Islamophobia has complex roots in history and culture
A general fear of ‘the other’ can prompt apparently Islamophobic attacks regardless of the faith of those involved, writes Peter Hellyer
Recommendations from the fourth Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies in Abu Dhabi earlier this month included a proposal to establish an international centre to study the “fear of Islam”, or Islamophobia, to “serve as a platform to study its causes and manifestations and propose preventive methods to address it”.
However it is defined, Islamophobia is an issue of major concern. It is often, however, viewed far too simplistically. It is not just hostility to Islam as a faith.
I was fortunate enough to attend a forum workshop examining this “fear of Islam” from a western perspective. Comments from both panellists and the floor noted, accurately, some of the complexities that surround the general issue and also some of the actions and misunderstandings out of which fear can arise.
Thus one imam, a Muslim of Danish ethnic origin, noted that in his mosque, the Danish language was used, making it accessible to the surrounding community. In contrast, many others functioned primarily in Arabic, Urdu or Somali. It’s understandable that migrant communities wish to preserve their culture, language and – yes – their faith, but it’s scarcely surprising that doing so in a way that separates them from other Danes engenders problems.
My esteemed fellow columnist on these pages, Dr HA Hellyer, rightly noted that although Islam is not a race, much of the fear of Islam present in Britain has distinctly racist overtones. Victims of Islamophobic attacks can include not only Muslims but also Sikhs, Hindus and, for that matter, Christians of South Asian origins, just on the basis of their colour. A general fear of “the other” can prompt apparently Islamophobic attacks regardless of the faith of those involved.