Prejudice against Muslims is bad for fairly obvious reasons. In our country we strive not to discriminate based on religion, race, gender, sexual orientation – the list goes on. Unfortunately, discrimination is still a reality for many different groups in more subtle ways than in the past. For Muslims, anti-Muslim sentiment grew sharply after the 9/11 attacks and continues to present itself on a regular basis to many. It can be seen in the ideas of groups such as the EDL and the BNP, in ‘terrorist’ being a word now almost solely reserved for Muslims in the media, in attacks on Mosques or Muslims in the streets, in the profiling of Muslims by airport security, and so on. This form of discrimination has been labelled ‘Islamophobia’. And yes, it persists despite Nadiya’s Great British Bake Off win.
For some, due to undeniable facts about the large-scale Islamic terrorism present in the world today, it is fair to discriminate against Muslims in the name of safety. Dr Shaaz Mahboob of British Muslims for Secular Democracy believes that profiling those who fit the demographic more likely to commit a terrorist act is necessary. He adds that “Profiling has to be backed by this type of statistical and intelligence-based evidence. There would be no point in stopping Muslim grandmothers.” It’s a pragmatic point, but statistics tend to neglect the human faces behind them, besides the fact that Muslim grandmothers do indeed get stopped – mine included. In fact, the majority of victims of Islamophobia in Britain are female, partly due to veiled women’s more obviously Muslim appearance, whilst it is probable that the majority of Islamic terrorists are men.
Rupert Murdoch’s tweet suggesting that peaceful ‘Moslems’ must be held responsible for jihadists sparked the hashtag ‘RupertsFault’, where people tweeted things done in the name of Christianity – from the KKK to the Westboro Baptist Church – that Rupert should therefore be held responsible for. There are different estimates about the amount of Muslims that are extremist in nature, but all suggest a small minority. Of course, this still presents a large number of people, but does not proportionally justify the generalisation of all Muslims, if such generalisations can even be proportionally justified. This is perhaps the most obvious reason to condemn prejudice against Muslims.
The problem, however, is more sinister, when the impact of Islamophobia on the very terrorism it fears is considered. The causes of Islamic extremism are contentious but most would agree that Islam itself cannot be the sole cause. Many argue that an identity crisis is at the crux. In the face of forces such as colonialism, Westernisation and ethnic cleansing (particularly outside of the Middle East region), which aid assimilation and identity erasure, there are certain reactionary responses that are often taken. These include a turn to religion or nationalism to strengthen identity. Indeed, Arab nationalism reigned strong in the postcolonial 20th century Arab world, and some argue this has recently been replaced by ‘Islamism’.
External forces are, therefore, in part to blame. Not only does it not make sense to blindly punish individual Muslims for the actions of others claiming to belong to the same religion for this reason, but it strengthens the extremist claim. The Muslim sense of the ummah (community) is strong, and so wrongly or rightly, the more an Islamic extremist sees other Muslims, especially of their sect, being persecuted, the more they perceive their cause to be strengthened. If the media were to address the reasons why young Muslims are joining the Islamic State rather than only detailing the atrocities committed by them, they might be able to aid a solution rather than just fuel the feeling that the West is against Islam. This means that Islamophobia can create a vicious cycle whereby the more Muslims are blindly discriminated against, the more some Muslims give Islamophobes a reason to fear all members of the religion.
It is not only the everyday people affected by Islamophobia that need to be considered, but the potential for further radicalisation that it can create.
Photograph: JMacPherson via Flickr