Everything about the term Islamophobia is contested: when, and where and by whom the term was first coined, whether or not it describes a “real” phenomenon, what is the precise definition, why the term might be needed, whether or not the term itself is problematic linguistically. These debates will continue, but in the meantime the term itself has become common usage as evidenced by popular magazine articles, numerous books, and serious reports and studies utilizing the term.
The Center for American Progress, Fear, Inc. report provides the best and simplest working definition: Islamophobia is an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
When Muslims raise the issue of the existence of Islamophobia, we are often accused of trying to stifle dialogue, or of undermining free speech, or told simply that we are whining in order to make ourselves into the victim rather than the perpetrator of all that is wrong with the world. We are even told that Islamophobia is a “myth” or that it is a reasonable position to hold. Whatever you believe about Islamophobia, for many of us (Muslims in America and Europe), anti-Muslim prejudice is very real.
There is a relatively small, but effective cadre of organizations and individuals devoting full time effort to promoting Islamophobic memes. SIOA/SIOE/SION are the most organized and visible of such groups, and they work cooperatively in both Europe and the United States. They focus on creating fear and passing on stereotypical, negative views about Islamic symbols (e.g. minarets, veils, mosques), rituals (e.g. circumcision, halal food), and most aggressively “Sharia”.
SIOE, the parent group of SIOA has as its motto “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.”
The ADL describes them as promoting “a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam.
None of this is new, as Edward Said noted: “I have not been able to discover any period in European or American history since the Middle Ages in which Islam was generally discussed or thought about outside a framework created by passion, prejudice and political interests.”
What is new is the widespread availability of the internet and social media. This effective tool allows such dedicated groups to get their Islamophobic memes to an incredibly large audience, and to bounce these memes around in an Islamophobic echo chamber. The funders, “experts”, bloggers, and media outlets work together like a well-oiled machine, producing and disseminating misinformation. They recycle and popularize the same memes over and over ultimately making them seem “credible” to their listeners who have “heard that before”.
This Islamophobic enterprise will certainly not win hearts and minds, open possibilities for dialogue, or make any of us safer. Insisting on an Islamophobic world view leaves only one option — a violent clash of civilizations, a final Crusade to convert or annihilate one group. And, one might wonder what a world without Islam would really look like.
– Sheila Musaji,
Founder and editor of The American Muslim quarterly journal (1989—1995), the Muslim Resource Directory of America (1990,1992), and most recently The American Muslim online publication (since 2001).
More information: Read The Center for American Progress’ Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America (free downloads from http://www.americanprogress.org/) and the recently released Islamophobia Studies Journal, a bi-annual peer reviewed academic periodical focusing on emerging research on and analysis about the nature of Islamophobia and its impact on culture, politics, media, and the lives and experiences of Muslim people published out of UC Berkeley.
Theater of Hate
5 Incidents attacking Islam and the Prophet (PBUH)
1. Danish Cartoons: 30th September, 2005
Details: The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, commissioned 12 cartoonists to caricature the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The 12 cartoons were published on 30 September 2005, with the one drawn by Kurt Westergaard becoming most notorious (a man wearing a turban which has a bomb with a lit fuse). Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, announced that the publication was an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. The same cartoons were later republished in 50 newspapers around the world.
Flemming Rose: Flemming Rose was Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor at the time the cartoons were published. Rose interviewed Daniel Pipes, a well-known Islamophobe and neo-con, in 2004 and has shared the stage many times with well-known pseudo-scholar and Islamophobe Robert Spencer.
Double-Standards: The very same newspaper had three years earlier turned down Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler caricatures of Christ (PBUH) on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny. The paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.” In February 2006, Jyllands-Posten also refused to publish Holocaust cartoons, which included cartoons that mocked or denied the Holocaust, offered by an Iranian newspaper.
Reaction: The reaction to the caricatures varied all through the Muslim world and the West. Countries like Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria withdraw their ambassadors from Denmark. Egypt and Saudi Arabia started a campaign to boycott Danish products and Iran canceled its commercial ties with Denmark. Some Muslim protests escalated into violence with instances of police firing on crowds of protestors resulting in a total of more than 100 reported deaths. The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the controversy as Denmark’s worst international crisis since World War II.
2. Anti-Islamic film: ‘Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West’: 21st October, 2005
Details: An anti-Islamic film which used clips and footage from Arabic Channels attempted to focus on the alleged threat of Islam to the West. It also compared between World War II’s Nazi movement and Islamism.
Wayne Kopping directed and edited the film along with co-writer, Raphael Shore (a Canadian-Israeli scriptwriter), who was the producer of the film and is the founder of The Clarion Fund.
The Clarion Fund: The Clarion Fund is a pro-Israel US-based organization churning out propaganda against Islam and Iran. It has strong ties to the Israeli-Zionist group Aish HaTorah and it’s Advisory Board includes Frank J. Gaffney, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Daniel Pipes, and Dr. Harold Rhode. The Clarion Fund also produced the films: ‘The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision For America’, and ‘Iranium’.
