The Industry of Islamophobia: Closer Look at its Roots
The fear and anxiety felt by the West in the aftermath of 9/11 had devastating consequences for Muslims living in Western countries and who are thoroughly Western and Muslim at the same time. Other than the continuing slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan, numerous human rights abuses continue to be committed against Muslims around the world, including disappearances and renditions, extrajudicial killings, torture and degrading and demeaning treatment, and long term detentions, with inadequate due process. It is virtually impossible to count the number of people killed or lives ruined in the ongoing war on terrorism. Considering the number of countries involved, the lack of accountability and the secrecy surround many of the abuses, it is equally impossible to get any real sense of the extent of culpability or actual guilt of the people who have been targeted since the war on terror began. But one of the ugliest consequences of the war on terror has been a type of regression back to the age of religious intolerance, with devastating consequences to humanity. This regressive phenomenon has been appropriately called Islamophobia, and like all convictions founded on fear and anxiety, it leaves one with an intractable sense of despair and hopelessness.
Islam- hating enjoys a long and firmly established pedigree. Islam- hating is a practice rich with tradition. Starting with the early Muslim challenge to the dominance and hegemony of the Persian and Byzantine superpowers around fourteen hundred years ago, Islam has become the object of highly motivated sociocultural processes that were hate filled and hate promoting. In response to the spread of Islam, an elaborate institutional practice was born in Christian societies, which was supported by a tradition of theological and ideological dogma and ignited by a web of political and social anxieties. The function performed by this institutional practice was, at least initially, defensive and reactive- it sought to contain the threat of Islam not only by promoting cultures plagued by a sense of siege, but even more, by promoting a sense of revulsion and outrage at the Muslim heathen. The same processes that constructed the archetypal Muslim who induced fear also nurtured a mythology of a culture at the brink of suffering God’s wrath and damnation because of the Muslim heathen. Leading up to the beginning of the Western Crusades, narratives of piety and antiheresy provided that without being reinforced with adequate private and public performances of outrage and disgust at the infidel (Muslim), society risked incurring Gods vengeance, wrath, and even damnation.
Some contemporary historians have argued that the very idea of the West- the very notion f the abode of Christendom, which was historically wedded to the institutions of Catholicism- as a unit defined by a coherent identity, cultural unity, and a basic set of shared political interests developed in direct response to the rise of the Islamic civilization.
Feeling challenged, threatened, and also defeated, the West, with its reactively formed identity, perhaps had no choice but to develop narratives of fear and self- preservation directed against Muslims and Islam. In these narratives of fear, anxiety and obsession, narratives that stereotyped, exaggerated and demonized the Muslim as a symbolic construct, Islam is cast into the role of the eminent and everlasting threat and the Muslim does not just embody the image of the enemy but is made into the proverbial bogeyman-the infidel whose very existence, leave alone the infidel’s successes and victories, is a horrific blasphemy and outrage against God, king and church. In feudalistic Europe, at a time when political dissent, blasphemy and heresy were hardly differentiated, Islam was seen as an atrocity against God and majesty, the cause of divine wrath and damnation.
It took the West, led by the Catholic Church, about four centuries of incitement and sacred rage to build up the frenzy of intolerance and hate that would fire up and sustain six centuries of waves of Western invasions of Muslim lands known collectively as the Crusades. Contrary to popular belief, the Crusades did not just target the Holy Land and Jerusalem but included Andalusia and eventually Granada, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and even the Eastern Orthodox Church of Constantinople. Eventually, the repeated invasions of the Crusaders were defeated, but not before leaving a rail of fear and hate that eventually culminated in the Ottoman invasions of eastern Europe. However, hardly had the Ottoman invasions been repulsed and defeated, incidentally without much help from Western Europe, when a new chapter of religious bigotry and hatred had been perpetuated through the pseudoreligious culture of Western colonialism and its brainchild movement, Orientalism.
As the decolonization movement surged and nations gained the right to national liberation and self- determination, humanity seemed to be on the verge of unprecedented advancements in finally becoming united over core values, among them tolerance as a necessary and compelling moral and ethical virtue. But since the very inception of the age of rights, the confusion started with the destruction of Palestine, the dispossession of Palestinians and the reoccupation of Jerusalem by the Crusader reminiscent historical movement of “pilgrims from the West.” All of this had to cast doubt on the credibility and integrity of contemporary ethical universalisms and their inclusiveness toward Muslims. Muslims could not fail to notice the tension and irony in the fact that 1948, the year that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed, was also the year the Palestinians lost their homeland and the Israelis gained theirs. Nevertheless, regardless of the challenges and contradictions that confronted Muslims in the modern age, there is no question that as human beings moved through the twentieth century and advanced toward the twenty-first, there were tangible successes in that, in principle, finally there was collective recognition of the wrongfulness and immorality of racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, and religious and cultural intolerance, among other vices. Also, even if just in principle, a collective recognition and admission was reached that all human beings are, at a minimum, entitled to life, security and dignity. In other words, in the post-colonial era and especially by the end of the Cold War, it looked like after centuries of creating and suffering so much man-made misery, at least there were concrete and tangible achievements- finally,human beings had learned something worthwhile.
This is exactly why the religious bigotry of Islamophobia is so distressing, it is an indication that after all, perhaps we have learned nothing. It is distressing to think that despite the horrendous history of senseless slaughter and persecution, humans do not develop higher states of consciousness or more reflective and balanced sense of being but only grow ever more sophisticated in obfuscating the difference between reality and dreams.
Source: Reasoning with God, Khaled Abou El- Fadl