From Xinjiang to Germany: how did Islamophobia become a global phenomenon? Faisal Devji

islamophobia

Source: The Guardian

By Faisal Devji, who is professor of history at the University of Oxford

The term itself was coined in the 1990s, an era defined by the end of the cold war and triumph of capitalist globalisation

The mass incarceration of Uighurs in China. Rohingya terrorised and driven out of Burma. Indians hacked to pieces and burnt alive in Delhi. Germans of Turkish origin shot dead by a far-right activist in Hanau. All recent events that tell us how disconnected populations have been brought together as global targets for anti-Muslim activism. Like the militant Muslims who inspire and enrage them, these activists invoke lengthy histories of conflict spanning the world, the narrative of one being used to justify that of the other in a paradoxical partnership.

In fact, anti-Muslim feeling was sporadic and lacked a global dimension until recently. Despite having been classified by colonial governments in religious terms, the immigrants who came to European countries after independence neither asserted their religious identities nor experienced discrimination based on it. In the United Kingdom, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh migrants from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh rarely defined themselves by religion in public life, and were seen by government as well as anti-immigrant movements in racial or national terms.

The Rushdie affair laid the groundwork for an anti-Muslim rather than an anti-Asian or anti-immigrant response in Europe

When and why did religious identities come to define public debate and social conflict in so many parts of the world? The answer has to do with the larger processes of globalisation – economic, cultural and political – within which such identities have been transformed since the 1990s. That decade saw a worldwide surge of religious “fundamentalism”, of which Islam has emerged as the most prominent example. And the story of how this happened begins with the cold war.

For Europe, North America and Australia, the chief destinations for those leaving Asia and Africa starting in the 1950s, Islam did not become a political issue until the cold war ended. Islam impinged upon the west in events such as the Iranian revolution of 1979, but it was the mobilisation 10 years later against Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses that established its global credentials. Starting in the UK, the protests over Rushdie’s novel moved on to India, Pakistan and thence to the rest of the world.

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