The only acceptable racism left: Islamophobia |

The only acceptable racism left: Islamophobia

Herman Cain: Known for his Islamophobic comments

"So what do you do for a living?" the activist asked me. He was an American Christian, an ordained minister and leader of an interfaith peace organization. I was attending a conference organized by his group."

"I produce Islamic videos and programs, particularly for children," I replied.

"Oh. Doesn't Hamas produce programs for children, too?" he asked.

I was stunned. This exchange occurred shortly before the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections. What floored me though was that this man associated what I do for a living with a group considered terrorist by the American government. It is clear that the ugly tentacles of Islamophobia have penetrated places where Muslims have normally felt safe from it. An interfaith gathering is the last venue I'd expect these comments.

I was representing the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago as it's chair, and he knew that pretty well. It's a federation of more than 55 mosques and Islamic organizations serving 400,000 Muslims from the region.

The Danish cartoon affair - Europe's latent Islamophobia comes to life

The latest example of Islamophobia comes from Denmark and Europe, not the United States. By now, we've all seen and read about the protests against 12 deeply offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

What is critical to know is that it was not some random cartoonist drawing one cartoon and an editor who decided to publish it. Rather, a neo-con newspaper chose to commission artists to draw these images that depict the Prophet as a terrorist. These cartoons were not an ignorant mistake. The intent was to insult and inflame. The concept of respect and honor among Muslims is well-known. So is the potential risk of incitement, especially after knowing what happened when the Muslim world came to know about some American soldiers disrespecting the Quran last year.

The Danish embassy in Lebanon has been torched, the country's flags burned, death threats have been issued and some protesters have been killed as a result of police firings.

But well before these dramatic images that must have made editors salivate for their sensational qualities made the news, Muslims in the Muslim world and abroad launched peaceful, lawful protests for four months against the cartoons that would have made Martin Luther King Jr. proud.

Danish Muslims wrote letters of protest. They were ignored. Eleven Muslim ambassadors in Denmark asked to meet with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He refused to do so. A grassroots boycott of Danish products was launched in the Middle East. That got some attention, but not much until Danish businesses realized how much of their $1 billion business in the region was at stake.

The cartoons were printed in September 2005. In September, October, November, December and almost all of January, the Muslim opposition to the cartoons was characterized by peaceful demonstrations of love for the Prophet and restrained protests of how he was being denigrated.

Arrogant Response to Peaceful Protests

When newspapers in Norway, Germany and France, in their Islamophobic frenzy, decided to republish the cartoons in the name of "freedom of expression," the scale of anger and protest widened. What started off as peaceful opposition spiraled out of control.

Now, the situation was out of the hands of Muslims who had made serious attempts to resolve the issue peacefully. They had tried their utmost, but to no avail. From this point onwards, all kinds of people, including those with little knowledge of Islamic rules that forbid harm to foreign emissaries in Muslim lands, had upped the ante. The torching of embassies is wrong. So is stepping on and burning the symbols of Danish pride, their flag. It is Haram and a sin in Islam.

Unfortunately, some Iranian newspapers have commissioned the drawing of anti-Semitic cartoons in protest. This is a disgusting form of retaliation that deserves absolute condemnation. It will neither help fight Islamophobia, nor elicit any understanding about why Muslims are upset about the Danish cartoons. The conflic has hit a new low with this move.

But the world media, always in search of dramatic images of death and destruction, lapped up the anger and violence with glee. There was little coverage of the peaceful response of the Muslim community to these cartoons in the initial days after their publication. There were no calls for death, there was no fire involved or images of screaming bearded and Hijabed Muslims. Just peaceful bearded and Hijabed Muslims. Yawn. The media was bored.

When it comes to Muslims, everything goes

Would the media outlet which commissioned and printed these cartoons, as well as those which reprinted them, call for artists to develop grotesque anti-Semitic caricatures to prove that they have the freedom to do so? Of course not. The French even have laws to punish anti-Semitic "speech" and "writings."

The current cartoon affair is not about freedom of expression, it's about Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is real

Islamophobia, or the fear and hatred of all things relating to Islam and Muslims, has become an acceptable form of racism. A sympathetic Jewish lawyer who was representing a Palestinian client in Chicago pre-9/11 said something telling to me in this regard: "Muslims are the new N?ers of America. If you will not fight for yourself, no one will."

He's right. But Muslim complaints about Islamophobia continue to be dismissed.

More than one fourth of all American Muslims surveyed by more than one public opinion organization stated that they have personally experienced Islamophobia or know someone who has. Over 200,000 American Muslims have been subjected to some kind of law enforcement activity since 9/11. At least 15,000 Muslims have been detained or arrested since that tragedy. Over 16,000 were either deported or are in the process of deportation. The Council on American-Islamic Relations annually issues reports about the state of Muslim civil rights in the United States. Harrowing tales of anti-Muslim discrimination on the job, at schools, stores, restaurants and on the streets fill these publications. The case of Capt. James Yee is a disturbing example of how American Muslims even in positions of authority and respect must endure Islamophobia publicly at the hands of our own government.

It is due to Islamophobia fanned by government policies and a media frenzy that a majority of Americans continue to hold negative opinions of Islam and Muslims. And a few thousand bin Laden terrorists contribute to authenticate this negative image. Forty-four percent of Americans queried in a Cornell national poll favor curtailing some liberties for Muslim Americans.

Over half of schoolchildren in the Australian city of Victoria view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims "are unclean", a survey has revealed.

