THIS is an appraisal of Islamophobia, mainly in the west, and the so-called westophobia among Muslims from a different viewpoint. I believe that since all wars are ‘trade wars’, the ideological conflicts between Islam and western civilisations are primarily motivated by economic reasons, so they are ‘trade wars’ by other means. I have mainly cited examples from the United States and France, which has recently emerged as the most Islamophobic nation in the world. I have argued that hate crimes or even racial/communal jokes often lead to physical violence against the objects of a joke, hate and ridicule. Hence, denigrating or hating Jews and their religion is a criminal offence in 17 European countries. I have argued that as in the light of the history of Jewish pogrom in Russia, Poland, and elsewhere in eastern Europe and the Holocaust in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s anti-Semitism is considered a hate crime, so, Islamophobia or Islam bashing should also be declared a hate crime, as it often leads to physical attacks on Muslim minorities in the west.
The prejudicial portrayal of Islam as a violent faith has also led to multiple invasions of Muslim-majority countries, especially Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya in the past three decades or so. Hence the necessity of making Islamophobia a hate crime, in the east and west. The nature of Islamophobia or hate crime against Muslims in France is slightly different from that in America and the west in general. While France, especially the Macron administration, is aggressively explicit in demonstrating its hatred for everything Islamic or Muslim, US and other western nations are quite subtle and more hypocritical. They also discriminate against Muslims and invade Muslim-majority countries again and again — they refrain from making public assertions that demonise Islam and its adherents.
Throughout human history, we see people from one tribe, one religion, or one nation denigrate and, even, fight and annihilate the ‘others’. The ubiquitous ‘we’ and ‘they’ are much older than human history. The root cause of this hate is economic and all wars in the name of religion, homeland, democracy, freedom or socialism are actually ‘trade wars’. People compete against each other primarily for economic reasons: better job or business opportunities, raw materials, markets, trade routes, etc. And, manipulative and clever leaders — rulers, priests and others — manufacture half-truth and lies to justify the denigration of the ‘others’ and defending their wars. This has been going on since the days of Alexander, the Crusades, Chengis Khan, Napoleon, Hitler, Bush Sr, and Bush Jr. As capturing trade routes, sources of raw materials and markets from the Arabs motivated some west European monarchs to wage the Crusades with ‘fatwas’ from Popes to justify the invasions of Palestine and adjoining areas, so was the motive behind Columbus’s discovery of the ‘shortest route’ to India. Columbus sought help from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela of Spain to convert Indians into Christians to defeat the Arabs/Muslims to capture their colonies, trade routes and markets.
And, we know giving a dog a bad name before hanging him is as old as west European Crusades (1096–1271) against Islam and Muslims and what followed after Columbus had landed on the shores of the West Indies in 1492. Both the Crusades and Columbus’s so-called ‘Discovery of America’ were preludes to the rampant plundering of western colonisers of wealth, after killing and enslaving indigenous people from the Americas to Asia, Africa, Australia, and other places in the world. Thus, Islamophobia is not an end in itself but a means towards something much bigger: the domination of the resource-rich Muslim world after demonising the Muslims as barbarians, terrorists and threats to western civilisation. One wonders what else but only the further accentuation of the mutual hatred and mistrust between the backward and weak Muslims and the advanced and strong west would be the outcome of the ongoing hate-crimes against Islam.
