- June 13, 2009
Can Obama defeat Islamophobia?
In recent speeches delivered in Cairo and Ankara, US President Barack Obama sent strong messages that his administration “is not — and never will be — at war with Islam” and that it wants to “seek a new beginning.”
But when it comes to how much we can believe these messages, questions remain among the Muslim public. At this point, before losing all hope, we simply need to wait and see. If there are some truly concrete steps taken to tackle the fear of Islam, everyone will stand behind Obama. And at the top of the list of concrete steps to be taken is the removal of Islamophobia from the world”s agenda.
The current wave of “fear of Islam,” formulated in America and spread from there rapidly throughout the world, aims to achieve a range of economic, political and strategic military goals. According to Samuel Huntington”s (“Clash of Civilizations”) formula, which sought to restructure and firm up the American national identity in the wake of the end of the Cold War, there was a search for an “other that exists both internally and externally.” The “internal others” pointed to by Huntington are the “Hispanics and blacks,” while the “external others” are Islam and the Muslim world. America, pursuing hegemony on a global scale, in fact managed to project this fear of the “external other” onto a global level, within the framework of George W. Bush”s understanding of the “foreign other.” And so it was that Islam began to be defined as a “threat” that elicited fear on the global level.
One of the underlying factors in efforts in America to spread the fear of Islam is the significant Evangelical movement, which is deeply influenced by Jewish lobbies and neocons, who controlled the administration under Bush. Thus, depictions of Arabs as “terrorists” and of Islam as a “religion of terror” began to be used in both Jewish and Christian Zionism in order to legitimize Israel”s illegal stances, which both of these factions perceive as being part of “God”s plan.”
Despite all of the above, things are not completely without hope these days. Eliminating the “fear of Islam” in America may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Historically speaking, Muslims have not fought with America. It was developments which occurred in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution that first sparked clashes between the Muslim world and America. In fact, if we exclude Protestant missionary activity in the 19th century — looking back for a moment to recall that certain Protestant missionaries caused enormous problems for the Ottoman Empire, bringing Muslims and Armenians face-to-face in clashes despite the fact that these two groups had lived together historically in friendship — the fact is that Islam and the Protestant world really had not faced one another earlier. To the contrary of models of modernization being developed in Europe, these two worlds — the Islamic and the Protestant — had cultures of politics which were neither primitive nor institutionalized. In fact, America resembled in this sense the Ottoman Empire much more than it did the European continent.
In short, America possesses the qualities necessary to neutralize — even if through some difficulty — preconceptions formed as the result of economic, military and political factors. Of course, when preconceptions and predetermined views become based on long-lived clashes and basic paradigms, overcoming them is more difficult than, as Einstein noted, splitting the atom.
It is precisely from this perspective then that it should be noted that there is an important difference which separates the “hostility toward Islam” developed in Europe and the “hostility toward Islam” developed in the US. When it comes to Islam, the handicaps possessed by Europe are multidimensional:
1. The problematic relationship between Europe and religion now and throughout history means that Europeans” views of other religions and the general reality of religion is impaired. Europeans tend to not see their own religions in a good light, so their view of Islam is automatically cast in a more difficult light.
2. The effects and traces of the Crusades — and all of the clashes experienced with the Islamic world and the Ottomans — are deeply ingrained in the collective memories and sub-consciousness of Europeans. These effects persist, and the deep scars left from these periods have still not been erased.
3) Orientalism and the West”s generally me-oriented vanity should be added to all this. Of course, Europe does have a self-examining humanist face, but it tends to turn everyone who is not from Europe into the other, depicting these “others” in a one-sided fashion.
4) As a fourth factor here, we could add Europe”s relationship with the Islamic world, based as it is on conflict, and the multi-dimensional differences in interests and motivations that divide Europe and the Islamic world.
This subject is one which should be discussed and kept alive in the eyes of Muslims who are looking for solutions these days. This is also a topic that should be considered by Turkey, which wants to become a full member of the EU. The primary expectation of the Muslim world from Obama is for this new leader to take a firm stance against the baseless fear of Islam created by America.