Unconscious Islamophobia

By Martin-Munoz, Gema | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Unconscious Islamophobia


Martin-Munoz, Gema, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


"Islamophobia" is a term that is commonly used in Western societies despite the lack of an agreed definition or established legal explanation for the term, or even a consensus on its relevance. This is symptomatic of a new, emerging and increasingly common reality, as well as our society's lack of awareness of this phenomenon.

The term "Islamophobia" has aroused a fair amount of controversy, with some people even questioning its validity or simply rejecting its existence. It is a neologism first coined in the 1990s to refer to global perceptions of Islam in negative and pejorative terms and to discrimination against Muslims for reasons of racial hatred and prejudices. Although its use has intensified and spread since 2001, back in 1997 the Runnymede Trust, a British "think tank" specializing in research into cultural and ethnic diversity, defined this term in its report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. This report identified attitudes that fuel Islamophobia: Islam is perceived as a monolithic block, static and unresponsive to change; it is viewed as separate and "other"; it does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them. Islam is seen as inferior to the West; it is considered barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist; Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a "clash of civilizations." Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices against Muslims and the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Although this definition has been criticised and rejected by academics and intellectuals, as well as by the media and different governmental institutions (mainly international organisations), its use has become widespread, meaning that we must accept the existence of this problem and its potential consequences: social exclusion, lack of protection of fundamental rights and potential disorder. In 2004, the Council of Europe defined Islamophobia as follows: "the fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion." (1)

In fact, international Fundamental Rights organisations have expressed concern about the growing spread of intolerance and discrimination toward Muslims, and have warned about the risk of a new racist phenomenon taking root and unsettling social relations and challenging the defence of human rights. The Council of Europe examined this phenomenon in 2005 in its report entitled Islamophobia and its Consequences on Young People. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) has become increasingly concerned about this trend. At the conference on "Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance," held in Cordoba in 2005, Islamophobia was addressed for the first time in a plenary session, and later in 2007 the Spanish presidency of the OSCE organized the first monographic conference on "Discrimination and Intolerance against Muslims." (2)

However, the most vivid accounts of the spread of these anti-Muslim attitudes and behaviour are in the reports published by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUCM)--now the European Fundamental Rights Agency--to monitor the development of Islamophobia since 2001. The Agency's last report published in 2007, entitled Muslims in the European Union. Discrimination and Islamophobia, confirms that Islamophobia, in the form of discrimination and other expressions of intolerance, is a reality and is spreading according to previous reports. Furthermore, the second qualitative report accompanying the previous report entitled Perceptions on Discrimination and Islamophobia. Voices from Members of Muslim Communities in the European Union, confirmed that Muslims living in EU countries believe that this is a reality.

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