Acceptable Prejudices?

As increasing fears of terrorist attacks heighten security measures in America and Britain, Caitriona Farrell sheds light on the issue of IslamophobiaEkmeleddin Ihsanoglu, chief secretary of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the world’s largest Islamic organisation, recently highlighted the scale of the escalating problem that is Islamophobia. In particular, he focused on its prominence in Europe, but this is no longer just a European issue.Islamophobia is an international issue that has arisen because of global doubts and fears about different religions, denominations and peoples. The OIC spans over 57 states internationally and its purpose is to safeguard Muslims’ interests and provide them with a good sense of security. Ihsanoglu has compared the strife that Muslims must endure to the mounting fascism and Nazism during the 1930s. He feels that Islam is veiled “in the first stages of such a thing”.Xenophobia can be defined as the unreasonable, irrational fear or hatred of strangers or of that which is foreign or strange, and it has unfortunately become commonplace in society. Hostility towards people of different nationalities is, in some people’s eyes, part of normal human behaviour. Islamophobia is, therefore, a form of xenophobiaXenophobia is not a recent phenomenon by any means. Prejudices against religions, views, values and places of origin that are not one’s own have existed as long as humans have been on Earth. Take for example World War II or the Ku Klux Klan, schisms that have brought about resentment and hostility towards those who hold different beliefs or values, or who simply experience a different way of life.Racism, prejudice and xenophobia are nothing new to the 21st century, but the trend of Islamophobia has become worryingly prominent of late. In September, Amnesty International has claimed that “fear, discrimination and persecution against Muslims” is steadily on the increase in the US. It now seems as if the clothes that we wear, along with the values, beliefs and opinions that make us individual, are now being used for the purposes of division, separating us from others and impeding the development of close-knit communities.Of course the fact remains that not everyone will get along with everyone because of personality incompatibilities, but our very interaction with strangers is becoming more strained nowadays. Our mothers warned us from an early age to never talk to strangers, but today’s attitude seems to be more like never show tolerance to strangers. This pessimistic attitude is beginning to infiltrate our society and more and more people are mimicking this unsavoury behaviour.Many people are also frustrated with the actions or inaction of politicians. Tackling rising trends such as Islamophobia certainly seems to be a problem that is far from the top of any government’s agenda at the moment. Politicians are often portrayed as a greedy bunch and it seems that they are ignoring this contentious situation and staying quiet instead of tackling the issue head on, in the hope of acquiring more support come election time.Just as students stood up and marched on November 3rd, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that everyone should stand by what they feel is necessary and just. The international pandemic that is Islamophobia has led to many people campaigning to raise awareness of the fear, yet there are other bodies that view this sort of action as unjust and unreasonable. Stop the Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) is one such group that strives to marginalise the Islamic community. The group feel that “Islamophobia is the height of common sense”.There is a wide selection of written material with arguments for and against Islamophobia. One such book received the following praise from author Natsu Taylor Saito: “Stephen Sheehi’s Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims is a brilliantly synthetic work; a gift to all who struggle to understand the anti-Muslim sentiment so pervasive in contemporary America.”While there is much literature that helps us to understand the term and the reasoning behind it, let us not forget that Islamophobia is a controversial and contentious issue.Earlier this month, President Barack Obama made a visit to Indonesia. After postponing the visit twice, Obama is now hoping to bridge the gap between members of the Islamic community and other people in society who hold prejudices against them. He declared: “We don’t expect that we are going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed over a long period of time, but we do think that we’re on the right path.”While Obama is attempting to rectify the situation, xenophobia itself is a phenomenon that we will all have to live with for the foreseeable future. In fact, it seems likely to last forever. Islamophobia, however, is an extreme case. Is it another phase of extreme prejudice that the world is going through? The 1930s, of course, posed horrendous difficulties for Judaism. The 2010s present a quite different dilemma that nonetheless contains echoes of our prejudicial past. Yet ultimately, whether Islamophobia will continue to grow, or whether its prominence will eventually dissipate, remains to be seen.