It is no secret that many people do not fully understand Islam. After 9/11 most of the non-Muslim world lumped together all Muslims with Osama Bin Laden as the spiritual, political and moral leader of all who read the Koran. Obviously, saying that stereotypes of Muslims are based in specious arguments and ignorance is an understatement – just as stereotypes of Jews and Blacks in the past were just as absurd. Yet, unfortunately, it is still acceptable to repeat such stereotypes openly, perhaps because for many in the world, Islam is still a foreign concept. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that of the over – 300 million people in the country, there are only 5-7 million Muslims. Call it a clash of civilizations if you want, but I prefer to think that the unbridled hatred of Islam that has only grown in the last decade is the relatively late introduction of Islam to the west and the resulting collective misunderstanding of the culture.
Perhaps more interesting is the connection between domestic politics and hate-mongering – specifically, politicians looking for scapegoats to blame for or distract from the continual (and relative) economic hardships that are being experienced by many in western countries. Higher than normal unemployment, high debt and foreign policy failures need to be glossed over and Muslims have been cast as the cause of seemingly all domestic malaise throughout the west. An article in Al Arabiya notes this trend clearly:
Far-right parties currently are in government in Italy and sit in the parliaments of Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden and The Netherlands…
“Because of the crisis and dearth of jobs,” said researcher Shada Islam at the European Policy Centre, “politicians are playing on emotions to win votes, looking for scapegoats.”
The article goes onto point out that although the immigration rate has dropped considerably in Europe over the last couple of years, right-wing extremist parties are still making leaps in popularity on a racist platform – often targeting Islamic immigration. It was not too long ago that Switzerland – with a Muslim population totaling only around 4% of the total population – banned the construction of minarets, despite the dishonest campaign (there were more minarets on the campaign poster than in all of Switzerland). In France – a country that once colonized several Muslim countries – Muslims total only around 5 million of the almost 66 million living in France. Yet recently (in addition to cracking down on the Roma population) France has banned wearing burkas. Italy – with 1.5% of its population being Muslim – has debated a similar measure.
While unemployment in Switzerland is low enough by any standard to perhaps by an anomaly. the French rate stands at around 10% while the Italian rate sits at 8.5%. In the US, the unemployment rate is almost reaching 10% as well – significantly above its historical standards. The economic collapse of the last several years has left no economy completely intact and it seems as though Muslims are paying the price.
[tweetmeme] A good indication of this is the juxtaposition of how the opposition in the US has painted current President Obama with his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama has been in charge during what may be the worst consequences of Bush’s horrid economic policies. Despite the blame squarely falling on Bush-era economic policies, Obama has had to face the wrath of an angry public. Perhaps consequently, perhaps coincidentally, Obama has been the target of many right-wing memes accusing the President of treason and even being a Muslim. Meanwhile, Bush – who initiated two ill-advised wars in Muslim countries, causing the deaths of thousands of Muslims – has, at least by some, been remembered by his friendly outreach to Muslims following 9/11. A glaring difference, of course, is the state of the economy during the two administrations.
This connection between economic downfall and Islamophobia is certainly not limited to a small number of countries. In Sweden for example, a far-right party has explicitly linked the falling economy of the country with the ‘invasion’ of Muslims (video at the top of this post). Incidentally, the party won 20 seats in Parliament in the most recent election – the first seats it has ever won.
Yet, whatever started this recent global slide into discrimination and hatred, one thing is sure. Such blatant racism cannot be tolerated. While some credit the rise in Muslim-bashing to an incompatibility of cultures and others desperately try to mediate the cultural conflict, the world must watch its step. Open discrimination and racism has led to some seriously disastrous results in relatively recent history. Today, some are even comparing the rise in bigotry against Muslims around the globe to the Antisemitism of the 1930’s. The entire connection between Islamophobia and domestic economic issues is far from causal and perhaps much closer to simply incidental, however a quick and simplistic look at the rising intolerance in the west today and prior to the Second World War – in which over 6 million Jews were slaughtered – shows more similarities than one would wish to admit.
Photo from FPIF