The post 9/11 era has been marred recently by protests, Islamophobia, Populism and the growing support of the far-right across Europe and the US. Hostility and discrimination against Muslims in the UK has peaked, manifesting in hate crimes with 1260 incidents recorded in the 12 months to March 2017 by the Met police. Undoubtedly, the promoters of anti-muslim sentiment across Europe and America stretch wider than Donald Trump to EDL’s Tommy Robinson & Co. But there is no flame without fire- the media’s role in misreporting Muslim-related stories has created a culture of fear, capitalised on by so-called terrorism experts and pundits. The media have become a vehicle for all types of extremists to target anything associated with Islam to the extent that they have created some of the most feared buzzwords in the west. Here are a few common buzzwords we come across everyday:
When you come across the words Islam or Muslim, one’s mind is typically filled with images of brown-bearded men, burka-clad women, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and so on. A search on Google images will confirm these perceptions and, it is so because of the context in which they are portrayed and interpreted in the West. Looking past the sensationalist headlines which often shape our perception, only then can one appreciate what Islam is truly about and how the World’s 1.3 billion Muslims desire to live in peace.
We are all too familiar with tabloid headlines including The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express in misreporting the facts. Such deliberate acts has led to increasing hostility toward muslims as suggested by a report published from the university of Cambridge and the university of Leicester earlier this year. Those who argue that Islam and Violence are mutually exclusive often dismiss the fact that Islam originates from the Arabic root word ‘Salaam’ which translates as peace. It is peace acquired by submitting one’s will to Allah (God). For Muslims, Islam is not a political ideology but a way of life through adhering to the 5 tenets of faith; belief in God, Fasting in Ramadan, making pilgrimage, giving charity and praying 5 times a day. Muslims are not a homogenous entity, they come in many forms ranging from different Islamic philosophies to rating the importance of faith in their lives. Some may be perplexed but, Muslims even believe that prophet Muhammed is also a direct descendant of Abraham through Ismail and, that Islam runs many parallels with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Therefore, it is uncanny that Muslims, or anything related to Islam are viewed in isolation compared to other groups of people.
‘Terrorist shouted Allahu akbar’ often make headlines on the newspapers. It has become an infectious phrase amongst extremists, politicians and the media. Miqdaad Versi, who works for the MCB and the man behind identifying and correcting stories about Muslims makes a key point that ‘Such blatant misrepresentation of the facts has real consequences’ as it tars the credibility of journalists and puts a dampener on Journalism, a profession that has long been scrutinised for mistrust . Just last year, Greater Manchester police apologised for using the phrase in a terror attack simulation as part of a training exercise. Critiques condemned them as reinforcing stereotypes and provoking Islamophobia. Speaking then to Aljazeera, Versi, said “by using this word [in the terror training], Muslims around the world are being associated with terrorists”.
Whether in Canada, Sydney the UK or US, the phrase has been co-opted by terrorists and far-right extremists as a war cry and, stripped of it’s innocent meaning. It is commonly referred to as ‘God is greater’ in Arabic however, it is connected more deeply to Muslims whilst seeking peace in prayer and as the call to prayer 5 times a day.
The Burka is the subject of oppression in the West but it suddenly seems glamorous when adorned by celebrities. The muslim women’s modest dress sense has long been under scrutiny through the orientalist lens which has often depicted them as creatures of intrigue and mystery. Such vague understanding has facilitated and empowered a culture of fear and hatred of the visible Muslim women. The burka remains a contentious topic and has been over the past decade where countries including the UK, France, Germany and other parts of Europe have wrestled with the issue of banning the Burqa. But where does this irrational fear of the Burqa come from? Often, critics of the Burqa-an oversized maxi dress, relate it as either a security concern- like Pauline Hanson’s recent stunt, a hindrance to integration or as conducive to liberal democracy. But, there are barely any data that support such claims. Although there is no ban on Islamic dress in the UK, remarkably, a 2016 YouGov poll found that 59% of Americans opposed a burka-ban compared to 57% of Britons who supported it. Such intolerance transcends beyond the burqa for Muslim women who often fall prey to the Islamaphobes and bigots of our time.
By far, jihad is probably one of the most controversial buzzwords that has been taken out of context many times. last month, Linda Sarsour, an American Muslim activist saw herself in the midst of this controversy. Delivering her speech to a predominantly Muslim audience in an Islamic convention in Chicago, Sarsour quoted a line about the prophet Muhammed’s reply to the best form of jihad ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad’. Sarsour faced backlash amongst the conservative media, misconstruing her words as ‘waging war against the trump administration’.
She clarified that this meant standing up for those who are oppressed by their leaders locally and globally, that includes the Islamophobes, fascists and white-supremacists. Nowhere in the Quran are the words ‘holy war’ equated to jihad but it is to strive and struggle against one’s self to lead a virtuous life. To understand Jihad, it must be contextualised as it has far more depth to it than its literal meaning such as the guidelines to a defensive jihad. The earliest Quranic verses referencing Jihad was after the prophet’s emigration to Medina whilst fleeing persecution in Makkah (22:39-40) and its nature is described in (2:190). Today, most Muslims use it to describe their personal struggle such as waking up for the early dawn prayers or giving up a bad habit. Continue reading the chapter and you’ll find that the Quran underscores peace as the norm, not violence or warfare. So what’s you Jihad?
Terrorism is the context in which muslims are often talked about be it in the media or a in a Hollywood movie. It is no stranger to the feared vocabulary list and seems to be exclusive to crimes committed by those belonging to the Islamic faith. Fear no more of the ‘Muslim threat’ as a recent US report by the Investigative Fund at the national Institute revealed that “right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents” as terror acts associated with those identified as “Islamist domestic terrorism”. Between 2008-2016, the report identified 63 incidents motivated by religiopolitical ideology committed by groups such as ISIS while white supremacists were responsible for 115 incidents. Yes- white angry men get radicalised but are we talking about their radicalisation or proposing a ban ?
It is unfortunate that such facts go unnoticed by our governments and society as the threat of ‘radical islamic terrorism’ is only acknowledged when convenient and, used as a tool to alienate the ‘other’ whether through domestic policies or embargoes and sanctions on a nation-state.
It is time to take a stance against these fallacies and reclaim these concepts to their original glory that has been hijacked by bigots and extremists who have instilled fear in our hearts for too long.