Author: Atif Munawar Mir
This article was published in originally in November 2010 Alislam-eGazette: Universal Brotherhood.
The article will dispel these three myths after establishing that Islamophobia is a new form of racism.
Is Islamophobia a New Form of Racism?
Although neither the west nor Islam are monolithic entities, western media tends to treat Islam and the west as oppositional and such simplistic division serves to maintain stereotypes that the media itself creates of Islam as the ‘other’ and ‘different’. 
Instead of evaluating governmental policies, Islamophobia blames Islam for any social or economic problems that pertain to Muslims, similar to the ones of 1960s, when the housing, education and employment issues that blacks faced were framed as race issues as opposed to the social problems they actually were. 
It is sad that Islamophobes behave as bigots but try to be seen as the champions of freedom. Professor Joan Wallach Scott has argued very persuasively in one of her articles that the French ban on the Islamic veil has little to do with female emancipation. She argues that:
Wilders also calls al-Hijra, “the Islamic doctrine of migration,” a Trojan-horse doctrine that commands Muslim believers to move to a non-Muslim country, have as many children as possible, and then seize power. 
Doug Saunders, a journalist, warns Wilders that perhaps his words, and the message of Fitna (the documentary movie made by Wilders against Islam), is exactly the kind of hate propaganda faced by Jews before the Second World War. Back then, Judaism had been closely linked with communism like Islam is now linked with fascism and it was believed that Judaic beliefs brought nothing but terrorism and violence. 
The negative portrayal of Islam by politicians and media often makes the general population not only more prejudiced against Islam but also deeply fearful of it. Worse, such prejudice and fear has begun to find its way into the laws and policies of some western nations. Some examples are the refusal of France to serve halal (Islamic version of Kosher) meat in school cafeterias, the banning of mosque minarets in Switzerland, halting the construction of new mosques in Germany and the banning of the burqa in France.
The latest example of Islamophobia is the boycott by conservative bloggers of Canadian-based Campbell Soup, which has rolled out halal (Islamic version of Kosher) soups in its product line. They justify their blatant prejudice by linking ISNA, which provides the halal certification to Campbell products, to Hamas without providing any evidence whatsoever. Here is what an editorial in Philadelphia Daily News had to say about this controversy:
“It’s yet another alarming development in the so- far-successful political strategy of exploiting ignorance and fear of Islam. It joins last summer’s roiling controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center a few New York blocks from Ground Zero and the crazy Florida minister’s threat to publicly burn a Quran. In recent weeks, various politicians have pronounced warnings that Americans are in grave danger of being subject to sharia law. Don’t assume these “issues” are confined to the conservative fringe…Why are so many people so willing to believe these myths? Perhaps it is because Americans, who are among the most religious people in the world, are also remarkably illiterate about religion. A recent survey by the Pew Center found that many Christian Americans know little about non-Christian religions…In assessment of thousands of acts of suicide terrorism by a University of Chicago professor found that most Muslim perpetrators are motivated not by doctrines of “radical Islam” but by the desire for revenge against American policies, especially the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But that’s ever-so-more challenging to our worldview – and much less politically potent – than seeing an insidious conspiracy in a can of Vegetarian Vegetable soup.”
Also, the fact that these conservative bloggers are targeting Islamic dietary laws and not the dietary laws of Jews or Hindus proves what Edward Said had said about a decade ago:
“Malicious generalizations about Islam have become the last acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West; what is said about the Muslim mind, or character, or religion, or culture as a whole cannot now be said in mainstream discussions about Africans, Jews, other Orientals, or Asians.”
Myths that Perpetuate Islamophobia
Myth 1: Islam is a Totalitarian, Violent and Monolithic Religion
Islamophobes go to great lengths to associate Islam with violence and totalitarianism. When a Muslim commits an act of violence against a Muslim woman or a non-Muslim person, Islamophobes hurry to pin the blame on Islam while discounting the cultural, economic and political reasons behind such violence. Radical elements of Islam that target innocent civilians do not represent mainstream Muslims. They do not reflect the pure teachings of Islam. The Holy Quran permits only defensive war while the Holy Prophet taught Muslims not to hurt innocent civilians during war. It is unfortunate that radical Muslims are often given more coverage in the media than those hundreds of millions of Muslim men and women who serve humanity as doctors, scientists, charity workers, social workers, human right activists or lawyers.
Bernard Lewis has forwarded a favourite argument of Islamophobes to prove that Islam is totalitarian. He argues that Islam “is not merely a system of belief and worship, a compartment of life, so to speak…It is rather the whole of life”. Edward Said refutes this myth and makes the case that such “a statement demonstrates not only bias, but also a ludicrous misunderstanding of how human life actually operates. Lewis’s methods suggest that all Muslims – all one billion of them – have read, absorbed, and totally accepted ‘the rules’…that govern ‘civil, criminal and what we call constitutional law’, and then slavishly follow those precepts in every significant action of their daily lives. If there was ever an occasion to apply the word preposterous, it is here. Lewis simply cannot deal with the diversity of Muslim, much less human life because it is closed to him as something foreign, radically different and other.”
