Countering Islamophobia | By Raza Muhammad Khan

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Countering Islamophobia

THE post 9/11 era saw unfortunate conflation of Islam with terrorism, rise of anti-Muslim politics and legislations against traveller migration by Muslims and feminine Islamic piety (headscarf, veil).

Last year, PM Imran Khan wrote to leaders of Muslim countries for cooperative action to Counter Islamophobia (CI) and to Facebook (FB) CEO, for banning Islamophobia. This year too, he urged the OIC for a vigorous CI strategy.

These efforts are laudable; however they are not enough to achieve the preferred outcomes. In 2012, the OIC approved a TV channel for CI, which has yet to see the light of the day.

It has also called on the UN and EU High Commissions for Human Rights to monitor the issue and urged the UNGA to declare Islamophobia as a form of racism; but in vain.

Consequently, Islamophobia is expanding and sometimes morphing into other, similar contemporary forms, such as racism and xenophobia.

It continues to be motivated by unfounded fears, hatred of Islam and the Muslim’s way of life.

It is manifested in the west and India through antagonistic public discourse, negative media portrayals and stereotyping, such as “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic bombs”, which is fuelling misperception of Islam and anti-Muslim prejudices.

Media biases in the US are documented by the Universities of Georgia and Alabama that compared coverage of attacks by Muslim militants, with those of non-Muslims in the US for a decade and found that the former receive 357% more media attention than the latter.

In 2008, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (“FAIR”) published a study, which cites false claims by mainstream journalists, authors and academics that destructive traits were an inherent part of Muslims’ moral makeup.

FAIR also established that “hate— funding is inciting— attacks on mosques—and new laws discriminating against Muslims in America”.

Much of this is also acknowledged in the 2012 book, ‘The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims’.

The book discloses that the tide of Islamophobia, sweeping through Europe and the US“ is designed and executed through conservative bloggers, right-wing talk show hosts, evangelical religious leaders and politicians”.

Besides, a US legal advocacy NGO (SPLC), reported presence of 90 Islam and Muslim hate groups in the country and in Europe; and that many cases of arson and violence have occurred, due to hateful political comments on influx of Muslim migrants in EU.

In India, Islamophobia is widespread and mainstream since the rulers have declared Islam and all their 209 million Muslims citizens subservient to Hindus and adversaries.

They are lynched on suspicion of storing beef and forced to chant the Hindu slogan “Jai Shri Ram”.

Further, since the fall of Kabul in August, the hashtag #GoToAfghanistan targeting Muslims is trending on Indian social media, a repeat of the #GoToPakistan campaign launched earlier.

This is part of the BJP and RSS strategy for political gains and those who dare to challenge it are labelled foreign agents and trolled on social media.

Also, according to HRW and UN reports, religious bigotry is a common denominator for institutional discrimination, hate crimes, arbitrary detention, torture, and ethno-religious “cleansing” of Muslims in numerous countries.

As the current CI measures are ineffectual, too little or too late, an innovative, multi-faceted response toolkit is necessary for the purpose, which could encompass at least the following fifteen items: All reactionary CI strategies, which simply rely on repeated condemnation of terror attacks or seek to dissociate these from Islam, must be thoroughly rationalized, as they seem to be falling on deaf ears and sometimes elicit the opposite reaction.

The UNHRC Resolution (July 2020), that endorses limitations on freedom of opinion and expression and “—prohibits advocacy of — religious hatred, both online and offline, (and)—incitement to discrimination”, must be frequently invoked.

CI movements and endeavours by Muslim governments and individuals must set off broader reckoning against racism, hate speech and holding politicians accountable for odious rhetoric against Muslims.

Contribution of Muslims to the society must be highlighted while deconstructing, dominant Islamophobia narratives and reconstructing new, positive and realistic descriptions, around Muslims.

Islamophobic attitudes and discriminatory projects must be challenged at the UN and contextualized via NGOs, media and academic discourse.

Fake stories that Islam and Muslims constitute a demographic threat or pose the risk of conversion of the native population must be exposed.

Inter-cultural cordiality and inter-faith harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims must be emphasized. While expounding Muslim plurality, chronicles of their singularity must be challenged and feminist initiatives and gender equality promoted.

Legal measures must be pursued and funded at the national and international levels to counter institutionalized Islamophobia and sacrilegious media content; besides challenging these through writing letters to newspaper and magazine editors.

CI campaigns, marches and vigils must be organized, led and attended by Muslim communities, who must encourage family members and friends to join such initiatives.

Vigorous drives on social media must be launched against anti-Islamic and xenophobic state policies or treating sporadic violence by individual Muslims as a monolithic Islamic phenomenon.

The OIC must caution and penalize India for state sponsored Islamophobia and alienation of the world’s third largest Muslim population.

It must also warn countries where Islamophobia prevails, that their policies could permanently estrange their Muslim population, endangering their societal cohesion and national security.

The OIC has tremendous potential and clout as the second largest international organization after the UN, comprising two billion people, holding two-thirds of global oil and gas reserves and a combined GDP of US$23 trillion.

It must use this influence resolutely for cooperative CI measures. If it dither son this obligation, it risks losing its claim of the “collective voice of the Muslim world”.

Individually too, OIC member countries, Muslim media, journalists, academia and citizens must contribute resources and time to this cause as Muslim minorities around the world are in great distress.

Finally, all those who truly believe in equality of human beings, must commit now, to counter and contain the peril of Islamophobia.

— The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former President of National Defence University, Islamabad.

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