THE plight of the Rohingya Muslims and the spate of elections held in the United States and Europe over the last year have seen a surge in Islamophobia, which the Oxford English dictionary defines as “a dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force”, and others as “an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practise Islam”.
Whether it is in the form of cartoons or tweets, or online blogs, social media has been a godsend for anti-Muslim prejudice. In Myanmar, some of the worst perpetrators have been right-wing nationalists who fought repression under the military junta, where Internet trolls and cartoonists have been vicious in their anti-Muslim diatribe.
It is in the US and Europe that the “war against Islam” has been brewing in recent decades in tandem with the rise of the Far Right or AltRight (Alternative Right), partly in response to a perceived loss of identity and economic status, revolt against the establishment, and partly because of the spate of refugees and immigrants coming to the West.
The flood of fake news and race hate social media stoking up anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments has played a crucial role in the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), the new “Darling of the Far Right” in the West, entering the Bundestag following last week’s German elections. This is the first time a fascist party has done this since Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists in 1939.
Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism and racism, is as old as history and given human nature, will continue to persist till the end of time. If we were to learn anything from the 20th century, it is that appeasement is no option and that vigilance through activism and mastery of the Internet must be a top priority. The most destructive thing about the Internet and social media is that it is the greatest modern-day equaliser in both good, evil, informative and in banal mediocrity.
There are extremists (including violent ones) in all faiths and ideological traditions. Sometimes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, through the actions of a minority, are their own worst enemies. Conflict, corruption, poor governance, a harking to empire and a White-supremacist imperialist past, natural disasters, and a spate of other issues, are the mainstay of a daily diet of news beamed into our living rooms and now, onto our mobile phones — news very often unabashedly biased or even fake. But, race and faith hate, as brutally simple as it is, does have some curiously complex manifestations, which defies logic.
Who would have thought that the heiress of a noted Jewish philanthropist, who helped settle refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany, is one of the main funders of an American website, Gatestone Institute? Or other affiliate organisations that support Far Right parties, such as the Geert Wilders Freedom Party in Holland, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and the AfD, by spewing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hatred through alarmist and fake news?
In the German elections, for instance, voters were warned that the construction of mosques is threatening the very survival of Christianity. The Gatestone Institute is the site of Nina Rosenwald, daughter of the late William Rosenwald, one of the founders of Sears, Roebuck & Co., the American department store and dubbed the “Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate” by journalist Max Blumenthal. She is one of the most generous donors to campaigns against Muslim refugees in the West and her website is probably the most pernicious Islamophobic site in cyberspace.
Rosenwald also, reportedly, funds a spate of AltRight Islamophobic organisations and individuals, including Breitbart, the Far Right American news network and its former chairman, Steve Bannon, until recently President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist, and pundits, such as Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney, and David Horowitz. Gaffney’s Syariah Watch website is like an oracle on Islamophobia.
This unholy alliance between Far-Right Jews and Christians, even though pockets of the latter are rabid if not closet neo-Nazis, is anathema to the overwhelming majority of Jewry and is dangerous to both mainstream Judaism and Islam.
But, the irony of history in the 1930s and 1940s should not be lost when America was reluctant to accept large number of Jewish refugees because of the same type of fear-mongering that we are witnessing today in the West about Syrian refugees that they are not Christian — they are the Fifth Columns, therefore not to be trusted, and they are coming to take the jobs and housing of hard working taxpaying Americans.
Malaysia is rightly cooperating with other countries in the fight against violent extremism, whether it is under the banner of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, or whatever.
We have, in recent months, seen heightened Judeo-Christian extremism in the West; Buddhist extremism in Myanmar, India and Sri Lanka; and, Hindu extremism in India, where Muslims have been murdered in India for merely transporting cows.
With mega money now courting the Far Right in the West in the pursuit of their “common enemy”, i.e. Islam, Muslims need to smart up and meet this menace head on. The fight against Islamophobia cannot be won by Muslims alone. They need to foster much greater cooperation with like-minded people and organisations from other faiths, ideological and anti-fascist groups. After all the “common enemy” is not only Muslims, but as the Nazis so brutally showed, it is also Jews and others.
We can blame the neo-fascists for their vitriol. But, we can only blame ourselves for complacency and appeasement. The ultimate riposte to Islamophobia is for ordinary Muslims to recapture their religion by living the example of its richness in tolerance, moderation, inclusiveness and understanding.
Mushtak Parker is an independent London-based economist and writer. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org