The fact is that different Muslim cultures across the globe interpret Islamic guidelines and teachings differently. Muslims can be liberal or conservative. Muslim majority countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey interpret Quran differently based on their unique history, environment, culture and politics. It is because of these varying interpretations that Muslim women across the globe wear varying Islamic attire. Some may wear a hijab, and others the veil or burqa. Interestingly, it is European countries that are discouraging diversity within Islam by banning the burqa.
Myth 2: Islam is hostile to non-Muslims and its values are fundamentally at odds with the western values.
The myth that Islam is intolerant and hostile to non-Muslims received a strong boost from 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in London in 2005.
Dominique Moisi explains the impact of 9/11 and London attacks on the psyche of the western population in the following words:
“For many of the English after July 2005, the greatest shock was the realization that the enemy was within them; in fact the enemy was them. The suicide bombers of London were mostly British citizens born and educated in Great Britain. By the same token, most of the 9/11 hijackers had gone through technical universities in Europe. Living with Europeans and being taught by European professors had not distracted them from terrible project. It is clear that our universities had absolutely no humanistic appeal for them, either in the content of the courses they took or in any marginal attempts to integrate them culturally and socially. These facts underscore the vulnerability and weakness of Europe in the face of hatred from the Islamic world.” 
It is understandable if many of the English were in shock after the London attacks and entertained thoughts that Muslims are unable to fit into western society. These thoughts, of course, do not reflect the reality. The reality is that majority of Muslims do not feel their Islamic values to be fundamentally at odds with their western values. That is why Moisi goes on to argue that the London attacks must be put into perspective. He argues:
“To neglect the existence of threat would be suicidal, but to be obsessed with it is counterproductive, for our ambition must be to integrate migrant of every faith and background as successfully as possible. After all, we need them as much as we need us.”
Moisi supports his point by referring to an essay ‘Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France’, in which the authors, Jonathen Lawrence and Justin Vaisse, provide revealing statistics which work to establish that the great majority of European Muslims want to integrate successfully into their respective emigrant countries.
To make this integration easier, Islamophobes must stop incessantly declaring that Islam is inherently hostile to western values and therefore its followers must choose between their national identity or their religious identity, as if the two are mutually exclusive. According to Reza Aslan, it is exactly this kind of thinking that has made the successful integration of Muslims into European society difficult. According to Aslan, integration of Muslims in America has been far more successful because America’s commitment to freedom of religion does not force Muslims to choose between their religious and nationalist identities. Aslan states:
“Much has been written about why Muslims in the US have, for the most part, managed to avoid many of the problems of identity and integration facing Muslim communities in Europe Obviously, economic circumstances, have played a role: While the majority of Muslims in Europe hail from impoverished immigrant families, the majority of Muslims in the United States are solidly middle-class…And certainly America’s long and storied history of absorbing different cultures, religions, and ethnicities has made a difference in shaping the experience of American Muslims…But undoubtedly the most significant factor in allowing American Muslims to comfortably reconcile their faith and traditions with the realities of American life is the core American belief that there need be no conflict between one’s religious and nationalist identities. Above all else, it is America’s commitment to the freedoms of religion, and religious expression, that has made Muslims in the United States so much more restraint to the pull of Jihadism than their European counterparts.”
This excerpt offers two lessons. First, the integration policies of the USA have thus far been successful. This integration, however, may well become unravelled if the U.S. continues to and insists upon identifying Islam with the actions of a small minority of Muslim radicals. Second, the overwhelming majority of Muslims want to integrate into their western homelands. But this commitment to integration does not mean that Muslims are willing to give up their beliefs. A Muslim woman can wear a hijab and can still be a doctor. A Muslim man can watch cricket or Ice hockey with his non-Muslim friends without drinking beer. The reality is that Islamic teachings and fundamental western values can be integrated to create a British, American or French Islam just like there is an Indonesian, Malaysian and Turkish Islam.
What makes this integration possible for Muslims is that Islam is, in fact, not hostile to non-Muslims as claimed by Islamophobes. Islam condemns racism, holds the principles of justice to be more important than group loyalty, preaches freedom of conscience and teaches that loyalty to homeland is a part of faith. For instance, the Holy Quran says:
O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is aware of what you do. (5:9)
Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (4:59)
Furthermore, Muslims do believe in the salvation of non-Muslims. The Holy Quran clearly says:
Surely, the Believers, and the Jews, and the Christians and the Sabians — whichever party from among these truly believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good deeds — shall have their reward with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve. (2:63)
It is clear from above examples that the principle of justice, loyalty to homeland, freedom of conscience, moral uprightness, universal compassion and salvation are key elements of Islam and together these principles teach Muslims to be tolerant, compassionate and respectful to non-Muslims. Unfortunately, Geert Wilders has confused these Islamic values with Nazism.
