The role of civil society in struggling against Islamophobia

Islamic non-governmental organizations should develop projects for enhancing the mechanisms of appropriate promotion and efficient representation in every field and on every topic of Islam in the fight against Islamophobia.


ISLAMOPHOBIA: A THREAT OR AN OPPORTUNITY?

Islamophobia is a compound word formed from the Greek word ‘phobia’, which means ‘baseless fear’, and Islam. Their combination together in one word is daunting, and the reality has become one of the gravest threats of our times. Unless it is defined properly and fought against with a strategic action plan, this relatively recent ‘phobia’, which was formed with an image of Islam through the effects of anti-Islamic political actions, publications and broadcastings in the press and other media, and even in productions of literature and art, may be interpreted as indicative of even bigger challenges.

Today, in a time when it is impossible for anything to remain local when the necessary conditions are provided and transactions are applied, threats like Islamophobia may be transformed into opportunities. The most efficient way of achieving this goal is to at least  conduct actions which are as systematic, extensive, appropriate and sustainable as the actions of those who are inciting this fictitious fear.

Regarding this issue, the vital tasks fall to the civil society institutions which take their strength from the society, whose activities reflect on it and whose relations with society are much stronger than those of the state bureaucracy. It is possible to analyze these tasks under three headings: ‘Appropriate Promotion’; ‘Efficient Representation’ and ‘Advocacy of Rights’.

1 – APPROPRIATE PROMOTION

When the surveys and publications on Islamophobia are analyzed carefully, it may be readily inferred that lack of appropriate information on Islam plays a significant role in the instigating of Islamophobic policies and the publications of anti-Islamic centres. There are important studies indicating that this ‘ignorance’ and the resulting ‘biases’ or ‘preconceived opinions’ are extremely widespread, not only in non-Muslim countries, but also in Islamic countries.

A reason for this situation, which may also be explained by referring to the shortcomings of da’wa institutions, is the inappropriate promotion of Islam or the inability to determine and establish ‘appropriate promotion’ mechanisms and methods.

An appropriate promotion level which may be provided through the interpretation of the truths of Islam and the Qur’anic and prophetic messages, in a way which is suitable to the necessities of the age and the understanding of the people of the age, and through efficient use of the media of the age will be the best antidote to Islamophobic thoughts and actions, as long as it encompasses all strata of the society and has a power which does not leave a vacuum.

When the civil society organizations which focus their attention on da’wa/tabligh (propagating Islam) have appropriate promotion systems, whether in Islamic or non-Islamic countries, they will leave no room for Islamophobic policies and actions, and will overshadow them. When the flexible and efficient civil society organizations with greater room for manoeuvring and shorter decision-making mechanisms are combined with appropriate methods and a volunteering spirit, the results will far exceed the intellectual and physical effort expended. It has been observed that it is the organizations which are focusing on just one particular issue and one group of society that are having the most success, rather than the civil society organizations which are conducting da’wa activities in all fields and for all strata of society, this may be because we live in an age that favours specialization.

2 – EFFICIENT REPRESENTATION

It is obvious that today the Islamic world has a representation problem in just about every sphere of life. The representation problem in the fields of science, art, media, economy, politics and religion is a bitter consequence of the artificial alienation and disunity between Islamic countries and communities.

Although the establishment of strong institutions and the emergence of influential figures in the aforementioned fields sometimes seems to repair this problem, these are only temporary or partial solutions, which do not totally remove the problem. The weakness of civil and bureaucratic institutions, the waste of energy and resources brought by disunity and lack of cooperation, and most importantly the unfortunate inability to develop capacity, as well as the lack of institutional progression caused by the absence of the necessary level of sharing experiences, may be mentioned as factors responsible for this problem.

The efficiency of representation is as important as its legitimacy. Recognition or election of a representative institution or figure by society is not enough; they need to have the capacity and mechanism to be worthy representatives of  the people and ideas that they represent.

It is vital that non-governmental organizations which are in an interactive relationship with society pay close attention to the task of efficient representation. The mere worth of the values in themselves is not enough to transfer them to the other communities. It is necessary to establish appropriate promotion and efficient representation mechanisms proportionate to the worth and strength of the values.

Islamophobic crises have caused us to see the problem of representation more clearly. The lack of efficient representative institutions which are able to both prevent Islamophobic publications and broadcastings before any crisis occurs, and provide legitimate protests to stay within a legitimate framework after a crisis, put the Islamic world in the position of the accused, while in fact they are often in the right.

3 – ADVOCACY OF RIGHTS

Islamophobia and the ideas, publications, policies, as well as the legal regulations and social reaction caused by these elements, which are result of anti-Islamic feeling and which feed into Islamophobia, offend and disturb the Muslims, contravene their basic human rights, restrain their living space and disrupt their social status.

The existence and professionalism of civil society organizations which are established in order to advocate the rights of Muslims whose rights and honour have been violated, and who are offended and discriminated against and affected by Islamophobic practices and publications, and who struggle in the political and legal arena as a result, is an issue which has vital importance in the fight against Islamophobia and anti-Islamism.

The number and quality of those kinds of Islamic non-governmental organizations which work for advocacy of the rights and struggle against discrimination is still quite minimal, both in Islamic and non-Islamic countries. Working for the advocacy of rights against these kinds of discrimination, which is thought to be more widespread in countries where Muslims are a minority, but contrarily is also quite widespread in Islamic countries, is extremely difficult, risky and demands professionalism.

An important feature of Muslim non-governmental organizations which struggle for advocacy of human rights, which increases their strength and efficiency, is that their ‘civil’ aspect is strong and they are remarkably closed to political manipulations. Although this is the case for every organization, it is more effectual for organizations which work for human rights.

CONCLUSION

Although legal regulations are a disincentive and impediment to an extent, they are not the formula for a permanent, effective and ongoing solution. In the struggle against Islamophobia and anti-Islamism, important duties fall to the civil society organizations, as much as political circles, governments and media which they have the capability to influence.

Carrying out these tasks, which were analyzed under the three headings above, entails well-researched projects. Today, unfortunately, the Islamic world has not yet produced a project which is able to influence the whole world in the struggle against Islamophobia. For that reason, what we see are only reflex reactions, and since the projects that have been developed are not yet strong and successful enough, the effect of these projects is only limited and temporary.

In fact, the Islamic world is experiencing a great scarcity of projects in this field. The non-governmental organizations should develop projects for enhancing the mechanisms of appropriate promotion and efficient representation in every field and on every topic of Islam, such as the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet (PBUH). The powerful business and investment circles in the Islamic world should support these kinds of projects, and programs for the training of qualified manpower to take charge of these projects. In addition, the governments and communities of the Islamic world should encourage the establishment and strengthening of institutions which will work for the advocacy of human rights and fight against discrimination.

As long as the non-governmental organizations will take on their responsibilities in these fields, and back up their work with appropriate methods and means, we have every hope that Islamophobia will be weakened.

*Cihangir Isbilir is the former General Coordinator of the Union of Non-governmental Organizations of Islamic World (UNIW)

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