Unconscious Islamophobia

Article excerpt

Abstract: Our historical relationship with Islam has accumulated a whole series of negative perceptions dominated by prejudices and stereotypes. We have internalized a reductionist and monolithic image of "us" and of "them" (the two "cultures"). It is as if these were closed universes in which millions of human beings are designated as "Western" or "Muslims" and represent alien and even antagonistic cultures. This concept of "cultures" in relations between the Muslim world and "us" is a product of a Western construct in which "Islam" and therefore all individuals within Islam are fictitiously represented, labelled ideologically as a dominant global force, in a way that portrays the behaviour and culture of that enormous mass of people as a uniform entity. They all are One, and the great variety of this immense geographical area is ignored. This One is perceived as alien, separate and with no values in common with us, inferior and dominated by fanaticism, fundamentalism and irrationality. The combination of hostility and reductionism that feeds this reconstructed vision of a threatening, backward and violent homus islamicus turns Muslims into people requiring therapeutic or punitive interventions. Overall, this illustrates that the problem of anti-Muslim behaviour, due to intolerance towards citizens who follow Islam, has grown in importance, and people must be made aware of its existence and the need to take measures and actions to contain and prevent it. However, defining Islamophobia requires its existence to be politically and socially acknowledged, and this is clearly not the case today. This debate is ongoing and rational and empirical criteria must be sought to define this phenomenon in accordance with international standards on racism and intolerance.

"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. …