Book Review: The fear of Islam: An introduction to Islamophobia in the West

Book written by Todd H Green; Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa

Reviewed by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The best thing that happened in recent months to humanize the Muslims, at least one of them, the greatest, Muhammad Ali, was his eulogy by President Bill Clinton in June 2016:

Sports Illustrated shared the full text of the speech.

Todd H Green wrote his book a year before the death of Muhammad Ali and a lot has happened both negative and positive for the Muslims. I thought this 11 minute video should be an apt silver lining and a preface for the gloomy story of Islamophobia that I am going to share next.

Todd Green is also the author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals on the topics of Islamophobia and secularization in the West, along with the book Responding to Secularization: The Deaconess Movement in Nineteenth-Century Sweden (2011). Green is also the editor of Islam, Immigration, and Identity (2014).

He prefaces his book under discussion by stating:

This book is born of my experience teaching college students about Islamophobia. I teach two courses in particular that allow me continually to cultivate my knowledge of Islamophobia and to explain this subject to an audience with little prior understanding. The first, a study—abroad course called Islam in Europe, enables me to travel with students to a variety of countries in order to analyze firsthand the tensions between the Muslim minorities and the non- Muslim majority in Europe. The second, a survey course on Islamophobia, provides a forum for debating some of the more difficult questions surrounding this topic, including what distinguishes Islamophobia from legitimate criticisms of or disagreements with Islamic beliefs and practices. I am fortunate to work at an academic institution that encourages faculty to explore challenging and controversial topics like this inside and outside the classroom. This book would not be possible without the rich teaching opportunities and the supportive learning environment that Luther College provides.

His book has nine chapters, the first chapter introduces Islamophobia. The second chapter surveys European views of Islam and the Muslims from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment.  The third chapter examines the European colonization of the Muslim-majority regions in the 19th and the early 20th centuries and includes discussion of how the colonial enterprise generated Orientalism, a particular way of thinking that has shaped the modern study of Islam.

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His book has received excellent reviews. For example:

“Todd Green has written a compelling and important book. The future of the West rises and falls on its ability to welcome the contributions of its most diverse elements. Thus, Islamophobia doesn’t just hurt Muslims, it weakens Western civilization. Professor Green’s book helps us understand the problem and generate creative solutions.”—Eboo Patel, Interfaith Youth Core

“Tragically, the ongoing conflicts in many areas of the world seem likely to continue to generate more reports of violence and to reinforce negative attitudes toward Muslims and Islam. Amid this challenge, Green offers a helpful, wide-ranging analysis of major developments together with thoughtful proposals for transforming attitudes and behaviors.”—Leo Lefebure, Georgetown University

“This is an extremely important new book. The Muslims and the Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. Our future depends on finding a different way of relating. To this end, the author summarizes encyclopedic information, interprets it clearly, and provides insights that point to a new direction.”—Richard Olson, Review & Expositor

“Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, ‘The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamopliobia in the West’ is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking.” –John Burroughs, The Midwest Book Review

To develop the insights for the solutions that Green is presenting, he interviewed several well known Muslims, including Keith Ellison, the first US Muslim Congressman and others including from other faiths with insight into religion. He writes:

I am indebted to those whom I interviewed for the final chapter of the book: Keith Ellison, John Esposito, Myriam Francois-Cerrah, Marjorie Dove Kent, Ingrid Mattson, Dalia Mogahed, Eboo Patel, and Tariq Ramadan. Their impact on this book extends well beyond the excerpts from their interviews found in chapter 9. Their perspectives and insights inspired me to revisit and revise portions of the book and to make some connections that I did not see the first time around. I am grateful for their wisdom and witness, and I am honored to have their voices included in this book.

Islamophobia is pervasive in Europe. Todd writes:

Many polls confirm just how much apprehension there is concerning Muslims and Islam. In the United States, 53 percent of Americans hold views of Islam described either as “not favorable at all” or “not too favorable.“ In the Netherlands, 63 percent of Dutch citizens believe Islam is incompatible with modern European life? In France, 74 percent believe Islam is at odds with French society?’ Just fewer than one in four people in Britain believe Islam is compatible with the British Way of life.

He describes his book in his Introduction as:

This book is also not an attempt to condemn every person who has suspicions or misgivings about Islam. True, there are some people who deliberately stir up animosity toward Muslims in order to mobilize voters, increase ratings, generate traffic to blogs and Websites, sell books, or justify wars. In other words, there are folks who are in the business of manufacturing Islamophobia for personal or professional gain, and they do deserve special condemnation. But they are also in the minority. In my experience, many of the people who harbor suspicions toward Muslims or Islam do not do so for personal gain or with malicious intent. Oftentimes, they are eager to learn more about Islam and those who practice it in order to see if their fears are justified. It is my hope that this book can be of help to those who may be apprehensive of Islam but who recognize that they need to learn more about where their misgivings come from and how they can be addressed.

