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Islam and Muslim Contact Unit
The term “Islamophobia” was first used in print in 1991 and was defined in the Runnymede Trust Report as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims. ” The word has been coined because there is a new reality which needs naming — anti-Muslim prejudice has grown so considerably and so rapidly in recent years that a new item in the vocabulary is needed so that it can be identified and acted against. (Sajid 2005) The term “Islamophobia” was coined by way of analogy to “xenophobia”, which is a dislike or fear of people from other countries or of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.
Some definitions suggest xenophobia as arising from irrationality or unreason; this can also be said for islamophobia. Islamophobia can be characterized by the belief that all or most Muslims are religious fanatics, have violent tendencies towards non- Muslims, and reject concepts such as equality, tolerance, and democracy. It is a new form of racism where Muslims, an ethno-religious group, are constructed as a race. A set of negative assumptions are made of the entire group to the detriment of members of that group.
During the 1990s many sociologists and cultural essay writer toronto analysts observed a shift in racist ideas from ones based on skin color to ones based on notions of cultural superiority and otherness. (Sajid 2005) In Britain and other European or Western countries, Manifestations of anti-muslim hostility has been exemplified in many verbal as well as physical attacks on Muslims in public places and attacks on mosques and desecration of Muslim cemeteries. Before 9/11, in Western countries negative stereotypes and remarks in speeches by political leaders, implying that Muslims are less committed than others to democracy and the rule of law.
There was a rise in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in London in 2010, these hate crimes were being encouraged by mainstream politicians and sections of the media, a study written by a former Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officer, published January 26, 2010, says that attacks ranging from death threats and murder to persistent low-level assaults, such as spitting and name-calling, are in part whipped up by extremists and sections of mainstream society. Lambert headed Scotland Yard’s Muslim contact unit, which helped improve relations between the police and Britain’s Islamic communities.
The study mentions no newspapers or writers by name, but alleges that the book Londonistan, by the Mail writer Melanie Phillips, played a part in triggering hate crimes. Londonistan is a book about the spread of Islamism in the United Kingdom over the past twenty years. When London was hit by suicide bombers in July 2005, the dirty little secret was finally out. Great Britain had been the European hub of Islamist extremism for more than a decade. Under the noses of British intelligence, a network of terrorists and their sympathizers had used Britain to plot, finance, recruit and train for atrocities in the United States and around the world.
The scale of this activity was so large that exasperated European security agencies dubbed Britain’s capital city Londonistan. (Phillips 2006). In Europe and in America as well, it can be seen in widespread and routine negative stereotyping in the media and everyday discourse in ways that would not be acceptable if the reference were, for example, to Jewish or black people. (Dodd 2010) Islamophobia is heightened by a number of contextual factors. One of these is the fact that a high proportion of refugees are Muslims.
Demonization of refugees is therefore frequently a coded attack on Muslims, for the words “Muslim,” “asylum-seeker,” “refugee,” and “immigrant” become synonymous in the popular imagination. In this case, the common experiences of immigrant communities with unemployment, rejection, alienation and violence have combined with Islamophobia to make integration really difficult. This has led Muslim communities to suffer higher levels of unemployment, poor housing, poor health and higher levels of racially motivated violence than other communities. (sajid 2010).
For example, in 2003, when the Home Office produced a poster about alleged deceit and dishonesty amongst people seeking asylum, it chose to illustrate its concerns by focusing on someone with a Muslim name. France has been wracked by tensions over its rapidly growing Muslim minority. Another example of this would France banning the wearing of Islamic veils and other face coverings earlier this year, claiming they were both degrading and a security risk. Belgium has passed similar legislation, and Switzerland banned the building of minarets, the tall spires which often stand next to mosques. Ghazi 2006) A large issue that fuels the fires in the battle against Islamophobia is the drawing of cartoons offending the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. More specifically, this issue began after 12 editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. These Danish cartoonists targeted Muhammad as a way to attack the Muslims’ freedom of free speech and religion. In Muslim societies insulting Muhammad is the gravest of all crimes; also considered blasphemy and punishable by death.
