By: Muhammad Shoaib Khan

Islamophobia is not a new phenomenon, it is an anti-Islamic discourse, widely used in politics, the media, and among the general public. Although the word ‘Islamophobia’ is widely used, it is a contested concept; there is no consensus among scholars about its definition. Islamophobia is a term used to describe irrational hostility, fear, or hatred of Islam, Muslims, and Islamic culture, and active discrimination against these groups or individuals within them. Anti-Islamism behavior based on the orientalist ideas of Islam i.e., an enemy of Christian and Western civilization has been brewing in the United States for a long time. In the modern world, media and some academics operate and control mechanisms that impose their own version of Islam and Muslims on everyone. Today, Islamophobia in Europe manifests itself through individual attitudes and behaviors, and the policies and practices of organizations and institutions.

Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism are a reality in the twenty-first century just as it has been in the past. The misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims has become even more prevalent and complex. Geopolitical events such as the Iranian revolution, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the events of September 11th, did not create the image of the “Muslim other,” but these events were key in exacerbating the negative stereotyping of Muslims in the media. These days, there was a rising tide of Islamophobia and hate speech, particularly in the framework of political campaigns in Western countries. At the same time, there are reports and news indicating a serious surge in hate crimes and attacks against individuals perceived to be Muslims, mosques, and community centers, particularly in Europe and the US. Discrimination and intolerance against Muslims have been increasing day by day. Populist politicians were trying to unleash hatred toward Muslims by taking advantage of the negative sentiments and concerns caused by the large movement of refugees and migrants. They are all fuelling fear and anger. What is most alarming, is that Islamophobia and its articulation are becoming politically and popularly acceptable to the public opinion and media. Worse still, in a certain country it is being institutionalized, and even formalized as government policy.

We have seen a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments in the last two decades in different parts of the world, especially in western countries and now in India under RSS/ BJP-led government. In Europe, the alarming trend of Islamophobia was seen particularly in the Netherlands, France, Germany, the UK, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia, and Italy due to the intense campaigns against Islam and Immigrants spread by Populist-Right Wing parties. The media platforms either it is print, electronic or social are critical in shaping public opinion and whipping up fear of Muslims. What often gets overlooked is the impact the negative representation of Muslims and Islam in the media has on the lives of ordinary Muslims, especially Muslims living in the West. The rise in hate crimes and incidents against Muslims, targeted attacks on their places of worship, and attacks on their way of life contribute to a general sense of unsafety and lack of belonging for western Muslims. Muslims as uncivilized, irrational, dangerous, and more recently, a security threat is an image that is embedded in most media misrepresentation and mischaracterization of Islam and Muslims. Islam as the religion of “violence”, and Muslims as the monolithic “other” is used by many politicians and hate mongers alike to create prejudice and fear. As anti-Muslim sentiment grows, it is clear that media coverage of Islam has a large part to play in building increased feelings of suspicion, insecurity, and anxiety among non-Muslims, and alienation among Muslims.

Now, most of the research on media and Islam is based in the West. Not much attention has been paid to the media in Muslim majority countries, or countries with significant Muslim populations. It is also important to know what the Muslims themselves say about the representation of Islam and Muslims, and the impact negative media coverage has on their lives, especially the lives of visibly Muslim women.

There were efforts in several Islamic countries that promoted the positive image of Islam and supported harmony and tolerance while countering anti-Islam sentiments and other Islamophobic activities, which was significant to combat Islamophobia. Existing, UN treaties like religious freedom, freedom of expression, and prohibition of racial discrimination could be used as tools to combat Islamophobia. The world needs to know that Islam is a religion of peace and that promotes harmony and integration in any society. In my opinion, to solve this problem, campaigns should be started to create awareness of the danger of Islamophobia as well as towards promoting the positive images of Islam. It is necessary to maximize of roles of OIC Offices abroad by giving them the assignment to deal with Islamophobia-related issues as well as by giving them more space to informally work with local Muslim communities to address the issue of Islamophobia at the community level. Lastly, Muslim countries should keep the issue of Islamophobia as an international concern and thus remains on the agenda of the UN’s Human Rights Council and General Assembly

The writer is a political and media analyst who regularly writes on international political issues