The recent assaults by some Western thinkers, politicians and polls on Islam, coming as they did during the Haj and Eid, brought to the fore the troubled relationship between Islam and the West. For too long this relationship has been fraught with distrust, ignorance and recriminations. It has been politicised and damaged by the slander and bias of Hollywood and the mass media.
This poisonous atmosphere has fuelled Islamophobia in the West. Islam and Muslims are equated with terrorism for no logical reason. Islam has been demonised by many in the West and has been depicted as a religion that undermines freedom, denigrates women and legitimises violence. To validate their claims they use the names of Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussain. Arabs and Muslims who represent over 23 per cent of the world's population, or 1.57 billion people, making Islam the second biggest religion in the world, have also been depicted in a very negative light by Hollywood.
This trend reached a fever-pitch following the 9/11 Al Qaida terrorist attacks. The situation worsened as a result of the Bush administration's ‘war on terror', aka ‘Islam'. There were also outlandish claims about "Fascist Islam" and a drive to re-establish an "Islamic Caliphate from Andalusia to Indonesia."
Paul J. Balles, a retired American university professor who lived in the Middle East for many years, wrote an article titled ‘The Islamophobe quartet of the USA'. In it he talks about Pat Robertson, the evangelical host of the 700 Club TV show: "... Pat Robertson commented, ridiculously, that Islam is ‘not a religion', but ‘a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination'.
"Robertson's Evangelical followers are so completely brainwashed by their minister that they are incapable of discerning that his political blather is nothing but blind hatred of Islam. Unfortunately, his cult members don't question or challenge Robertson. They follow blindly."
How many like them in the West are fed such lies and believe them? Balles concludes by arguing that "A major problem with Islamophobes is that they attack people rather than issues. They busy themselves with name-calling and ignore legitimate concerns."
Fuel to the fire
Recently, a few events have added to this poisonous environment. The brutal killing last month by Muslim army officer Major Nidal Malek Hasan of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood Army base in Texas was used by some to cast a shadow of doubt on the patriotic allegiance of all Muslim soldiers and military personnel in the US. Such generalisation is biased and racist, as Islam does not condone such behaviour. In the Quran it is stated clearly "that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men." Where are those who understand and appreciate this teaching? This intolerable demonising of a religion because of a few rotten apples is beyond logic. Those who demonise Islam fail to see that. The fact that Major Hasan was a Muslim had nothing to do with the appalling murders he is accused of committing.
It was insulting and appalling to read on ‘The Daily Beast' website the racist column by Colonel Ken Allard, a former dean of the National War College and Nato peacekeeper in Bosnia. He concluded his piece titled ‘Why We Should Screen Muslim Soldiers' by saying, "If it seems as if I am singling out Muslims especially those in uniform for unusual attention, the answer is yes. But please blame history rather than me for telling you because, last time we looked, we were not at war with Lutheran, Baptist or Catholic extremists. (But those Episcopalians might bear closer scrutiny, too.)"
Could you be more racist than this? It is unacceptable to smear the reputations of all US military personnel who identify themselves as Muslims because of the violent acts of just one person.
Not to be outdone by the Americans, the Swiss dealt a major blow to their reputation for tolerance when a majority of 57.7 per cent voted to approve a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets in mosques. Muslims in Switzerland and all over the world cannot understand the danger posed by minarets, especially since there are only four in Switzerland. The fear is over a perceived lack of assimilation of Muslims into Swiss society. The vote was not about minarets, but rather about targeting Muslims.
The danger is that the Swiss vote might be replicated across Europe. Knowing this, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner equated banning minarets with oppressing a religion. The Vatican, meanwhile, said that Christians needed to know how to overcome feelings of "aversion and fear" of others. But the Belgian newspaper Le Soir noted that some people found minarets "scary" and added, "There is a strong chance that if there was a vote in Belgium, a majority of citizens would be against [minarets] too."
The clash of civilisations that the late Samuel P. Huntington warned of seems to be alive and well. As long as rational and responsible thinkers fail to set good examples, this will remain the case.
Dr Abdullah Al Shayji is a professor of international relations and the head of the American Studies Unit at Kuwait University.