Dr. Mozammel Haque
Islamophobia is a problem that manifests itself at different levels in society and to different degrees. The phrase Islamophobia was used first in the UK in 1997. In 1997, the British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as the “dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, [the] fear and dislike of all Muslims,” stating that it also refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation. The concept also encompasses the opinions that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion. (Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, Runnymede Trust, 1997, p. 1, cited in Quraishi, Muzammil (2005). Muslims and crime: a comparative study. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate. p. 60.)
Thus the phrase Islamophobia was used first in the UK in 1997; but Islamophobia was first major used in media until 2001 when Time Magazine asked whether America was Islamophobic. One can read that article. The study shows very very clearly that one can no longer deny actually the existence of the problem, which Professor John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International affairs and Islamic Studies at the Georgetown University and the founding Director of the Muslim-Christian understanding of the Georgetown University and the Director of the Muslim-Christian Relations Centre, called the social cancer in Europe, the Americans call Islamophobia.
Muslims in Europe face discrimination in several areas of life because of their religion, their ethnic origin or their gender or a combination of these grounds. Europe has an ugly history of taking out of manifesting its socio-economic problems by attack on minorities and it does seem to have no question of minorities being chosen. “Minorities choice on Continental Europe is now Islam and Muslims,” said Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator and author of the Triumph of Political Class (2007) at a conference.
The evidence of this Muslim-bashing is threat to mosques, attacks on mosques and Muslims/Islamic institutions, petro-bombing and pig-head was stuck on the railing etc.
The Amnesty International
The Amnesty International UK in their report on “Choice and Prejudice – discrimination against Muslims in Europe” (April 2012) exposes the discrimination faced by European Muslims in several countries. The Report focuses on Belgium, France, Spain, The Netherlands and Switzerland and highlights that women and girls are denied jobs and access to regular classes in schools just for wearing traditional forms of dress. Additionally, the right to establish places of worship – a key component of the right to freedom of religion – is being curtailed in countries such as Switzerland and Spain.
The Amnesty International wrote: “European countries appear to face another crisis beyond budget deficits – the disintegration of human values. One symptom is the increasing expression of intolerance towards Muslims. [O]pinion polls in several European countries reflect fear, suspicion and negative opinions of Muslims and Islamic culture. These Islamophobic prejudices are combined with racist attitudes – directed not least against people originating from Turkey, Arab countries and South Asia. Muslims with this background are discriminated [against] in the labour market and the education system in a number of European countries.”
[Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.]
Amnesty International calls on European governments to do more to combat negative stereotypes and prejudices.
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, while praising the work of the Amnesty International, said, “Islamophobia in Europe has become almost synonymous with racism” and went on to add that Muslims are facing similar prejudices as the Jewish communities did hundred years ago. The report is very clear on the rise of Anti-Muslim feelings in France, in relation to the Head Scarf’s as well as the campaign against Halal meat, Minarets and places of Worship in Europe.
Launch a Book on Islamophobia
Cordova Foundation, UK, launched the second research of the European Muslim Research Centre entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, authored by Dr. Robert Lambert and Dr. Jonathan Githens published in 2010. They have done a great job in the right time mainly in the context of Islamophobia, the rise of discrimination, the rise of Islamophobia, the rise of hate. The co-author of the Book on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies is Dr Robert Lambert, the co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter and a part-time Lecturer at the Centre for Studies on Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews. Dr. Lombard’s twin interest on Islamophobia and community-based approach to counter-terrorism, both topics are reflected in his coming book Countering Al-Qaida in Britain: Police and Muslim Community in partnership. He said, “In many cases they (Muslim leaders) have big attacks; petro-bombing; mosque have been damaged and in other cases they had on-going vandalism.”
The month of November 2012 was declared Islamophoba Awareness Month in the UK. This Islamophobia Awareness Month was spearheaded by the Enough Coalition Against Islamophobia, The Muslim Council of Britain and ENGAGE and other partners. On this occasion, there was meetings and Exhibitions held in London.
