JVP supporters and civil society activists hold a protest in Colombo against the anti-Muslim mob attacks. AFP
Islamophobia is an industry. It is US$ 500 million strong in the United States alone, according to research carried out by the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the University of California, and a Carter Centre publication titled ‘Countering the Islamophobia Industry’.
Certainly, the millions being pumped into this industry are not spent on creating a peaceful world. Rather, it is spent on spreading hate, violence or bringing about a clash of civilisations.
Islamophobia is an international network. Its tentacles extend to every country where Muslims are a minority: In Asia, the network’s monstrous footprint is visible in a pugnacious way in India, Myanmar and in Sri Lanka, as seen in Aluthgama in 2014, Digana last year and several places last week.
Although Islamophobia is loosely defined as fear, dislike or prejudice against Islam and Muslims, it is a worst form of racism, feeding into terrorism. There appears to be a symbiotic relationship between Islamophobia and terrorism. They are two sides of the same despised coin.
In the US, top Islamobhobes are neoconservatives and they have close links with hawks in the Donald Trump administration. Their links with National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are widely reported in the US media.
Islamophobes promote wars in the Middle East and violence against Muslims. Their strategy is to first demonise and de-humanise Muslims before unleashing violence on them. The strategy ensures that there will not be much international outcry – not even from the United Nations or those countries championing the Responsibility-to-Protect doctrine -- when Muslims are killed in their thousands, as happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel has already dehumanised the Palestinians, whose deaths and suffering, as a result, have ceased to be a concern for the world.
This is because fear-mongering Islamophobic literature labels Muslims and Arabs as evil, savage, people without soul, terrorists who want to conquer the West and bring the world under the Shariah Law.
Their strategy has given way to a vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence. It begins with US Islamophobes promoting wars on Muslim countries. What follow is indiscriminate civilian killings, which lead to the radicalization of the civilian population, especially the youth.
In countries where Muslims are in a minority, the strategy involves Western Islamophobes’ agents unleashing violence on Muslims. In countries like India and Sri Lanka, some Muslims may be provoked to take the law unto their hands; more so when they lose hope in the country’s judicial process and see the law enforcement authorities as collaborators in the violence perpetrated against them. When there is a perception that the wrongs cannot be righted within the country’s legal and judicial framework, the disturbed mind is radicalised; revenge is seen as the only option.
It is claimed that some of those who were involved in the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks had been radicalised after the Aluthgama and Digana anti-Muslim riots. Terrorists are not born. They are made. One need not be a terrorist expert to conclude that Islamophobia-driven hate attacks produce recruits for ISIS. Inculcating into these raw recruits’ mind a terror ideology presented as the true religion, ISIS uses them in terror attacks to achieve its agenda or that of its handlers, who are most probably the very forces that fund the Islamophobia industry. Needless to say, these terror attacks swell up Islamophobia, which, in turn, whips up public support for neocon wars which invariably leads to attacks on Muslim civilians. The knock-on effect produces more terrorists, more terror attacks and more Islamophobia, more wars…
The cycle goes on and the end result is a violence-ridden world, with hatred, mutual suspicion and distrust defining relations between communities and even neigbhours. It can even lead to genocide as happened to the European Jews during World War II and to Rwanda’s Tutsis in 1994.
Islamophobia is a post-Cold War phenomenon. During the Cold War period, the West used Islam as an instrument to counter communism. Speaking to the Washington Post last year, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman revealed that at the request of the West, his country exported Wahhabism, investing in mosques and madrasas overseas, to prevent the Communists from gaining a foothold in Muslim countries.
But after the end of the Cold War, the military industry complex or the arms lobby wanted a bogey to stay in business: The Islamic terrorists were made. They became a useful tool in the neoconservative’s empire-building plan – call it the war on terror -- aimed at maintaining the US military and economic dominance all over the world through wars, military bases and economic neo-colonialism. With the new enemy, the term Islamophobia came into use. The 9/11 attacks gave the Islamophobes the much needed legitimacy. Under Trump, Islamophobia has become part of the state policy, as seen in his Muslim travel ban order. In Trump’s America, more than one hundred Islamophobic groups operate, openly propagating hate. When Trump took over, there were only about 34 such groups.
San Francisco University’s Race Studies Professor Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi sees Islamophobia as an institutionalised, structural and systemic war on Muslims and anyone who is seen as associated with Islam, Muslimness and Muslim issues. As such it constitutes a systematic form of racism and racial discrimination.
In the US and some parts of Europe, it was this racism that refused to shelter Syrian refugees fleeing war and persecution. In India, it was this racism that made the Narendra Modi government to chase away Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide.
It appears that in the forefront of this global Islamophobic campaign are fascist elements in Trump’s United States, Netanyahu’s Israel and Modi’s India. The network is well connected and their Islamophobic narratives have a common thread. Perhaps, Sri Lanka’s racists groups are part of the network. Yet the threats the Islamophobes pose is often overlooked, only to be acknowledged whenever a white supremacist terrorist strikes, as happened in Christchurch in March.
But it needs to be mentioned here that condemning the so-called Islamic terrorism is not Islamophobia, but unleashing violence on the entire Muslim community for the terror attacks they do not approve is. Sri Lanka’s Muslims damn the terrorists who killed more than 250 innocent people in the Easter Sunday terror blasts.
It’s unfortunate that at a time when Sri Lanka’s Muslims are cooperating with the security forces and trying to deal with the canker of radicalisation, Islamophobic racists launched a series of attacks on Muslims, creating the conditions for more radicalisation. Are the racists working to the agenda of global Islamophobes?
It also appears that some media groups are part of this global Islamophobic campaign. In the US, it is Fox News. In Sri Lanka, we know who they are. It is again unfortunate that these media groups violated ethics to whip up anti-Muslim hatred with their coverage of security operations connected to the terror attacks. But they took cover behind the very ethics they had binned to under-report the violence against the Muslims. Isn’t this media terrorism?