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Orientalism provides building blocks for Islamophobia

Orientalism provides building blocks for Islamophobia
(Sunday, March 4, 2018) 19:51

Tod H. Green the Associate Professor of religion at Luther College believes that works of some orientalists and their beliefs have provided the building blocks for Islamophobia.

The Center of Mosque StudiesIslamophobia is a devil event that its history goes back to very early stage in Islam’s history. But we could divide the contemporary wave of this phenomenon in two mostly separate era: after 11/9 event in US as the first stage and by enter of high Middle East refugees flood into European countries. But this is very significant to discover the roots and reasons for proliferation of this phenomenon in West in order to stop negative imagine of Islam as a divine religion in eyes of Western politicians and people.

Regarding this issue, Mehr News correspondent has talked to Prof. H.Green the Associate Professor of religion at Luther College and author of “Fear of Islam” book. He is one of the well-known experts on Islamophobia and has served before as a Franklin Fellow at the US State Department under President Obama’s administration where he analyzed and assessed the impact of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe on countering violent extremism initiatives, refugee and migrant policies, and human rights. He has also given lectures on Islamophobia to other federal agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

The full text of this interview is given in below:

1) What are the ideological and religious roots of Islamophobia?

The religious roots go back to the earliest centuries of Islam. Muslims came into contact with Christians at a very early stage in Islam’s history. Some of this contact resulted in harmonious relations, such as the Covenant created by the Prophet Muhammad with Christians at Saint Catherine’s Monastery. In Europe, however, the initial Christian contact with Muslims did not yield a significant knowledge of Islam. Christians initially thought of Muslims as pagans, and around the time of the Crusades, Christians started to think of Muslims as heretics (false worshippers of God who misunderstood God’s revelation in Jesus).

So there are theological tensions and conflicts from the Crusades onward, including anti-Islamic teachings and writings during the Protestant Reformations of the sixteenth century. In Europe, the religious nature of these tensions subsided somewhat with the Enlightenment. They don’t disappear entirely as Christian polemics did influence European colonialism in the Muslim-majority world, but by the late twentieth century, it’s fair to say that much of the tensions pertaining to Muslims living in Europe was less informed by Christian theological convictions and more by political and cultural factors. In the United States, the religious element of Islamophobia still exists among more conservative Christian politicians and communities.

2) What are the political roots and causes of Islamophobia in your opinion?

The political roots of Islamophobia arise out of the imperial ambitions of European Christian kingdoms and empires. These ambitions were the continuation of an imperial rivalry with Islamic empires that date back to the earliest centuries of Islam. Up until the eighteenth century, Islamic empires were dominant in this rivalry. They were more advanced culturally, politically, and militarily. From the end of the eighteenth century, European empires came to dominate as European colonialism spread into Muslim-majority countries from North Africa to the Middle East to South Asia. This dominance persisted until after World War II. But as European empires receded, two new empires – the Soviet Union and the United States – dominated the world stage. The Cold War rivalry between these two superpowers involved efforts to align themselves with particular regimes in the Middle East in order to secure travel routes and energy resources. This resulted in Muslim-majority countries becoming pawns in this Cold War rivalry. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States became the most dominant empire, and its need for the energy resources in the Middle East dictated how it engaged in diplomatic relations or military engagement with the region, not to mention its policies toward Israel.

What ties all of these modern imperial projects together is the need for Western nations to construct Muslims as obstacles to larger imperial and economic ambitions and needs. These constructions, in turn, result in many in the West inheriting animosities toward Muslims that arose due to this imperial history. We’ve certainly seen this in Europe as many Europeans have inherited a prejudice against Muslims that stems from this longer imperial history.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Muslims in the Middle East became the main enemy to the imperial project pursued by the United States. And to the extent that Muslims at home were seen as symbolic representations for the Muslim enemy abroad, a perception that deepened significantly after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terror, the result has been a sharp rise in Islamophobia.

3) The aim of Orientalism was domination over East. Is there any common goal between Orientalism and Islamophobia?

Orientalism provided the building blocks for Islamophobia. Many of the characteristics of Islamophobia today – Islam as monolithic, Islam as backwards, Islam as inferior – were inherited from Orientalism. Moreover, Islamophobia is very much driven by political ambitions and political power, and this connects it with previous manifestations of Orientalism.

But Orientalism and Islamophobia are not identical concepts. We must remember that some Orientalist scholars held deep admiration and respect for the languages, histories, and religions of Muslims. An Orientialist, by definition, is not necessarily someone who hates Islam or Muslims, though plenty of Orientalists did have such feelings. Islamophobia pertains specifically to hostility and hatred of Muslims/Islam. Orientalism also arose primarily from the academic world. Islamophobia today is not primarily arising from the scholarly study of Muslims or Islam.

4) Prof. Sayyed Hussein Nasr, the contemporary Islamic philosopher asserted in an interview with Mehr News Agency that Islamophobia is a temporary phenomenon and it is not a significant and valuable one in US and Europe. According to him, Islam will be expanded in West and there is no obstacle to prevent this expansion. What do you think about this?

While Muslim populations will grow in Europe and the United States over the next several decades, this growth will not prevent Islamophobia from spreading, and I can envision no scenario in which Islam will become a majority religion on either side of the Atlantic. As a minority community, Muslims will continue to struggle with Islamophobia for the foreseeable future.

It is my hope that there will be less Islamophobia in a generation from now than there currently is, but we should also be cautious in assuming that this change will take place quickly. If we take all of the years since the September 11 attacks, by most metrics, Islamophobia has only gotten worse. In this time, Muslims have been subject to detentions, deportations, extraordinary renditions, torture, and surveillance. Hate crimes against Muslims in the United States are much higher than today than they were before September 11, 2001, and in the past two years, we’ve seen disturbing levels of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe and the United States. Legislation targeting Muslims and their free exercise of religion has also arisen in Europe and to some degree even in the United States. Finally, politicians are more overtly targeting Muslims for political gain and leverage. We saw this in the last election cycle here in the United States and proposals from politicians for Muslim bans, Muslim identification cards, and the patrolling of law enforcement officials in Muslim neighborhoods. In Europe, the rise of far right parties has also elevated Islamophobia and made it more central to elections.

The long-term solution to Islamophobia will be cultivating and deepening relationships between Muslim minority communities and the non-Muslim majority populations. According to a Pew Survey from 2014, 62% of Americans do not personally know a Muslim. But this same study indicates that people are more likely to have a positive view of Islam when they also have a personal relationship with a Muslim. We will not see any significant improvement in Islamophobia until more relationships and friendships materialize between Muslims and the majority populations in the West.

Interview by Vahid Pourtajrishi

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