With the emergence of Israel as a western client state, the age-old prejudice against Jews was replaced by a corresponding hatred of Arabs that has fed the rampant Islamophobia we see today, explains Robert Inlakesh.
The current climate of widespread Islamophobia in the ‘Western World’, is increasingly becoming more hostile and as it does, in order to combat it, we must meet its ideological origins and, as Muslims, come to terms with the way it has become.
There should be little dispute amongst Muslims, regardless of our differences and schools of thought through which we understand Islam, that Islamophobia is rampant in Western society, both at a micro and macro level. Whether it be through the education system, the dialogue of political leaders, the mainstream media, Hollywood, T.V shows and much of the literature we read, we see that both Muslims and Arabs are represented in a way that reflects an agenda to demonize us and to mis-educate the public on the complexities of our communities.
Just about everyone in the West has an opinion on Muslims and Arabs, yet many do not even know there is a difference between a Muslim and an Arab. Furthermore, most people in the West do not generally understand that Persians and Arabs are two different groups of people and are separated by uniquely different histories, languages and cultures. The reason I use this as an example, is because it points out a lack of understanding that has, in my analysis, come about by design. For if this wasn’t the doing of those who have an agenda to engineer the minds of the Western public in order for them to come away with a specific impression of what Islam is, why else would Islam and Muslims be a near daily point of discussion on mainstream media channels? And why would audiences still lack a basic understanding of both?
There is little doubt that due to wars imposed upon Muslim majority countries, animosity towards the West exists. Western nations pursue wars of aggression which result in displacement, something that again is not taught in an honest manner to most in the West. This is of course because the mainstream disseminators of information are part and parcel of the war machine and consistently perpetuate its lies.
To unravel Islamophobia, we have to understand that what is known as the elite in the West, is hostile towards any group of people that poses a threat to the way they wish to maintain control and go about their imperial ambitions. This is one of the main reasons why the Jews of Europe became such a target in the West; they were perceived to be a challenging group who possessed a different ideology to that of the predominantly Christian elite class.
Jews became targets of what became known as anti-Semitism – a type of hatred that you can see shares much in common with today’s targeting of Muslims. From the way we are depicted in propagandistic artwork and throughout popular culture, to the attacks upon our customs and practices, to the supposed great threat we pose to the now “Judeo-Christian” values of the West, we are the biggest threat to their way of life and we need to be changed or destroyed. This is the message communicated to Muslims.
But how do the terms Semite or Semitism prove a connection between the hatred of Jews and the hatred of Muslims? Well, firstly this requires a definition.
Semitism was a term created in the 18th Century by French philologists to denote a linguistic category. The term Semite meant someone who was a native speaker of a Semitic language (Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic etc.). But later, in the 19th century, the term Semite came to describe someone racially, with the likes of Ernest Renan categorizing a Semite as taking two forms, the Islamic (Muslims) and Hebraic (Jews). The Semites were separated by the likes of Renan from their opposite, the Aryans. The Semites were branded as being monotheists who possessed an “inferior nature” coupled with backward ideas and who did not have the ability to create in the way that the Aryans did. This wave of thought has been investigated in great detail by the likes of Edward Said, the late prominent Palestinian academic, in his writings on Orientalism, and is crucial to understanding how today’s hatred of Muslims and Arabs has evolved.
Back then however, Muslims didn’t pose the great threat that was perceived in the Jewish communities of Europe. Jewish people were seen to carry ideologies hostile to the status quo. They were seen to have had too much power through successful individuals and were looked at in a very similar way to how Muslims are viewed today.
Jews were forced to look for a solution to what was then known as the ‘Jewish question’. A small group of people then eventually found the solution in setting up a settler colonial state away from Europe. It is important to note that Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, had famously proposed to the Pope a mass baptism of European Jews to Christianity, the proposal coming just three years prior to his launching the Zionist project, and the formation of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.
Interestingly, all the main European supporters of the Zionist project, were also rabid anti-Semites. This included the likes of Lord Arthur Balfour, a man held in high acclaim in Israel today, and who was the author of the infamous 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised Palestine to the Zionist movement for the establishment of a Jewish state. Lord Balfour was also the author of the ‘Balfour’s Alien Act’ and intended to solve the ‘Jewish Question’ by removing Jews to Bolshevik Russia.
With the establishment of Israel in 1948, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the battles which ensued between British and Zionist forces, the West remained somewhat ambivalent in its support of Israel. For Britain specifically, there was bad blood with the new Zionist State, as around 500 Brits had been killed in Zionist terrorist attacks. It wasn’t until the 1956 Suez Crisis, a war in which Israel, France and the U.K. fought together, that Britain abandoned its plans to bomb and destroy Israel’s air-force.
As the years went by, Israel grew closer in its partnership to the West, specifically with the United States. Then came the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the beginning of the big shift of hatred from Jews to Muslims. This illegal war that Israel waged, in which it occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights, proved to be a turning point in Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Western world.
The reason why this war brought Israel closer to the West and ultimately closer with Jews living all around the world was because of the way the war was perceived. Israel had just beaten what was portrayed as the evil Soviet-backed Egypt and the rest of the surrounding Arab countries. It had proved itself as a strategic ally for the rest of the West and also a Western outpost in the fight against the Soviets and Arab Nationalists. Israel was now a fully-fledged and justified part of the Western war machine. Note that at this time, Muslims did not yet form a specific target.
