Rising tide of Islamophobia in the West

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 03, 1438 2017-01-01


by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1438)

Islamophobia has not only become official with the election of Donald Trump in the US, it is spreading like a virus throughout Europe as well.

Fear has gripped Muslims in the US since Donald Trump’s victory in the November 8 presidential election. There have been many hate crime incidents against Muslims as well as African Americans and Latinos. Most victims, however, are Muslims. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that tracks hate crimes, said on November 29 it had documented 867 “hate incidents” in the 10 days since Trump’s victory. When asked about these hate crimes on the CBS program, 60 Minutes, on November 13, Trump denied responsibility for them but then speaking directly into the camera, told his supporters, “Stop it.”

During his presidential campaign, he resorted to crude remarks about Muslims and other minorities, making racism respectable in America. Having let the genie out of the bottle, making half-hearted pleas on television to stop it will not put it back. In the US, a large number of masjids have been vandalized, women in hijab have been subjected to racist slurs and physical attacks, and Muslim children have been called terrorists. On December 5, a uniformed female Muslim employee of New York City transit system was pushed down the stairs, causing knee and ankle injuries requiring hospitalization. Two days earlier, another Muslim woman, a hijab-wearing off-duty police officer, suffered a similar hate crime in Brooklyn. True, state officials have spoken out against such attacks but they are far too pervasive and such appeals will not be able to staunch the tide.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a report released on November 14 said hate crimes against Muslims had surged by 67% in one year between 2014 and 2015. Experts on hate crimes attributed these to Trump’s racist rhetoric during the campaign. And he has only fuelled such hatred by appointing well-known racists, bigots, and Islamophobes to key posts in his incoming administration. The FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics reported at least 257 hate crime incidents against Muslims in 2015 compared to 154 in 2014. These attacks nearly matched the ones against Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. Overall hate crimes were up 6.8% between 2014 (5,479 incidents) and 2015 (5,850 incidents).

The situation for Muslims in Europe is no better even though no Trump-type candidate has yet come to power. The chances of racists coming to power have increased alarmingly with right-wing bigots competing for attention in a number of countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain. French politicians have talked about extending the ban on burqa and hijab even further. The burkini is already banned on a number of French beaches. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also joined the anti-Muslim bandwagon. She expressed support for the burqa ban, framing it in the context of respecting German law! How does wearing the burqa disrespect German law unless nudity is the norm? Islamophobic groups are already rampaging through Germany attacking Muslims. Merkel’s announcement would merely encourage them.

In the Netherlands meanwhile, an Amsterdam court on December 9, 2016 convicted the racist Dutch politician Geert Wilders of insulting a group and inciting discrimination. Despite his conviction, the court imposed no penalty giving the Islamophobe free publicity in the media. His Freedom Party (PVV) is already 10 points ahead of the ruling Liberal Party in the polls. Parliamentary elections are due in March. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French racist party, the National Front, is enjoying similar surge in popular support.

Life is likely to become more difficult for Muslims in Europe and North America despite talk about freedom, democracy, and so-called Western values.

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