Preconceptions, in some ways, influence many of us much of the time. We make snap judgements about people – about what they wear, where they live, what they eat, what school they went to. There’s scarcely a limit at which the conscious or subconscious mind will stop, in forming opinions. There is no doubt that, whatever our preconceived ideas, they are almost always based on fleeting assumptions, and certainly not grounded in fact or based on hard evidence. Sometimes, these views are harmless, trivial and inconsequential, and we actively shrug them off. In other cases, the judgements are made on the basis of people’s race, gender or religion. In these incidences, the consequences can be very damaging.
We’re all aware of the horrors of racism and the long fight for racial parity, which has become a fundamental on the school history curriculum, and rightly so. Equally, the gender struggle, especially this year, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, is increasingly becoming a feature in schools around the country. Of course, the battle against prejudice in these areas is far from over but importantly, it’s on the radar of most rightminded people. Religious persecution is as ancient as religion itself and throughout history, millions of people have been murdered because of their faith. Such genocide persists today. Yet, strangely, the campaign for mutual respect of religion does not seem to be afforded the same weight.
Whether anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or anti-Christianism, religious hatred of all kinds is a huge problem. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I’m going to take a deeper look at what I consider to be one of the issues behind continued Islamic prejudice.
Since 11 September 2001, the anti-Western attitude of some radical, hate-preaching Muslims has been brought to the fore, with little representation being made on behalf of ordinary, peace-loving moderate Muslims. There can be no doubt that there are some who espouse these extreme views but in the international community of 1.5billion Muslims, they are in the most minuscule minority. So the pre-conceived idea here, is that all Muslims must hold these radical views, and that they are therefore to be feared and mistrusted.
It’s really important, in the “crusade” against Islamophobia, that we equip people with the knowledge they need to identify what actually constitute extremist Islamic practices. In the first instance, the difference between religious and cultural practices needs to be addressed.
In Greece, it is a common custom for baby teeth, not to be left under a pillow for the tooth fairy to collect, but to be thrown up onto the roof of the family home. Yet, we do not assume that this must therefore be a practice among Greek Orthodox Christians. Why then, is it so commonplace to associate cultural practices in Muslim states with the religion? Female genital mutilation, forced-marriage, so-called “honour-based” violence; these are all cultural practices, and as far as Islam is concerned, they are red herrings, unrelated to the faith. But the message from extremists, intent on pitting Islam against the West, and vice-versa, is that these practices are innate in the religion.
Islamic extremists, in their quest to build animosity, recruit the weak-willed, and fight against non-Muslims, misrepresent the religion in order to widen the divide between states. They paint Muslims as intolerant, sectarian, violent and misogynistic, generating and embedding a stereotype, which is what lots of people see when they glimpse a long beard or a burka on the high streets of Britain. But adhering to a religion or even following a cultural practice does not mean that Muslims are terrorists, or should be judged as such.
Here in Britain, the views of Islamic extremists are at odds with British values. They actively discourage engagement in democratic elections, and spurn and flout the tolerance and freedoms inherent in the United Kingdom. Followers of moderate Islam, conversely, are completely in sync with British values. They live happily and at peace with the state, enjoying the rights afforded by society.
Preconceptions and stereotypes are dangerous, by following them we risk delivering exactly what the extremists want.