The framing of narratives and views about the Islamic world serves to present Islam as a threat to the West’s security, supremacy, and values, and it persists despite the secular transformation (to various extents) of Western societies. The difference merely lies in the change of rhetoric, from Islam being a contrast to Christianity, to it being hostile, violent and incompatible with Enlightenment values, liberalism, democracy and so forth, writes ARWA AL-RIKABI.
“Muslims hate our freedoms!” How many times have we heard this? It seems like Goebbels was right; repetition does work, and people will eventually believe anything given it is repeated enough. Many people in the West (and strangely in the Muslim world as well) have come to believe this simplistic explanation for what happened on a Tuesday morning 11 years ago in New York.
The common “wisdom” is that Muslims are a violent, irrational, prejudiced people who cannot and will not assimilate and accept Western values. And there is proof: they perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.
This logic is still being used despite the numerous holes in the official story and regardless of the fact that many experts and investigators are pointing the finger away from Muslims such as Gen. Albert Stubblebine, Col. Robert Bowman, Francesco Cossiga (Former Italian President), Paul Craig Roberts and many others who are positioned to be well-informed.
Nonetheless, even if the official line was true, the question remains, does this sufficiently explain the anti-Islam trend in the Western world? Many analysts and think tanks answer with a resounding no. Even as early as 2001, for instance, the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) conducted a study on Islamophobia across 15 EU countries following the 9/11 attacks. In their report they clarified the following: “much of what occurred post 9/11 drew heavily upon pre-existent manifestations of widespread Islamophobic and xenophobic attitudes.”
Why is this significant? The perception of 9/11 as the reason behind fear/hate of Islam creates an illusion: If only Muslims would stop terrorism, anti-Islamism would miraculously vanish. Far from accurate, such belief in false causes will inevitably lead to faulty solutions; case in point: the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.
Therefore, it would be beneficial to explore the roots of this anti-Islam ideology, and even though such complex issues are always multifaceted, with political, social, economic and historical aspects, [we] will attempt to highlight the most prominent factors in the Western fear/hate of Islam.
Shadows from the past?
All Muslims know this: Anti-Islamism started simultaneously with the religion’s advent. In a sense, it’s business as usual whether it is the Quraysh tribe, the Christian Western world, or our modern anti-Islam institutions, public figures and literature. When it comes to Islam and the West, it is no secret that tensions, prejudice, and conflict have characterized relations.
Throughout history, the conflict between Islam and the Christian West has manifested in different arenas, intensifying in particular areas called “frontiers”. The result is a foundation of perspectives, images and concepts embedded in both sides’ intellect and psyche. Arab Islamic conquests between the 7th and 10th centuries shocked the Christian world to its core, cultivating fear, resentment, as well as denigration in their writings and rhetoric.
Also the Crusades and the conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, for instance, entrenched conflict and resentment between the two civilizations. This legacy permeated the Christian/Western self-concept, which is closely linked to the view of the Muslim “other”. Edward Said (Palestinian American literary theorist) argues that the denigration of Islamic civilization is central to the concept of Western civilization.
This derogatory image of Islam and Muslims was heavily promoted in the Middle Ages, forming a Western collective subconscious of superiority. With the technological progress in the 17th and 18th centuries, this sense of supremacy was reinforced, viewing the East as immobile and archaic, thus lending justification to the colonial project. In our modern times, the end of World War II marked the intensification of confrontations between the imperial European countries and their Muslim mandates with decolonization and independence struggles.
The artificial creation of Israel, its consequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the appearance of the US Navy in the Gulf are all examples of actions that further exacerbated the relations and gave way to violent confrontations that continue to this day with no end in sight yet. This state of affairs plays a deciding role in how the West perceives Islam and Muslims, and naturally in the way Muslims view the West as well.
Eugenio Chahuam, Professor of history at the University of Chili, writes of the Western strategic need to portray Islam and Muslims as antithetical to Western civilization: “The longstanding negative mental construct the West has of Islam and the Arabs has been intensified by the determining role of the media these days, especially when they are in the service of colonial interests, military and economic expansionist ideologies, or a vehicle for the promotion of Western values, which necessarily calls for the demonization of the Other. In this sense Islam gets converted into the basis of anti-Westernism, anti-modernism and anti-civilization all in one.”
This framing of narratives and views about the Islamic world serves to present Islam as a threat to the West’s security, supremacy, and values, and it persists despite the secular transformation (to various extents) of Western societies. The difference merely lies in the change of rhetoric, from Islam being a contrast to Christianity, to it being hostile, violent and incompatible with Enlightenment values, liberalism, democracy and so forth.
This paves the way for solidifying the case for racism, xenophobia, wars on Muslim countries and the “benevolent” spreading of democracy and Western values. It also provides a rationale for maintaining US (the current leader of the West) hegemony over the world and sustaining permanent military presence as Ralph Schoenman (American author and commentator) says. Since the justification for the constant preparation for war and the maintenance of huge missile and nuclear capacity was removed with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new rationale became the “war on terror,” which necessitates demonizing Islam and Muslims.
This “war on terror” was ideologically cemented before 9/11 when, for example, well-known fellows and directors of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), such as William Kristol and Thomas Donnelly, published extensively on issues of Al-Qaeda and war on terrorism. Schoenman goes on to say that perpetual war on the people of the region (the Middle East), the seizing of their oil, the destruction of their sovereignty is rationalized by means of anti-Islam rhetoric: “a model of what has been done in Iraq, a model of what has been done in Afghanistan. That’s the ideological content of imperialism at the moment.” Similarly in his book “Islamophobia: the Ideological Campaign Against Muslims,” Stephen Sheehi contends that the many modalities of Islamophobia operate on the assumption that Muslims suffer from a culture deficit, preventing them from progress, democracy and human rights.
And while this assumption originated in the colonial era (or even before), Sheehi demonstrates that it was refurbished as a viable explanation for Muslim resistance to economic and cultural globalization and honed into the empirical basis for interventionist foreign policy. Such historical and political factors are key in understanding contemporary attacks on Islam and Muslims from some Westerners, though those “some” are an influential lot.
Ironically, Juan Goytisolo (Spanish writer) provides a sobering response from within the Western legacy: “The Westerners seem to forget that their history and recent past does not qualify them to give lessons to anybody. Those who systematically denigrate Islam should be reminded that, in this context, there have never been bloody inquisitions such as ours, nor genocides of entire people such as those of the American Indians and the Aborigines, nor the collective extermination of an entire people of the magnitude of Hitler’s holocaust, nor the use of lethal weapons as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.