Manufacturing Islamophobic Consent
By Ghulam Mohammad Khan
10 August, 2015
Though the term ‘Islamophobia’ only entered into the common English usage in 1997 with the publication of a report by the Runnymede Trust (a left-wing think tank), the history of the unfounded hostility of the West towards Muslims, their politics, culture and religion, is as old as the history of the expansion of Islam to the Iberian Peninsula, located in southwest corner of Europe, in eighth century. The influences of the new burgeoning Islamic doctrine shocked the foundations of the Christian faith or call it a thought-pattern, which was a dominant discourse then. The Palestinian American literary theorist and public intellectual rightly says, “Hostility to Islam in the Christian West has historically gone hand in hand with, has stemmed from the same source, has been nourished at the same stream as anti-Semitism.” The new Islamic faith was criticized as ‘fundamentalistic’, the followers of the prophet Muhammad were denounced as ‘schismatic’ and the Prophet himself was arraigned as ‘a diabolical fraud’.
This was the beginning of a ‘discursive formation’ where Muslims were not only excluded from the mainstream, but also from the collective Western consciousness as ‘a fundamental threat’ to whole humanity. The antipathy towards Muslims was so astutely internalized in Western culture that every discriminatory practice against them seemed inherently justified to every Westerner. The propagation of an anti-Muslim discourse was not merely limited to the times’ all powerful institution of Christian faith, but in coming years the writers and painters, who are still nonpareil for their contributions in the Western world, also helped in the flourishing of this inglorious discourse. Dante Alighieri, in his Divine Comedy (1308-1320), still considered as one of the greatest works in world literature, seems to partake this collective xenophobic Western mentality when he casts Prophet Muhammad and his cousin to the ninth circle of hell, the circle created for schismatics and sowers of discord.
Similarly, Giovanni da Modena further strengthens this discourse through his painting ‘The Last Judgment’, in which Prophet Muhammad is depicted as a ‘scantily-clad, turbaned, and bearded man writhing in agony as he is pulled into hell by demons’. Maligning Muslims and thinking and aligning the abominable to them were quite a natural tendency.
The same passed through generations to modern Western world. The Jyllands-Posten (a Danish newspaper that published the cartoons of Prophet in 2005) or Charlie Hebdo (a French satirical weekly magazine that published the cartoons of Prophet in 2011&2015) are simply the modern versions of Giovanni’s ‘The Last Judgment’, amplifying the same old cause.
The 9/11 attacks on symbolic U.S. landmarks not only terribly ratcheted up the punitive measures against the Muslims, but also helped in comprehensively empowering and reinforcing the anti-Muslim discourse. Be it the 1990s mass murder of Bosnian Muslims, or the 1989 massacre of 1,500 Bulgarian Muslims and closure and burning of 500 mosques, or the 2008 desecration of 148 Muslim graves in France, or ban on ‘niqab’, or the cold-blooded murder of Marwa El-Sherbini in a courtroom in Dresden, Germany for the simple reason of wearing an Islamic headscarf, or 2010 destruction of mosques in West Bank by Israel, or the 2006 Jamia Masjid attack in Preston, England, or the Chapel Hill Shooting in America, or the post-Charlie Hebdo attacks on Muslims and mosques, all are different forms of the same internalized Islamophobic consent. The incorporation of politics, technology, weaponry, and cultural racism into this Islamophobic discourse in the West has made the discourse even more lethal. Having the whole picture in mind, one cannot find it hard to believe that the fundamental dividing line in Western society is ‘between secularism and religious obscurantism’ and that (for them) the major enemy of the values emerging from the Enlightenment is not ‘war, neo-liberalism or austerity, but Islam and its followers.’
Coming to our country India, the alarming growth of Islamophobic tendencies is mostly disregarded. But, it won’t be too early or off base to say that India is on the cusp xenophobic extremism. Unlike the Western cult of Islamophobia, which initially came up as a religious counterpunch to Islamic thought, the Indian version of it quickly got enmeshed with the political system. The neo-Nazi ideological fountainhead RSS has had always used Islamophobia as a political strategy. It has had indisputably played a significant part in devising the software of Indian mentality. The extremist philosophy “non-Hindus in India deserve no privileges, nor even citizen’s rights”, by the RSS founder M.S.Golwalkar, whom Narendra Modi once called “a guru worthy of worship”, is being implicitly incorporated in the political mechanism of the country. With BJP in power, the Hindutva lobbies find it the opportune time to take their agenda of Islamophobia to the hilt.
The recent unprecedented extremist political developments like Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s speech in which he sought for the disenfranchisement of Muslims in India, the union cabinet minister Menaka Gandhi’s comments that linked meat industry to terrorism, the RSS and BJP member Sakshi Maharaj’s comments that linked Madrasas and the community of meat businessmen to terrorism, the BJP minister Giriraj Singh’s poisonous comments; “those who want to stop Narendra Modi (from becoming the Prime Minister) should go to Pakistan” and “all terrorists belong to one community”, and the PM’s increasingly suspicious but conspicuous silence over all these developments, are some signs, portentous of the erasure of Muslim voice from the so-called existing democratic culture.
On the other hand, when we look closely, terrorism in India is not due to the Muslims of India. It is because of her politics and Naxalite Movements in different parts. Here I would like to quote the writer Javid Jamil from Australasian Muslim Times, “…out of more than 40,000 deaths in terroristic attacks in last twenty years, the alleged killings by ‘Muslim terrorists’ do not number more than 1500.” Unfortunately, it is due to the deeply entrenched Islamophobic tendencies in the Indian society that terroristic operations and killings by other groups go unheeded. Because of being a minority, the Muslims are also in no position to launch a counter-narrative or a counter-discourse. Therefore, as long as the Islamophobic consent prevails in India, the future of Muslim community is in danger.
Ghulam Mohammad Khan is a PhD Research Scholar at Central University of Haryana
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