BY TÜLAY DEMIR
MAR 23, 2022 –
Unless international mobilization gets strong enough to combat it, Islamophobia will last forever in our world
Islamophobia flared up with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has plagued the whole world ever since. It was the topic of discussion at the 2nd International Media and Islamophobia Forum held in the capital Ankara last week, where I was among the participants. As a Turkish citizen who has lived in Europe for many years, I discussed how this problem has grown over the years, or rather how it has been magnified. I also had the opportunity to approach the subject from other perspectives thanks to what the other speakers said.
The first meeting of the forum, with the theme “The New Generation’s Struggle Against Islamophobia” was held at the Ankara Chamber of Commerce Congresium and hosted by the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
One of the most profound remarks at the forum came from Ali Erbaş, the head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). Erbaş began his speech by saying “Islamophobia is the name of a treacherous and dark project.” To me, this remark is a fact that should be thrown in the face of those who try to render Islamophobia innocent via slander and accusations.
As a person who has personally experienced the effects of Islamophobia abroad, my heart sank as I listened to Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun. Based on Altun’s data, it seems that Islamophobia is on the rise. Altun’s speech explaining that Muslim societies are facing more and more hate speech day by day was a confirmation that the situation is getting increasingly serious. Furthermore, the increase in hate crimes against Muslims in recent years already reveals the truth statistically.
For the third session of the forum, “Proactive Communication and Media in the Struggle Against Islamophobia,” I was present as a speaker rather than a member of the audience. After all, what I had been listening to throughout the day had once again brought me face to face with what I witnessed in Europe. I thought once more about my happy and uneventful childhood as a “foreigner” in the Netherlands as well as the present situation. I explained the difference between these two periods with all my sincerity:
“During my childhood, xenophobia was a crime. However, there came a time when 9/11 impacted our lives and we began to be marginalized. Society was attempting to isolate Muslims. Unfortunately, both the domestic and international media acts in a manner that fosters hostility and anti-Islamic sentiment. This is an indication that the balances of power have still not settled.”
We are in the age of technology. In many ways, our life has gotten easier and our comfort level has increased. But unfortunately, the wrong policies are capable of turning the world into hell. Innocent, ordinary people are affected when conflicts between countries are inflamed over religion and culture. Muslims are marginalized and minorities are excluded. It’s up to ordinary people to disrupt this order. The only things that will save us from dehumanization are common sense and having a conscience.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has fought against Islamophobia for years, stood beside us via the message he sent and with his support, even though he could not attend the forum in person. In his message, Erdoğan compared Islamophobia to a plague: “Islamophobia continues to spread especially in Western countries, and like a plague that cannot be prevented it continues to poison all segments of society, from the average citizen to public officials.”
The president also took aim at the irresponsible media outlets that contribute to this problem and enable it to grow: “The atmosphere of hatred promoted by irresponsible media negatively affects Muslims as well as millions of people with different languages, religions, backgrounds and cultures. We believe that the fight against this rising Islamophobia is a common issue not only for Muslims, but for all of humanity.” His message was very clear. Will it be heard? We’ll have to wait and see.
Hope born out of tragedy
Amid so many problems, a beacon of hope came from the United Nations. The U.N. has taken an important decision on the third anniversary of the terrorist attack on a mosque in New Zealand on March 15, 2019. A draft submitted by Turkey and Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) passed in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA). With this decision, March 15 has been declared the International Day Against Islamophobia. The resolution called for the strengthening of international efforts based on the respect for human rights, different beliefs and religions, promoting a culture of tolerance, peace and global dialogue.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Op-Ed contributor based in Istanbul