Shahid M Amin
ISLAMOPHOBIA in Europe came to surface again when Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, announced he was holding a cartoon contest of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). Wilders is head of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), which is the second largest in the Dutch parliament. The cartoon contest was planned for November 2018 and was to be held at the party’s offices in the Dutch parliament building. Over the years, Wilders has made a profession of spewing anti-Muslim diatribe. He has called for mosques and Islamic schools to be shut down, the banning of Quran and a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants. Among the 10 points of his party plan, the demand “De-Islamize the Netherlands” is top of the list. Wilders is a fervent supporter of Israel, which he has visited numerous times. He once told an audience that “we in the West are all Israel” and that “Israel is the West’s first line of defence.” Wilders has absurdly compared the Quran with Hitler’s racist book “Mein Kampf”. His poor knowledge of Islam and Quran is shown by his unawareness that human brotherhood is an important teaching in Islam. “A white has no superiority over a black and a black has no superiority over a white” were the words of the last sermon of the holy prophet of Islam (PBUH).
Misinterpretation of Islam has been done deliberately by the Christian clergy over many centuries. Islamophobia has been a part of the European tradition ever since the Crusades a thousand years ago. European Christians developed a deep antagonism towards Islam during the long period of Muslim rule over parts of Europe viz. Spain, Sicily, Greece and the Balkans. However, in recent times, Islamophobia in Europe has grown due to the increasing number of Muslims living there. They started arriving after the Second World War due to shortage of labour in Europe. They were paid low wages, which made their influx attractive for European businessmen. But with the passing of time, the Muslim population has grown significantly and ranges between 10 to 20 percent in several European cities. This has aroused fears that Europe might soon become “Eurabia”. Muslim immigrants also stand out among immigrants because of their unwillingness/inability to merge with the local society. Their social and religious habits —Hijab, burqa, halal meat, minarets, Azaan, prayers, and personal appearance — make them different. More ominously, since 9/11, the perception in the Western world that Muslims are associated with terrorism, which has been made worse by periodic terrorist acts in Europe involving Muslims, has raised serious security fears. All of this combines to fuel Islamophobia.
Wilders is not the only European politician exploiting Islamophobia. Several leaders have emerged recently who have outdone Wilders in Islamophobia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen in France, Matteo Salvini in Italy and Thierry Baudet in Netherlands have stolen a march over Wilders in anti-Muslim venom. It seems that the latest cartoon issue was raised by Wilders to regain ground lost to other demagogues. He has no doubt succeeded in generating publicity for himself due to the strong reaction in Muslim countries, notably Pakistan. Its new Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were among the most active in the Muslim world in raising voice against the outrageous attempt to mock and defame Islam. Imran Khan said his government would leave no stone unturned in raising the matter at international forums. Qureshi told his Dutch counterpart that the blasphemous cartoons will spread hate and intolerance. The Dutch government pointed out that it was not party to the cartoon issue and deplored any sacrilege but was also bound to uphold the right of freedom of expression.
The diplomatic pressure by Imran Khan’s government as also the threat given by the Taliban to single out Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan, evidently forced rethinking in Netherlands. On Aug 31, Wilders announced that he had cancelled the blasphemous cartoons contest. In a statement, he said that “threats resulting from cartoon contest are running out of control.” He added that risks to innocents as well as attacks on the Netherlands, stemming from proposed contest, were too great. However, he said that he would never personally stop his campaign against Islamic religion.
Actually, Western extremists like Wilders and Islamist extremist groups like Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) thrive on each other. The provocation by one provides the material for the other to make political capital in order to gain public attention and popularity. TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi called on his followers to begin a protest march to Islamabad to demand the expulsion of the Dutch Ambassador in Pakistan. Not long ago, Rizvi had risen from nowhere to catch the headlines when his followers paralysed Islamabad by blocking key highways during a similar religious protest. The latest cartoon issue gave him one more chance to make political hay. A second blockade would have posed a dangerous challenge to the new government. Fortunately, the cancellation of the cartoon contest by Wilder enabled Foreign Minister Qureshi to persuade the TLP on August 31 to call off its protest. Religious and ethnic tensions adversely affect millions of Muslim migrants who just want to be left alone to get on with their lives as peaceful, law-abiding citizens. Islamophobia fuels extremism and terrorism in Muslim societies which in turn feeds Islamophobia. Sensible opinion on both sides must not fall in the trap of extremists. There is clearly need for an inter-faith dialogue to overcome the fears and prejudices in order to avoid a clash of civilisations.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.