Let’s call it Muslimophobia

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid for The Nation

Let’s call it Muslimophobia

Samuel P Huntington’s ‘prediction’ that post-Cold War world would see a clash between civilisations, which would be “the greatest threat to world peace, and international order”, has long been cited to explain the ongoing ‘tussle’ between the West and Muslim World.

For over two decades The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order has been the go-to ‘gospel’ for anyone simplistically showcasing Islam as the root of this inevitable clash, an idea which in recent times has given us marvels of paranoia like Glenn Beck’s It Is About Islam or Michel Houellebecq’s satirical Soumission (Submission) which paints a France under Islamic rule.

Notwithstanding the fact that Huntington actually foresaw West’s conflict with the Sinic civilisation, and not the Islamic, which he said would be a “small, fault line war,” it is the assertion that Islam “originating on the Arabian Peninsula, spread across North Africa, Iberian Peninsula and Central Asia (and) Arab, Turkic, Persian and Malay… subdivisions” forms a civilisation that should’ve been a deal breaker long ago.

The region, loosely described as the Muslim World, might be a hotchpotch of volatility, with literal Islam as a common regressive centripetal force, but it does not possess any of the complex characteristics that define a civilisation.

For, civilisations are bound by development. The Muslim world is united by – mostly native and somewhat foreign induced – inclination towards violence.

And the only bona fide ‘civilisational’ clash in the West vis-à-vis Islam is between the expanding realms of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Islam apologia’, whose symbiotic surge is shrinking the space for the development of any other narrative.

Despite all the loopholes in Huntington’s argument, his description of the overwhelming role of Islam in Muslim societies and politics, is accurate and remains so 21 years later.

But it is the idea that this political structure is perpetual, and permanently affixed to Islam that has formed the basis of hostility towards Muslims and their religious beliefs – which is lazily lumped under the ‘Islamophobia’ banner.

This idea of a monolithic Muslim identity, proudly flaunted by us ages before Islamophobia was even a word, has meant that every one of us Muslims is seen as a container of Islam, by both the anti-Muslim bigots and Islamists.

Both the Islamists and the Muslimophobes see the contents as destructive for Western values, and in turn fatal for their entire ‘civilisation’.

It is in this post-Huntington world, where ISIS – a grotesque terror mafia – is being touted as the flag-bearer of a ‘civilisation’, and where Islam enjoying special privileges is being endorsed both inside and outside the Muslim World, that differentiating between Islam and Muslims has become inevitable.

It is the one-point agenda that should form any discourse for Islamic reform and the safeguarding of Muslim minorities in the West.

The Canadian parliament recently passed an ‘anti-Islamophobia’ bill for the latter. The wording of the bill has been criticised, even by many progressive Muslims, for it fails to distinguish between Muslims and Islam.

Conservative MP David Anderson’s suggested amendment to the motion to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims”, and other religious communities, was turned down by the Liberals, spearheaded by Iqra Khalid.

The text of the bill itself mentions ‘Islamophobia’ twice:

“…condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination…”

“…develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia…”

If ‘Islamophobia’ here is meant to outlaw manifestation of bigotry against Muslims, the suggested amendment would’ve sufficed.

Why then was ‘Islamophobia’ persisted with, even though it might have caused many of the 91 who voted No to reject it?

One reason could be that ‘Islamophobia’ is more loaded than ‘discrimination’ or ‘bigotry’ against Muslims. Iqra Khalid also suggested that the change in wording would have ‘watered it down’.

Watered it down to what? What does ‘Islamophobia’ express that ‘discrimination against Muslims’ doesn’t, if not criticism of Islam?

The other reason could be that despite the flexibility of its interpretation, ‘Islamophobia’ is a more widely known expression. Passing a bill titled ‘anti-Islamophobia’ might be more reassuring for Canadian Muslims, at a time when hate crimes against them are rising.

Even so, it’s in Muslim countries like Pakistan where loosely worded legislations safeguarding the ‘glory of Islam’ are passed as free speech asterisks to allow for opportunistic interpretations for needed clampdowns – something we’re witnessed right now, as the Interior Ministry continues to invest valuable human resources against ‘social media blasphemy’ and #HangAyazNizami trends on Twitter.

In passing a bill that would simultaneously be interpreted as appeasement of Islam, and protection of Muslims, by different sections, Canada is inadvertently exacerbating the divide that the bill ostensibly views to bridge.

This is precisely why it is time for Muslims, and those endeavouring to protect us against bigotry in the West, to start mainstreaming the term ‘Muslimophobia’.

For those of us who feel that it’s Islam being criticised as a violent ideology that needs protection, more so than Muslim individuals, should first take up the case with the 13 Muslim-majority countries – Pakistan included – that sanction death penalty for mocking or leaving the religion.

They should also mull why we Muslims have been the only communities anywhere in the world that demand our religious law in states where we are a minority.

As long as critics of Islam continue to face security threats, fearing for one’s life cannot be ‘irrational’. If it’s a twisted version of Islam that has become mainstream so as to be part of legislations in a vast majority of Muslim states, we Muslims then need reform, not brutal silencing of the critics.

For, more than the blatant critics, it’s reformists who lose when critique of religion is equated with bigotry against a people. And similarly it’s the believing and practicing Muslims, more than anyone else, who gain the most from Islamic reform that undoes the damage of literal Islam both in the West and the Muslim world.

But as long as Islam and Muslim are deemed synonymous, with complete disregard for the level of theological affiliation of an individual born with a religious identity, the imaginary war between self-invented enemies, simultaneously taking place in both the Muslim World and the West, would continue.

Let’s not forget that many of Islamist ideologues have been loud proponents of the theory of ‘clash of civilisations’ decades and centuries before Samuel P Huntington penned it down.

Many are still calling for waging the ‘inevitable war’ between Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam through Quran and Hadiths.

It is this ‘scholarly’ study of Islamic scriptures, presented by ‘Ulema’ throughout the Muslim World that is more ‘Islamophobic’ than the half-baked ignorant jibes of any bigot in the West.