CERTAINLY THE MORE than two-dozen prominent American and British scholars, intellectuals and community activists who gathered at Georgetown University’s conference in the Fall of 2007 at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for MuslimChristian Understanding and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) do. Indeed their papers took due note of a rising trend in Islamophobia as well as the way American foreign policy and sweeping applications of domestic counter-terrorist measures has fed the beast.
But the problem of “Islamophobia” is far more profound than monitoring symptoms and demagogic manipulations “out there” by “them”.
I would start with the limits of empathy – of our inability to come to terms with one very simple but scary acknowledgement. Think of all the horrendous acts, consciously and directly committed in almost ecstatic fervor against non-combatants in the name of God, His Prophet and Islam over the past decade: the videotaped beheadings of non-Muslim noncombatants, the Shi’ a and Sufi “apostates” blown away while at prayer , the dynamited churches, the Yezdis massacred all that only in Iraq; the 12-year-old children targeted at a Tel Aviv pizza parlor, the Madrid train attacks, the Istanbul synagogue bombings, the London metro bus and airport attacks, not to mention 9/11.
Think of the periodic revelations in the popular press and the non-stop messages sent out daily by MEMRI to global media, of Salifi, or Hizb ut-Tahrir or Deobandi or Hamas sheikhs denouncing – not specific perpetrators of crimes or injustices against Muslims – but all Christians and all Jews as sub-human species in a language invariably far more homicidal in intent and lunatic in content than the horrendous libels of the Islamophobia industry. And then, we must ask ourselves, why shouldn’t any average non-Muslim who doesn’t read John Esposito’s books or does not intimately know a normal Muslim family or colleague at work reasonably buy into Islamophobia as indeed many increasingly have?
Of course one could just shrug this all off as some did at the workshop as the work of “a few marginal elements”, as if the conceivably hundreds of thousands of radicalized Muslim young men who track the dozens if not hundreds of salifi-takfirijihadi websites are “marginal elements”. One participant suggested Muslims were victimized by a media culture that didn’t allude to the IRA as Christian terrorists or the Tamil Tigers as Hindu Terrorists. I pointed out that the IRA never killed in the name of Christ – depending on the faction they were either nationalists or Marxists, and the Tamil Tiger Marxist separatists, did not, officially at least, suicide bomb in the name of Vishnu.
If I were on a bus in London and a young Pakistani Brit with a backpack and a nervous manner and the same informal dress that the London bombers wore, boarded my bus, I as a Muslim would, at that moment, be a bit Islamophobic. My phobia? Does his brand of Islam tell him it’s all right to blow all of us up?
This is part of the terrible dilemma, why Islamophobia cannot be monitored away, or talked away.
And is it not also possible that we, as Muslims, missed the lessons of the moral flaw in liberal Israeli Exceptionalism: that colonialism and the denial of self-determination and the ethnic cleansing that accompanies colonialism, was by the mid20th century unacceptable everywhere else in the world but in Palestine.
Could it be that, in part, our refusal to really confront the problem of terrorism is because we now mirror its equivalent, Palestinian Exceptionalism. That terrorist attacks, consciously targeting non-combatants are unacceptable, everywhere in the world except Israel? And that this in turn provides just the sort of moral ambivalence to prevent us from boldly confronting terrorism and its apologists within the community of Islam.