Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Islamophobia is nothing new to America. It has been on a constant rise since the early 20th century, but the recent string of terror attacks linked to the Islamic State in Paris, San Bernardino and Orlando has led to a wave of Islamophobic instances.
According to a report published in The Guardian, 55 percent of Americans have voiced an “unfavourable opinion of Islam”. A new study has shown that some 50 percent of all Muslim students in the US have been bullied by their classmates, reported PBS.
More surprisingly, a YouGov poll conducted earlier this year found that 55 percent of surveyed Americans had an “unfavourable” opinion of Islam. All this data clearly points to the extent of Islamophobia prevalent in the US.
It also shows how the Americans, who have long been known for their “melting pot”, are now turning into anti-Muslim day-in and day-out. At the same time, the climate of growing Islamophobic sentiments in the US should be a note of introspection on part of Muslims as well.
The other day, I was surprised when I read an interview in India’s largest newspaper. Shireen Qudosi, a Muslim political analyst based in the US, is a die-hard supporter of Trump who is seen as overtly anti-Muslim. Speaking to The Times of India, Qudosi not only heaped high praises for Trump, but also welcomed his categorical call for a ‘blackout ban’ on Muslims in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre.
She put it blatantly: “Donald Trump is right in calling out radical Islamic ideology as the foundation for extremist groups like IS. What happened in Orlando goes beyond immigration, gun control, etc.” She also said, “Muslims are too busy crying ‘Islamophobia’ rather than tackling Jihadism or other issues including domestic violence, mental health and women’s rights. These are the real issues for us as Muslims.”
To many Muslim apologists and even liberal Islamic scholars, Qudosi herself sounds ‘Islamophobic’. But, regardless of what ‘Islamophobia’ means, it distresses a common Muslim like me to see more and more open-minded, freethinking and well-educated Muslims complaining that the ‘crisis goes to the heart of Islam’.
Perhaps it will take a great deal of time and effort to fathom the dilemma of ‘Islamophobia’. But one thing is for sure – as long as the atrocities of the violent jihadist extremism against the liberal democrats or moderates are on the rampage, many more the likes of Qudosi will come out to speak.
An increasingly heated debate – both in national and international media – on ‘Islamophobia’ is a disturbing trend. The spate of terrorist atrocities from Brussels, Paris, Pathankot to San Bernardino and lately in Orlando’s LGBT nightclub has fuelled the fire.
In the wake of this entire rampage, Islamophobia has now developed into a complete and coherent field of study, both in media and academia. Though still in its infancy, the subject has caught the imagination of various research wings and even universities across the world.
No wonder then that the two top educational centers at opposite ends of the US have recently launched “Islamophobia studies” – as referred to at a UC Berkeley conference. In his remarks, the director of UC Berkeley Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP) Hatem Bazian has affirmed that, “this is a multi-year research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square.”
Historiographers have noted that the term “Islamophobia” was first coined in 1991 in the Runnymede Trust Report in the context of Muslims in the UK in particular and Europe in general. It was conceptually defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”
Based on case studies, the report pointed out the Islamophobic perceptions that demonise Islam as “an inherently violent political ideology” and Muslims as “xenophobic”, “intolerant”, “monolithic”, “archaic” etc.
Given this renewed politicised trend in western Islamic studies or among Middle East researches, John Esposito, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU) has depicted Islamophobia as “an empirical fact”.
However, he critiqued the mainstream media for disseminating this “alleged bigotry beginning with the Ground Zero Mosque controversy”. Esposito asserted that media coverage of Islam hit an all-time high in 2015. “The causes are fairly obvious and some of them are good reasons to be concerned: international terrorist attacks”, he said.
While there are still those, in great numbers, who maintain that Islamophobia does not exist, it has been reintroduced and reaffirmed by the hopeful American Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
With an avid interest in winning the US presidential election, Trump has got an opportunity to manipulate the recent Orlando mass shooting to further his political ends. In lieu of combating radical Islamism in the aftermath of the massacre, he is trying hard to make it a point to center-stage in the upcoming election.
Let’s not forget that when a similar terror attack was carried out by the IS in San Bernardino, California in 2015, Trump had got emboldened enough to call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US”.
But his call was debunked at that time by an overwhelming number of the American liberal democrats as “xenophobic”, “chauvinistic” and “undemocratic”. However, the obnoxious massacre of Orlando has resulted into a drastic increase in the Islamophobic sentiments among US citizens.
Thus, it propelled Trump and the ilk to speak out louder. It has not only prompted Trump to call for Obama’s resignation, but has also catapulted his chances overnight to replace Obama in the White House. So, Islamophobia, fuelled by Trump and his supporters, has got paramount importance in the 2016 presidential election in US.
However, the US President Obama’s refusal to even utter the words ‘radical Islamism’ or ‘radical Jihadism’ in the wake of Orlando massacre has perturbed not only the outspoken Islamophobes in the country, but also a large number of the liberal democrats.
Earlier, this controversy kicked off in January 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, when the French PM Manuel Valls said in a speech that the country was “at war against radical Islam.”
Later, President Obama and his administration had seemingly “bent over backwards to not ever say that”, as journalist and political pundit Mara Liasson put it. But this time, many observers in the US and the wider world critiqued this ‘unwillingness’ or ‘inability’ to identify the radical ideological underpinnings behind the nefarious mass shooting of Orlando, raising a plethora of questions. For instance, Ted Cruz, an American attorney and politician, called it “bizarre, politically correct doublespeak” that was “not befitting a commander-in-chief.”
But Obama retorted all such allegations in his official remarks after the “Counter-IS Meeting”, as the Treasury Department of Washington D.C. has put it, “For a while now, the main contribution of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against IS is to criticise this administration and me for not using the phrase “radical Islam,”
“That’s the key, they tell us – we can’t beat IS unless we call them “radical Islamists.” What exactly would using this label accomplish? What exactly would it change? Would it make IS less committed to trying to kill Americans? Would it bring in more allies? Is there a military strategy that is served by this? The answer is none of the above. Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction,” Obama said.
Obama claims that since he became the US President, he has been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism. Of course, he has repeatedly called on the Muslim governments the world over to cooperate “to reject the twisted interpretation of one of the world’s great religions”. An overwhelming number of the US citizens, however, have developed Islamophic sentiments suggesting that Trump’s call for a blackout ban on Muslims might sound outrageous, but it could appeal to the 55 percent of Americans who favour an “unfavourable opinion of Islam”.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a Scholar of comparative religion and classical Arabic-Islamic sciences, Researcher in Culture & Communication Studies and Commentator on Muslim Affairs in Media. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Extracted from firstpost