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Islamophobia

By:
Chris Allen, Abdul Rashid Moten
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics What is This? Provides in-depth coverage of the political dimensions of Islam and the Muslim world through thematic examination of the major topic areas of political science as they relate to the Muslim world.

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.” This is the definition set out in the influential report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All (Runnymede Trust, 1997, p. 1), 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 and is 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has broadly entered the social and political lexicon, arguments about the appropriateness of the term now seem outdated.

Since 1990 Islamophobia has gained a greater discursive prevalence, emanating primarily from Europe but more recently finding resonance in the United States, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and Australia. First used by Etienne Dinet and Slima Ben Ibrahim in 1925, this term only began to be used to describe an ideological “unfounded hostility” toward Muslims in the late twentieth century. 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), 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 grassroots 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 A Very Light Sleeper. 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 Fred Halliday (Halliday, 2003), and Kenan Malik (Malik, 2005). Outside Britain, however, the term “Islamophobia” remained 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 nonoperational 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 and Jørgen Nielsen's summary report on Islamophobia in the European Union following the 11 September 2001 attacks (Allen and Nielsen, 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 disagreement 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 Muḥammad in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper that have received attention from scholars in books and reports. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) established an observatory to monitor and report incidences of Islamophobia.

Concerned scholars, policy makers, and civil organizations have suggested strategies to combat Islamophobia in the West by rooting out its political, economic, social, and cultural causes. The OIC and other organizations are placing great emphasis on intercivilizational and interfaith dialogues to help promote respect for all faiths and all colors.

Bibliography

  • Allen, Christopher, and Jørgen S. Nielsen. Summary Report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001. Vienna: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, 2002.
  • Clayton, Dimitria. “Data Comparability, Definitions and the Challenges for Data Collection on the Phenomenon of Racism, Xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the European Union,” in European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia Colloque, June 25, 2002. Vienna: EUMC.
  • Esposito, John L. and Ibrahim Kalin, eds. Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
  • Halliday, Fred. Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East. Rev. ed. London: I. B. Tauris, 2003.
  • Malik, Kenan. “The Islamophobia Myth.” www.kenanmalik.com/essays/prospect_islamophobia.html.
  • Cesari, Jocelyn, ed. Securitization and Religious Divides in Europe, Muslims in Western Europe after 9/11:Why the Term Islamophobia is More a Predicament Than an Explanation. Paris: Challenge, 2006.
  • Organization of the Islamic Conference. Fourth OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia (Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims) May 2010 to April 2011. Jiddah, Saudi Arabia: Organization of the Islamic Conference, 2011.
  • Runnymede Trust. Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. London: Runnymede Trust, 1997.
  • Sardar, Ziauddin. “Racism, Identity, and Muslims in the West.” In Muslim Minorities in the West, edited by Syed Z. Abedin and Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 1–17. London: Grey Seal, 1995.
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