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Islamophobia

By:
Chris Allen
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Islamophobia

Islamophobia is the “shorthand way of referring to the dread or hatred of Islam and, therefore, to fear or dislike all or most Muslims” based upon an “unfounded hostility towards Islam,” according to the Runnymede Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997. This is the definition set out in the influential, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All (also known as the Runnymede report) and is the definition that has shaped and influenced most of the understandings of the term, although the term remains contested, sometimes used interchangeably with neo-Orientalism, anti-Muslimism, anti-Muslim racism, or “new” or cultural racism. Much debate has surrounded the use of the term, questioning its adequacy as an appropriate and meaningful descriptor. However, since Islamophobia has broadly entered the social and political lexicon, arguments about the appropriateness of the term now seem outdated.

Over the past two decades Islamophobia has gained a greater discursive prevalence, emanating primarily from Europe but more recently finding resonance in the United States, Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and Australia. First used by Etienne Dinet and Slima Ben Ibrahim (1925), it was not until the late twentieth century that this term began to be used to describe an ideological “unfounded hostility” towards Muslims. It is important to note that while many have suggested that today's Islamophobia is merely a contemporary manifestation of a centuries-old hatred of Islam (Sardar, 1995, and Milton-Edwards, 2002), Islamophobia in the contemporary setting is recognized as a new word for a new reality. Contemporary Islamophobia has been primarily shaped by the British context. Shortly after its adoption at the grass-roots level, the term made its appearance in print in the American journal Insight and in a book review by Tariq Modood in the Independent newspaper. In both instances the term was used without explanation, as it was in the 1993 Runnymede Commission on Antisemitism's report. It was this report that led to the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia being established three years later.

With the Runnymede report published, the term Islamophobia received wider public and political recognition in Britain. Setting out a typology of “closed” and “open” views through which Islamophobia could be identified, the report has been criticized for oversimplifying a complex issue by scholars, including Allen (2006, 2008), Fred Halliday (1999) and Kenan Malik (2005). Outside Britain however, the term “Islamophobia” remained the term less operative. This is highlighted by a European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia project in 2001 that sought to establish operable EU-wide definitions for racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia (Clayton, 2002). It found that in seven of the fifteen European Union member states, there was no clear or known operational definition of Islamophobia. Of the rest, two noted that the term was non-operational but were able to provide definitions; three referenced the Runnymede report, while the others offered quite different and incomplete definitions.

It could therefore be argued that 9/11 was the main catalyst for propelling Islamophobia into the much wider European and global setting. As the largest monitoring project undertaken into Islamophobia, Allen & Jorgen Nielsen's Summary report into Islamophobia in the EU following the11 September 2001 (2002) identified a strong EU-wide backlash against Muslims. While the project failed to offer a concrete definition of what Islamophobia was, it observed that Islamophobia was in evidence. One of the possible reasons for the relative ambiguity of the report's observations is that despite Islamophobia's growing prevalence, it remained highly protean, grouping together different forms of discourse, speech, and acts that emanate from an irrational fear—hence, “phobia”—of Islam (Maussen, 2006).

A sense of contestation about what Islamophobia is and where it comes from thus drastically impacts upon ensuing debates and arguments. Nevertheless, specific incidents of indiscriminate attacks against Muslims following events such as the bombings of the London underground and Madrid trains, the murder of Theo van Gogh and the assassination of Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands, the social unrest in the Paris suburbs, or the publication of the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper are documented.

Bibliography

  • Allen, C., and Jorgen S.Nielsen, Summary Report into Islamophobia in the EU Following11 September 2001. Vienna: EUMC, 2002.
  • Clayton, D.“Data Comparability, Definitions and the Challenges for Data Collection on the Phenomenon of Racism, Xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the European Union,” inEuropean Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Colloque, June 25, 2002. EUMC: Vienna.
  • Halliday, F.Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East. London: IB Tauris, 1999.
  • Lean, Nathan. The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims. Pluto Press, 2012.
  • Malik, K.“The Islamophobia Myth,”Prospect (February 2005).
  • Maussen, M.“Why the term Islamophobia is more a predicament than an explanation in,” inJocelyne Cesari, Securitization and religious divides in Europe: Muslims in Western Europe after 9/11. Paris: Challenge, 2006.
  • Runnymede Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All.London: Runnymede Trust, 1997.
  • Sardar, Z.“Racism, Identity and Muslims in the West,” inMuslim minorities in the West, eds. Syed Z. Abedin and Ziauddin Sardar. London: Grey Seal, 1995.
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