Islamophobia is not acceptable

February 12, 2011
The mass media has promoted many ignorant perceptions of Muslim people, who have been made into ‘outsiders’ in the West. Ima

Conservative Party chairperson and the first Muslim woman to attend the British cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, said in January that Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner table test” and is now widely accepted in Britain.

The rise of Islamophobia within Western societies has grown more since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

A 2007 Zogby International study said 76% of Arab-American youth surveyed had been discriminated against.

Events such as the 2005 “Cronulla Riots” in Australia, the violent anti-Muslim demonstrations organised in Britain by the right-wing “English Defence League” throughout 2009, alongside countless reports of prejudice against Muslims, further emphasises the hatred promoted in Western nations.

There is no doubt that within the Western world, a demand for cultural assimilation of the Islamic community is beginning to overthrow the affirmative appreciation of multiculturalism.

Recent attacks on multiculturalism made by British Prime Minister David Cameron and senior Australian Liberal MPs, including Senator Cory Bernardi, have added to this notion.

Cameron said on February 5: “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.

“We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

It cannot be denied that Western society is already divided and segregated, whether that be through religion, socio-economic classes or ethnicity.

But Cameron’s targeting of Islam and promotion of assimilation indicates a bigger picture: growing support for Islamophobia in the West.

Bernardi attacked the ability to buy “halal” meat told the February 9 Daily Telegraph: “I, for one, don’t want to eat meat butchered in the name of an ideology that is mired in sixth century brutality and is anathema to my own values.”

Fortunately for Bernardi, there are plenty of stores around Australia that can cater towards his anti-halal meat needs. But that is definitely not the main concern here.

It is evident from the comments of Cameron and Bernardi that the “failure of multiculturalism” has been created as a scapegoat that ignores the real problem of lack of acceptance, knowledge and a fear of religions that differ from their own.

This “socially acceptable” face of Islamophobia raises a great divide between those who fit the “norms” of Western society, and those who do not.

Muslims have been made to occupy the role of the “outsiders” in the West. The mass media’s anti-Islam bias, which has promoted many ignorant perceptions into the minds of its audience, has played a big role in this.

A 2004 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said 53% of Muslim Australians surveyed felt the media had vilified them. In comparison, only 27% of non-Muslims said the same.

The media’s frequent use of ethnic or religious labels when reporting crime has become a typical tactic used to reinforce moral panic and fear towards the Islamic community.

One respondent to the AHRC survey said: “Whenever a Muslim does something in the media, they highlight their name and the fact of their religion but whenever someone else does it they barely ever mention their name or their religion.

“Why only when it's a Muslim or an Arab [do] they have to mention where they're from?”

Media reports also frequently associate Islam with issues such as women’s rights, the freedom to vote, violence and terrorism.

However, these types of claims are ungrounded.

The idea that terrorism is some sort of “Islamic phenomenon” remains completely untrue, regardless of the way that it has been constructed through the media.

The primary sources for Islam, the Qur’an as well as the Hadith, forbid any acts of terrorism.

The mass media’s tendency to skew information to give a biased portrayal of the Islamic community is not uncommon.

In doing so, they provoke hostility towards Islam. Rather than informing and awakening the general public to the truth, they instead choose to mislead, misinterpret and create negative stereotypes of Muslims.

In April 2010, Channel 9 broadcast an edited version of cameraman Simon Fuller’s footage of Gad Amr and his son, Omar, as the pair left a Melbourne court after Omar attended a bail hearing.

The edited footage showed Amr verbally attacking Fuller — making him look like a stereotypical “aggressive Muslim”.

Two weeks later, ABC’s Media Watch revealed the complete footage of the incident. It showed that Fuller had followed Amr as he tried to walk away from the court with his son, even though Amr had repeatedly asked the cameramen to “please leave” dozens of times. Fuller then called Amr a “fucking terrorist”.

It is difficult to decide between which is more disturbing: the fact that a major source of the public’s information can be edited in such a deceptive way, or the fact that an innocent man was labelled a terrorist merely because of his religion.

Unfortunately, Amr’s experience is not an isolated one.

There have been countless reports of Arabic and Muslim people living in the West who have been insulted with such ignorant remarks. Muslims have also been subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation.

The idea that Islamophobia is becoming “socially acceptable” should not be acceptable within any society.

What the mass media presents us with should be constantly scrutinised and any Islamophobic ideas should not be tolerated.

It is time for society at large to stretch beyond the bias and closed-minded views we are presented with, and towards a greater acknowledgment of truth, compassion and understanding.

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