The Spectre Of Islamophobia Cultural Studies Essay

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Abstract

The article is an attempt to discover the origin and causes of conflicts between Islam and other cultures and civilisations, given the fact that Islam has become the fastest spreading religion in the world [1] . The issue investigated emanates from the widespread and prevailing ideas and opinions promoted by the Western media, especially after September11th, about Muslims representing a violent and bloody civilisation that cannot engage in intercultural dialogue. The hypothesis exists that a highly tense and unfriendly relationship prevails between the Islamic and the Western world in which Muslims are generally negatively stereotyped as violent terrorists. I considered the most efficient ways to get these two blocks into reconciliatory and friendly terms and clear out the perceptual misrepresentations of Muslims and Islam from the minds of mainstream westerners. Therefore, I questioned the possibility of coexistence of Muslims with other cultures and civilisations. The paper draws its conclusions from a qualitative analysis of various interviews carried out in the public and private sectors. In short, the conflict between Islam and the West unveils a clash of economic and political interests hidden under a clash of civilisations.

Introduction

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This article aims at finding the raison d'être of the observed increasing clash between Muslims and Westerners. This paper is investigative in nature and endorsed by a qualitative analysis. In fact, I have interviewed thirteen selected respondents among teachers and engineers. The aim is not, of course, to generalise but rather to unveil the point of view of these selected respondents. I have pinpointed that cultural diversity had been a hindrance to harmony between different civilisations owing to the infrequent cultural contacts in the past. Currently, after the downfall and disintegration of the ex-Soviet Union, the US as a single superpower holds sway over the international scene. Therefore, I witness a lack of cultural dialogue between Westerners and Muslims and a failure of integration of Muslim immigrants in the Western world. One of the main causes is the spread and expansion of Islamophobia.

Intercultural communication and islamophobia

It is a truism that change among people and societies is the norm rather than the exception. That is why the difficulty to understand, accept and adapt to cultural diversity was and still is a major deterrent to people's coexistence. The strangers are quickly marginalised and rejected simply because they are not like us and they are automatically blamed for all our problems. The best exemplification is laying a guilt trip on Muslim immigrants for all the economic and societal problems in the Western world (Samovar et al. 1998). In the past, social and commercial encounters between civilisations were rare due to geographical remoteness and limited means of transport. Today, intercultural interactions are more common in a globalised world mainly because of technological development, which led to improved means of communication and transport, among others. People, therefore, seem to be more inclined to accept those with different values, beliefs and customs.

It is almost impossible to live in isolation today in a globalised world, hence a globalised economy. The recent international financial crisis proved that world economies are interwoven. Indeed, a problem in the US can have far-reaching repercussions all over the world. Furthermore, travelling and encountering other cultures used to be a prerogative of affluent people. Nowadays, affordable travel enables many middle class citizens to visit foreign countries and meet foreign people.

Other motives for intercultural communication are demography, multiethnicity, economy and immigration. The increase of population figures is leading to a struggle over the limited natural resources such as oil and water. A growth in interethnic conflicts emerges sporadically and ethnically homogeneous countries have become the exception. The globalisation of the economy means equating sustainable and steady development with seeking new markets beyond national borders. Finally and most importantly, immigration leads to intercultural communication. Immigration brings different nationalities into contact, different ethnic groups, different races with different languages, values, beliefs. (Samovar et al. Ibid.).

The concepts 'communication' and 'culture' are interconnected as culture is best transmitted and spread through communication. It is difficult to define 'communication' since it is a dynamic and ever-changing process depending on the sociolinguistic situation at large. Human beings are both alike and different. It is obvious that, at least physiologically, we are the same (Samovar et al. Ibid.). Yet, paradoxically every human being is unique mainly because of diverse cultural experiences. Consequently, acquiring an intercultural communicative competence requires the ability to value similarities and tolerate or accommodate differences, which may be cultural, racial, ethnical.

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Nonetheless, after the collapse of Communism, the world is now 'ruled' by a single superpower that preaches globalisation. This strong country is striving to 'Americanise' the world driven by a certain cultural arrogance and hauteur that snubs and brushes off other value systems. This is ultimately leading to a cultural despotism, which imposes the American way of life as the sine qua non for existence. Promoters of globalisation should show their readiness to accept others to achieve an intercultural communication (Elmandjra, 2000).

The lack of cultural dialogue is also illustrated in the failure to integrate the Muslim population in Western countries, such as France, where they are gathered on the outskirts in 'modern' ghettoes. The situation resulted in violent riots by the younger generation, who is suffering from marginalisation, unemployment and experiencing conflicting dual identities.

