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Lack of a Muslim Response to Islamophobia

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Lack of a Muslim Response to Islamophobia
Muslim residents walk past racial slurs painted on the walls of a mosque in the town of Saint-Etienne in central France. Photo credit: © Laurent Cipriani FILE - In this Monday Feb. 8, 2010 file photo, Muslim residents walk past racial slurs painted on the walls of a mosque in the town of Saint-Etienne, central France. Graffiti reads: "Muslims". (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)

One valid question that poses itself when dealing with contemporary Islamophobia is how such a large number of people belonging to a single religious group can be subjected to such blatant prejudice and bullying, when their numbers run deep enough to comprise a large fraction of our planet’s population. Muslims today number more than a billion, setting them apart from other minority groups, such as Jews, who have faced similar persecution in the past, when they were subjected to anti-Semitism in Europe. The simple answer to this question, is that there is a lack of response towards Islamophobia from the Islamic world and Muslim majority countries. This can largely be attributed to colonization across the globe in the Islamic world and the post-colonial state that most of these countries find themselves in. From within the United States the lack of response to Islamophobia is a result of the minority status of Muslims who are similarly divided amongst themselves.

Post-colonial Period

Today outside the United States most Muslim countries in the larger Islamic world,may not be physically occupied by foreign powers; with a few exceptions such as Palestine, but the ones that have been subjected to colonization are almost all in a post-colonial period; this maintains the same order as the colonial period except with local elites now implementing colonial economic, social, political, and religious agendas. The colonial powers control not only resources and information, but also the narrative of history and the value system. Simply put, the colonial rule, which cut people from their roots and confused people as to who they are and what they should be, has had long lasting effects felt upto this day. Any attempt for independence manifested as democratically elected governments is brutally suppressed- Iran, Algeria, and Egypt being prime examples. This desire to accommodate secular governments has mitigated these countries’ views and therefore also their response to islamophobia, as secularization in their view includes finding fault with Islam. Turkey stands as a sole exception as a secular country which has been very vocal against islamophobia.

The main response from the Islamic world today is from non-government organizations because their non-representative governments are unwilling to act or speak up against Islamophobia. Unfortunately however most of this response is comprised of reactionary violence which is more harmful, A study of the post-September 11th Islamic world would show that the people most affected after the attacks were Muslims.

Muslim Minorities

On the other side of the equation are the Muslim minorities that live in countries that subject them to politically right-wing and sometimes far left-Islamophobia. In the United States, and perhaps western Europe, Muslims have garnered a limited response to islamophobia for different reasons.

First, some fraction of the Muslims in non-Muslim majority countries are mainly concerned with finding similarities between Islam and more secular ordinances, in efforts to modernize Islam. These groups can be aligned with islamophobic agendas and blame Islam for Muslims’ problems, and they find Islam to be inherently incorrect. Many organizations that will not be named here, frame themselves as progressive and receive funding from anti-Islamic lobbyists. This is one obstacle facing the fight against islamophobia.

Still other groups of Muslim minorities are those which migrated to more developed countries for a better life, who carry little interest in religion, also find themselves reluctant to speak up against islamophobia. Their main objective is assimilation and they would rather integrate and fit in than speak against Islamophobia. Many immigrant groups that move from countries subjected to past colonizations often harbor massive inferiority complexes, subsequently rendering their participation in the fight against islamophobia impossible.

Some Muslim immigrants come from countries where criticism of government has serious and in some cases fatal consequences, and this makes these people afraid to speak up. In the United States harassment by government agencies, entrapment, profiling, and informants all add to this fear.

The main fight against islamophobia today in these countries comes from activists, comprised of mostly second generation Muslims. Additionally, in America Black Muslims have been vocal against islamophobia but their majority sometimes remains isolated from the immigrant community and their issues, leaving their struggle mainly against race related issues. This is partly a result of racism and exclusion coming from immigrant communities.

Lastly there is the interfaith movement. Sometimes the focus is confined to spiritual issues and these groups are reluctant to become part of the bigger struggle. There is a wide spectrum of groups engaged in inter-faith activity ranging from well-meaning groups to those funded by anti-Islamic agendas. Some of these have been very effective in the struggle against islamophobia however there are others who do not believe in the strategy at all.

In general there is a vacuum in the struggle against islamophobia. It requires a very coordinated and well thought out strategy, which will need to be well organized and funded. IRDP and CAIR are leading the way in the long winding road.

Umer Mahmood
Umer Mahmood obtained his B.A. in Mass Communication from The Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University in Indiana. He currently is the head of marketing at IRDP and oversees project management on the IRDP medical initiative, islamophobia video series, website blog contributions, marketing, and journal publishing.