What is Islamophobia?
It is an irrational fear and hatred of Muslims categorized as an identifiable group. Islamophobia is becoming an 'elephant in the room' - it is an actual phenomenon that has gained significant momentum in Europe over the last decade. The rate of Muslim hate crime has soared in France, the Netherlands has seen 117 attacks on mosques over the last 6 years and the Independent recently published an article proving the dramatic increase in Islamophobic crimes in Britain.
Why/how did this happen?
The media can be a double ended sword at times, as it is a good way of allowing the public easy access to information efficiently and can be a good platform for freedom of speech. On the other hand it can be the culprit of depicting certain matters in an obscure light. This has been seen in the way that Muslims have undergone heavy racialisation by the media and the public. After the Woolwich attacks Nick Robinson reported that the "attackers were of Muslim appearance". Though Mr Robinson did apologise later, it definitely encapsulates the normalization of society's stereotypes of Muslims. Even the EDL have attacked Sikhs in the past, through mistaking them for Muslims due to their brown complexion.
The media is incentivised to air/publish stories that will sell and grab the attention of audiences, this is a natural motive - but surely with the increased demand must come responsibilty? The Daily Mail for example has overtaken the New York Times recently in circulation as the most read newspaper, and yet the majority - if not all - of the stories published by the Daily Mail on Muslims is negative. Even broadsheets can be accused of Islamophobic undertones, for example; The Times published a front page article on the increased birth rate of Muslims in Britain, which was not even true but regardless of this, why was it front page news? Its hard to say how to best remedy this, as the public remain oblivious to the subliminal impact this bombardment of Islamic stereotypes the media has on them - this is not an example of the media excercising its freedom of speech but rather an ulterior agenda.
No, I do not have a conspiracy to offer, but what I do believe is that the interventions on Muslim soil maintains that the West still views the East through an Orientalist lens - as seen in the constant debate over the rights and future of Muslim women; surely the harm principle applies? David Cameron famously, and perhaps regrettably, said that "multiculturalism had failed" on the day that the EDL marched through Tower Hamlets - even the PM acknowledges the brewing tensions within communities.
One can argue there has also been a recent 'securitization' if you like, of universities. This is perhaps most evident in external speaker specifications for Islamic Societies - yes this does apply to all societies but there are real examples where ISOCs have experienced rejection of their speakers on a short notice and have had to cancel extensively planned events. I agree controversial speakers undermine the credibility of universities and hence the need for criteria is justified, but at the same time, given that the potential speaker has no record of inciting hatred nor criminal record, surely his/her controversial stance on a matter is best voiced in an educational forum where open-minded young people can openly challenge their views? Wasnt it Mill who said that controversial views are best remedied through debate? This may be a soft approach at preventing radicalisation but is a useful one nevertheless. Yes you will always have that 1% who decide to be militant regardless of their acquisition of numerous degrees, but one must trust in the majority of Muslims who are peaceful and loving.
The media has also recently kicked up a huge fuss about the issue of gender segregation within ISOCs, but has there been wide coverage on all the good that ISOCs do? No of course not! What about the huge amounts raised through the annual charity week nationwide across ISOCs? What about 'DIW' (discover islam) week where ISOCs run stalls on campus to clear misconceptions about Islam? There are many more projects which would be too exhaustive to list, but it should be noted how the media easily oversimplifies a multi-faceted issue like gender segregation by boiling it down to oppression.
So what do we do?
There are many avenues, for example; in order to really prove that Islamophobia is on the rise one must be able to have easy access to data which reveals the rate of Muslim hate crimes. The problem with this is clear, like all crimes, the majority are not reported for various reasons but perhaps in the context of Muslim hate crimes one can argue fear of the authorities plays a role. I am lucky to be born and bred in London, where the Metropolitan Police actually categorize Islamophobic crimes and hence it is easier to file a report when you know the authorities deem it an actual issue. Countries like France on the other hand, have some police forces which are Islamophobic themselves so why would a victim report the crime? Therefore initiatives used by the Metropolitan police should be incorporated across Europe to evidence the rise in Islamophobic crimes.
However what is also becoming a clear issue is the institutionalisation of Islamophobia, seen in the manipulation of 'Schedule 7' at airports which often lead to young Muslims missing their flights to perform Hajj for example, as a pre-emptive means against radicalisation. So, the judiciary and police should invest in a reporting system that would allow Muslims to feel they have the support of the community, without its incorporation of 'secret courts'. This may seem quite an ambitious and demanding solution but Muslims contemporarily are 'hyper-visible' one could argue, and thus a specific set of conservative style methodologies must be undertaken.
However I understand that in order for any of the above to be discussed (let alone implemented) the issue of Islamophobia first and foremost must be accepted and placed on governmental agenda. In order to do this, the Muslim community needs solidarity within itself and with non-Muslims. Our religious views or even non-religious views should not be what is needed to unite us, what should unite us all is the intolerance of prejudice and discrimination. Islam, like most religions, is not monolithic, thus you will have liberal, progressive and strict Muslims but what we all have in common is our sense of humanity and intolerance of racism.
Muslims themselves must also speak out and campaign against Islamophobia. They must also make society more representative through socio-economic means such as breaking glass ceilings and pursuing careers in industries that have been systematically rejecting candidates on the basis of religion and 'national security'. Morever, we see a small number of Muslim academics, head-teachers, teachers and in other professions - it is our generation that can change that and truly prove to society that we have more in common as one, than we do dispersed. It is because there isnt more Muslims in top professions or at platforms where their voices can be heard, that the Muslim community are a soft target and scapegoat to concentrate hatred upon.
Why did I publish this?
After attending an insightful rountable discussion at the House of Lords, organised by FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies) hosted by Lord Qurban Hussain, on whether or not Islamophobia really exists, I feel my thoughts on the matter should be voiced. Most importantly, I fear the danger that looms. The truth is that the stigma which infected the Muslim community post 9/11 has remained and this is for a number of reasons. Anti-Semitism in the early stages of the Holocaust was similarly an 'elephant in the room' so the worst thing we can do is stay quiet. I acknowledge that the task ahead is one that requires gradual efforts by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike but it is a necessary phenomenon that must be fought.