Islamophobia Awareness Month Launched
The Islamophobia Awareness Month was launched on 2nd November 2012 at the London Muslim Centre by prominent British organisations and campaigners to deconstruct and challenge some of the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Leading commentators and politicians, including human rights lawyer, Imran Khan, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, academic and Journalist Myriam-Francois-Cerrah as well as UNITE the Union’s Steve Hart addressed the theme around Islamophobia.
Human Rights lawyer, Imran Khan said at the conference, “Anti-Muslim attitudes are directed against people believed to be of Muslim faith or generally against Islam as a religion, regardless of whether those affected are actually religious and which branch of Islam they belong to. In more recent years and, particularly since the events of 9/11 and 7/7, attention has very much focused on Muslims. The agenda set has been one that is distinctly anti-Muslim,” said Khan.
While quoting Anas Altikri, Chief Executive of the Cordoba Foundation, Imran Khan mentioned: “Islamophobia is a tragic reality and a test to the West’s claim to upholding the most noble of human values. Already, we have failed when allowing laws to pass prohibiting Muslim women from dressing as they wish in France and building their mosques in a particular aesthetic form similarly to other places of worship in Switzerland. It is a phenomenon that will, if allowed to spread unabated, leave none unaffected. It was true in the case of anti-Jewish and anti-Black attacks in the last century, and it will prove true if anti-Muslim sentiments are given free reign to expand today.”
“What I have noticed over the past eleven years ever since the problem of 9/11 and the war on Afghanistan has been a gross Islamophobia in the popular press,” Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, told me in an interview before his speech. Similarly, another speaker, Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition, also told me, “The war on terror which begun in 2001 really created the present mood of Islamophobia; when you bombed on a countries which are largely Muslim countries then you have to demonise the people where you are bombing and at the same time as we talk about terrorism among Muslims, we are conducting terror attacks with drone in Pakistan and Afghanistan and we are creating a situation where more and more people around the world have grievances against, grievance against the United States and other countries in the world.”
Launch of Exhibition on Islamophobia at the British Parliament
ENGAGE launched its Exhibition on Islamophobia in the British Parliament on Monday, 12th of November, 2012. MPs and Peers from all the main political parties attended the launch event which was hosted by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Jack Straw and Simon Hughes.
Keynote addresses were presented by the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, MP, and academics from Lancaster University, Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker. Around 20 representatives from both Houses of Parliament attended the event representing all the main political parties, alongside representatives from the faith and voluntary sectors, charitable organisations, academia and professional associations.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Trustee of ENGAGE, welcoming the guests to the event, said in his introductory remarks: “Islamophobia is a problem that manifests itself at different levels in society and to different degrees but it is, in essence and experience, a malicious prejudice against the UK’s largest religious minority group. It is a prejudice which feeds on ignorance and fear to promote hatred and social divisions.”
“Islamophobia has passed a new threshold – one that brings with it new challenges – it is increasingly becoming accepted as an expression of ‘legitimate’ opinion. It is with the purpose of generating awareness about Islamophobia, and its devastating impact on the lives and security of British Muslims, that ENGAGE developed this unique exhibition. It is our hope that it will provoke discussion on the often negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the British media, the consequences of these negative representations and the reality of British Muslim life and achievements,” said Sir Iqbal.
The meeting was addressed by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Jack Straw, Simon Hughes and Sadiq Khan, all of whom praised the crucial work of ENGAGE and welcomed the exhibition and initiative on tackling Islamophobia. The Rt. Hon. Sadiq Khan, summarising the view expressed by all parliamentarians, spoke of the necessity of tackling Islamophobia in the UK.
Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker presented the findings of their research project on which is due to be published this year, i.e. 2013 by Cambridge University Press, ‘Discourse Analysis and Media Bias: The representation of Islam in the British Press, 1998 – 2009’. The research project, which studies 200,037 newspaper articles about Muslims and Islam in all the major papers (Guardian/Observer, Independent, Times, Telegraph, Business, Star, Sun/NOTW, Mirror, Express, Mail, People), analysed 143 million words in total.