Unfortunately, some events that followed these insults toward Muhammad ended in multiple deaths. The Organization of the Islamic Conference has denounced calls for the death of the Danish cartoonists. The obvious denial of this request caused attacks on innocents and riots all over Europe. Some acts included bombing of Christians at church, burning of churches, slaughtering innocent children and other civilians, and one specific incident included killing innocent train passengers. Even before the Jyllands-Posten riots, there were plenty of anti-Muslim acts in Europe.
One of which was the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn’s assassination in 2002 for his anti-Islamic views. He called Islam a “backward culture” and wanted to stop Muslim immigration. After his death his party made its debut in Parliament with a 17% seat share showing how popular he was at that time. Another example of Europe’s anti-Muslim views as well as the Islam’s’ intolerance for the belittling of their culture is the assassination of Theo van Gogh In 2004. Van Gogh directed a short movie called Submission which tried to highlight the role of women in Islam.
While the movie came in for a lot of criticism, van Gogh was assassinated in the same year over the movie. Specifically, the fear of Muslims became more prevalent in the United States after the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. In order to study Muslim Americans’ framing in the news media after 9/11, it is important to focus on two specific periods; the first six-month period after the attacks and the period after the first anniversary of September 11. The two periods are very important because the news framework completely changed during these two episodes.
In the first immediate six months after 9/11, the media representation was very positive, comprehensive, frequent and contextual. However, after the first anniversary of 9/11, the media coverage changed. It became very negative, stereotypical and exclusive. By the first anniversary of September 11, the portrayal of Muslim Americans in both print and cable news had completely shifted from the more frequent, positive, contextual, thematic, descriptive and comprehensive coverage to a more frequent, negative, stereotypical, episodic and exclusive coverage.
The share of reporting on Muslim Americans declined, hate crimes skyrocketed and the positive public perception of Muslims that was created in the immediate period after 9/11 diminished. Eventually, this negative perception of Muslims manifested itself through anti-Islamic riots and hatred of Muslim Americans in upcoming years. (Amiri 2012) September 11, 2001, and the days that followed produced strong feelings amongst non-Muslims as well as among Muslims in Europe.
When people feel powerless and frustrated they are prone to hit out with violent language: “You don’t belong here,” or “Get out of my country now; England is for white civilized English people! ” are examples of the kind of violent language that was used in e-mail messages to the Muslim Council of Britain immediately following the attacks. These messages are significant, for they expressed attitudes and perceptions that are widespread amongst non-Muslims and that are recurring components of Islamophobia. Allen 2002) While over in the western hemisphere, the American government was trying to ensure the Americans citizens of their safety. In the first few days following 9/11 there were multiple news cast questioning citizens, politicians, and government officials of what exactly went on that day. But what most Americans really wanted to know was whether or not they can be safe knowing that people of the same race and religion as the terrorists were walking the streets.
Although there was fear struck into the hearts of American citizens, Americans were too decent to even consider lashing out on Muslim Americans. Not only that but American didn’t know even about their culture, religion, or race to hate them to extent that Europeans do. (Schwartz 2010). When it came time to get the point of views from the horse’s mouth, Muslim Americans were more frequently covered in the news and more often interviewed as sources than before the events of 9/11.
They were given a chance to speak for themselves rather than the commentators talking on their behalf offering their views on certain issues relating to Muslim Americans. (Abid 2011) What changed the American view of Muslims altogether was the start of the wars in Afghanistan. Americans who were considered to be Islamophobes were completely against the idea of thousands of soldiers losing their life trying to fight for a faith that what President Bush calls “A religion based on peace, but hijacked by the terrorists. (Bari 2012) But Americans had an odd response to the anti-Muslim controversy they elected a president bearing an Islamic middle name, Barack Hussein Obama. This demonstrated that for their majority, Islamophobia was moot. Too few said so, but Americans seemed to have instinctively grasped certain truths: that Islam would not simply go away, they would not change their view, they could not be defeated in a direct confrontation and that moderate Muslims would be valuable allies in defeating radical Islam. (Schwartz 2010)