We encounter it everyday. When we get on the train, it’s the staring and then the turning away. On the road, it’s the purposeful detour to avoid a particular area. In our homes, it’s the discussion of terrorism in low tones, to avoid letting your neighbour hear you. Such little incidents, that we act out almost mechanically is what Islamophobia is.Going by the dictionary definition, it is simply defined as prejudice or discrimination against Islam or Muslims. But the everyday replay of this fear is not as simple. The term itself has come into usage only after the September 11, 2001 attacks in USA.
The perception of Islamophobia can be narrowed down to the way Islam is often looked at- as a monolithic and static bloc, unresponsive to changes; it is seen as separate and as the “other”, inferior to the west, barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist; as aggressive, threatening and engaged in a clash of civilisations.
The media has had a lot to do with this irrational fear. Often, while reporting, terms such as “Islamic terrorists” and “Islamic bombs” have only fuelled this perception. There are times, when there is a crime report to be filed, say of a father killing his own child, it is given a sensational headline of “Father kills his own child” but if that man is a Muslim, it becomes “Muslim man kills child”. Such reports only re-assure our beliefs- we are all huddled together against the one common enemy- Islam.
A large part of this fear has come from compartmentalising Muslims or Islam into “the other” bracket, almost like aliens. The fear of the religion comes from knowing so little about them; they have been alienated without being given a chance, so we don’t know what we’re dealing with, and the fear of the unknown, is the worst of them all.
Internationally, they can go on by the “fear of the unknown” theory, but closer home, we know what Islam is. We have lived with it in our neighbourhood for a long time now. And that doesn’t stop us from making statements like “Muslims are terrorists” and the more formidable “Pakistan is the cause of all terrorism, deal with that and we will have no terrorists”. True, the main convicts of the Mumbai bomb blasts have been Muslims, but we have to understand that these few guys, I refuse to call them men, are victims themselves. They may be tainting the whole community worldwide, but they were programmed to do that- by someone else. And they are the real terrorists. They are alienating a whole community and allowing that fear to grow. They stand to only gain by this discrimination- the more Anti- Islam laws come into existence, the more Muslims are publicly persecuted for believing in God, the more reasons they get to kill in the name of religion.
Discrimination against Muslims is as racist as Anti-Semitism, and while the Holocaust invokes a haunting memory, it also reminds us that the result of alienating and cornering a particular community already has a bloody history behind it.
Even as I write this, I am aware that there have been times when even I have cringed inwardly at the sight of bearded men in their white laced white caps and pathani suits, I have held on to my bag tightly as I rushed passing the mosque on my way to college everyday, but that is what the problem is. So many times we don’t even realise that we’re discriminating others. The deeply etched prejudice and hatred, felt by our parents has been genetically transferred to us. And while they may have a hard time understanding why the concept is skewed and refuse to think objectively, it is up to us, the youth to really challenge it, change it. It starts with little things, like smiling at the lady in the burkha in the train, whom you generally move away from, not clutching your purse at the sight of a bearded man- instances are many. Only when we rebel against the prejudices that come naturally to us and stand up to the people who single out a particular community, can we really bring about a society that will be balanced and the minorities no more threatened.