Ithaca, New York - In his defense of the atrocity that he committed in July 2011, the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik described his actions as “cruel but necessary.”
Ithaca, New York – In his defense of the atrocity that he committed in July 2011, the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik described his actions as “cruel but necessary.”
He stated that what motivated his attack, which claimed the lives of 77 people, against the summer camp for the youth division of the ruling party and a government building in Oslo was the state’s policy of opening Norway up to multiculturalism and allowing the “Muslim invasion” of Europe.
Anders Breivik’s attack indicates that Islamophobia or the hatred and/or fear of Muslims is a serious challenge to both Muslims and westerners who believe in multiculturalism. Attacks against Muslims and their property in the West are becoming more common in the post 9/11 world. The attacks are also waged against western governments that have immigrant friendly agendas. The massacre perpetrated by Anders Breivik is a perfect example of the latter. In fact, Islamophobic attacks have been reported in many countries across the globe, which is an indication that the phenomenon is not specific to Europe (Wikipedia).
One wonders why Islamophobia is on the rise? Is it attributed to the flourishing right-wing discourse that promotes the purity of the European identity and opposes a multicultural open society? Is it attributed to the actions of Muslim terrorists? Is it attributed to the hostile attitude that some Muslims in the west display toward western culture? Or perhaps the issue is much more complex and Islamophobia is just the tip of the iceberg.
The growing nationalist right-wing sentiments and discourse in western countries certainly serve as the ideological motivation or justification for hating Muslims. Marine Le Pen, the French National Front leader, has compared Muslims praying in the streets outside of packed mosques to Nazi occupation. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, has been facing lawsuits accusing him of promoting hate speech against Islam and Muslims (Reuters). In fact, we should not be surprised if mosques get vandalized or if Muslims are harassed since the anti-Muslim discourse is already officially represented in European politics. Europe has to first face the political challenge posed by the mushrooming official right-wing voices before any significant progress in combating armed groups can be achieved.
On the other hand, as The Independent has pointed out, the rise of Islamophobic sentiments can arguably be attributed to terrorist acts committed by some Muslims since there has been a considerable increase in Islamophobic incidents in the recent years -in the aftermath of 9/11 in particular. However, the irony is that Islamic terrorists have killed eight times more Muslims than non-Muslims, a fact noted by Spiegel International.
Are Muslims in the west inherently anti-integration and are trying to subvert the customs and laws of their societies? Tariq Ramadan has repeatedly called on Muslims, who live in the west, to integrate more into their societies. As an academic with a profound understanding of Islam and western politics, Tariq Ramadan urges Muslims to see their faith as compatible with western culture and not to be defensive about it. According to him, Muslims must obey the rules and the laws of the western societies where they live. In his response to the ban on headscarves in French schools and the ban of building minarets in Switzerland, Tarik Ramadan stated that what is essential for French schoolgirls is to get a good education and that Muslims in Switzerland don’t have to build minarets for their mosques. Ramadan’s calls and recommendations indicate that there is actually a tendency among Muslims in the west to distance themselves from their societies, which makes the “othering” of Muslims an easy task.
Confronting the right-wing discourse and motivating Muslims to integrate are the two key approaches to combat Islamophobia. Western governments that promote multiculturalism must deal effectively with their homegrown desperate haters. On the other hand, Muslim clerics and intellectuals must work on developing new progressive approaches toward a better and more localized understanding of Islam in the West, as Islam has now become a western religion, a fact cited by Ramadan. Islam shouldn’t be at odds with its new environment.