After the Danish Cartoon crisis in 2005 many right wing and Islamophobic campaigns started to rear their ugly heads. Attacks on mosques, the minaret ban in Switzerland, the recent face-veil/burqa bans in Italy and Belgium and the fact that other places, such as Montreal, are considering following suit, are all a part of a not-so-new puzzle that needs to be solved by the modern world. It seems that not a day goes by without a news story appearing that arouses fresh controversies against Muslims.
Recently, the famous South Park sitcom joined the fray. The episode depicting Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a bear costume was removed the air after a blog belonging to an extremist Islamic faction issued veiled threats against those involved in the sitcom. In return, this sparked the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day", first advocated by the Seattle artist Molly Norris. She has recently washed her hands of this event and no longer wants to be a part of it. Also Jon Wellington who d the facebook page dedicated to the "Draw Muhammad Day" has withdrawn, because he "did not expect such derogatory images" to be published on the page. Many people, including newspapers and websites, are asking what these two people had in mind in the first place and how they could have failed to be aware of the obvious vitriolic outcome. It seems they had been caught up by the wind of Islamophobia, and later realized that their actions were only fuelling hatred and thus becoming a tool for extreme intolerance and harm.
A large part of the Western media seems to think that it is acceptable to demonize Muslims and to continuously depict them as the "other", which actually helps to define the "West". If the "West" is everything that the "other" is not, and if the "other" carries attributes that are alien to the "West", then it is acceptable to demonize and antagonize the other, thereby proving the supremacy of the "West".
This depiction of the "other" has become a tool for religious discrimination and profiling. 29-year old California-born Raymond Knaeble, a recent convert to Islam, has been stranded in Colombia since March because he has been refused entry in to the United States. The Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been working on Knaeble's case since March. He was listed on the no-fly list for unknown reasons. He was questioned about his faith, his knowledge of Islam; he was even asked if he had more than one wife. He had become one of the "other", thus he was viewed with suspicion. It seems that there is no concrete reason for Knaeble to be denied re-entry in to his own country, nothing that is except fear of Muslims and Islam.
The trend of Islamophobia is similar to the very familiar construction of the Orientalist view, which was how the Europeans viewed the Islamic world as early as the seventeenth century until the twentieth century; this being a continuation of the ignorance and hatred towards what was referred, mistakenly, to as the Mahomedan religion in the Middle Ages. The degree of aversion in understanding the "other" has varied extreme ignorance to a purposeful direction of the masses against those who believe in Islam. When reading about the mentality of the Crusades one is shocked at how, similar, sometimes, the spirit of recent articles or speeches is. The wording has changed, but the essence is still, for the large part, blatant ignorance and hatred against Islam/Muslims.
Bill Maher, the American stand-up comedian, political commentator and author, recently spoke on Anderson Cooper's show, aired on CNN. It was enlightening to listen to him describe how the Muslims were the "others" who were going through their own Middle Ages, taking their religion and holy book seriously. He says Christians never take their religion seriously; they just "blow it off". Maher went on to give interesting examples, ensuring that the viewers understood that religions are not to be taken seriously and that this is the main problem with Muslims. His speech, fuelled by ignorance and arrogance, is only one typical example of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is a phenomenon that has its roots in history and is widely used by the governments to manipulate the masses, particularly during economic crises. It seems that war has become an industry and one needs an enemy to be able to facilitate this enemy. The criteria that have been especially tailored for Islam and Muslims are now being used flagrantly in the media and the film industry. The word "terrorism" is used as a synonym for the word "Muslim", working like a magic wand to bring millions into a mood that makes them forget whatever morals they held sacred, especially when confronted with the failing economy; the illusion of the "sword of terrorism/Islam" is used to distract the average person the more immediate problems of the day.
After having mentioned all the negative depictions of Islam and Muslims, we should also mention those who are working to reflect an accurate image of Islam. Although these endeavours are having a positive effect on perceptions to some extent, it seems that there are still more negative depictions than positive ones. When a politician gives a genuine speech about Islam, most people around the world do not hear about it, even if the politician is a prominent person. People continue to watch the local news and popular Hollywood movies. It seems that Muslims are the new villains of Hollywood movies but with a difference; normally, people love to love a villain however notorious they may be (remember The Sopranos); charismatic but with a ‘quirky' crooked side, But if it is a Muslim that is the ‘bad guy' then that opens a whole new can of worms. He will be a brainwashed, evil incarnate believing in a cult like faith, with absolutely no morals and with only one thought in his head, which is to blow each and every non-Muslim into smithereens for the beautiful houris of Paradise. They are caricatured as lustful, filthy, false and confused. So, whatever some politicians or academics may do, millions are influenced negatively by the portrayal in the mass media and these movies.
Muslims need to focus on representing the message that was brought by the Prophet of Islam in the best way possible. Being good examples in the society is the strongest tool a Muslim can use against individuals who are almost spoon-fed daily portions of hatred against Islam. The economic crisis, the shifting powers in the world, the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan - these are all major factors that have brought Islamophobia on to the world stage. This is not something that is going to go away soon. Muslims will face many challenges in the coming decades. It seems that the most useful weapon for a Muslim against this new phenomenon is knowledge of their religion and the realities of the world, and the wisdom to put this knowledge into practice.