Islamophobia is older than 9/11 and is based on ongoing ignorance

The fear and hatred of all things Islamic can be traced much farther back than 9/11. Edward Said's landmark book "Orientalism" outlined how European colonial masters viewed their Muslim subjects with disdain and disgust. This attitude continues to characterize the discipline today. That view of Muslims as bloodthirsty, misogynist and violent savages persists. It is furthered by Bernard Lewis, America's top Orientalist, and his neoconservative students, a number of whom are the architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the 1980s, funding was cut throughout the United States for programs that attempted to understand other peoples and nations. With the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and the establishment of America as the world's sole superpower, a fair amount of arrogance towards the rest of the world pervaded America's dealings with other countries and continues to do so.

The barring of Yusuf Islam in 2004 and Tariq Ramadan in 2005 from the United States are examples of how we are not only closing our borders to Islam but opening them to Islamophobia. Even worse, we are closing our minds. As Diana Eck, President of the American Academy of Religion wrote in the Boston Globe on February 2, 2006 about the Ramadan case, "Denying us face-to-face access to scholars and theologians who contribute to critical reflection on the religious currents of our world is an intolerable impoverishment of the academic enterprise." The Academy is currently suing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff for barring Ramadan entry into the US.

Islamophobia harms all of us

In my four interfaith interactions in the last two months, I have met a whole lot of very nice people. But I was surprised to find at almost each event I attended, one or two Islamophobic people who seemed to have a high dose of Fox News in their system. I listened to them and prayed for them instead of responding to them.

Like racism and anti-Semitism, Islamophobia hurts all of us. In America, it is eroding our civil liberties. In Europe, it is further isolating minority communities and inflaming latent xenophobia. It is perpetuating the neocon wish for a "clash of civilizations" at a time when no country in the world, Muslim or not, can afford it politically, economically or otherwise. Just ask the Danish dairy industry how Islamophobia has hurt its business.

Islamophobia is responsible for torture. Islamophobia is responsible for the grave misunderstandings that only serve to perpetuate hatred and demonization.

Perhaps we need to learn from Canada, where hate speech is banned despite the guarantee of free speech in the country's constitution.

Islamophobia is today's accepted form of racism. It will require Muslims to fight hard against it. Muslims are neither solely responsible for its creation, nor will they be able to fight it on their own. It is a collective responsibility for all bridge-builders of the world.

Let us today take a stand to end all kinds of fear and hatred of "the other."

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This article is enlightning as well as alarming. It is very true that "islamophobia" is becoming more and more pronounced, and yet there are still a great number of "good" people, reasonable people, muslims and non-muslims alike, who are willing to help stop the growth of this "rascism" if we would just seek them out and work together. May Allah guide us all and give us clear sight, clear judgement, and wisdom.


Georgia, USA

Thank you for posting this. I think you're right about Islamophobia. But I think Muslims will gain more credibility if they, as you have in this article, criticize the anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance found in many pockets of the Muslim world and amongst Muslims, unfortunately. I'm glad that you and CAIR have condemned the action of an Iranian newspaper that called for a contest asking its audience to submit cartoons about the Holocaust. This is absolutely unacceptable and only furthers the misperception that all Muslims are intolerant, especially in the Jewish community, for whom the Holocaust understandably hits a very raw and painful nerve.Thank you again. Let us all join together to condemn and fight all sorts of intolerance, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia.



Indeed very well written. Suggest this to be sent to major newspapers in the US and Europe for publication. They may not publish, but then we will know their standing and bias.In order to respond to Islamophobia situations, it would be helpful if we could know the interaction with the few in interfaith symposia you had so we could learn from it.Jazakallah Khair.


Karachi, Pakistan

Excellent, Well thought and deep meanings in your writings. I find it refreshing that people know that it is haram for us muslims to insult other people from the book. It is haram again to violate any of the prophets or any of the holy books . May God help everybody see clear.


Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and in giving alms to kinsfolk, He forbids indecency and abomination and oppression. He exhorts you that you may take heed.-Qur'an, An-Nahl, Surah 16:90



Good article -- however I would like to point out that it isnt' the best idea to boycott an entire country for the mistakes of a few..


Nunavut Territory, Canada

Assalamu Alaykum, Now, we are living in the global world. Muslims are living in the all countries. We see different offensies todays, maybe not only these days, we can remember Our prophet confronted with in his life in Taif, in Makka, in Uhud etc. Time is changing and related to it caharesteristics of offensives are changing also. From now on we must react to offensives affiliated with their charesteristics. Last days puplished "offensive cartoons" in several Eurapean newspapers. Cartoons which insulting our prophet (peace be upon him). And whole muslims in the world reacting with different ways. Some of them are prostests in internet (it became the most important comminication device now), streets, in front of the embassies prudently. But some muslims protested or protesting now like editors of these offensive cartoons. They are buring the flags, they are publishign swear sentences in the newspapers, journals, blogs, e-mail groups. They are tourching embassies etc. We must think, we must react prudently, we must acquaint the merits and charesteristics of our prophet, we must live like our prophet, what he say that "Don't swear their deities.." What say one of philosophers that "One's freedom ends there othes freedom's starts" We are contrary to racism, islamophobia now... We must react prudently.......Assalamun ALaykum Varahmattullah



It is quite wonderful to read your comments on Islamphobia. The Muslim leaders in the world should not relent their efforts in improving the image of the religion (islam) not by compromising anyway. They should as much as possible try by the grace of Almighty Allah reduce the poverty level of islamic nations so that we'll not depend so much on all these Western donours.


Abuja. Nigeria

In simple words; it is the clash of ideologies, where the innocent people of the West are lead by their chosen ignorants leaders, and the enslaved Muslims are lead by the tyrant hypocrite stooges of the West


Incarcerated countries


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