dark forces of extermination can succeed."

 

(Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic

Congress. His views do not necessarily represent those of the organization.

He can be reached at np@canadianislamiccongress.com)

 

 

 

 

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