This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.
Islamophobia exists and is steadily getting worse. A phobia is a strong irrational or powerful fear and dislikes of something, in this case, the religion of Islam. This phobia has attained such strong levels, that the Organisation of Islamic Countries has commissioned and recently released an Annual Report on Islamophobia. On reading the report, I was torn between two feelings; the first was serious concern about Islamophobia in the world and second was sheer bewilderment at the OIC as to how they help propagate the very Islamophobia that they want to eliminate.
I have spoken about Islamophobia before and have been warning about its prevalence for some time now. And regretfully, the situation is far from improving; instead it is getting worse. One can see that just looking at the rise in terrorist attacks and hate crimes, lurid headlines, anti-Semitic attacks in Europe in retaliation, etc. And the more this happens; the less the space becomes for moderates on both sides.
As I warned before, the world knows about the demonisation of a minority and knows what happens if that monster is let loose. We have seen that behaviour against Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Browns, Yellows, Hindus, Irish, English, Tutsi, you name it, it has happened. If there is a minority, the chances are that phobias, discrimination, genocide etc. against them have been in play.
So if you look at the report, the worry is clear. Muslims around the world are definitely in the cross-hairs of a variety of people. And you can very well see that in the pronouncements of some of the wilder variety of some politicians across the world; the subtle demonisation of Muslims in the mainstream, tabloid, and online media; and the increase in attacks on Muslims (or even Sikhs who these attackers thought that they looked like Muslims).
So yes, that definitely needs to be sorted out. From what I understand, the OIC asked for an annual report on Islamophobia to be tabled at the annual sessions of the OIC. The authors of this report are not clear nor are the terms of reference of this report.
But first the good points in the document. Yes, there are some good points in there. For example, the authors have collected a good selection of Islamophobia research sources. A reasonably good selection of political Islamophobic statements has also been collected in Section 2.1 and they have also done a good survey on what people have done to combat Islamophobia from a governmental, NGO and individual perspectives in section 1.6.
They also talk about how inter-faith initiatives have been established, which can at best improve inter-faith relations and at worst, not do any harm. The majority of the recommendations in the conclusion of Part I that they made to combat Islamophobia are quite bang on target and make pretty good sense. They should be read by anybody who is interested in this rather dreadful phenomenon. Section 1.5 specially is a very good overview of the situation of Muslims in Europe and USA, although some inconsistencies should have been addressed in a better way, such as praising Pope Benedict XVI in Section 3.5, but fulminating against him on page 3.
Looking at the document, I would conclude that this was done by some under-graduates from a 3rd grade university hidden in a country-side somewhere, who have no idea about modern life and have suddenly stumbled upon the internet with their first lesson being Google search. As a result, this document starts off with the best of intentions and ends up rather fanning Islamophobia instead of helping to reduce it. It suffers from the following major defects:
- Total misunderstanding of the basic principle of Freedom of Speech. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to irritate and upset others. Freedom of speech does not include the right to discriminate against others though. For example, I can take the mickey out of suicide bombers wanting virgins and ending up with raisins. Or you can call me an infidel and say your religion is better than mine. These are completely acceptable, I have no issues. But you cannot tell others to kill me nor can I tell others to kill you. That is incitement to violence. The author seems to have deep intellectual issues in understanding this basic matter.
- Confusing racism with Islamophobia. Race belongs to a genetic category generally exhibited on the basis of a physical appearance. Islamophobia is a fear of Islam. Two totally different things. While in certain cases (such as black Muslims), they might blow over into being the same, but to confuse both of them as one shows muddled thinking. Muslims are not a race, and they do include a variety of different races and ethnic groups.
- Methodological and terminological confusion, which emerges from seriously flawed selection of incidents and coverage of incidents. Almost 50% of the incidents noted in the Appendix are not Islamophobic in nature, but belong to the category of freedom of speech or simple crime category. Islamophobia exists already without trying to add to it.
- A totally wrong emphasis on legal protections. They try to go deep into legal aspects of various conventions and institutions. But you see, those are already established, anti-discrimination laws exist, anti-violence laws exist anti-incitement laws exist and they are sufficient. For example, they are talking about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and completely forget that they themselves have repudiated it and have come up with a Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. Here's an idea! How about the OIC signing up to and transcribing to domestic law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as most of the rest of the world has done?
- Be very careful about complaining about being a victim, because it only stands up when you yourself have not victimised someone else. Now if you look at the OIC minorities, one can come up with many examples of victimisation that they themselves have done. And we are talking about Muslims victimising Muslims here, forget about non-Muslims. Ranging from Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Baha'i, Ismaili, Darfurians and then all the way to the other side like Jews, Christians, Hindus Buddhists, etc. have been victimised in OIC countries. Now, consider the reaction if such a report on anti-Baha'i or anti-Shia or anti-Semitic discrimination is presented at the OIC? How about considering the fact that many if not most current anti-Semitic attacks in Europe are carried out by European Muslims?
- A totally imbalanced view of history. This entire report was so imbalanced in terms of its historical coverage that one does not even know where to start. What about the entry of Islam into the Caucasian world? Or the Chinese area? How about how it managed the entry and existence in South Asia and Africa? Islam has perhaps victimised more in many countries and regions than had been victimised against. Perhaps this is why their geographical scope of the report is so muddled (to avoid any facts which destroy their argument?)
- Significant challenges in the identification of the causes of Islamophobia. First of all, there is not one form of Islam; it is not a single view, sect or a monolith. More importantly it is not the role of the state to define it. So if you are an Ahmadi or a Shia or a Sunni or what have you, we simply do not care! If you have religious differences, then by all means, discuss them, but do not kill for those differences. For example, the list of seven points raised by the Runnymede Trust defining Islamophobia can, unfortunately be equally applied to anti-Semitism, Anti-Hinduism, Anti-Shia… in OIC countries, where they will be totally applicable. Consequently, ALL root causes of Islamophobia as identified in section 1.4.1 are completely wrong and misallocated.
- A clear misunderstanding of the role of the media and the level of control people can actually exert over them. Most - if not all - of the OIC have no or very little press freedom. On top of that, the Arab League, a subset of the OIC, has decided to take fuller control over their TV Media since February 2008. That is not how the media works in other countries. Do check out independent organisations such as Reporters without Borders.
- Israel – Palestine conflict. This is something that I can never understand. Curiously, more than 3/4th of all dead Palestinians have been killed by their fellow Arabs compared to the numbers killed by Israelis, but besides that breathtaking hypocrisy, I still cannot understand why they would include it in here. Or exclude say something like Bangladesh and Sudan? Pretty bizarre and intellectually vacuous.
Islamophobia exists, hate crimes have seriously stated happening in many countries and that is something to be worried about. All parts of civil society have to take part in ensuring that this canker of Islamophobia does not emerge from the dark evil corners of our souls. This includes you and me, the media, NGOs, churches and mosques, the government and international organisations, etc. But this has to happen for the right reasons, not for the spectacularly wrong and intellectually vapid reasons as stated in this report. All this will end up doing (and has already done) is to provide ammunition to the right wing that the OIC, as the premier Islamic organisation, takes decisions based upon policy papers which a zoned out undergraduate would hesitate to submit. And by the way, try to understand the concept of free speech. People who are out there trying to control free speech are basically engaging in Neanderthal behaviour and should not be upset if their speech is ignored, unheard or even mis-understood.
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!