Fear Of Islam: Genuine Or Made-up?

Since 9/11 the term Islamophobia has been one of the most discussed issues all around the world. ‘Phobia’ is a psychological term and mostly caused by traumas particularly experienced in childhood. Despite the term ‘Islamophobia’ has not yet involved into the literature of psychology, some human rights organizations use it to define “the nonsensical fear of Islam and Muslims” witnessed in Europe and USA.1

The debate over whether an Islamic centre should be built a few blocks from the World Trade Centre has reminded us the phobia that not only the Americans but also most of the Westerners have against Islam and Muslims. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man spearheading the centre, a moderate Muslim clergyman, says the following about the cultural centre “I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighbourhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community centre. Our objective has always been to make this a centre for unification and healing.” However he was not able to quell the violence on that issue which was highly politically abused by Republicans and Evangelicals in USA.2 Even-though Feisal and his circle were moderate liberal Muslims speaking of the need for Muslims to live peacefully with all other religion and the project they are doing is not simply mosque but a cultural centre that also contains shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a prayer space for Muslims, Christians, Jews and also a multi-faith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.3 The incidents accompanying that event such as “burning Qur’an event, stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City and ultimately Time’s covering Islamophobia in USA have forced us to take a close look at the phenomenon. The situation across the Atlantic, in the old continent is not pleasing for Muslims, either. During last couple of years, Europe has witnessed hot debates over headscarf in schools, minaret construction, immigration and the escalation of far-right movements as reactionary against Muslim populations.

Westerners had the fear of Islam even before 9/11 but that tragic event got these fears out surface. The emergence of Islam in the seventh century and becoming a superpower against Roman Empire of that time and Romans’ continuous decadence against progress of Muslims and the existential wars of Europe during the Ottoman Empire traumatized them immensely and fear of Muslims took place subconsciously in Europeans.

Throughout history, the fear of Islam had many political functions for European states. In the twentieth century, largely the soviets and so called “iron curtain” states satisfied that need of Europeans. The collapse of communism as a system and recognition of its non-being a threat made it urgent to find a new functional imagery enemy. That enemy was Islam which was blown by Western leaders4 as the gaff and expressed by peoples through public surveys.5

The uses of Islamophobia for the Western civilization which has been in the grip of an identity crisis for a long time are countless: Through a hostile image the West has found an excuse to blame for its evil actions. That enemy provides the West to stay unified also. In spite of every kind of discussion and disagreement among themselves, by the help of that “fear” people are unifying in one point. Due to that notorious “ghost of Islam” the West can polarize its peoples and the world as friend and foe by forcing them into the position “either you are with us or with them” and exploit them to reach its political and military interests. Another use of hostile image of Islam is that it gives excuse to activate and manipulate the society and gives motivation even for war, cold or hot.6

The domination wanted to be established all over Muslims through demonization of them is conducted by some groups of academic, religious and political circles.

The first group, that is the academicians, has had their contribution a lot for a couple of centuries. Predecessors of today’s Islamophobic academics produced a kind of knowledge a couple of centuries ago called as orientalism which mainly focuses on the orient or east and Muslims as subject of knowledge in terms of geographical, historical, political, cultural and economic features. However, according to Edward Said most of the orientalists did not research or define the people and cultures of the east as they were; but they did in the way they wished and they were hugely affected by their prejudices against Muslims and Easterners. In that context they redefined the people of east by othering, transfiguring and reshaping them.

According to most of the critics of orientalism the orientalist academics cooperated with political authorities in their countries during the colonization of Eastern lands with their knowledge about the colonized areas. When we come to the Islamophobia of today we see that the most of the intellectual back-up for demonizing, stigmatizing and stereotyping of Muslims are provided by those intellectuals. Bernard Lewis, most notorious of them, was harshly criticized by Edward Said because of his orientalism and he was the adviser of George W. Bush on issues of Middle East. Lewis, (born May 31, 1916) is a British-American historian, scholar in Oriental studies, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. His recent remarks on terrorism angered not only Muslims but also all senseble Westerners: “Most Muslims are not fundamentalists, and most fundamentalists are not terrorists, but most present-day terrorists are Muslims and proudly identify themselves as such.” The stereotyping and cliché in those words of Lewis are clear, and it is very easy to refute this postulate. Lewis is one of the most prolific intellectuals who provided many resources to Islamophobia and anti-Islamism with his tens of books full of stereotyping on Islam.

