Discriminatory racial framing of Muslim identity

Muhammad Zamir | Published: June 03, 2018 21:25:01 | Updated: June 05, 2018 20:44:24

Islamophobia appears to be slowly gaining ground throughout the world. It, according to Professor Khaled A. Beydoun, the author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, is evolving gradually from being merely 'dread or hatred of Muslims', or 'fear or dislike' of the faith and its followers to a more complex scenario. The stream of attacks on people of the Muslim faith in different parts of the world demands a serious re-think as to what is happening and why things are going in the wrong direction.

In some parts of the world this dissonance about the Muslim identity is sometimes being driven by the spirit of white supremacy. In other areas discrimination is increasing because of communalism or inter-active failure in religious toleration. Anger also sometimes becomes the driving force. This mostly results from economic reasons arising out of migration. People feel threatened that their chances of employment are reduced because of illegal migrants willing to work for less pay and facilities. There is also hatred inspired against Muslim communities when they are perceived by non-Muslim-majority citizens to be doing better than them in terms of commercial activities. In some countries this economic aspect is followed up with social factors within a community. In this paradigm, there are situations where the way a Muslim dresses is seen as an aberration. A classical case is the use of Hijab or burkha by Muslim women. All these elements coalesce to form sometimes irrational animus.

Under such a situation Islamophobia tends to become more than hatred or fear or dislike of Muslims. Private actors sometimes take advantage of these situations and exploit them within the context of racism, populism and fundamentalism.

It is at this point that the role of the state and its vast network of agencies assume importance within this complex scenario. They have to come forward, sometimes take pre-emptive measures, and, if necessary, also identify the tentacles of racism and hatred and restrict their movement aimed against not only Muslims but also non-Muslims. The principle of tolerance and understanding then becomes the central issue. One must realize that if this is not undertaken then it will create instability and that will affect national security.  Such uncertainty also makes the affected population vulnerable to Islamist advocates who misuse their connectivity and try to persuade the susceptible persons towards fundamentalism and terrorism.

DIALECTICAL ISLAMOPHOBIA: Some analysts have also analyzed another dynamics which they term as dialectical Islamophobia. This appears to have gained ground in the United States after the criminal attacks of September 11(also referred to as 9/11) and also in Europe after several terrorist attacks (by extremist Islamic terrorist organizations) carried out in Britain, Belgium and France. Most unfortunately, these terrorist activities helped to create misrepresentations of Islam and Muslim communities and ushered in a format which had connotations of structural Islamophobia. This led to hate incidents and violence towards Muslims and others who were perceived as being sympathetic towards Muslims

A recent report in the international media has prompted the writing of this article. One must give special thanks to the British counter-terrorist police force for having taken immediate action in this regard. The law enforcement agency has apparently initiated investigation against a group of fundamentalists who were distributing leaflets against Muslims and offering vague rewards of points for throwing acid and beating Muslims or bombing mosques and 'nuking' Mecca.

It was reported that several people received letters calling on them to attack Muslims on April 03, termed in the leaflet as "punish a Muslim" day. The printed leaflets were received by several Britons in London, the West Midlands and Yorkshire through the post. It also included Rushanara Ali and Rupa Huq, two lady British MPs of Bangladeshi origin. Some uploaded images of the document on social media and pointed out that the leaflet said: "They have hurt you; they have made your loved ones suffer. They have caused you pain and heartache. What are you going to do about it?" It went on to offer rewards for attackers, from 10 points for verbally abusing a Muslim and 50 points for throwing acid in the face of a Muslim, to 1,000 points for bombing a mosque and 2,500 points to "nuke Mecca".

The British law enforcement authorities, quite correctly, took this very seriously. There are more than 2.5 million Muslims in Britain, and Islam is the second-largest religion. The West Yorkshire police joined London's Metropolitan Police in a campaign to "catch the person or persons responsible for this". A spokesperson of the West Yorkshire Police said, "Public safety remains our priority and I would urge our communities to be vigilant but not frightened." West Yorkshire police also issued a statement pointing out that "We are stronger when we stand together as one and will not be divided."

One wishes that such re-assuring steps are also taken by the relevant authorities in other hate-affected countries.

In the recent past there have been arson attacks on two different mosques in Germany frequented by the Turkish community. It may be noted that Germany has a three million-strong Turkish community, many of whom are second and third-generation German-born citizens of Turkish descent whose grandparents moved to the country during the 1960s. Quite obviously, such attacks reflect the growth of populism and anti-migrant views that has already been reflected in the recent German national elections. Similar anti-Muslim feelings are expressed in Italy, Netherlands, Austria and France.

SRI LANKAN PRESIDENT BLAMES SOCIAL MEDIA: A special mention must be made to the recent anti-Muslim mob attacks that were carried out by Sinhalese nationalists of Buddhist faith in Digana in central Kandy, Sri Lanka. Hate speech fuelled anti-Muslim violence. False stories about Muslim birth rates and wealth were behind the attacks. False videos posted on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the social media encouraged the campaign of vandalism and arson attacks. These happened to coincide with the national celebrations organized for Sri Lanka's 70th independence anniversdary.

President Maithiripala Sirisena, in an interview with Sinhala weekly Divaina blamed social media for the riots, the third major attack against Muslims in Sri Lanka since November. It prompted the government to deploy the army, declare a state of emergency and block access to the internet. The violence, triggered by the death of a Sinhalese man after being beaten by a group of Muslim men over a traffic dispute, left at least two dead, and mosques, as well as dozens of homes and businesses, torched or destroyed.

It raised fears of instability in Sri Lanka which is still struggling to recover from nearly three decades of ethnic civil war. That conflict - with Tamil separatists - ended in 2009, but a fault line has emerged once again in Sri Lanka. This time, it is along a religious divide, between Sinhalese Buddhists who make up about 75 per cent of the country's population of 21 million and the Muslim minority, who make up about nine per cent.

The Buddhist  and Muslim communities have lived harmoniously for the most part for generations, but surviving feelings of insecurity among the Sinhalese community, as well as recent economic and cultural changes in Sri Lankan society have given rise to a venomous strand of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism.

The temporary ban on the use of social media in Sri Lanka appears to have helped in containing the crisis. The Sri Lanka authorities were slammed by critics for this step. However, calm has been relatively restored and that has come from this important step.

The people of Bangladesh have suffered at different times because of fundamentalism and communalism. It has taught them to believe in secularism, human rights and giving equal opportunity to people of all religions. It is also this approach and attitude that has encouraged Bangladesh to give shelter to more than a million Rohingya refugees who have fled rape, arson, murder and ethnic cleansing being carried out carefully and deliberately against them by the leadership of Buddhist-majority Myanmar and their armed forces.

One can only hope that others suffering from Islamophobia will look at Bangladesh and learn to overcome their prejudice. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information

and good governance.



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