Myth 3: Muslims pose a Threat to the Western Way of Life
As discussed above, Aslan argues that the U.S.’s commitment to freedom of religion does not force Muslims to choose between their religious and nationalist identities. However, in the USA, the demonization of Islam has become a very regular feature in some media outlets. These outlets along with some conservative interest groups have voiced unfounded concerns that Islamic law is creeping into American law and as such Muslims are slowly taking over the U.S. Such concerns have been circulated in European media as well.
A perfect example of Islamophobia was reported when Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle told a crowd of Tea Party rally-goers that two cities — Dearborn, Michigan and Frankford, Texas — are under Sharia law, the sacred law of Islam. Of course, the claims turned out to be false. Later, it was discovered Frankford, Texas doesn’t really exist. Dallas annexed the city in 1975 and all that remains is a church and cemetery. Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly told the Associated Press that Angle’s comments were “shameful” and “totally irresponsible.”
The fear-mongering tactic employed by Sharron Angle was not an isolated incident. Even Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of House of Representatives, has raised baseless concerns that Islamic law is creeping into America.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a Journalist, comically demonstrates the absurdness of the fear that Muslims are slowly taking over America in the following words:
“A Martian takeover of New Jersey is more likely than the imposition of a caliphate, or of Muslim law, on America, for any number of reasons, including: One percent of America’s population is Muslim; within this one percent, a vanishingly small minority believes in the ideology of al-Qaeda, which propagates the idea of the restoration of the caliphate; a much greater percentage of American Muslims believes in interfaith dialogue (I know this from personal experience, having been invited to countless interfaith dialogue groups). Only a true paranoid could look at America as it is today and see the creeping takeover of Islamist caliphate ideology.”
Hopefully, the American commitment to the freedom of religion will prevail and American public will not pay any attention these Islamophobic voices.
All in all, Islam is not a monolithic religion. Only a tiny minority of Muslims are radical. The overwhelming majority are peaceful and want to become integrated in their western homelands. It is unfortunate that Islamophobes try to paint Muslims as blood-thirsty and hostile community bent on taking over Europe and America. The time has come for Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and people of all faiths to form an alliance against elements of radicalism that are to be found in all faiths, and which are a threat to intercultural and interreligious peace. The enemy is not Islam, nor is it any other faith. The enemy is intolerance, which is propagated by hate mongers such as anti-Semites and Islamophobes or anyone else who spreads hatred against any faith group. A noble laureate, Elie Wiesel, who experienced the suffering of Jews first hand during the Second World War, wrote his memories in a book, Night. In the preface of the book, he explains that the reason he wrote his memories is because “he does not want his past to become the future of youth today and the children who will be born tomorrow.” The point is that we must always be vigilant to identify hatred, and address it before it takes on a systematic violent form. Muslims today are concerned that their depiction by Islamophobes’ as a violent and monolithic people will slowly dehumanize them in the minds of the western public According to the studies of social psychology, dehumanization is defined as the process by which one person or group views others as not worthy of humane treatment and eventually extreme dehumanization leads to crimes against humanity and acts of genocide such as the Holocaust. 
The question is how we should become aware of our prejudices and rein them in. The solution lies in not forgetting the simple historical truth that hatred and prejudice are like a cancer that continues to find a new group to target until it eats away the soul of a whole nation.
History has taught us again and again that we have the natural urge to prejudge an individual based on his religion and culture, and how often the prejudice when let loose grows into discrimination, which when left unchecked, transforms into hatred which can trigger violence and even genocide or a holocaust.
Islamophobes instead of making malicious generalizations and baseless accusations should acknowledge the existence of diversity in Islam and make a serious effort to create a positive atmosphere of dialogue and of course, Muslims living in west must reciprocate that effort. The aim of dialogue must be to better understand each other plus find a way to coexist that is mutually rewarding.
 Wallach, Joan “France’s ban on the Islamic veil has little to do with female emancipation” http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2010/aug/26/france-ban-islamic-veil
 Saunders, Doug, “The Scary World of Geert Wilders”, The Globe and Mail, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-scary-world-of-geert-wilders/article1491766/
 Philadelphia Daily News, Controvery over Halal Soup is nuts http://www.philly.com/dailynews/opinion/20101020_DN_Editorial__A_Daily_News_editorial.html
 For detailed discussion of Separation of Church-Mosque and State in Islam, please visit the link: http://knol.google.com/k/zia-shah/october-2010-alislam-egazette/1qhnnhcumbuyp/274#
 Simon, Jeff, “Angle: Two American cities under Sharia law”, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/09/angle-two-american-cities-under-sharia-law/?iref=allsearch
 Goldberg, Jeffrey, “Pamela Geller, Clinical Paranoid” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/pamela-geller-clinical-paranoid/64355/
 Mitcham, Carl, “Humanization and Dehumanization”, http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2655-2005.87.pdf