The Long History of Islam as a Collective "Other" of the West and the Rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. after Trump

By Sunar, Lutfi | Insight Turkey, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

The Long History of Islam as a Collective "Other" of the West and the Rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. after Trump


Sunar, Lutfi, Insight Turkey


ABSTRACT In the last two decades, Islamophobia in the West has become mainstream. Covertly, Islamophobia is the last link in the chain of a long tradition of Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and racism. This article analyzes the recent rise of Islamophobic policies and practices in the United States. In particular, the false fear of Islam, which carried Trump into power, seems to have turned into a 'reason' for all kinds of violence and oppression against Muslims both domestically and abroad.

Introduction

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a phobia is "an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation." As implied in this description, the source of the horror is mostly meaningless and illogical, but it influences the flow of life in many respects. Over the last few decades, a particular kind of phobia has gripped Western societies: Islamophobia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) defines Islamophobia as a "closed-minded hatred, fear or prejudice toward Islam and Muslims that result in discrimination, marginalization, and oppression." (1) Ali and colleagues define Islamophobia as "an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life." (2) Runnymede Trust's Commission defines Islamophobia as "an unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." This report found that the term was used firstly by an American newspaper reporter in 1991. (3)

Islamophobia refers to stereotypical and negative attitudes held primarily by mostly non-Muslims (though ironically sometimes by some Muslims) and directed toward Islam, Muslims, and parts of Islamic culture. Sourcing from these wrong images "It creates a distorted understanding of Islam and Muslims and transforms diversity in name, language, culture, ethnicity, and race into a set of stereotyped characteristics." For this reason "Islamophobia is a system of both religious and racial animosity." (4)

As a phenomenon, Islamophobia is a harsh and thoughtless attitude toward differences and diversity in the society. When Islam is defined as an enemy from an Islamophobic perspective, people become less open to discover its real appearance. Since Islamophobia is fed by a long history of ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and racism in the West, it is difficult to overcome it. (5)

Ironically, Islamophobia not only affects the lives of religious Muslims; people who have some characteristics such as language, clothing or skin color that are generally associated with Muslims are also affected by Islamophobia. As a result, some non-Muslims such as Sikhs, Africans, Arab Christians, and Hindu Indians have been targeted by Islamophobic actions. At the same time, not only Muslims living in the U.S., but people all over the world can suffer from the consequences of Islamophobia. An Islamophobic U.S. will be a problem for international politics too.

Islam as a Collective "Other" of the West

When a group is an "other," it is easier to suppress them and exclude them from the public sphere. For this reason, the otherization of Muslims in the U.S. is an important aspect of the prejudices against Islam. The long history of Islam as a collective other of the West provides enough material for justifying the suppression and exclusion of Muslims.

The relation between Islam and the West has a long history full of conflicts. As Edward Said puts it, "the Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest, richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other." (6) Islam always represents the closest other and the most active enemy for the West. …

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