Distribution: The film was initially distributed on college campuses in 2007. In September 2008 the Clarion Fund, in cooperation with the Endowment for Middle East Truth, distributed 28 million DVDs of the film by mail, and in newspaper advertising supplements, predominantly in swing states. The film was included in the first issue of the publication “The Judeo-Christian View”, which was sent to priests, pastors and rabiis in churches and synagogues in the United States. The DVD was also distributed to all 30,000 members of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Reaction: The left-wing group Hate Hurts America, launched a campaign against the film titled “Obsession for Hate,” calling it a “classic work of hate propaganda, thinly disguised as a critique of radicalism that attempts to subliminally demonize Muslims and their faith wholesale.”
Gregory Ross, spokesman for the New York-based Clarion Fund stated: “We are not telling people who to vote for, we’re just saying no matter who gets in office, the American people should know radical Islam is a real threat to America. We don’t feel radical Islam is getting its fair share of press.”
3. Fitna Movie: 6th April, 2008
Details: The film was written by Greet Wilders and shows clips from the Holy Qur’an, along with newspaper clippings illustrating acts and news about crimes and violence committed by Muslims. The film aims to present Islam as a source of terrorism which espouses hatred towards all those who do not follow its teachings, violence against women, and the Islamization of the universe.
Screenings: In 2008, the Ruder Finn PR company arranged a conference in Jerusalem entitled “Facing Jihad” to screen the film and arrange for its distribution around the world. Those present included Geert Wilders, Arieh Eldad, Robert Spencer, Itamar Marcus, Daniel Pipes, Shlomo Sharan and John David Lewis.
During February 2009, Geert Wilders visited (or planned to visit) several European capitals to present the Fitna film. He was barred from entering the UK, but his film was nonetheless screened at the House of Lords. Wilders also presented Fitna in Rome on 13 February, 2009.
Reaction: Reactions varied throughout the Muslim World. Indonesia banned the use of social networks for a couple of days, while Jordan issued an arrest warrant against Wilders and called upon its people to boycott Dutch products. Several Muslim organizations and political parties organized boycotts against Dutch products.
Dutch Prime Minister: Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands stated: “The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims reject extremism and violence. In fact, the victims are often also Muslims…We therefore regret that Mr Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no purpose other than to cause offence.”
4. Terry Jones: Qur’an Burning, 20th March, 2011
Details: Jones enjoyed worldwide media coverage thanks to his plans to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an. In early September 2010, Jones cancelled his plans and pledged never to burn a copy of the Qur’an. He then burned a copy on 20th March, 2011 at his Gainesville church.
Reactions: Prominent voices of condemnation included: President Obama, Hillary Clinton and, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The incident sparked protests all over the Muslim world, some turned violent, leading to the deaths of more than 30 people.
Planner: Terry Jones led the Christliche Gemeinde Köln (CGK) in Germany from 1981 until 2008. He was accused of fraud, and Church-goers reported the following: “[Jones] didn’t project the biblical values and Christianity, but always made himself the center of everything.”
German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that church members said Jones ran the Cologne church like a sect leader and used psychological pressure on members, “subordinating all activities to his will.” Der Spiegel reported that Jones had been ejected by Cologne church for creating “a climate of control and fear.” Following Jones’ departure, the CGK closed, then reopened under new, independent, leadership.
5. Film: Innocence of Muslims: The film’s trailer was published on YouTube on July 2, 2012
Details: Claiming to be a trailer for a feature-length film, the 12 minute trailer ridicules the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and was released on YouTube on July 2, 2012.
Reactions: The film set off protests not only throughout the Muslim world but also in Europe, Australia and Canada. Some of those protests turned violent and resulted in the death of more than 50 people, including the US Ambassador to Libya. The trailer has been banned by Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sudan. YouTube access in these countries has been blocked until, according to official statements, the film is removed. Iran has announced that it is blocking Google and Gmail who own YouTube. The trailer was labeled as having “extremist material” and was also banned in Russia by a court in Moscow. The Pakistani Railway Minister placed a personal bounty of $100,000 for the death of the filmmaker, but this was strongly condemned by the Pakistani government.
People behind the movie: The film was produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula: an American Coptic Christian from Egypt, who has been convicted of bank fraud and possession of ephedrine and hydroiodic acid. It has been reported that Nakoula used over 12 pseudonyms, one of which was “Sam Bacile”, during the film’s production. Steve Klein, the spokesperson for the movie is an enthusiastic commenter on well-known Islamophobe Pam Geller’s website. Klein also has strong ties with another Islamophobe, Joseph Nasrallah, an extremist Coptic broadcaster. American non-profit Media for Christ, which is owned by Nasrallah, obtained permits to shoot the movie in August 2011, and Nakoula provided his home as a set and paid the actors, according to government officials and those involved in the production.
The Actors: The actors released a statement saying that they were misled about the movie. When recruiting for actors, the title of the movie was ‘Desert Warrior’ and there was no mention of Islam and the Prophet (PBUH). Subsequent dubbing changed all that. Two actors at least are taking legal action.