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Islamophobia and lessons to be considered  Join our daily free Newsletter

MENAFN - Jordan Times - 19/09/2012

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Despite the big talk about the need not to implicate Islam or all Muslims in what is routinely described as "Islamic terror", Islamophobia has generally been on the rise in the Western world.

It is in this context that we must see the storm of anti-American protests across the Middle East, Asia and Africa in recent days.

Actions to offend Muslims, their prophet and their religion are by no means new. We have witnessed deliberate attempts to do so in the Netherlands, Denmark, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, American military bases in Afghanistan and in many other countries.

It could not be possible to blame Muslims for major terrorist acts in the US and elsewhere around the world and for "incubating" extremist militant jihadist movements without creating a highly charged anti-Muslim fever in most of the West.

Add to that the persistent demonisation campaigns against Iran, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, and Islamist groups anywhere that focus on their Islamic identity, as the real danger threatening world peace and stability, if not global civilisation, and you realise how targeted Muslims can be.

During less than two years of "Arab Spring", attacks on Islamic parties in the Arab world have gained additional momentum with both local and international warnings that the possibility of Islamic groups taking over from deposed dictators may precipitate much more dangerous outcomes.

The video that sparked the storm is indeed a piece of incendiary racist filth, manufactured by sick-minded groups with the clear intention of provoking the kind of reaction that we have seen. Its quality and substance are self-defeating, and would have been barely noticed had they not been helped by the reaction the movie stirred.

Muslims were deeply insulted, however, because they did not regard the video as an isolated case. Rather, they viewed it as a product of sweeping anti-Islam hysteria in the Western world, against a backdrop of decades of violent intervention in Muslim-majority countries.

This insult has topped ages-old grievances against the United States and many European countries for their duplicity, their indifference to such offences, as well as their constant support for Israeli aggression, occupation and violation of international law.

The film is mainly considered part of a package whose various components are all tightly linked.

This sad, but significant episode offers several lessons, though it would be optimistic to hope that any will be learned.

First, the insulting video has been widely condemned, as it should be. That is new. Previous attempts to deride Islam or to link the prophet of Islam with terror - the Danish cartoons - were defended as legitimate freedom of expression. Other cases of desecration of the Muslim holy book were described as irresponsible individual actions. Of course attacks on Jews or other religious, ethnic or racial groups are rarely defended in such a manner and are usually - and rightly - condemned.

Repeated warnings for creating laws banning attacks on all religious beliefs and sacred symbols - or at least creating an atmosphere of respect that marginalises such attacks - were never heeded.

The danger of underestimating the depth of injury such insults could cause to many devoted believers worldwide once targeted was never taken seriously either.

What has been happening was mostly the exact opposite. Many politicians rode the wave of anti-Islam sentiment in their countries in the hope of making short-term political or electoral gains, without realising the long-term damage such opportunism can cause.

The current violent scenes at many Western embassies all over the region are just additional aggravation.

I hesitate to conclude that the larger than usual condemnation of the insulting video, including from the secretary general of the United Nations and others, has been some kind of panic response to the unexpected scale of protest or to the tragic murder of the American ambassador and other US officials in Benghazi - originally thought to be provoked by anger at the video - lest such a remark may be misconstrued as condoning violence, which I unconditionally deplore.

What I am trying to say is that one should not ignore ominous trends until innocent people pay with their lives for political opportunism. But Islamophobia has been rising alarmingly, and few have had the courage to condemn it.

A second lesson - and it ought to go without saying - is that violence, burning American and European embassies, murdering officials, destroying property and engaging in ruthless confrontations with local authorities is by no means the right response to insulting provocations.

This is the kind of reaction that the perpetrators must have hoped to trigger when they planned this outrageous act.

The scale of violence in response has disseminated the vicious video to an extent its makers never dreamt of.

With all due respect for the feelings of the innocent people who rushed to the streets to express their anger and to defend their faith, it must be emphasised that such reactions only play in the hands of those who have been strenuously trying to prove the violent nature of Muslims generally and their hostility to civilised behaviour.

The alternative is dignified protest and high-level demarches to warn of the consequences of continued silence on, if not deliberate complicity with, such insults.

Freedom of expression should never mean offending other people's beliefs or mocking their religious symbols.

Unfortunately, and although we live in a world that hardly pays attention to polite style, one should not rush to escalation before exhausting peaceful means.

Third, Muslims and Arabs, like all human beings, are not all angels. It is wrong to stereotype and generalise about any group, including one so vast - there are some two billion Muslims - that it can no more be considered a single group than can equally contain numerous and diverse Christians.

And yet, when an American or a small group of American soldiers commit an atrocity, we are repeatedly told they are "a few bad apples". The rest of the American population should not be blamed or implicated. That is just an example. That should apply to Muslims and Arabs as well. Only the bad apples should be blamed. Yet, that has never been the case.

The reference in the case of Arab or Muslim suspects is always by defining their ethnicity or religion. We often hear of a Muslim terrorist, or an Arab terrorist or when not certain about "a man of Middle Eastern appearance" who committed a bad act.

That language should be withdrawn from use. It has caused serious harm to our relations with the world and it has offered many racists and outlaws enormous space to incite hatred and religious discord.

Last, year after year, conference after conference of interfaith dialogue, intercultural activities, seminars amongst religious and community leaders, "alliances of civilisations" have, sadly, yielded no visible results.

The perceived gaps between adherents of various religions and cultures are steadily growing wider.

Both ethnic and sectarian conflicts in our region and worldwide are visibly increasing. That is simply because lip service does not solve deep political problems. Addressing religion when the root cause of conflict is political is just bypassing the issues.

Religion has indeed been drawn into the political conflict, but it did not cause it. Let us therefore deal with the real issues: injustice, illegality, abuse of power, political opportunism, aggression and occupation.

We should start there for, otherwise, we will only be dealing with symptoms when it is already too late.


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