Most people do not know that Islamist terrorism, which is very different from the politically incorrect ‘Islamic terrorism’ is only around 30 years old, never existed before the end of the cold war in 1990. As the end of the cold war ushered in the new wave of Islamophobia in the west, so did it signal the beginning of Islamist terror and insurgency against the west and other adversaries of Muslims across the world. The west badly needed an enemy to oil its most profitable industrial complex, Eisenhower’s ‘military-industrial complex’ to manufacture and sell more arms to sustain economically. It also wanted to secure the oil-producing Middle Eastern (Muslim-majority) countries from the clutches of the Shiite Islamist regime in Iran, which emerged as a threat to western interests in the region. Paradoxically, the west nurtured Sunni Islamism against the Shiite Iran and the Soviet Union in the past decade of the Cold War only to fight it in the following two-three decades. With the defeat and disappearance of the mysterious ‘Islamic State’ (aka ISIS or ISIL) in December 2017, the world has virtually entered the post-Islamist, post-terrorist phase of history. Barring sporadic and very small-scale Islamist terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere in Asia and Africa — which have been mostly lone-wolf terrorist attacks — in the past three years, Islamist terror only exists in the imagination of the hardcore Islamophobic minds and those who benefit most politically from the phenomenon, in the west and east. The west and its allies elsewhere — India and Israel, in particular — are, however, in a denial mood. To them, Islamist terror poses an existential threat to western civilisation, India and Israel. The ‘beneficiaries of Islamist terrorism’ often stage false-flag ‘Islamist terror attacks’ or provoke backward and ignorant Muslims across the world. Unfortunately, the bulk of Muslims globally represent the least educated, least urbane and underdogs, many of whom are emotional and fanatical, willing to kill ‘enemies of Islam’ and get killed in the process to embrace ‘martyrdom’. Although the Qur’an is specific about what the Muslims are supposed to do to a blasphemer of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) — to ignore the blasphemer or critic of Islam and to leave his/her company quietly without resorting to any counter-attack, verbal or physical — Muslims in general want violent retaliation against all blasphemers of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Many Muslims approve of Ayatollah Khomeini’s infamous ‘fatwa to kill’ Salman Rushdie for his denigration of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his family.
Meanwhile, during the last 30-odd years, the west has revived its millennium-old hatred for Islam and Muslims. As Emmanuel Macron, among many western leaders, publicly calls Islam a ‘violent faith’, ‘a problem, and ‘an enemy of western civilisation’, so does Donald Trump. The dissipation of Islamist terrorist threat did not dissipate Islamophobia in the west. Knowing fully well the consequences, the west provokes Muslims by denigrating their religion and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) only to make them retaliate against such provocations, to justify its ‘war on terror’ in the name of restoring the elusive world order. The west promotes and rewards Islamophobes, especially those born in Muslim families, such as Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Arshad Manji and others. Most importantly, many of the Islam-bashers coming from Muslim families suffer from some psychological disorder. They struggle with their atheism, which many of them not being able to fully absorb, demonstrate their ‘atheism’ by publicly saying extremely bad things about Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an. It is, sort of, comparable with the nouveau-riche syndrome. They cannot keep their atheism to themselves without showing off their lack of faith in Islam by publicly being offensive to Islam, the Prophet and the Qur’an. Some of them also aspire to be in the limelight by being offensive to Islam, which they know would lead to extreme/violent reactions from Muslims (who represent the bulk of the not-so-educated and enlightened people on earth) against them. And, that would endear them to the Islamophobic west, who would protect them and give wide publicity to their anti-Islamic writings although in the name of promoting the freedom of expression but actually to demonise the Muslims to justify its war on terror or the neo-colonial ideology in the post-cold war world. Islam-bashers from the Muslim community become celebrities in the west and India (which, of late, has literally become the most dangerous country for Muslims in the world). Rushdie, Hirsi, Nasreen and Manji may be mentioned in this regard.
As Islamism and Islamist terror and anarchy have emerged with greater intensity than ever before in the 1990s — after the end of the cold war — so has the centuries-old but dormant western Islamophobia much more intensified than before. There is absolutely no reason to assume that western Islamophobia is a post-9/11 syndrome. Far from it. The extremely Islamophobic Hollywood movie ‘True Lies’ depicting Muslims as the worst terrorists that ever existed in history was made in 1994 and moments after the Oklahoma City bombing by a white American ‘non-Muslim’ Timothy McVeigh, American media and analysts jumped to the conclusion that it was an Islamic/Muslim terrorist attack on America. America and the west as a whole need an enemy to rally support for their hegemonic warfare across the world and to divert people’s attention from internal socio-economic and political problems. During the cold war, the enemy was communism and the Soviet Union; afterwards, it is still Islam and the 1.8 billion adherents of the faith. Interestingly, while ultra-right white supremacy has emerged as the gravest security threat in America, Islamist threat has remained on the top of the list of terrorism.
