Hijabi Women under Fire: the Regression of Religious Freedom in the West
A recent heinous attack on a French Hijabi pregnant woman in Tolouse in Southern France by two French men is the latest in a series of brutal acts of Islamophobia against European Muslims. The brutal details indicate that two French men hit the French woman several times, threw her to the ground and pulled a knife out threatening to end her and her baby’s life. One of the two men grabbed her hair, pulled at her veil while yelling, [pas de ça chez nous] or “none of that with us”.
The grieved husband who is still in a state of shock was dismayed by the horrifying incident and kept saying that his wife was wearing a tracksuit and a jacket but it was her headscarf which made her an easy target of the heinous assault. This horrendous act of cowardice and inhumanity unravels the ugly face of racism and the appalling results of stoking hatred, inciting resentment and inducing fear against certain group due to their religious belief, racial background or cultural heritage.
It is hard to imagine that this dreadful incident along with similar others which are alarmingly increasing both in number and severity would occur in the 21st century. It is quite perplexing that at a time when we are scientifically advancing and technologically developing, we face this outright brutal regression in human rights as people have a hard time expressing their religious beliefs and practice their faith-based rituals. The two attackers of the French pregnant hijabi woman summed up the rising phenomenon of Islamophobia by stating “none of that here with us”. None of religious diversity, cultural differences, respect of religious freedom should occur with us! The sense of “us” expressed by racists refer to the so called “purity of the European identity” which reflect the deep rooted problem of choosing to remain arrogantly confined to one single identity and refuse to find any room for commonalities with other identities. It is no wonder that a sense of supremacy of “the one and only” identity should follow suit and directing aggression to other identities which seem different becomes easy. For fanatics and supremacists only the people who are sharing their “chosen” identity are worthy of being equal human beings who deserve compassion, mercy and love whereas others are not worthy of such noble feelings. Other identities deserve nothing but humiliation, denigration and finally annihilation.
Moreover, any efforts by different religious or ethnic groups to find a shared identity with the dominant religious or ethnic group, let’s say humanity by the least, would be faced with complete rejection as those religiously and ethnically different people lack the “purity of the European blood”. Therefore any amount of efforts by the second generation of immigrants to prove to be equally good citizens would deem to fail in the eyes of the racist ideology of supremacy.
The zealotry and obsession of one identity at the expense of other identities through which one can easily find commonalities with others is an imminent danger threatening humanity at large. When the two French attackers dismissed the multiple common identities with the French woman such as that they are all French, Europeans, neighbors perhaps and humans; the attackers did not see in the poor woman nothing but her religious identity which was easily identified through her hijab. According to their warped logic, being religiously different tampers with their sense of “European-ness” and the headscarf to them represent the insistence of the French Muslims to represent the unwanted “otherness”.
The world history is plagued with dark chapters of inhumanity where one identity claim supremacy over others and by the virtue of maintaining such claimed “purity of race”, they justify for themselves to commit the most heinous of crimes against their fellow humans. The ideology of private membership house club adopted by the apartheid system in South Africa, the white supremacist Americans against the Indians, the Ku Klux Klan against African Americans, Nazi Germany against the Jews, Christian Spaniards against Morisco Muslims, Christian Serbians against Muslim Bosnians, racist Buddhist monks against Muslims in Myanmar, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the continuous killing of innocent Palestinians and Chinese persecution policies against the Uighur Muslims in East Turkistan are only to name a few of the horrifying episodes in the history of racism and persecution.
Brief history of Islamophobia in Europe
History proves that Muslims and Islam have taken unfortunately one of the highest shares of suffering and persecution along history. The sickening ideology of racism and supremacy which leads to hatred and aggression against Muslims began since the dawn of Islamic history as the Christian Church spend around 400 years stoking hatred against Islam and propagating denigrating anecdotes and leveling false claims and pure lies regarding Muslims in order to incite hatred towards them. This master plan paid its fruit as it made the public believe that fighting the “Muhammadans” is God’s will and that they should be vanquished. This racist ideology was developed later in modern times to come under the defaming theory of the Clash of Civilizations which indicates that the only relationship among different countries is based on religion which is marked with conflict and struggle with no room for peace or cooperation. Those who adhere to such distasteful ideology believe that the Judaeo-Chrisitian Europe has no tolerance to accept other religions and no room to entertain diverse ethnicities. Racists believe that all methods of fighting the flow of those who are different in religion or ethnicity i.e Muslims, are legitimate and thus adopting violence, aggression and persecution along with targeting Muslims as unwanted religious, ethnic and cultural group becomes silently legal.