Eventually, the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended. It was then that the target specifically became the people of the Middle-East, the other type of Semite that was now the new enemy and fixation of empire. With the establishment of Israel, we have not seen the abolishment of hatred, we have just seen the hatred of the Western Empire move in a different direction. Whomever is seen to be a threat to the status quo, is targeted and made to be the other. Today that target is the Islamic Semite.
The Arab and Muslim peoples of the Middle-East began to be spoken of in a very different way. The fixation of cinema and the media on the Arab world became rife. At the same time the lionizing of the Israelis came to prominence. Still today, in a world where we claim to have standards and boundaries when it comes to discussing minority groups, when it comes to Muslims it’s open season. I cannot count the number of movies which, without any link to the plot of the film, inject into the script negative stereotypes about the Middle-East and Muslims.
As the new enemies of empire became countries in the Middle-East, the Israelis became the closest ally of the rest of the West and pushed Islamophobia more than anyone else. The rampant Islamophobia from Israel is used to bolster the country’s usefulness to the West in the face of widespread recognition that it is a rogue settler colonial state.
Fast forward to September the 11th, 2001. This is the point at which the West and Israel got their justification for their recent interventions in the Middle-East and that is also when the all-out dehumanization of Muslims and everything Middle-Eastern, went into overdrive.
With the huge rise in Muslim immigration to places like Europe and elsewhere (after years of programming the populations of the countries into which these newly immigrated Muslims and Arabs settle) we witnessed a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobic hate crimes. The media and politicians, for the most part, will not openly endorse this sort of hate, but at the same time they refuse to admit their role in it and continue with their atrocious stereotyping.
The stage was then set for the rise of the far right. These Islamophobic groups are sometimes portrayed as small, and some of them may well be, but the less active support base they draw from is indeed a larger portion of the population than we would like to think. If we are not careful in the way we confront this problem, we could well see some extremely horrific actions taken against Muslims in the future. Someone like Donald Trump serving as US President, for example, has not exactly put us at the point where we will be placed in concentration camps. But despite this, we must see that the reason people like him exist is because what they are saying resonates with a very large group of people. Islamophobia is not the doing of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and others like them, it is manufactured primarily by the mainstream media who today claim to be against the Islamophobic comments of these leaders.
It is also interesting to see that the Western right wing, which was historically always against gay rights, women’s rights and Jewish groups, is now claiming solidarity with these groups in order to use them as a cudgel with which to attack Muslims. This can be explained by the rise of liberalism as the predominant concept in the West. Liberalism has now surpassed Christianity in being the West’s primary marker of identity. Yet still, regardless of the change in ideology, the power structure seeking to dominate and exploit is very similar to what it was previously. There have been no revolutions recently and the ultra-rich and the power blocks in government have not changed dramatically since the 20th Century.
So how can we solve Islamophobia?
Ultimately, as Muslims, if we wish to solve the problem of Islamophobia, we must recognize that our struggle against it, is also the struggle of the Palestinian people and of the liberation of the Middle-East.
If we want to work to prevent Islamophobia, the best way is to have our views represented more widely. This does not mean however, changing our individual cultures or practices so that we will be accepted – this is what the Western elite would ultimately love the most. The reverse engineered Muslim is the Muslim they love, the Muslim who doesn’t fight for justice or stand up for the oppressed is a Muslim they can tolerate. But a Muslim who does stand up for his beliefs and values is a Muslim that must be destroyed in order to set an example to the rest of us. Conform and live comfortably, or rebel and face the power of the state. We saw the very same thing when both the British and French colonized the Arab world.
For example, the West has no problem with the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, and for very similar reasons, they do not have a problem with Muslims who do as they say. The problem they have is with Muslims who do not obey and who stand up to tyranny.
We also must see that Islamophobia inside the West, as horrible as it can be, is not nearly as lethal as it has been in the Middle-East, where it has been used to justify what has/is being done to our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. The mass murder, occupation, theft and various forms of oppression against Muslims overseas, is the ugly result of Islamophobia. Whilst the people of the West claim to have learnt from the lessons of past genocides, in fact they have learnt little. Right now, the transformation of Muslims into an inferior and a foreign other, is turning into something a lot more lethal. That’s why our fight to combat Islamophobia here matters so much because outside the West it is being used to exterminate people as if they were rats.
Right wing groups, consisting of extremely ill-educated and angry people, are on the rise and we cannot combat them through censorship, nor can we combat them through changing our views to suit what is described as “Western culture”. We are forced to create allies, through educating people on the history that got us to this point in time, the conflicts the West has started and the colonization of Muslim majority countries.
Many, but not all, will become allies when they are more familiar with Muslims, Middle-Easterners and what Islam is. Therefore, there needs to be a push for schools to educate the populations of the West about Muslims and also how colonialism and Western-inspired conflicts have affected the world. We live in diverse and multicultural societies in the West, yet we do not get taught in school about why countries like the United Kingdom became so ethnically diverse and what role Britain played in causing this. People fear what they do not understand much more easily than something with which they are familiar.
We also have to pressure the leaders of our own communities to actually confront the wider problems we face and to properly represent us. If our leaders refuse to stand up for the Palestinians for instance, they are not committed to fighting Islamophobia, they are simply looking to make themselves and a small group of Muslims accepted and this does nothing for the rest of us. Spreading our message, having dialogue and boldly exercising our freedom of speech is how we are going to get the good-hearted public of the West on our side, because what we stand for is essentially what any other good hearted person stands for.
Robert Inlakesh is European correspondent for Press TV and special contributor to 21WIRE and other publications. He has reported from on the ground in occupied Palestine.