Islamophobia or Islam-bashing is a hate crime. And the hate or denigration of any individual or community is an important factor behind terrorist activities. One western scholar has aptly elucidated this: ‘Men such as Osama bin Laden would never have followers if there were no victims of humiliation in many parts of the world, victims who are young, intelligent and dynamic men, and who are willing to die avenging their humiliations’ (Evelin Gerda Lindner, ‘Humiliation as the Source of Terrorism: A New Paradigm’, Peace Research, Vol 33, No 2, p 59, November 2001). And we have been witnessing this since the First Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. The west loves to provoke Muslims to see them retaliate violently. It is simply a ploy to highlight Islam as the biggest adversary of western civilisation.
The provocations come in the form of some scurrilous and extremely hateful writings, cartoons, movies, and posts in social media against Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Qur’an. What started with the western promotion/glorification of Salman Rushdie and his ridiculously provocative anti-Islamic fiction The Satanic Verses in 1988 provoked a storm of angry protests from Muslims across the world did not stop there. One Islamophobic writing following another, portraying Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a terrorist in cartoons (the first one came out in Denmark in 2005 and later reproduced by the Charlie Hebdo in France, once again in October 2020) and extremely anti-Islamic movie like Fitna in West Europe and elsewhere have become normative since the publication of The Satanic Verses. The rabidly violent Muslim reaction to Rushdie’s portrayal of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wives, in the east and west — especially Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa to kill Rushdie for the fiction — added more fuel to the fire of Islamophobia across the west and elsewhere. Without defending Muslims’ violent reaction to Rushdie’s fiction, let alone Khomeini’s atrociously un-Islamic fatwa to kill him, one believes what the western Islamophobes and hatemongers have been doing to denigrate Islam and Muslims in the world definitely fall in the category of hate-crime against Islam and Muslims — à la the denial of the Holocaust in 17 European countries. Interestingly, while holocaust denial is a hate crime, hate crimes against Islam have remained decriminalised, for some strange or not-so-strange reasons, across the west. In view of this, one may legitimately assume that among the so many ‘double standards’ the west has been nurturing for centuries against Afro-Asian people and their culture (including religion), Islamophobia is the most potent, virile, and vicious after the official end of racism and apartheid in the west, including the US and South Africa. The west, later joined by Israel and India, directly or indirectly promotes Islamophobia, mainly to provoke Muslim anger and retaliation.
As mentioned above, some rabid atheists or Islamophobes emanating from Muslim communities in Bangladesh and elsewhere attack Islam to come to the limelight after Salman Rushdie had become a celebrity in the west. Bengali writers like Taslima Nasreen and Humayun Azad, among a few others in the 1990s, started writing fiction, essays and poems ridiculing Islam and Muslims in all possible ways. Scores of atheist bloggers in the country, mostly coming from Muslim families, also started writing extremely scurrilous things against Islam and its Prophet (PBUH). Some of them got killed by Muslim fanatics, in retaliation in the past few years. And Bangladesh witnessed its biggest showdown between orthodox but non-violent Islamists belonging to the Hefazat-e-Islam and blasphemers of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in May 2013.
Again, Islamophobes in Bangladesh and abroad have one thing in common, their obsession with Islamist terrorism and terrorist attacks, mostly imaginary and exaggerated; and both of them love to use the expression ‘Islamic terrorism’ instead of the politically correct ‘Islamist terrorism’, as their prime concern is not about preventing or fighting the dying and imaginary Islamist terrorism, but it is all about their obsession with Islam and inventing a new boogieman ‘hell bent’ on destroying western capitalism after the demise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the cold war. Bangladeshi Islamophobes, mostly nominal Muslims or atheists from Muslim families, hate everything Islamic or Muslim out of self-deprecation, inferiority complex and a desire to prove something to external power-brokers. They are mostly favour- and power-seekers from Islamophobes outside Bangladesh.
To be concluded.
Dr Taj Hashmi is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University in the United States. He is a historian, author, and analyst of global current affairs.