A family going happily for a walk. Screeches, hit, run, crash. In a matter of seconds the happy walk turns into shrieks, screams and blood. An innocent family razed to the ground. A nightmare beyond horror. Ontario town stunned. The local government uncomfortable. The Prime Minister condoles. Flowers pour out from neighbours. Nobody, yes nobody understands why kill parents and grandparents of the only surviving 9-year-old child. Some call him fortunate, some unfortunate. How he will live the anguish of having two generations of parenting and love all of a sudden taken away is too painful to imagine.
Such tragedies are calls to action. A 20-year-old driving a truck sees a family. Seethes at their Islamic get-up. Speeds up. Rams into them. Feels vindicated by crushing their existence. This is pure Islamophobia. It is a virus that is spreading fast. Look at what has been happening in India. Look at what has been happening in Europe. Look at what is happening in the USA and Canada. It is an Indian variant that has now spread to other parts of the world. Just like the coronavirus if it is not tackled on emergency basis collectively it will cause more bloodshed and sickness than the coronavirus. There are theories and theories on why it has been allowed to scale up but the main ones are:
1. Politics of populism- Starting after the 9/11 Islamophobia has become real and present in the last decade. In the US there has been a marked increase in anti-Muslim activities. One study documents 763 such incidents between 2012 and 2018. Islamophobia is a key element of populist nationalist movements in Austria, Hungary, the UK, Poland, Russia, the US and India. It is an integral part of an emerging global authoritarian populism that emphasizes an explicit racism and glorification of the past, caste or faith. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent in Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The statement of French President Macron after the Charlie Hebdo incident was a direct attack on Islam and evoked a strong reaction. The use of religious provocations to ride the popular wave has become an easy way out for politicians. This castigation increases unrest, reactivity and intolerance.
2. Strategic vacuum in the Muslim world- The Muslim leadership has been either defensive or indifferent to the growing menace of Islamophobia. Islamic organizations of global stature like Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) have not had an assertive and integrated approach to counter this phobia. With the result that people/countries are left to fend for themselves. With little protection in foreign countries and insignificant support in Muslim countries, individuals then react and overreact in an attempt to take revenge. These counter incidents are then utilized by western media to paint the terrorist/extremist image of Muslims. While the western media branded the whole Muslim race as extremist, Muslim community has not been able to counter the banning of hijab as stereotyping and an extreme violation of freedom of choice.
3. Media presence- Paint a picture on an open canvas. That is what media absence is. No clever counter narrative has been established about Islam by the Muslim countries. With the result that the Indian disinformation army on social media combined with western channels outreach have completely dominated mind share of the world.
Hate is a fast spreading fire. 9/11 was a story of badly handled communication and led to a dangerous narrative. Post-Covid-19, as jobs become scarce, the desire to lash back at immigrants will be high. Thus, urgency is required to make a strategic approach of countering Islamophobia and its reactive consequences:
1. Finding champions- For better understanding of backgrounds and perspectives we need to find people within the West who are well respected. The New Zealand Prime Minister is one such figure. Her handling of the mosque attack which killed 50 Muslims is the hope. She along with some regional moderate voices need to be approached to create a global forum of interfaith harmony. Leaders from Europe, from Asia, etc., who have a broad appeal need to be lobbied for leading this cause.
2. Call for unity- Similarly, the Islamic world needs to come together with a political and legal strategy for ensuring that respect is accorded for religious sentiments. European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in2018 that insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was not covered by freedom of expression. Defaming the Prophet (PBUH) “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and “could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace,” the ruling stated. This is the legal foundation for all Muslim countries to press upon. This is the base to appeal unitedly to the United Nations (UN), etc., to form a law similar to the anti-semitic law for a ban on disrespect of our revered holy Prophet PBUH.
3. Narrative crafting and activism- What is required is to develop a coordinated and comprehensive campaign on presenting the Islamic point of view. The Western public is only seeing what it is being shown on their media. Through clever visuals, documentaries and debates social media and Netflix need to be used for mass communication. There needs to be an inspiring message of Islam promoting peace and progressiveness that just goes beyond having a beard or wearing a hijab. Civil society forums on interfaith harmony need to develop extensive networks to create people to people understanding and respect.
Real leaders are not driven by social media trends but by what is right even if it is untrendy. Condemning a whole religion on the basis of individual acts may get you brownie points but will have a backlash somewhere. That is why French President Emmanuel Macron accusing French Muslims of “separatism,” and describing Islam as a “religion in crisis” was extreme, unfair and dangerous. That not only stokes reactions in Muslims but also encourages extreme reaction in those against you generally. An example of such a reaction was how he was randomly slapped by a French boy in a public interaction. The slap was just an extreme response to an extreme example set by the President himself while dealing with isolated incidents. Double standards are no standards. As Robin Sharma said “Our behavior is more honest than our words”.Andleeb Abbas, "Run, hit, slap," Business Recorder. 2021-06-14.
Keywords: Political science , Local government , Muslim leadership , Islamic conference , Islamic world , Human rights , Social media , Netflix , ECHR , UN