He takes an honest and an in depth look at the issues at hand:

To take one example—the issue of violence: Why do a small minority of Muslims commit violence against civilians in the name of Islam? Why are their efforts increasingly aimed at the West, and why now? If the Qur’an or something inherent to Islam supposedly makes them commit this violence, why aren’t the majority of Muslims following suit? What do we make of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Victims of Muslim terrorism are other Muslims? And is it possible that the roots of what is called “Islamic terrorism” are found in historical and political conditions that include European colonialism and Western intervention in Middle Eastern countries and governments? Conversely, why are Muslims constructed as violent whereas Western governments that carry out extensive military actions In Muslim—majority countries are considered peaceful? Why is the killing of innocent Muslims by US drone attacks in Pakistan not an act of terrorism, but the killing of innocent Americans by Muslim extremists is? What does the United States’ history of supporting regimes that practice torture, from prerevolutionary Iran to Jorge Videla’s Argentina in the late 1970s to Egypt’s current military dictatorship, say about its commitment to peace and human dignity? What does the United States’ own practice of torture in the War on Terror, a practice supported by a majority of white Christian Americans, say about its dedication to human rights?

In the concluding chapter he begins by saying:

Islamophobia constitutes one of the most acceptable forms of bigotry in the West today. This book has surveyed both the origins and the Contemporary manifestations of this bigotry. By now, the problem of Islamophobia is clear. But how do we address this problem? What are some eflective strategies for reducing or eliminating Islamophobia? In this concluding Chapter, I invite readers to think through these questions by engaging the viewpoints of eight prominent individuals I interviewed on the topic of combating Islamophobia.

Then he describes the insights from these interviews and I will share two paragraphs here:

In her (Ingrid Matteson) research, she discovered that negative, threatening images and stories remain with us in ways that positive news stories do not because our brains are set up to prioritize information that is existentially vital: “There’s nothing more important than a threat to your life and to your security and safety. Even if there are one hundred stories about Muslims doing good things (denouncing terrorism, engaging in humanitarian work, etc.), this information will not stick with people.” For Mattson, this explains why most Americans know the name Osama bin Laden but have no idea who Tawakkol Karman is. Karman, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, is a Muslim making positive contributions. But her story is not threatening, nor does it fit into the cognitive frames many in the West have developed about Islam (that is, Islam is Violent, Islam is opposed to Muslim women having prominent public roles, and so on). Her story does not stick.

Marjorie Dove Kent, the executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York City, also lifts up the connection between Islam and other religions, particularly the Abrahamic faiths.9 She notes that many common themes in Islamic teachings—such as peace and worship of the one God—are part of Judaism and Christianity as well. Islam’s relationship to the People of the Book inspires Muslims to show great respect for Jewish and Christian prophetic figures. The similarities among the Abrahamic traditions also extend to less pleasant aspects, such as violence. While the Qur’an has its share of Violent passages, she notes that the same is true for Jewish and Christian scriptures. None of the Abrahamic traditions have a monopoly on violent texts.

Here, I guess, I want to add a very short of article of my own: Defensive War in the Holy Quran in 600 Words.

Green suggests four possible actions to be taken by the Muslims and well meaning non-Muslims to combat Islamophobia in the final chapter and concludes his book by saying:

Islamophobia is a massive problem that permeates many elements of Western societies. We have a long way to go before Islamophobia becomes as unacceptable in Western societies as other prejudices. But there is reason to hope for a better future. The growing list of books, websites, think tanks, religious leaders, civil rights activists, scholars, and politicians committed to fighting Islamophoia is a promising sign. Add to this the powerful witness provided by the eight individuals interviewed in this chapter, and there is every reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction. Hostility toward the racial and religious “Other,” while a formidable and dangerous force in Western history, rarely has the final word. As Dr. Martin Luther King jr. reminds us: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

To buy the book go to Amazon

Suggested Reading

Is Islam Responsible For The Orlando Nightclub Shooting?

6 replies

  1. Short review from Amazon

    American and European societies, particularly in the long wake of the events of 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and London, have struggled with the recurrent problem of Islamophobia, which continues to surface in waves of controversial legislative proposals, public anger over the construction of religious edifices, and outbreaks of violence. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine contributes fuel to the aggressive debate in Western societies and creates the need for measured discussion about religion, fear, prejudice, otherness, and residual colonialist attitudes. The Fear of Islam speaks into this context, offering an introduction to the historical roots and contemporary forms of religious anxiety regarding Islam within the Western world. Tracing the medieval legacy of religious polemics and violence, Green weaves together a narrative that orients the reader to the complex history and issues that originate from this legacy, continuing through to the early and late modern colonial enterprises, the theories of “Orientalism,” and the production of religious discourses of alterity and the clash of civilizations that proliferated in the era of 9/11 and the war on terror. The book contains analysis of interviews from figures such as Keith Ellison, John Esposito, Ingrid Mattson, Eboo Patel, Tariq Ramadan, and others.

    Buy the book in Amazon

    • I would not busy the book, it is ignorance of the Bible and Quran by the author, it is only fit for the bin. He should first read both the Bible and the Qur’an, then he will know what to write about.

  2. The fear is caused by the ignorance of the contents of the Qur’an, hiding the involvement of the jews in both the Quran and the Bible (christians’ ignorance of the contents). The assumption that they know from being subjected to the two books throughout life is dangerously misleading and has been and will be the cause of unnecessary deaths and destruction whilst the jews themselves are getting away with death, destruction, uprooting, in Palestine while the Biblised/Quranised world looks on (arguing/fighting amongst themselves), controlled by the Jews through the two books (blinded by ‘holiness’, the jews frame of mind, way of life).

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