The concept of 'Islamophobia' is defined by the Runnymede Trust (1997) (quoted in Amir Ali, 1997) as the West's [irrational] fearfulness and hatred of Islam [within and beyond national borders]. This situation is best nurtured by the poor, if not the lack of, knowledge about other nations and cultures (Ihsanoglu, 2010). Consequently, Islam is depicted as the source of all evils and denied all its peaceful values and virtues. Besides, the West does not acknowledge the historical and scientific contribution of the Muslim civilisation in the development of the Occident.

Islamophobia or anti-Muslimism is a bitter and tragic reality today. It is reported that in France alone, a Muslim is attacked, aggressed or intimidated every three days and the sanctity of mosques is violated every three weeks. This alarming situation is questioning the claim that the French stand up for values such as liberty, equality and fraternity (Gunduz, 2007; Faliq, 2010; Altikriti, 2010).

Responsibility for the expansion of islamophobia is shared between promoters and contributors to this phenomenon (Amir, Ibid.). Promoters of islamophobia seem to have revived and presented it in an updated language from ancient sources dating back to the period of the crusaders in Europe.

Among contributors to islamophobia are people who identify themselves with Islam but in fact have little in common with real Muslims. Indeed, westerners should differentiate between a Muslim and a believer in Islam. Islam is a 'package'; you take it or you leave it. How can a person claim to be a believer and persists in stealing, cheating, corrupting, ill-treating his fellows especially women, killing, and terrorising? In the midst of those so-called Muslims, we can also find those who venerate and nearly worship dead or alive individuals who are believed to be trustworthy and infallible. Hence, they neglect the teaching of the Quran and the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and misbehave in the name of Islam. These 'fake' Muslims give a distorted image of Islam and contribute to islamophobia (Amir, Ibid.).

What makes matters worse is the reaction of Muslims to islamophobia. The racist attitudes of some westerners lead some Muslims to develop stereotypes and prejudices to the extent that they become agitated by and vindictive towards all westerners. In fact, Muslims develop a growing fear from the West leading them to gather in small communities reflecting a pessimistic attitude towards the success of any integration in their host countries (Amir, Ibid.).

They consider all westerners as worshippers of money who are bereft of any spirituality. For this reason, their worldly success and superiority must have been achieved because they have no values (Friedman, 2002). Muslims make contentedly a scapegoat of the Universalist cultural aspirations of the West to justify their failure of being developed and powerful.

On the other hand, some interviewees declared that the lack of intercultural dialogue is a consequence of westerners' development of many stereotypes about Islam. The Muslim culture is seen as strange, stagnant and backward that cannot cope or coexist with other cultures. These opinions are endorsed with a negative image with which Muslims are represented. Indeed, the electronic broadcasting website 'YouTube' is fraught with examples such as the one of Shaheen [2] who remarks that in many Hollywood films, including cartoons, Muslims, especially Arabs, are portrayed as "malign", "subhuman", "killers", "obsessed with women and sex", "incompetent" to name a few. In the TV programme 'The Chaser's War on Everything' [3] , it was reported that 39% of American informants favoured requiring Muslims, including those who are American citizens, to carry a special ID card that identifies them as Muslims. Some interviewees, in this programme, went on further to ask for a special mark, as the one used by the Nazis, on Muslim's clothes! During the previous American election campaigns, a woman told McCain [4] that she could not trust Obama because he is an Arab, the candidate for the American presidency answered that Obama was not an Arab but a decent man! Finally, the Moroccan actor Hamidou declared in a televised interview that whenever he was offered the script of a French film he knew his role beforehand, which just happens to be that of a bad and cruel Arab who must die at the end!

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Under the name of freedom of expression and speech, Islam is marred by some westerners who are defamatory, profanatory and calumnious of sacred Islamic issues such as the injurious cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and the desecrating of the Quran as in the Film Submission [5] . To end the list, which is no way exhaustive, whenever a Muslim harms others, he does it because he is a Muslim! Consequently, to be a socially tolerated Muslim, you must be not too Muslim (Aly, Ibid.)!

The theory of dialogue among civilisations

According to Huntington (Ibid.), the world is divided into different civilisations. These civilisations are the higher level of cultural identity needed by humans to distinguish themselves from others, including objective elements such as language and subjective ones of self-identification. (Said, 2001) comments on Huntington's division that underestimates the plurality of each civilisation and the interaction and mutual influence of those different civilisations.

On the one hand, to define Islam according to Arkoun (cited in Chaouki, 2005) a lot remains to be done to free the minds of the false conception of Islam often marked with the stigma of representing an Oriental world that is radically opposed to the Western world. In contrast, from a geographical point of view, the Arab, Turkish and Iranian world rather belongs to the southern-Western world. On the other hand, the West includes the developed countries of the world monopolising the military, science, technology and economy.