Another important figure shaping the Islamophobia in academic world is Daniel Pipes. Pipes (born September 9, 1949) is an American writer, and political blogger who focuses on criticism of Islam and Islamism. He is the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank, as well as the founder of Campus Watch, a controversial organization which states its mission to be critiquing poor scholarship concerning the Middle East, but which has been characterized by some critics as a vehicle for harassing scholars critical of Israel. Kristine McNeil in an article in The Nation defines Pipes as an anti-Arab propagandist and depicts his Campus Watch project smearing the intellectuals who are critical of Israeli occupation: “Exposing the Anti-Israel Campaign on Campus, which surveyed 100 campuses and instructed students on how best to counter a “steady diet of anti-Israel vituperation.” Around the same time, the Anti-Defamation League covertly distributed a twenty-one-page booklet containing “background information on pro-Arab sympathizers active on college campuses” who “use their anti-Zionism as merely a guise for their deeply felt anti-Semitism.7

Another leading Islamophobic author is Robert Bruce Spencer who is an American blogger and author of articles and books that defame Islam and that identify Islam with terrorism. He has published ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers, and he founded Jihad Watch, a blog which aims to bring the Islam into the minds of people when it is told about terrorism. Spencer categorizes all perverted actions committed by misguided religion motivated fringes under the title “the concerted effort by Islamic jihadists… to destroy [non-Muslim] societies and bring them forcibly into the Islamic world“. Robert Spencer and his method are widely criticized by most of the moderate authors. Karen Armstrong says that all the examples that Spencer give to verify his claims are selected eclectically on purpose.8 Robert D. Crane called Spencer’s work “superficially scholarly” and alleged that Spencer inverts Islam’s true teachings by omitting text from passages he quotes and by using unreliable and extremist sources.9

Other than these Western-origin authors there are East-origin writers who were either raised in the West or in their homeland but internalized Western culture and identity and totally changed into “yes men” of Western civilization. That is not something to blame, because at the end of the day this is their choice of thinking; however these orient-origin authors, Muslim or non-Muslim, claim that the Easterners deserve to be invaded, civilized and trained by the West and they defend that the Eastern civilizations are vile and backward and needed to be geared up by the West. Some of the misinterpretations and stereotyping are coming from such kind of authors, namely Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipul, Azar Nafisi, Marjana Satrapi and Betty Mahmoody. These writers are somewhat referred to as ‘captive minds’, ‘brown sahibs’, or ‘native informants’, a concept which is somewhat similar to what Malcolm X would call the ‘house Negro’. (Rudnick, Smith, and Rubin, 2006.)

The other group of people who are escalating the Islamophobia in the West is far-rightist religious people. Robert William Edgar, the Secretary General of National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. (NCC), says that there are two groups who are acting badly about mitigating the pressures against Islam: “One is the American government and the other is far-rightist Christian groups represented by Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham.” Asharq Al-Awsat, the daily of Egypt conveys that Falwell stated that the Islamic religion is Satanic. In an interview in 60 Minutes news program Falwell stated, “I think Muhammad was a terrorist.” He added, “I concluded from reading Muslim and non-Muslim writers that Muhammad was a violent man, a man of war.” The other televangelist missionary is William Franklin Graham who referred to Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion” after September 11, 2001 attacks. In another speech in Pentagon at a Good Friday service he made another anti-Islamic remark: “True Islam cannot be practiced in this country“. When you imagine the masses that consider all what these guys say are as true as the word of God, it is easy to foresee that the hate and fear accumulated in ordinary people against Islam and majority of Muslims can endanger the peace in the Western societies.

The last group of people who are provoking Islamophobia and anti-Islamism are politicians. Muhammad Nimer, the director of CAIR’s Research Centre in US, says the Islamophobia was a serious challenge facing Muslim in Bush administration, and it was not accepted in any level. During the Bush administration the neoconservative circles were enjoying the resources of the government, and they abused these vehicles to spread the fear related to Islam. Especially taking advantage of 9/11 attacks in the maximum level they launched every kind of  psychological and conventional methods to reach their political, military and commercial targets.