This aggressive and intolerable mentality is unfortunately not a new phenomenon as the echo of the 21st century’s Islamophobia find its original voice in the 14th, 15th and 16th Century when the Christian Spaniards succeeded in expelling Muslims from their homes in Spain. One can only be at awe while reading the horrendous vicious details of the plan of disrooting Muslims from their homelands. The mastermind architect of such horrifying dark chapter of human history was motivated by Church leaders who leveled against Moriscos (Spanish Muslims) all kinds of heinous accusations and false claims in a desperate effort to get rid of the “evil race” of Muslims.
The Islamophobia of the 21st century finds its root in the 15th Century
It is of no wonder that the racist mentality which promotes Islamophobia adopts the same old accusations to instill fear and instigate hatred against Muslims in their malicious attempt to justify the heinous acts of persecution and aggression against Muslims. The same old accusations of the threat of the rapid population growth of Muslims, the licentious aspect of Islam which paves the route for Muslims to enjoy sex-slaves, the slanderous claims of the barbaric and evil nature of the Islamic orthodox and many other claims will be detailed here to draw a shocking comparison between the 15th and the 21st Centuries and unfortunately draw some horrifying conclusion of similarities in religious persecution and racial genocide.
Spaniards’ atrocities against Morisco Muslims
The amount of atrocities committed against Muslims is hard to imagine; homes were destroyed and abandoned, mothers were separated from their children, people were stripped off their wealth and humiliated, armed rebels were reduced to slavery, mosques were converted to Churches, hundreds of thousands of people were dispersed and many were killed in the process, forced mass conversion took place and Muslims were terrorized by the Spanish inquisition and 12,000 were accused of apostasy. By 1492, it was the Church’s decree which legalized the expulsion of the Jews; an incident which gave an immediate legal precedent to drive away more than 300,000 Muslims from Spain.
Burning Islamic texts and mass conversion
Although a treaty in 1492 was drawn up indicating that Muslims were given religious security, the application of such treaty could not be more different. Fanaticism took over with the coming of Cardinal Cisneros who organized mass forced conversions and the burning of all Arabic religious texts. Muslims scholars were forced to hand over 5,000 valuable Arabic books in different fields and they were consigned to flames. After 1502 Muslim Moors in Andalusia, Catalonia and Aragon faced the hard choice of either baptism or exile. For the Muslim Moors baptism was the only practical option to save their lives so they outwardly became Christians while at heart kept on practicing Islam. While in theory at least Spain became entirely Christians, the Muslim and Jew converts were not acknowledge as true Christians as purity of faith came to be identified with purity of blood and thus all new converts from Judaism and Islam were simply looked at as potential heretics.
Banning the use of Arabic language and oriental traditions
In a desperate effort of squashing the “Islamic identity”, decrees were issued in 1567 by Philip II to ban the use of the Arabic language, reading Arabic texts, dressing in Islamic clothes, listening to traditional Arabic songs, throwing sweets at a wedding, dancing to the sound of Berber music or practicing any of the oriental traditions and customs. All these activities were deemed un-Christian and Muslims were subjected to severe scrutiny and were subjugated to the Spanish inquisition. An uprising from Muslims followed suit and was brutally suppressed by Don John of Austria who razed the whole town of Galera and sprinkle it with salt, having slaughtered 2,500 people including 400 women and children. As a result more than 80,000 Moriscos (Spanish Muslims) were dispersed and dislocated to other parts of Spain and Christians form Northern Spain were settled on their lands.
