UNITED NATIONS (IPS/GIN) - A renowned Islamic scholar of Egyptian origin is barred from taking up a post in a prestigious institution in the United States—the University of Notre Dame—after the U.S. State Department invokes an anti-terrorism law to keep him out of the country.
A nationwide survey discovers that nearly one-half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans.
The growing new phenomenon labeled “Islamophobia”—the paranoid fear of Muslims—is fast spreading, both in the United States and in Western Europe, warn academics, Middle East experts and senior UN officials.
Alarmed at the rising racial and religious intolerance, the United Nations is expressing “deep concern” over the increase in anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia worldwide.
A resolution recently adopted by the 191-member UN General Assembly calls upon all states to cooperate with the UN Commission on Human Rights to eliminate the growing new trends in racial and religious discrimination.
For the first time, the United Nations hosted, in early December, a seminar zeroing in on the subject of Islamophobia, symbolizing the gravity of the situation.
Addressing the seminar, which was attended by religious leaders, academics and senior UN officials, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that efforts to combat Islamophobia must also contend with the question of terrorism and violence carried out in the name of Islam.
“Islam should not be judged by the acts of extremists who deliberately target and kill civilians. The few give a bad name to the many, and this is unfair,” he added.
“The Christian West has feared Islam both religiously and politically,” according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and keynote speaker at the seminar. “Today, the paradox of Islamophobia remains that many people afraid of Islam know very little about it. They feel a great need to see ‘the other’ as the enemy.”
In the United States, the targeting of Muslims was triggered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (9/11) because all of the attackers were of Middle Eastern origin.
Recently, Cornell University released the results of a survey it conducted in September revealing U.S. citizens’ willingness to restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has accused U.S. law enforcement agencies of racial profiling of Muslims living in the United States.
“In U.S. media and political discourse, a mixed—and often implicitly negative—view of Islam exists,” says Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy.
“There’s a lot of anti-Muslim bigotry. Some of it is based on religious chauvinism from Christians and Jews. Some of it is racist,” he told IPS.
The perception that Muslims hate Israel has fed anti-Islamic fervor among strong supporters of Israel. And, particularly since 9/11, U.S. nationalism has largely identified Islam as a major threat to America, added Mr. Solomon. “Ultimately, I believe that public hostility toward Islam in the United States today is mostly a matter of geopolitics and U.S. nationalism,” he added.
“While the 9/11 attacks clearly had an impact on Islamophobia, it is important to recognize that this phenomenon has been around in one form or another virtually since the advent of Islam in the seventh century,” says Mouin Rabbani, a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.
It has developed and changed over the centuries on the basis of a variety of religious and racial prejudices, he added, as well as associated political factors such as colonialism, nationalism and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and socio-economic issues like oil and immigration.
In the United States, for example, Islam was largely associated with the African slave population and resistance to slavery (and, to a lesser extent, subsequent African-American militancy), and Islamophobia served as part of the process of the dehumanization and domestication of this population.
Since 1945, by contrast, U.S. Islamophobia has largely been projected externally. This, Mr. Rabbani points out, is related to the emergence of the United States as the sole global power, its armed pursuit of control over the strategically significant Middle East, and its close embrace of Israel.
More recently, with the end of the Cold War (during which prejudice against Muslims coincided with support for Islamic militancy), some intellectuals, such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, sought to formulate a theory of Islam as an enemy civilization.
In a report to the General Assembly in November, Doudou Diene, special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, said “there appears to be agreement that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the upswing in Europe.”
Mr. Rabbani said European Islamophobia has had a somewhat different trajectory, emerging initially in response to the theological and territorial challenge presented by the rise of Islam as an alternative monotheistic religion and the expansion of Islamic empires.
It was then put into the service of European colonialism in the Middle East and other Muslim territories, and more recently in response to the growth of Muslim migrant populations in western Europe.
“My impression is that, while prejudice against Muslims has certainly intensified, hostility to Islam as a religion has grown exponentially, though the two are obviously inter-related,” he added.
“A main effect of 9/11 has been to make Islamophobia not only more widespread, but also considerably more mainstream and respectable, it has let the genie out of the bottle,” Mr. Rabbani said.
“The events of 9/11 were used as an excuse to greatly magnify that hostility and cloak it in pseudo-patriotism,” Mr. Solomon concluded.
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