Ever since Edward Said’s Orientalism was published in 1971, it became clear and widely accepted that the West has, since the very beginning, associated Islam and Mulims with negative images and cliches. The word Islamophobia was first used in the year 1991, and was explained in the Runnymede Trust Report that was published six years later, in 1997. It emerged mainly during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. It was widely used by political scientists, activists and NGOs etc to bring into the limelight the fearful and harmful actions directed at Islam and the Muslims living in the Western democracies. It was quoted/explained as ‘the unfounded hostility towards Islam and therefore a strong fear or dislike of all or most Muslims’. (Runnymede Trust , 1997, p. 1)
Islamophobia is an emerging term in the social sciences and has been a pivotal concern of many states after the incident of 9/11. There is no fixed definition of the term at the moment so it becomes difficult to compare and contrast the levels on which this term is being operated and used. Many Muslims residing in Great Britain and the United States of America have faced discrimination and humiliation due to events that followed 9/11. Over the time, in recent years, Islamophobia has evolved from being just a political ideology to a term which is used to analytical purposes. The researchers of the contemporary times have started to ponder upon the various meanings and concepts attached to this term. They have begun using the term ‘Islamophobia’ to identify the causes and the consequences of the anti-islamic or anti-muslim sentiments.
Islamophobia existed even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 but it increased in frequency and gained even more significance after the terrorist attacks. The second report of the Runnymede Trust was published in 2004, which shed light on the excessive humiliation and difficulties faced by the British Muslims. The aftermath of the terrorist attacks had made it life miserable for the Muslims residing in the West. Islamophobia does not only affect a handful of Muslim groups but every Muslim arounf the globe in one way or the other. The 9/11 attacks were a great blow to the USA and an American Muslim, Amad Sheikh (Founder of the MuslimMatters.org) narrates the whole incident in this way ‘I remember sitting in front of the 14’’Tv screen...As the towers collapsed, my heart sank. I also felt strangely uncomfortable - a gut feeling perhaps of what to come my way as an American Muslim’. He quotes that his wife who was out shopping at that time, came home and told him about the aggressive stares from the people as she wore a veil (because veils are associated with muslims). This man further writes that ‘I saw the best and the worst of America’ at his workplace i.e. an oil refinery. Rumours started to circulate that he had disrespected the flag of the United States by ripping it off from his hat (which was actually printed and could not be removed) and tossing it in the dustbin. But along with this discriminatory behavior patterns, he also had supportive and understanding coworkers who continued to act nicely towards him. He mentions that his responses were rather ‘defensive and confused’ because afterall he was a ‘Muslim’.
Furthermore, Amad Sheikh is just one example, who thankfully did not face any violence but was still objectified on the basis of his religion, caste, creed and even his clothing. As he moved into the new neighbourhood in League City, on the outskirts of Houston, the people in the street ran into their houses as soon he stepped out of his minivan along with his family. This is a pretty evident and prominent example of the term ‘Islamophobia’ which not occurs at a political level but on a socio-economic level as well.
There are many groups who are responsible for the anti-Islamic propaganda, which include the Right-Wing Christian Evangelical Groups, White Supremacists, Jewish Supremacists, Hindutva Supremacists, Democratic and Republic Demagogues etc. They are aware of the fact that prejudice against the muslims can help them in gaining prominence and help them in getting elected. They can use any idea, any pretext to attack the Muslim community. They disregard the fact that everyone has the right to exist and live their lives according to their choice. An example of the white supremacist attacks can be of the attack in Christchurch, Newzealand. It left almost fifty muslim worshippers dead and almost an equal number wounded. It brought to the surafce, the issue of Islamophobia once again and also, its links with the white supremacist ideology. This act was indeed, a deep-seated hatred against the Muslims among some of the Western/anti-islamic agencies.
Similarly, the concept of Islamophobia in America is to demean the Muslims and deprive them of the confidence they have in their faith and themselves. As Gloria Anzaldua in her book, ‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ talks about how culture and identity are intertwined, they represent a community as well as an individual. This view is necesaary when it comes to the Islamophobic ideas that are rooted in the minds of the Americans, who try to discriminate Muslims on the basis of their culture and religion.
The concept of Islamophobia has evolved and changed over the years but the narrative remains the same i.e. to hate the Muslims and Islam. Hopefully, one day, the Muslims residing in the West wing of the world will not be isolated any further and will become integrated into the societies that they live in. They will be treated “normal” people and citizens without facing any discrimination and humilation at the hands of the natives.
Mishal Abbas Khawaja