To give a hint about the vision that conservatives have for Muslims, read the following; Anne Norton conveys an anecdotal experience from the years that she spent in Chicago to depict the bigotry of Straussians (Leo Strauss, a political philosopher who specialized in classical political philosophy) about Islam: “From the time I first came to Chicago to the present day, I have seen Arabs and Muslims made the targets of unrestrained persecution, especially among the Straussians. At school, Straussian students told me Arabs were dirty, they were animals, and they were vermin. Now I read in Straussian books and articles, in editorials and postings on websites, that Arabs are violent, they are barbarous, they are the enemies of civilization, they are Nazis.” 10

On the other hand Europe’s far right also incites the fears of people and demonize Muslims and blame Islam as the reason of all evils in their countries. Austria’s Freedom party (FPO and Jörg Haider (FPO’s de facto leader and governor of Carinthia), Belgium’s Flemish Block (VB) and Frank Vanhecke (VB’s president), Denmark’s Danish People’s party (DPP), France’s National Front (FN) and Jean-Marie Le Pen, and German’s Republican party (REP), German People’s Union (DVU), National Democratic party (NPD) and Dutch politician and finally the leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders heat up the political atmosphere in Europe against the Muslims by reminding the classical stereotypes and clichés.

Consequently, we claimed that Islamophobia is a kind of psychological pathology that the ordinary citizens of Western countries really have because of the historical military confrontations of the West and Islam. Thus, we can’t despise them for their fears. However, to be sceptic about the reality of that fear and to seek the truth behind the closed doors are task of every mindful and conscientious individual living on the earth especially when there have been two wars leaving behind millions of dead and injured which were waged based on that phobia, such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coming to Muslims, what can we do against Islamophobia and anti-Islamism in the West to alleviate their fears and concerns and relax them? Actually that should be the topic an independent article; yet in this article we will summarize our opinions on that issue.

It is certain that one of the most important factors stirring up  Islamophobia is not to have enough knowledge of Islam. In other words, it is due to lack of ‘true invitation (Islamic da’wa)’ and ‘effective representation’ mechanisms. The only solution against the systematic activities of disinformation about Islam applied in many countries including the Islamic countries is “systematic briefing about Islam”.

The proper invitation (da’wa) to Islam has three basic principles: 1. A da’wa which meets the conditions of the time. 2. A da’wa which is sound and honourable. 3. A da’wa which convinces hearts and minds of people.

As Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, the great imam of modern age, points out: “To be superior to the civilized is achieved only by persuasion not by coercion and force that are used against inconsiderate fierce people.

The basic characteristics of ‘systematic’ da’wa (invitation) can be listed as follows11:

1.     The educated human resource

2.     The effective use of communication instruments

3.     The refined and satisfying publications

4.     Social, economic and technological progression

5.     The sustainable coordination and unity

As a conclusion; if the true Islamic da’wa is put into force with an effective representation as the completing parts of a system, the foundation that Islamophobia and anti-Islamism depend on shakes terribly. To achieve that goal, the non-governmental organizations, the universities, media and political organizations should speed up the systematic information campaign, and they have to obliterate the ignorance and prejudice that the systematic disinformation causes.

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1. “Islamophobia: A challenge for us all”, Runnymede Trust, 1997, England.

2. “Building on Faith”, (September 7, 2010) the New York Times.

3. Fareed Zakaria, (Retrieved August 16, 2010) Build the Ground Zero Mosque, Newsweek.

4. “President: Today We Mourned, Tomorrow We Work” Georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. 2001-09-17. Retrieved 2010-06-07.

5. The Institute for Social and Political Opinion Research [Instituut voor Sociaal en Politiek    Opinieonderzoek, ISPO] of the Catholic University (KU) in Leuven, Flanders, September 2007, January 2008.

6. Hans Küng, Islam; Past, Present & Future, Oneworld Oxford 2007.

7. Kristine McNeil, (November 11, 2002). “The War on Academic Freedom”. The Nation.

8. Karen Armstrong, (April 27, 2007). “Balancing the Prophet”. Financial Times.

9. Robert D. Crane, (October 20, 2007). ““Fascist-Islamophobia”: A Case Study in Totalitarian Demonization – Part 3”. The American Muslim.

10. Timothy J. Lynch, Kristoll Balls: Neoconservative Visions of Islam and the Middle East, 2008.

Ali Kurt, Two Solutions for Islamophobia: The True da’wa and The Effective Representation, 2007.

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