The horrifying journey of expulsion
By 1582 a decree of expulsion of Muslims from Spain was proposed by Philip II to the Council of State as a solution to the continuous conflict between religious communities. Although the number of the subjects of the Spanish Crown was around 7 million, around 600,000 of which were Moriscos and thus some had concerns regarding the deficit of man power and expertise in craftsmanship and agriculture. The church was dictating all the royal legislation of expulsion and in 1609, Juan De Ribera, the Archbishop of Valencia stated in a sermon preached in 27th September, 1609 that “the land would not become fertile again until these heretics had been expelled”. A unanimous agreement on the expulsion of Muslims by the Council of State was approved. Thousands of Muslims faced expulsion while around 50,000 died in resisting leaving their homelands. Another 60,000 died during their passage abroad. Within two years more than two thirds of the Moorish Muslim population perished.
The untold story of the Muslim’s horrendous journey of exile is heart-breaking. Moriscos were only allowed to take bare necessities and very limited amount of money which was later stolen by thieves. Those who travelled across France were forced to pay by French farmers the water they drank from a river or whenever they sat under the shade of a tree. Those Moriscos who resisted expulsion and miraculously survived death, thousands of them turned to slaves. As for Moriscos who were desperately waiting to board ships were starving to death to the extent that they were forced to agree to sell their children in exchange for bread.
The enslavement of Muslim children
It was the official policy of the Church, initiated by Juan de Ribera, who forced children to be separated from their mothers. All Morisco children above the age of 7 in the Kingdom of Valencia were to be sold and turned to slave to Christians. The Church found no guilt in enslaving children and said that not only slavery was morally justified but also spiritually beneficial as these children would be less likely to become apostates and they were to be raised as good Roman Catholics and as slaves rarely married, it would be a good way of getting rid of the “evil race”.
The swift growth of the Muslim population
The mastermind of expulsion, Archbishop Juan De Ribera, justified the horrifying atrocity by warning King Philip III that unless they take swift action, Christian Spaniards would soon find themselves outnumbered by Muslims as all Moriscos are married and have large families while many Christians remained celibate by church orders or were enrolled in military. Thus by the mere fact of Muslim population growth they would achieve their goal without any need to take up arms or ask for help from Muslims abroad.
The sensual aspect of Islam
The church resorted its failing missionary efforts of converting Muslims at heart due to the church’s failure to offer-so they said- carnal delights. They further claimed that the fertility of the Morisco population was due to the myth of Islamic sensuality and licentiousness. Driven by prejudice many Christian writers in the 17th century described the Moorish Muslims with hateful contradictory stereotypes: the Moriscos are lazy, yet industrious; abstemious, yet lascivious; miserly, yet extravagant; cowardly, yet belligerent; ignorant, yet anxious to acquire learning in order to rise above their station.
Muslims’ refusal to abandon their culture
The expulsion of Muslims from Spain was prepared for by intense propaganda of hate against Islam which used slanderous anecdote, humiliating remarks along with any form of offensive speech which served in denigrating both the Muslim culture and faith. The church had no intention to understand the Islamic culture or religion and the insistence of Moriscos to continue holding tight to their religious beliefs, celebrating their festivals and cherishing their cultural traditions were found offensive by many Christians. Cultural diversity was out of question and integration was equally incomprehensible.
After this brief account of atrocities committed against Muslims both in present and past, it is easy for the reader to fell into despair and feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The reality could not be any further from the truth. We have presented a historical perspective of the vicious ideology of “purity and supremacy of a certain identity” which was adopted by extremists, fanatics and racists from all religions, ethnicities and cultures. It is important to state that the history of civilizations is based on a complex reality of cultural cross- breeding among nations from different ethnicities, cultures and religions. The continuous process of giving and taking and the sharing of human experience to develop better living standards, higher formation of political systems, more sophisticated technological advancements along with many other exchanged experiences makes the geographical boundaries among different nations pretty blurry. In Europe; this intercultural communication has been so intense and frequent over the past two millennia with the Islamic world that no one can categorize for sure who was an intruder to the Continent and who was genuinely indigenous.
Therefore, sensible Europeans of all ethnicities, cultures and religions need to stand united against the fear mongers who aim to sabotage the European values of coexistence, harmony, tolerance and religious freedom as this is considered the true essence of the “European identity”; a fact which should be highly cherished and is truly worth to preserve.