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Islamophobia on trial in Europe

M. Nasir Jawed

Scourges come in many forms. If wars, epidemics and famines take a heavy toll on human lives, the contagious social evils like racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia eat into the values of the very concept of humanity, besides consuming lives.

What brings shame to the latter form of scourge is when the very leaders of society pit one community upon the other to achieve petty political gains in countries that boast of having democracy. When this happens democracy becomes the first casualty, raising question whether politics for votes is a successful venture.

The ongoing trial of the far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is no less a symbolic trial of Islamophobia in general, which is rising fast in Europe and the United States. And the way Breivik is being made out to be a case of being too insane to stand trial is also no less representative of the kind of double standards when it comes to dealing with such crazy gun-toting guys. Questions are already being tossed whether Osama Bin Laden too could have been considered insane to stand trial had he been caught alive.

Anti-West feelings, which bin Laden symbolized, may have been a recent phenomenon, but the anti-Islam diatribe, or what has been coined as Islamophobia during the late 80s, is not merely an outcome of the reaction to 9/11 as some would like us to believe. It has its history, and it has its genesis, the genesis that birthed long-drawn Crusades between Christians and Muslims; that inspired Dante to institutionalize Islamophobia; that produced Orientalism; and that became the fodder energy for the far-right politicians during democratic elections in the 21st century. Whether in a European country, in the United States, or in India, the far-right has found in Muslims a ready manifesto to incite and rally people behind it.

The story of Islamophobia began with anger in the Christendom during Islam’s rise as the latter increasingly weakened the position of Christianity both in terms of church and the state. The Roman Empire had collapsed, and with the Muslim zeal in the quest of knowledge including science and technology, the Church too had lost its relevance in the society leading ultimately to its separation from the state.

What was left of Christianity embraced secularism and ultimately gave way to a new culture called Western civilization. The missionaries’ work became limited, though no less zealous, to merely increasing the number of Josephs and Johns instead of seriously thinking of a spiritual transformation of the society, which is still the case with the Da’yee (the callers to Islam) and which is what many elements of anti-Islam forces active in the West want to do with the Muslim community too. They want Islam to deal their faith and politics separately. A case in point is the attempts by these elements to support Sufism in the US, which they think are not interested in the worldly matters.

Such anger, according to Karen Armstrong, gave way to hatred, the classic example of which could be seen in the 9th century Muslim Spain when some Christians led by monk Perfectus began defaming Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and forced the then judicial authorities to execute them. Their martyrdom became the genesis of a large movement within the minority Christian community in Spain to ultimately flush out Muslims from Spain. (Breivik’s demand too to execute him strikes a bizarre similarity with that of Perfectus.)

But hatred was not restricted to streets only. After Renaissance when Europe began all round progress in academia and science and technology the first thing they did was to erase all the contributions of Muslims in the field of science and in other areas of academics from history.

The “1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World,” published in the United Kingdom, serves a grim reminder of the hatred. This continues till today with the “Clash of Civilizations” theory may be considered as the culmination, nay the institutionalization of the conflicts in recent times. This West-driven clash is best summed up in what the book says about Europe’s bid to bypass the 1,000 years of Muslim works during roughly a period between 450-1492 CE.

“The People Who Made Technology From Earliest Times to Present Day,” a book written in 1979 by Anthony Feldman and Peter Ford (Aldus Books Ltd) in London, gives in chronological order scientific and technological progress, which documents names of the great inventors in chronological order like this: Empedocles (c.490-430 BCE), Democritus (460-370), Hippocrates (460-377 BCE), Aristotle (383-322 BCE), Archimedes (287-212 BCE), Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468) etc.

“The remarkable jump of 1,600 years from the time of Archimedes to Johannes Gutenberg was amazing as also troubling,” wrote Prof. Salim T S Al-Hassani, the editor-in-chief, in his introduction.

Hassani says, “Further reading of other books revealed that the whole period, CE450-1492, is in fact passed over as “The Dark Age.” It is altogether ignored as far as science and civilization are concerned, termed variously as a ‘middle age’, an intermediary period, a uniform bloc, ‘vulgar centuries’ and, most disconcerting of all, “obscure time.’ ”

Muslims’ violent reaction in the beginning of the 21st century represented by some terrorist acts was in part against this very injustice that contributed to the marginalization of the Muslim community and Islam besides the perpetual injustices being meted out on issues like Palestine. Such incidents, though condemned by Muslim masses and the governments, reflect the anti-West feelings of the Muslims in general that had been brewing up for quite some time. But despite a history of injustices, such Muslim feelings remained at the low ebb and never took the form of hatred toward the Christians. Muslim governments did their best to suppress militancy growing up in their backyard.

For all the Western boast of a civilized culture, it has done more to fuel the conflict than doing anything to contain it. In the name of bringing peace and freedom in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, it has created a mess form, which nothing better could be expected to rise.

On the other hand, certain Muslim countries led by Saudi Arabia have initiated plans like holding of a series of interfaith dialogues throughout the world with the intention to diffuse the tension. There is a greater need to pay attention to this protracted scourge if the world is to be any better peaceful place to live in. There is need of an alliance between orthodox believers in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions that should deflate the Xenophobic and Islamophobic possibilities implicit in Western self-definition.

Perfectus’ martyrdom in Spain might have gone as planned, but whether Breivik’s cherished martyrdom will do the same – flushing out Muslim immigrants from Europe – is under serious doubt. The incident has rather woken up the Westerners to the prevalence of Islamophobia brewing up within their society, and which has already questioning the implication of such mad killings.

— M. Nasir Jawed is the editor in chief of The Muslim Yearbook. He can be reached at mnjawed@gmail.com.

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