Islamophobia is a very interesting term which has become more prevalent since the 11 September terror strikes. Home minister John Denham referred to the term as a cancer. But what is Islamophobia? It is the fear of Islam, a behaviour in some people when they hear about Islam. This leads to the intolerance of Muslims because of their religion. It can be caused by the negative image that is being portrayed of Islam.
The impacts of Islamophobia have affected the global community especially the Muslims. Ever since the events of 11 September, the intolerance of Muslims and hatred towards them has escalated - there has been a big rise in physical attacks on Muslims in Britain including attacks on places of worship. This includes men, women and children being harassed in the streets, schools and at the work place.
I have listed below some of the findings of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) below:
(Examples of the attacks on Muslims in UK)
The research findings of the University of Leicester (2002), stated that attacks included abuse hurled at children on their way to school or women shopping, to one reported incident where a baby was tipped out of a pram. These cases clearly show exactly how serious this cancer can be!
The Muslims living in the ‘Free World' feel as if they are ‘under siege.' They are becoming completely demoralized. Muslims now feel afraid to do their daily shopping. They do not feel safe anymore at places of worship, leisure or even at home.
Immediately after the 11 September attacks, there were a number of cases where Muslim passengers were asked to leave the plane even after boarding because some of the Non-Muslim passengers were afraid. Till this day for some reason, it seems as if only Muslims are singled out and double - checked before boarding airliners.
This whole scenario has caused the Muslim community to feel vulnerable and victimized. A friend of mine was forced to drop out of an undergraduate course in Aeronautics because of his Non-Muslim colleagues' attitude towards him just because he is a Muslim.
Although the level of Islamophobia might have fallen now according to various surveys that have been carried out, it must be acknowledged that there are a vast number of cases that were not and still are not being reported.
Sulaiman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicester stated:
“Within Leicester 's ethnic minorities there is a silent majority. That means that many incidents go unreported. People are too timid to speak out by nature.”
I feel that it is extremely ironic that Muslims in Britain should feel and respond in this manner.
How can we end the affects of Islamophobia? What measures need to be taken to tackle the problem? What is the way forward? As a result of my research, I have discovered a number of issues that I feel, are the key factors in fuelling Islamophobia. I will also present steps that I believe will be effective in eliminating the cancer of Islamophobia.
1. THE MEDIA
The damage caused by the media was colossal. Inflammatory reporting needs to come to an end. One of the most serious problems caused by the media is its use of language and terms that become big bold headlines across the globe.
‘ Islamic Militants,' ‘Muslim Terrorists .' Why are the words Islam and Muslims used? A terrorist is a terrorist! They have no link with Islam and Muslims. The fact that they claim to be fighting for the cause of Islam is irrelevant.
It is interesting to note that Roman Catholics have bombed parts of our country, but they are referred to as the Irish Republican Army, they are not called Christian Militants for some reason!
Similarly, when one of the Prime Ministers of Israel was assassinated by a Jewish suicide-bomber, the whole of the Jewish community was not hated because of a certain individual's extremist views.
When a devout Christian blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma , no connections were made with his acts of terror and Christianity. It is unfair to stain the pure teachings of Islam by making a direct link between Islam and terrorists.
However, the media has improved its stance since its inflammatory reporting during the immediate aftermath of the 11 September attacks but the damage had already been done. The way forward is to ensure that it doesn't happen again.
2. LEGISLATION The enforcement of new laws to protect Muslims is vital. There is a need for legislation against racial discrimination and the incitement of hatred towards Muslims. There is a need for Laws that provide protection from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimization in the workplace.
A large majority of Non-Muslims in the U.K. do not really know what Islam really is. They only get to see Muslims in war-torn Iraq , Palestine and Afghanistan and an image of violence is created in their minds.
I think it would be a good idea to broadcast programmes frequently on the basic tenets of Islam. This will educate Non-Muslims and help them understand the followers of Islam and their culture.
Immediately after the U.S. terror attacks, the Japanese government consulted Muslim leaders in Tokyo and broadcasted Islamic programmes on Japanese television. These programmes would be shown four to five times a week. This has helped Japanese people understand Muslims and their culture.
The government should consider investing in this field - it will promote a better understanding of the pure message of peace loving Muslims.
4. PUBLIC PRONOUNCEMENTS
Muslim groups have stressed on the fact that a number of politicians have been causing problems with insensitive remarks such as those made by former Home Secretary David Blunkett when he stressed that he felt that there was a sense of ‘ isolationism ' amongst the Muslim community.
Politicians on the whole need to be more cautious and delicate when making public announcements. They need to be more sensitive and equally responsible to avoid the detonation of anti-islamic feeling.
5. BRIDGE BUILDING EXERCISE
The ‘ Bridge building exercise ' or ‘ Islam Awareness Week ' is an event that hopes to address the threat posed by Islamophobia in the U.K. The event features food festivals, exhibitions and invitations to Non–Muslims to sit down and share traditional meals with Muslims.
Islam Awareness Week was first launched in 1994. It has proven to be a very affective resort. To broaden the positive impacts of the event, it would be a good idea to advertise it at a larger scale to ensure maximum publicity. Events of this nature should take place more often.
“Never has it been so important to hold an awareness raising week that can refute the myths and misunderstandings that surround the Islamic faith and demonstrate to the British public that we are a peace-loving community. Muslims form an integral part of U.K. society.”
6. POLICE PROTECTION
U.K. Islamophobia heightened after the events of September 11 and during the war in Afghanistan . The attacks declined until the war in Iraq came into being. The attacks increased again. It is believed that the Police Force are doing all they can but there have been numerous instances where the police did not respond to cases involving vulnerable locations such as religious institutes.
“Islamophobia was wrong before 11 September and is wrong today. The real Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and understanding.”
We learn from this case study that the fear of Islam is caused by the result of being misinformed and ignorant of Islamic beliefs. I would like to conclude with a quotation of a Polish Nobel Prize Winning Chemist, Marie Curie (1867-1934), with hope that it may help cure those who suffer from Islamophobia:
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”