Huntington (Ibid.) refers to the 'Islamic Resurgence', or its awakening, due to the increasing number of Muslims who adhere more and more to Islam as a source of identity. They are hoping for a better future and attempting to recover their past greatness. Therefore, they are more for the modernisation of the Muslim world than for its 'westernisation'. Consequently, we are witnessing many revolutions in the Arab world as a reaction against many of the corrupted and authoritarian regimes that are believed to be mere 'puppets' of the West. Needless to mention that Islam constitutes a strong unifying element between Muslim states, the aftermaths are rare conflicts between those countries crowned by the creation of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to seek continuous cohesion of the Islamic world.

In addition, Islam is no longer a characteristic of Muslim countries only; rather, it has become an integral part at the heart of the Western world (Said, 2001). Indeed, Islam is now the second largest religion in Europe (Gunduz, 2007). A visit to places of worship in Europe shows clearly that Muslim prayers in mosques outnumber Christians in churches.

Officially speaking, there are some European initiatives towards Islam (Silvestri, 2005). After the events of 11/9, the Europeans' reaction seemed to preach dialogue between cultures and between societies while the Americans openly declared their 'war against terror', nearly a decade before the Barcelona Declaration of 1995 encouraged intercultural dialogue. Yet, to guarantee security in the Mediterranean region, the European decision-makers are convinced that they should not encourage the democratisation of the Middle East and North Africa as long as the local authoritarian regimes are blocking any potential Islamic threat. Thus, those European initiatives for dialogues between Islam and the West did not yield any concrete or positive results.

The West has securitised and politicised the dialogue with Islam, hence it has constructed a feeling of an eminent danger that requires immediate reactions (Gunduz, 2007). Unfortunately, fear and dialogue are incompatible. Hence, Islam and the West are portrayed as two antagonistic and ignorant gangs that fear and hate each other (Aly, 2005).

I remark with much dismay and consternation that, instead of bridging human minds and hearts, decision-makers are building walls such as between Israel and Palestine and those symbolised by the strict visa measures imposed by the Western world especially on Muslims. Besides, a declared reason for refusing the inclusion of Turkey to the European Union is the substantial number of its Muslim population.

The theory of the clash between civilisations

Elmandjra (cited in Nabil, Ibid.) was the first to talk about the civilisational war and enumerate some aspects of this conflict. First, the US as the unique superpower would not tolerate the emergence of the Gulf region, particularly Iraq. Second, the technological development of the country would pose a threat to the West. Third, the military power of Iraq represented a threat to Israel and the West. Fourth, the cultural power of Iraq - a symbol of the Arab-Muslim world- would be a menace to the Judeo-Christian values. Finally, the role of the West in the countries of the South should be maintained even after independence.

This antagonism between Islam and the West is believed to be due to the allegation that the two cultures are opposed in nature, as it was mentioned by some interviewees. They are dissimilar to such a point that it is believed that their coexistence is difficult, if not impossible. A particular instance is the aversion of Muslim believers about the Western homosexual and lesbian freedom reflecting a cultural divergence, which is considered by Muslims as a deviation from human nature. Generally, the diversity of the two cultures, according to Huntington (Ibid.) would be the main cause of the bloodiest conflicts in the world after the cold war.

The end of the cold war and the West's colonial imperialism has undermined the West's prior dominance of the international scene. The Western civilisation is losing ground facing the Asian emerging economic, political and cultural power and the Muslim's demography inside and outside the West's frontiers. The West's population constitutes less than 20% of the world population and possesses 80% of its wealth. Additionally, the West's fear is instigated by a possible challenge of Muslims who will represent almost 40% of the globe population. Consequently, the West has to resist and repress other civilisations in particular the Islamic one to guarantee its continuous superiority Huntington (Ibid.) and Elmandjra (as cited in Nabil, Ibid.).

Some interviewees remarked that history has provided concrete evidence that the essence of the conflicts and wars in different regions of the world, are the economic, political, social and geostrategic interests of States, people and communities. These conflicts may be predominantly military in nature, such as the two world wars in Europe, colonial wars outside Europe, it can have a Cold War nature and justified by ideological or political reasons. Military conflicts can also be motivated by religious diversity, as was the case for the Crusades in earlier eras, or can be of ethnic origin, as is the case for Semitism and Aryanism, in Europe, especially in the era of Hitler, and of racial discrimination between whites and blacks, as in America and South Africa. In all these cases, attempts were made to find and create ideological, social, intellectual and psychological justifications. The aim is to mobilize power and stir the instincts and desires of communities to search for more power to accumulate wealth, perpetuate an existing influence, protect the self from any potential threat or direct the internal conflicts to an external enemy. The ultimate goal would be to preserve the status quo from any potential collapse, for fear of any radical change that could erode the power and privileges of dominant groups.

