Due to the nature of human rights and the connections between them, it is impossible for every one of our freedoms to exist without interfering with another’s application. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we ensure a balance is achieved between certain rights, which allows us to enjoy them in a satisfactory manner. For example, debates continuously take place regarding where the appropriate balance between security and privacy lies. The proportionality of this balance is dynamic, changing due to environmental circumstances within our societies and therefore no enforced balance can ever be said to be wrong. However, the current balance between our freedom of expression or speech (found in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998), with rights such as our freedom of religion (Part of Article 9) and the anti-discrimination principle (Article 14), specifically in relation to Muslims at the moment is extremely troubling due to the rise in something we’ve come to call ‘Islamophobia’.
This new ‘age of terror’ has brought spikes in hate crimes and prejudice towards Muslims in the Western world (see here, here and here), as many fallaciously attempt to solve the seemingly ever-growing issue of terrorism. I am not suggesting (like some) that we should force an end to Islamophobia (in some senses anyway as you’ll see below), but the current lack of scrutiny it faces, poses not only a threat to the continued application of our civil liberties, but also to the safety of Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims worldwide. If we are to avoid this slippery slope back towards a fractured society, condemnation of Islamophobia is required. For this to happen, I feel we need to set the record straight over a few things that are claimed as justifications for Islamophobia and ensure they are understood for exactly what they are and what such an application is doing to our societies.
For those who don’t quite understand what Islamophobia is, a simple definition is this; Islamophobia is a poorly chosen word to reflect a disliking of/ prejudice towards Muslims. I emphasise that it is poorly chosen, as the word ‘phobia’ carries certain connotations, usually referring to when someone has an extreme fear of something. Yet, Islamophobia does not mean people scream at the sight of a Muslim, or turn around if they realise they are walking towards a mosque or see the Qu’ran on a book shelf. Islamophobia is the practice of generalizing all Muslims for the crimes of a handful of individuals. Here lies the first problem with the current balance and the first error surrounding Islamophobia – we are defining this practice as something that it is clearly not. Islamophobia is an active attempt to discriminate against a group of human beings who share a religion, not an often uncontrollable emotional reaction towards these people. Those who are spreading Islamophobia are making a conscious choice to do so – a choice which I’m sure many claustrophobics would love to have when it comes to them entering a lift for example. The description of this as a phobia merely supports the lack of condemnation of the activity that currently occurs and I feel this needs to change. A phobia is often something we provide sympathy for, or support. This does not and should not apply to Islamophobia. Instead, maybe we should define it more precisely – something like discrimination based on a person’s religion, or religious prejudice if we want it to be snappier and more printable…
Now onto the belief that Muslims worldwide share beliefs with those from ISIS or Boko Haram for instance and should therefore apologise for such organisations terrorist actions and should have to explain to us all why the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) seemingly told these terrorists to attack everyone who didn’t also want to be a terrorist. This one is fairly easy to dismiss, as it seems a lot of people are starting to realise. Simply, the Prophet (pbuh) does not teach such things, as you can see from his commands in war below.
In fact, when Boko Haram, ISIS and any of their evil followers carry out an attack such as those in Paris last week, they are breaking pretty much every command Muslims are supposed to follow. So, clearly, to suggest that Muslims should have to explain such actions is ridiculous, considering there is no way to explain them as part of the religion. These terrorists do not represent Islam, they represent extremism and terror.
Which brings me to my second point regarding the constant attempts (from TV new stations predominantly) asking innocent Muslims to condemn the actions of such groups, to prove they do not follow or support such actions. This consistent acceptance of such questions being asked to Muslims who have no link with these terrorists groups, is a practice which supports the aforementioned lack of condemnation once more. Yet once more, such a practice has no grounding, at which point I refer to a fantastically simple, yet effective explanation of the situation by Adam Hill on Channel 4’s The Last Leg:
“There are 1.6 Billion Muslims in the World right now. 1.6 BILLION. As someone pointed out on Twitter this week, if Islam really bred terror, we’d all be dead right now. The combined forces in total of Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda makes up 0.003% of the Global Muslim population.”
Attempting to force Muslims to explain the actions of terrorist organisations such as those named above is discriminatory and not something we should just merely accept as the norm. It is a generalisation of a religion that is not only based on false accusations, but also does not occur to those who follow other faiths. For example, how would Christians feel if they were asked to apologise for the actions of Anders Breivik? The reasons used by some to justify asking Muslims to explain terrorist actions, could justify this question also. Insulted? So are Muslims when people assimilate their beliefs with extremist groups. There is no justification for such religious generalisation, and therefore another reason why condemnation of such actions need to become more widespread.
The final justification for Islamophobia/religious prejudice I want to discuss is when it is claimed as a method to weaken organisations such as ISIS. If we force Muslims to prove they are not associated with such organisations or their beliefs, we can more easily identify those that do. Not only is this an extremely worrying argument from the perspective of how justice should work in our society, but it also acts to SUPPORT and STRENGTHEN ISIS, rather than weaken them. This can easily be shown when we look at the aims ISIS hopes to achieve through these cowardly attacks. The Intercept published an article recently which discusses how ISIS’ publication Dabiq boasted after the Charlie Hebdo attacks that they were “eliminating the grayzone”. What they mean by this is they hope to bring an end to the social cohesion between Muslims and non-Muslims that has grown so fantastically since multiculturalism became a wonderful part of our society. The reason they want to eliminate the grayzone? Simply, their belief is that if their actions create tensions and Muslims are persecuted against enough, they will simply see ISIS as their only option for protection from such actions. Regardless of how far-stretched and ridiculous this claim is, it is yet more evidence of how weak the reasoning supporting Islamophobia/religious prejudice really is. Not only is it an unfounded claim, the reality is a complete contradiction.
So, there we go. This recent trend to victimize Muslims for crimes they have played absolutely no part in committing has zero credible justifications and the comfort people find in acting in such a manner cannot carry on. For the sake of freedom of speech, to ban such acts would create an imbalance such as the one I have argued against here, just at the other end of the spectrum, so I certainly do not agree that such acts should be criminalised for example. However, freedom of speech also dictates that we can agree and disagree with whatever we like (it’s one of the most wonderful things about modern society), so we certainly can condemn such actions and I hope we do. The immediate aftermath of the recent Paris attacks showed how incredible humanity can be. People able to offer a helping hand in Paris provided safe havens amongst the unfolding chaos through #PorteOuverte, and those unable to support victims physically, showed extraordinary emotional support by flooding social media with messages of solidarity and love for those affected by the attacks. Such a reaction has been an incredible thing to witness and sends a far greater message to organisations such as ISIS such attacks will not fracture our societies, than (as I hope I have proved to some extent) the obsolete efforts to show solidarity by persecuting innocent Muslims, based on flawed foundations.