Summarising the main findings, Professor McEnery said:“The word terrorism (and related forms) is more frequent than the word Islam (and related forms). References to extreme forms of Islam or Muslims are 21 times more common than references to moderate Islam or Muslims.” Of the newspapers most likely to display this bias, McEnery said “The tabloids do this most, The Guardian does it the least.”
McEnery concluded saying, “The overall picture is that Muslims and Islam are connected to conflict, terror, extremism and even horror.“The tabloids newspapers are the most negative – focussing on Muslims like Abu Hamza.”
The Role of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest Muslim organization in the world, recently held the 12th Islamic Summit of the OIC in Cairo on Wednesday, 6th of February, 2013. The question of Islamophobia was one of the items on the agenda. The Islamic leaders discussed this issue.
But before the meeting of the Islamic Summit in Cairo, the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu gave an interview with Jeddah-based English Daily, Arab News, and replying to a question on Islamophobia, he said: “The historic consensual adoption of the OIC sponsored Resolution 16/18 by the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was a milestone in bringing the international community together in combating intolerance on the basis of religion and belief. The OIC efforts with the international community in combating religious intolerance were further vindicated when Resolution 16/18 was passed by the UN General Assembly Sessions in 2011 and 2012. The OIC’s determination to build upon the consensus of the provisions of 16/18 is manifest when we took the initiative to launch the Istanbul Process in 2011. Two sessions on the implementation of the Istanbul Process have been held in Washington DC and London respectively, and we expect to hold the third session very soon. The OIC is also actively involved on working on a unified position of member states toward an effective strategy in cooperation with our partners in the international community. I also believe that bringing the issue of Islamophobia in bilateral meetings of the member states with their Western counterparts would contribute substantially to our efforts in combating Islamophobia. Let me also emphasize on the crucial and important role of the media and civil society to complement the OIC’s efforts in sensitizing the global community of Islamophobia’s serious and dangerous implications.”
King Abdullah’s speech at the Islamic Summit
At the opening session of the 12th Islamic Summit in Cairo on Wednesday, the keynote speech made by King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, which was read out by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, at the Summit, was strong in its content. The King referred to the issue of Islamophobia and said, “The most major challenge facing our Islamic nation today is hatred of religions or religious leaders by those who have suspicious and ill goals, persons who use the freedom of expression and opinion to attack Muslims and their sanctuaries without any ethical or legal deterrent that incriminate them,” the king said.
He urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member-states to support the Kingdom’s proposal at the UN to make slandering Divine religions and their prophets a criminal offence. “So, we demand all member states of the OIC to support the proposal submitted by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations to issue a resolution condemning any state, group or individual who defame the divine religions or prophets and messengers including the most toughest deterrent punishments of such acts,” the King said.
A Communique issued at the end of the two-day Summit of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said, the leaders called for a strategy to combat Islamophobia, expressed deep concern over the growing attacks against Islam, Muslims and the Prophet (peace be upon him). They stressed that Islam is the religion of moderation, openness and rejects all forms of extremism. They stressed the necessity to draw up education curricula that gives the real picture of Islam.
Islamic Satellite Television channel to confront Islamophobia
Recently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation emphasized on 19th February 2013 its plan to establish an effective satellite television channel to confront Islamophobia.“We’ll hold a four-day meeting of experts at OIC headquarters here from Saturday to discuss various aspects of the project in order to present it at the next meeting of OIC information ministers,” said Essam Salim Al-Shanti, director of the media department to Arab News.
“Our objective is to have a strong and effective media that can address the needs of the Muslim world having different languages with various cultural backgrounds,” he said. The new channel will present its programs in English, Arabic French. “Its main objective is to project the true picture of Islam and confront the challenge posed by Islamophobia, especially in the West,” Al-Shanti said.
He said the channel would also work for promoting intercultural dialogue in order to bring the Eastern and Western cultures and the North and South closer. “It will help exchange of knowledge between OIC countries, highlight the issues of Muslim minorities and promote joint Islamic action,” the OIC official said.
The channel project was first proposed by a meeting of OIC information ministers in Gabon last year.
Later, a foreign ministers’ meeting in Djibouti endorsed the project. The fourth emergency Islamic summit in Makkah and the recent OIC summit in Cairo.