Islamophobia in the West
THE backlash was expected from the moment the grisly events on Friday evening in Paris last week began to unfold. Muslims across Europe and North America braced themselves for the ‘tsunami of hatred’ — as some of them put it — that they knew was coming.
Those apprehensions have been more than realised in the deluge of threats against the community: venomous phone and online messages; vandalism of mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim-owned businesses; individuals clearly identifiable as Muslim physically attacked; and vigils by Muslims for the Paris victims disrupted by racist, Islamophobic abuse.
Some politicians have capitalised on last week’s massacre to whip up already simmering sentiment against giving asylum to largely Muslim refugees fleeing war-torn Syria.
Governors of at least 26 US states have said they would bar Syrian refugees from resettlement in their states. Poland has called for a revision of the EU policy on the migrant crisis; Hungary and Czechoslovakia reiterated the view that terrorists would slip into the continent amongst the droves of refugees and wreak mayhem.
In short, it is exactly as the militant Islamic State group which carried out the massacre in the French capital, might have hoped.
There have been considerable level-headed analyses in the media along these lines; many individuals — including some family members of the Paris victims — have also written movingly about their refusal to succumb to blind hatred that can only serve the militant organisation’s ends. However, right-wing hysteria — often underwritten by cynical political agendas — is firmly in the ascendant.
At this juncture, world leaders need to demonstrate statesmanship and a more nuanced understanding of the situation instead of pandering to their base. Referring to the migrant crisis, President Barack Obama has tried to steer the narrative in a more considered direction by saying, “We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism”.
His observation that there could not be “a more potent recruitment tool for [IS] than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate” aptly highlights the danger posed by the non-Muslim world giving in to xenophobic impulses.
President François Hollande too has also categorically stated that Islamophobia will not be tolerated. There need to be far more calls for restraint coming from the West.
At the same time, it is also a fact that Islamist violence in the world today has its genesis in long-festering grievances — unacknowledged, trivialised or deliberately misrepresented — such as the situation in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya etc.
Without addressing these issues in a meaningful way, there can be no real, long-term resolution of militancy.
Meanwhile, for its part, the Muslim world, through the organisations that claim to represent it, needs to craft a collective, hard-hitting response to the depredations being committed in the name of Islam.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2015