Columns / Discourse / April 15, 2010

World Politics Corner: Islamaphobia in Europe

You quickly learn: research is one thing, discrimination another. In France there was the ban on burkas and hijabs because they were a threat to French values (and the Church wasn’t), or in Switzerland there was the ban on further minaret building (a minaret is the tower from which the call to prayer sounds- although none of the four minarets already in Switzerland have the call). Freedom of religion, anyone?

Systematic discrimination aside, the biggest frontier in this battle of “understanding Islam” seems to be on the Internet. Blogs have been connecting people all over the world who hold the same ideas and keep them conversing. But how helpful are they to those who want a first interaction with an idea? After 9/11, a trend started. Anyone who thought they knew anything about Islam created a blog and this garble of slanted opinion mixed with misquotes from the Qur’an and other “facts” presented itself as the beacon of knowledge from which to gain access to Islam’s “real values”. Readers gobble it as their first line of defense against the treacherous Muslims. And if you encounter those people, no matter how cordial you are, how many facts you present, or any inconsistencies you find in the their arguments, they will not budge.

From personal experience, you can be labeled as someone who believes in child molestation to a murderer waiting for the signal from holy Bin Laden to having open threats directed at you. This directly affects the lives of Muslim families who were living normally before 9/11 and wished to do so after. This also makes it harder for those who actively try to defend Islam as just another one of the religions in the world, because those people have to source “legitimate” sources, basically ones that are clearly not affiliated with the Muslim world or Muslim countries, while they can rely on … you guessed it, blogs.

However, instead of targeting this rise in xenophobia and racism (because all Muslims are Arab and all Arabs are Muslim), the governments in Europe tend to fuel the flames. Recently, April 1 of this year to be precise, Al Jazeera English reported that the United Kingdom Home Office released a study of the top 20 “Pro-Islamic” blogs as a counter to terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. If it was successful it may have acted as a resource center for would-be terrorists, but that’s beside the point.

First of all, the term “Pro-Islamic” denotes an idea that “Anti-Islamic” blogs are better. Second of all, it expresses that all “pro-Islamic” blogs must be terrorist supporting. Already there is a problem in the study’s name. “These [sites] were identified (by the primary researcher, using keywords) as “pro-Islamic,” gathered from the blog directories BlogCatalog, Blogorama, the now-defunct BritBlog, eTalkingHead and Technorati and found via keyword searches on Google Blog Search” (Al Jazeera English, UK Study on Islamic Blogs ‘Flawed’).

Now for an intelligence agency like the UK’s RICU office, you’d expect better than a Google search. And for anyone who’s ever used Google, you know there’s a lot of crap out there: for instance, I was 12 when I found a site explaining 10 reasons why Jesus and Hitler are the same person, two of them being: they both hate tomatoes and you never see either of them in the same place at the same time.

So not only is the title problematic, the research method itself is questionable. And then you look at the list itself. The first person on the list is Ali Eteraz, who was on Oprah’s Book List. So am I to assume that Oprah supports terrorism? Edip Yuksel, a leader in the American Islamic reform movement, says Eteraz is the last man to be associated with terrorism.

“Listing Ali’s name in a research to track terrorists is a travesty of truth. Muslim intellectuals like Ali are our best hope for global peace, justice and progress,” Yuksel said (Al Jazeera English).

The third blog on the list is also ironic.

“The Angry Arab blog” is written by As’ad Abukhalil, a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. According to statements he has made on his blog, he is a self-proclaimed atheist and secularist” (Al Jazeera English). So atheists are now Muslim terrorist lovers, too? No, he was probably on the list because he’s Arab (because all Muslims are Arab, you know).

“According to his staff profile on the Nottingham University website, Stevens’ [the Chief Author for the RICU study] main area of research is contemporary Anglo-American (normative) political philosophy, not mass or social media” (Al Jazeera English).

Perhaps part of the problem was that the research was done by people who probably didn’t know what they were talking about and had a search that was too generic. In the end, it turned out to be no different than any anti-Islamic blog, except that it was government initiated and managed. Again, the message is, “Muslims are not welcome here.” The same blanket labeling JihadWatch.org was continued with the United Kingdom’s government as well as other European nations.

As Islamophobia rises socially and institutionally, what shall be the cure for Europe? Segregation: Muslim Europe and non-Muslim Europe? Mass deportations? Truly these are worst-case scenarios and for now we can only educate and hope that people will come to their senses. All religions and non-religions have their share of violence. I for one have read the Bible, Torah and Qur’an from cover to cover: there’s a lot of death and killing. No religion is exempt from brutality, perhaps because there are always brutal people in the world. And for anyone who opposes, perhaps it’s time to learn from history, even Buddhists have killed. Regardless though, for now the message is loud and clear, Islamophobia is here to stay for some time. And humans ‘learn’ quickly.



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