A Week of Islamophobia

A Week of Islamophobia

I’VE TRAVELED to several different countries for conferences promoting dialogue, coexistence and peaceful co-operation between religions: Denmark, Turkey, the UAE. I’ve met people of all nationalities, liberals and conservatives alike: German, Lebanese, Scottish. I’ve met people of almost every religious affiliation: Hindus, Atheists, Jews, and people from various sects and schools of thought in Islam: Sufis, Wahabis, Shi’ites.
Over and over again, I’ve heard the same questions from non-Muslims. The same reservations and suspicions. But I can safely say that not one of the non-Muslims I’ve met abroad, most of who had no idea of what Islam really was, were ignorant of the extremist side of it. Had they heard of the concepts of Islam, Iman and Ihsan? Blank faces. Had they heard of radical Islam, jihad, Osama Bin Laden? Bingo.

American conservative David Horowitz has brought another term into the mix, declaring the second-to-last week of October as “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” which he believes constitutes “the greatest danger Americans have ever confronted.” The week, part of his Terrorism Awareness Project, organized by the misnamed David Horowitz Freedom Center, of which he is president. A former leftist turned hardcore right-winger who is also editor in chief of FrontPage Magazine, an online publication, and founder of Students for Academic Freedom, he put the wheel in motion for over 100 college campuses across America to hold protests, film screenings, panels, memorials, teach-ins and sit-ins with pamphlets to distribute with titles such as “Why Israel is the Victim.”

The theme of this noble endeavour? Oppression of Women in Islam and the threat posed by the Islamic crusade against the West. His goals were “To explain who the enemy is…A fanatical religious movement associated with the Muslim Brotherhood [eh?]”; “to protest the violent oppression of womeh in Islam [so is he raising money to send to these poor women?]”; and “to strengthen those on campus who reject the anti-American curriculum of the tenured left.” The left, he believes, is propagating two Big Lies: that “George Bush created the war on terror [oh no, the radical Muslims woke up one day and decided to attack the non-existent troops on their land] and that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat [tell that to Al-Gore].”

He also circulated a student petition denouncing Islamo-Fascist violence against women, Christians, Jews and non-religious people, deliberatly written in such a way that the failure of Muslims to sign it would immediately prove his point. Never mind that Islam prohibits violence against women, and against any other religion if unprovoked (i.e. didn’t show up in your country with guns).

And who are the speakers that are devoting their time to so splendid a cause? As Ali Eteraz on the Huffington Post sarcastically puts it: “An ex-senator that opposes individual rights of women [Rick Santorum]; a pundit that calls people “faggots” and considers Islam a “cult” [Ann Coulter]; a Christian scholar who is considered a “polemicist” and an “Islamophobe” by conservative Christians themselves [Robert Spencer]; and an intellectual who has received millions from “far right” organizations since 2001 [David Horowitz himself—who made $352,647 in 2005, according to tax records].”

One of the movies screened was Obsession, of which a 12 minute extract is available online. It starts with a miniscule disclaimer, saying that “This is a film about the global threat of radical Islam. A violet strain within the Islamic religion [Not within an interpretation of Islamic religion]. Most Muslims do not support terror [Not Islam does not support terror]. This is not a film about them. This is a film about a radical worldview and the threat it poses to us all.” I’ll let it pass.

But what I can’t let pass is that in addition to having no official representation from the Muslim side, the movie goes on to subtitle Arabic speakers mentioning love of jihad (the Islamic concept of struggle) as love of fighting, and shahid (martyr) as suicide warrior. It shows clips from Arabic TV out of context, and compares Islam to Nazism, because you see, according to a former Hitler youth officer interviewed, the “fanatic Muslim world and Hitler both believe that no ideology can exist beyond theirs.” Basically—if they have the chance, the radical Muslims whose goals are to “kill all the Jews, opress the democracies, and destroy western civilization,” are going to hunt innocent Americans down and gas them to death. Just thinking of those 12 minutes makes me want to pull my hair out.

The Western Muslim community reacted as expected, calling the week an extremist and prejudiced campaign seeking to polarize the nation and spread Islamophobia, bigoted information and a message of intolerance. Petitions sprung up everywhere, even one by the Jewish Voices for Peace. At the time of press, a facebook event telling people to “wear green” on October 24th in symbolic protest had over 20,000 confirmed RSVPs intending to conform from all over the world.

The Muslim Student Association (MSA), which has chapters on hundreds of US campuses (and incidentally considered by Horowitz as one of those Islamic Fascist groups along with the Council on American Islamic Relations) oranized “a positive education campaign (not just a response)” hoping to bridge cultures between faiths. As expected.

Islamo-fascism is an oxymoron. Fascism is an extreme form of nationalism; Islam is a universal religion which transcends all national boundaries. Islam has no central authority (caliphate) now. And even when it did—almost 1,500 years ago by the way—it was neither fascist nor totalitarian. Any demands for straightjacket-style conformity to Islam the way it was when people lived in the desert is a minority view. The very branding of the week is wrong, linking fascism with the entire religion, and simplifying complex issues by slotting them neatly into the stereotypes perpetuated by the media. It is designed to generate fear and garner support against Muslims, throwing away everything so many of us have worked on for years and called for until our voices were hoarse—dialogue and peaceful co-existence.

It is true that there are radical Muslims out there, who do wish to hijack Islam for their own purposes. But the week’s events will only end up with people thinking that the things they saw and heard represent Islam in general, and not a small group of terrorists. Horowitz says he is dedicated to waking up Americans—and particularly American college students–to the threat of militant Islam. But who said they were asleep?!

American media is literally overflooded with snide allusions and barely concelead innuendos about “the Muslim terrorists,” who are all of course out to get them. Never mind Americans thinking that I go to school on a camel; I mind them thinking that I may secretly be thinking “Death to America!” Any airport I go to has a rich selection of exotic autobiographies by “poor, oppressed, Muslim women,” who have decided to speak out against the horror they have seen, accompanied by a photograph of a women in an identical niqab/ burka/ and the word veil/ arabia/ princess squeezed in under the title. The bad guys on 24 or any other show are almost always Arab. For them, the distinction between Arabs and Muslims, between traditions and Islamic practises, is non-existent.

The threat of non-Muslims thinking of all Muslims as terrorists is considerably larger than the threat of them not realizing that there are terrorists. You’d have to be blind, deaf, mute and living on Mars to not know that radical Muslims exist. If you’re going to raise awareness, then raising awareness that only a miniscule number of Muslims are fanatics is much more valid; awareness that Islam has been around for almost 1,500 years while the threat of radical Islam around for less than a century—and therefore logically Islam is not sole reason behind radical Islamic thought. A subversive and discriminatory campaign enlisting hypocritical spokespeople with extreme and dangerous ideologies is not the way to go about raising proper awareness of Islam.

Whipping up hatred of Arabs and Muslims will be the overarching response to this event. The US “will to fight” more wars in the Middle East will swell up, by giving the war justification (self-defense of course, ironically the same reason Obsession gave as to why radical Muslims instill hate of America in their people), in order to reach a political end, namely oil interests and continuing the war on Iraq. One step forward, two steps back.

*Ethar El-Katatney is a reporter at Egypt Today and Business Today Egypt magazines, and a graduate of the American University in Cairo. This article was published in November’s issue of Egypt Today and is available at her blog etharelkatatney.blogspot.com