Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Muslims fear repercussions as Islamophobia grows

Muslims are fearing repercussions following the recent Paris attacks which left 130 dead. There have already been indications that Muslims are being targeted in the wake of the Friday 13th attacks in Paris.

In Britain there were 115 Islamophobic attacks in the week following the Paris killings, a spike of more than 300% [Independent].

Meanwhile in France the National Observatory of Islamophobia, a group linked to France's official Muslim council, reported 32 anti-Muslim incidents in the week following the attacks, up from an average of 4-5 complaints [IBNLive].

And in the US there is a sense of unease with many politicians expressing concerns over the influx of Syrian refugees and a perceived threat of radical Islam.

Blame and condemnation

Arif Arif, the Director of Public Affairs from the Ahmadiyya  Muslim Community, speaking on France 24 conceded that Muslims needed to be more outspoken and condemn violence perpetrated by radical Muslims. But he also questioned the word radical and what it meant in context with the Islamic faith.

Indeed there has been much debate, not only in recent days but ever since the days following 9/11, concerning Islam and the teachings from the Koran and as to whether it is indeed a religion of peace that most people proclaim it is. And that debate has spilled onto the front pages of tabloid newspapers.

The front page of Monday's Sun newspaper in Britain proclaimed that 1 in 5 British Muslims had sympathy for Jihadis. But while other papers, such as the Mirror, Guardian and Independent, questioned the assertion, there is a common feeling amongst non Muslims that there are at least strong divisions between those that follow Islam and those that don't.

Religion of peace?

And while many Muslims are outspoken in their condemnation of the violence carried out in the name of Islam, some non-Muslims find it difficult to reconcile some of the hateful bigotry that exists in the Koran.

For most, if not all, Muslims the Koran is seen as the literal word of God and cannot be questioned. Yet there are passages which are extremely inflammatory.

There are passages for example that say Muslims should not make friends of Jews or Christians and call on believers to kill the infidels [unbelievers] wherever they may be found.

Moderate Muslims will however say that drawing from such verses amounts to cherry picking, misinterpretation or taking things out of context.

Interpreting the Koran

However some academics reject this notion. Author of several books including a number of New York Times Best Sellers Robert Spencer insists that Islamic writings are themselves enough to radicalise Muslims and encourage them to take up arms.

"Every word, unless it is cancelled by another section, is valid for all time and cannot be questioned, this means that moderate Muslims, peaceful Muslims, if they are sincere have to reject entirely Koranic literalism but to do so puts them outside the sphere of anything that has been considered orthodox Islam throughout history because to do so is to reject the very basic premise of Islam that this is a book which is dictated by God and is a perfect copy of a perfect book, the Umm Al-Kitab, the mother of the book that has existed for ever with Allah in heaven" [YouTube].

Of course Spencer, and those who subscribe to his views, have are often described as anti-Islamic or Islamophobic. Indeed Spencer has himself been banned from visiting the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary Theresa May who said his presence in the UK would "not be conducive to the public good".

Fear of Islam

In the United States Robert Spencer has a greater freedom to express his views and he has already been invited onto the right wing news channel Fox News to discuss the risks of allowing Syrian refugees to come to America. Speaking on Hannity, Spencer said that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry had ignored the "elephant in the room", that of the risk that there might be Jihadis amongst the refugees. "He [Kerry] tried to make it into an issue of religious bigotry saying some people only wanted to take in the Christians and not the Muslims. Well the reason for that is that Muslims might blow us up and the Christians are not going to." [YouTube]

It is not just the likes of Spencer who has questioned the policy of allowing refugees to flood into the US. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has described the refugee crisis as the ultimate Trojan horse [Fox News].

And it is clear that many in the US government are just as fearful. On Thursday last week [19th November], less than a week after terrorists brought carnage to the streets of Paris, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would effectively halt the acceptance of any Syrian or Iraqi refugees. However, for the bill to be adopted, it will also have to pass the US Senate.

Meanwhile a poll conducted this week by Bloomberg Politics found that 53% of Americans oppose allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in the US.

Trump is on the the record as saying that if he wins the Presidential election he would deport the Syrian refugees. "If I win they're going out," Trump told Fox News commentator Sean Hannity.

Calls for more controls

Trump has also hinted that he would like to see more surveillance on Muslims. The US government "is going to have to look at a lot of things very carefully" and "look at the mosques" Trump told Yahoo news.

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, who is just behind Trump in the polls, was also criticised this week for likening Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

"If there is a rabid dog running around your neighbourhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog. And you're probably going to put your children out of the way." [CNN]

The comments have enraged Muslim groups in the US. Saif Inam of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a Washington-based policy institution, has likened Trump's proposed database of Muslims to the "J" that was stamped into the passports of European Jews by the Nazis [Guardian].

Angelita Baeyens, programmes director for the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, said the two presidential candidates' comments, as well as the measures by American lawmakers, were "extremely frightening" [Al Jazeera].

The kneejerk reactions by the right wing in the US are perhaps understandable. The memories of 9/11 cut deeply into the American psyche and the Boston bombing is still fresh in people's memories.

But it isn't just right wing Americans who feel that Islamic teachings have much to answer for. Walid Shoebat is a Palestinian American who converted to Christianity from Islam. Shoebat has stated he used to be a Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist and is amongst several that insist the teachings of the Koran and Hadith are the direct inspirations to those who commit violence under the name of Islam [YouTube / YouTube / YouTube].

Growing distrust

In Britain there is a deepening distrust between mainstream society and ever more isolated Muslim communities. It is a problem that has been growing for a number of years [Independent].

In 2013 some 50% of Americans considered Islam a 'critical' threat, with similar numbers reported in France and Germany [Al Jazeera]. Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper and one will often be confronted with horror stories about honour killings, terrorist attacks and Sharia law taking over Western cities [Daily Mail / Basildon Echo].

The recent spate of articles and news reports critical of Islam has been almost incessant. CNN was just one broadcaster that has been singled out for its overly critical stance [Washington Post]. And along with the criticism there have been calls for the hysteria to stop [Huffington Post].

The verbal attacks on Muslims in news broadcasts are also spilling onto the streets as Muslims find themselves under attack from members of the public [Guardian]. 

Online reaction

But some Muslims have reacted with humour rather than anger to the recent criticism. Following the Sun's declaration that 1 in 5 Muslims had sympathy for Jihadis many took took to Twitter with the hashtag #1in5Muslims.

"#1in5Muslims have accidentally munched on a packet of gelatine haribos" one tweet said [Haribo is a German confectionery company which make popular sweets often made with pork gelatine].

Others joked that they had forced their pets into the religion, with one Twitter user posting a picture of a dog dressed in a burka and a kitten draped in a keffiyeh reading the Koran [BBC / Guardian / Metro].

One popular reaction to the rampant Islamophobia was a Tweet which proclaimed "there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world right now. 1.6 billion... if Islam really bred terror, we'd all be dead right now!"

This may be comforting for most people, though for those convinced by headlines in this week's Sun or the rhetoric of American politicians, such a statistic might feel rather foreboding.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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