Sweden’s scourge of Islamophobia
Islamophobia increasingly knows no borders in Europe. Hate-driven attacks on the religion of Islam and the Holy Book will never cast a shadow over their sanctity. Such hate crimes harm those who commit them. Such seeds of hatred poison and radicalize societies from within.
One does not have to look far to witness Islamophobia. To witness the truth of state-sponsored Islamophobia rearing its ugly head, witness the Modi documentary by the BBC (better late than never) which unequivocally shows crimes against humanity committed by the ruling BJP and RSS against Muslims, including lynch mobs and anti-Muslim bigotry, which documents how the police beat a Muslim to death.
Modi and his aides are well-known Islamophobes and what is now becoming eerily alarming is how the contagion of Islamophobia is spreading epidemically across a rabid right-wing cesspool that is increasingly the continent of Europe.
Earlier this week in The Hague, Netherlands, in an act that made American right-wing extremists look like beacons of tolerance, Edwin Wagensveid, the Dutch politician from the far-right group Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), publicly desecrated a copy of the Koran and broadcast a video of the heinous act on social media.
We see eerily that a pattern is emerging when Rasmus Paludan, political leader of the Danish far-right party Stram Kurs (Hard Line), over the weekend burned a copy of the Koran near the Turkish embassy in Sweden.
Indicating that the hateful events in Sweden and the Netherlands are part of a wider premeditated hate campaign against Muslims, as he, as expected, tore pages from the Koran, just as the professional provocateurs sought, protests erupted across the Muslim-majority world. Western politicians subsequently responded by condescendingly preaching and moralizing to Muslims about the nuances of free speech and “respect” for differing opinions.
Beyond this tired clichéd pattern of irritating Islamophobic baiting/Muslim anger/stemming from Western snobbish arrogance, a more important question to ask is: does targeting susceptible minorities (Muslims in Europe) have any repercussions on the societies in which they take place? Should non-Muslims living in Western cities care if a holy book they do not believe in is being used in a despicable publicity stunt? The answer is a resounding “yes they should”. Because the spread of anti-Muslim bigotry makes democracies less free, tolerant and safe – not just for Muslims, but for anyone and everyone.
The Global Islamophobia Index, from Pew Research and a 2020 study by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) among many others, comparing Islamophobia prejudice, predictors of anti-Muslim actions, and other variables illustrate that anti-Muslim clichés predictably align with state policies that persecute Muslims . For example, mosque surveillance and Trump’s “Muslim ban” which banned travel to America from several Muslim-majority nations. But Islamophobic zealots aren’t just trigger-happy to wipe out Muslim rights. Empirical evidence since 9/11 indicates that anti-Muslim extremists are happy to surrender their own rights and lean toward totalitarianism. Citizens who believe that Muslims are partly to blame for violence perpetrated by other Muslims (collective punishment and condemnation) or that Muslims are less cultured than others are likely to favor an erosion of media freedom and an interruption of basic liberties during a terrorist attack. In sum, the spread of Islamophobia weakens the roots of civil liberties and a free and just society—namely, a non-conforming, questioning and critical citizenship.
In addition, Islamophobia breeds other forms of hatred. Violent extremist researchers and pollsters such as Gallup and the International Alliance for Peace and Development (IAPDA) and OHCHR have for years found that anti-Semitism and anti-black racism are among the top predictors of Islamophobia.
In fact, villains who “claim” to act in the name of Islam exploit Western anti-Muslim political ideas and manipulate them to headhunt citizens to their extremist ideologies.
Empirical studies show that anti-Muslim tropes such as that they are more prone to violence are a fallacy. People who are tolerant of Islamophobia are also likely to tolerate violent attacks and the killing of civilians by armies. The alarming upsurge in white supremacist violence in Europe and in America as the greatest terrorist threat to American lives in the Trump era comes as no surprise.
The above does not mean cheap publicity stunts and hate speech like we saw in Europe last week should be outlawed or censored. In some eyes, that would legitimize their violence. As a devout Muslim, as an observer of sociology, as an analyst of extremism and theology, I know that the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) encountered much worse in his own life and that the divine scripture and revelation of God do not need our fragile and sensitive protection; it was in fact divinely revealed as a protection for us.
Moreover, we should not fan the flames of immaterial provocateurs as bastions of “free speech” by suppressing them. The most lethal penalty we can give them is to give them the attention they deserve: none. Hate speech that seeks to ignite sparks of Islamophobia must be interpreted by wider civil society for what it actually is, not a vindication of democracy, but an attack on it.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31St2023.
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