Accordingly, the clash of civilizations is regarded by many interviewees as an attempt to persuade people belonging to "civilizations", which are inherently different, to behave in accordance with the dominant civilisation; otherwise, they can be considered as obstructive to any progress or development and therefore must be fought.

These "conflicts" which are believed to be voluntary, are in fact "inevitable" and "normal" in a sense, will exist as long as there are contradictions and incongruities between the interests of communities, groups, social classes, people and nations in different geographical regions. These variations and contradictions imposed by the unbalanced and unfair distribution of wealth, imposed by the nature of geography and population, access of each group to the accumulation of scientific knowledge, can result into either power and dominance or weakness and submission.

As long as the confrontation is in the light of the above-mentioned elements, the inevitable consequence is not limited to material gains, but also extends to the intellectual and cultural level, which constitutes another type of war on the other. Thus, appropriate conceptual devices are created meeting the logic of confrontation. Therefore, the opponent parties resort to the promotion of a self-image contradictory to that of the other, so that the logic of the glorification of the self is established to challenge the other, which makes both parties focus on the negative rather than positive aspects. Consequently, what is produced by the dominant is "civilization" and what is produced by the other is "savagery"!

Therefore, the question of a return to the texts of reference of thought (such as religious books, constitutions) of each of the opponent groups to try to search for what could confirm or deny its "aggressiveness" or "bloodiness" or the propensity to coexist, the question remains selective, or demagoguery, and often take their contents outside the context that produced it.

How can we rely on the reference of thought that established the culture of human rights, democracy and freedom, since the age of Enlightenment, adopted by Western civilization to govern its countries? While at the same time, exerting control over other people through direct or indirect colonialism, plundering their wealth and convert them to foreign markets for the sale of their industrial products. An interviewee has rightly declared that the West has made of the slogans of democracy and human rights, "the sword of Damocles" to return to the direct control of many nations.

The West pleads for universalism and would like the others including Muslims to adopt the Western values that have globally prevailed after the fall of Communism. Yet, the West's discourse is ambiguous as it encourages democracy under the condition that it does not permit non-Western countries to be under the reign of Muslim fundamentalists. The West denounces nuclear proliferation in Iran but approves it in Israel. This hypocritical attitude arouses the scepticism of Muslims about the real motives of the West that serves, of course, only its own interests Huntington (Ibid.). This author remarks that the relationship between Islam and the West throughout history has always been tumultuous and he is convinced that it will remain so.

Huntington (Ibid.) gave the example of the Gulf war, which started between Iraq and Kuwait, grew to be a war between Iraq and the West and turned out to be a war between Islam and the West. Therefore, it deserved to be qualified by Elmandjra (2000) as the first civilisational war. Muslims felt humiliated and exasperated. They could not understand why the West did not stop its hostilities towards Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait. On the contrary, the West persisted in the systematic destruction of Iraq; even the archaeological museum of Baghdad was looted under the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Accordingly, it is legitimate for Muslims to claim their cultural exception and to refuse globalisation and the Westerners' imposed new world order.

The attacks of 9/11 were portrayed as a turn in history (Friedman, 2001) and rendered as a stalking-horse to justify the past and future bloody interventions of the West in many countries (Said, Ibid.). The hype about this event, even after a decade, does not help in bridging gaps between Islam and the West. Therefore, Said [6] qualifies the theory of the clash of civilisations as mythical and describes it, instead, as a clash of ignorance of Islam and its corresponding civilisation.

Conclusion

The clash of civilisations would not be a fatality if knowledge and tolerance between cultures were cultivated through effective, efficient and less biased and prejudiced educational programmes and media coverage. The latter should aspire to esteem the cultural similarities and abide their differences. Yet, as it was stated by Giandomenico Picco, The Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations [7] ,

History does not kill. Religion does not rape women, the purity of blood does not destroy buildings and institutions do not fail. Only individuals do those things.

Consequently, as long as it is inevitable to defend the interests of each party and as long as there is self-defence against the dominance of the other, imposed by the nature of the conservation of interests, conflicts and confrontations will continue to exist. Each time the hostile groups will try to devise motives and reasons to justify actions, which can be religious, racial, and ethnical.

  I think that peaceful coexistence can be accomplished when the power of both belligerent parties is in equilibrium. Only then would intercultural communication or peace be sought to preserve common interests.