Islamophobia – Bigotry In Its Newest Form

Prejudice against a small group of people in a big community is neither a new phenomenon nor is it native to any culture or religion. There is only one principle to it: Being different is wrong. Anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia are all basically human resistance to change and difference manifesting itself in grotesque ways.

While Xenophobia is fear of foreigners, Islamophobia is the fear of Muslims. This term was first coined in 1997 in a Runnymede Trust Report and Islamophobia was defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and, therefore, fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” Although this term was initially used in context with Muslims in the UK and Europe, the tragic incidents of 9/11 triggered hatred against Muslims in the United States where the term Islamophobia came to be heard frequently.

From 9/11 to Donald Trump’s proposal to refuse each and every Muslim the right to visit the USA, Islamophobia has manifested itself in many disturbing forms all over the US, UK, and Europe in the past few years. Muslims collectively have suffered ever since they began to be identified as ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’. In the latest poll conducted in the USA, it was found that 55% of the participants held a negative view of Islam. 74% of the participants did not have any Muslim colleagues in their workplace while 68% said that they had no Muslim friends or acquaintances. This shows that despite the fact that many Americans do not have much contact with Muslims, they still view Islam as unfavorable.

What gives rise to this attitude? Before 9/11, an average American didn’t know or care about the Muslims. Many people considered Muslims as nomads who lived far away and had conservative traditions and customs. When the twin towers fell, there was massive fear and chaos. The question in everyone’s mind was; who were there people who claimed responsibility? The Muslims. All Muslims. Why did they hate America so much that they would attack and kill thousands of Americans simply out of hatred? It was this fear and ignorance about Islam and Muslims which coupled up and gave rise to Islamophobia in the United States. One Muslim boy recalls that he was in grade five when the twin towers fell. Suddenly, everyone at school started hating him. His friends stopped talking to him and bullies would pick on him and beat him up. Once on the way back from school one boy asked him to give up his seat. He refused. That boy and his friends came and started to beat him up. The bus driver saw what was happening and deliberately turned the music up. When he came home, his mother cleaned his injuries and bandaged him. They did not go to the police. No one was willing to help.

Islamophobia is the result of the bad press more than anything else. Due to biased media coverage, the words ‘Extremist, terrorist and Muslim’ were linked together in the average American mind. The new face of Islam began to emerge and it was dark and menacing. Muslims killed innocent people in the name of God. Suppressed women due to religion rather than lack of awareness and education. They wanted a theocracy and wanted to bring Osama Bin Laden as the leader of America.
Videos circulated which showed men with beards dancing in the street every time an American soldier was killed or civilians murdered brutally. Verses from the Quran were selected and quoted without context. Even people from different ethnicities such as the Sikhs were discriminated against since they had long beards and supported turbans. No one went for a fact check. No one bothered to verify whether all the things circulating were even true or not. The Sikhs are not even Muslims! Nobody thought that the Gods of Christianity and Judaism are also not always kind, and that religious literature from the Bible and the Torah was sometimes more intense than the Quran.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS slowly became the true face of Islam in the west. After recent Paris attacks the California shootings, Mali attacks and other incidents of extreme violence provided the perfect background for the press and politicians like Donald Trump to capitalize on the Islamophobia to achieve their own ends. Muslims, whether they were from the Middle East or Africa, Arab or Asian often came to be associated in relationship to extremism.

Another classic example of widespread Islamophobia in the United States is what happened to Ahmed Mohammad: The 14-year-old Muslim boy who was a student at Mc Arthur High School in Texas. Ahmed being a technology enthusiast was famous in his school for tinkering with ‘gadgets’ and his classmates called him ‘gadget boy’. Young Ahmed made a clock out of spare parts of machines and other useless material lying around the house and proudly took it to his school to show to his engineering teacher. The engineering teacher admired his work but told him not to show it anyone else. Ahmed still went and showed the clock proudly to his English teacher. The clock was then confiscated and taken to the principle. A few hours later, a surprised Ahmed was put in handcuffs and taken to a Juvenile detention center where even the police admitted the clock looked nothing like a bomb. Ahmed’s family removed him from school and decided to move to Qatar for good.

It is easy to classify people into groups and label them. It is easy to say that all Muslims are terrorists. All Blacks are thieves. All gays are promiscuous. All Asians are good at math. But the reality is more complex. We cannot simply classify people into boxes and blame a whole group of people for the actions of one.

Bigotry is under any circumstance is wrong and inexcusable.

Fred Phelps indulged in bigotry against Christians.

Nazi’s do not justify bigotry against Germans.

Stalin doesn’t justify bigotry against atheists.

Osama bin Laden is no excuse for bigotry against Muslims.

Even though Islamophobia is completely understandable, that does not make it justified. It is still bigotry.