Rising Fear and Islamophobia
The terror attacks in Paris that saw 130 people killed has increased feelings of fear and anxiety in communities across the UK, Europe and the USA. The apprehension from both sides, Muslim and non-Muslim, who are fearful of going out because they might be the victim of an Islamophobic hate crime or the target of a terror attack means that there exists a constant feeling of anxiety between people.
It seems an extraordinary state of affairs to be living in this context in the modern world, but there is no denying that these feelings are palpable, we just need to ask the young Muslim wearing a hijab as she boards a train or the young mother taking her small children to a shopping mall. Both individuals share the same concerns and fears for their safety simply because they may be targeted for who they are or what they choose to believe in.
Ever since the attacks in Paris, Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK in particular have risen sharply, with the Metropolitan police report saying they have tripled in number. We have seen a number of incidents across the country of Muslims being targeted including one student who was punched in the face for wearing a hijab and another instance of a woman being abused on a busy bus for being a ‘terrorist’. These are just a few of the crimes that have taken place since the Paris attacks that have added to an atmosphere of fear within Muslim communities.
In the USA, recent posts from prominent Imams and Scholars also reflects a heightened sense of fear amongst their congregations, especially when we see incidents of armed gangs arriving at Mosques to protest and innocent taxi drivers being shot at over arguments around ISIS.
This shows just how much of a disproportionate effect terror and violence has on the Muslim community after the event itself. When certain arguments and narratives are constantly perpetuated, it can give a pretext to decisions such as the extension of military intervention which will undoubtedly lead to the death of innocent lives through collateral damage. There is no doubt that unchecked hate has serious consequences.
However, it is important to note that this apprehension is not exclusive to the Muslim community. Aside from the Islamophobes and their bigotry, there is genuine concern amongst sections of the wider non-Muslim community that find it difficult to comprehend what took place in Paris. Below, you can see an exchange between a school and a Mosque that shows a real life example of when this apprehension can manifest to a point that stops engagement between communities. All names and references have been removed to respect privacy.
The Role of the Media
Why such an atmosphere is becoming more prominent is a critical aspect of the debate. There is no doubt that the role the media plays is key in this. One of the goals of extremist movements, both ISIL and the right wing, is to perpetuate and entrench divisions between communities through binary distinctions and an ‘us vs them’ mindset. The medias use of language and imagery can play a critical role in either dispelling or further enhancing this narrative. It is important that the media’s portrayal of atrocities is consistent irrespective of the perpetrators and that irregularities and misinformation is reported.
The examples below show the dangers of sensationalised headlines that conflate issues and misconstrue what has taken place by employing the use of language that make generalised statements rather than nuanced arguments.
Role of Faith Leadership
In all this, the role faith leadership plays in understanding and catering to the concerns of their communities and working to promote a positive image of Islam through interaction and activism is becoming increasingly important. There is no doubt that the role of the Imam continues to evolve and the challenges they face in today’s world requires patience and fortitude. As Imam Qari Muhammad Asim, head Imam of Makkah Mosque in Leeds said in a recent interview, there is a real need for Imams and Mosques to become more dynamic in their outreach and in the support they provide for the community.
The pastoral care of the Imam in difficult times and the need for them to be on hand to provide guidance and security is something they need to be more inclined towards. We can take the example of Imam Suhaib Webb in this instance who posted a message to his Facebook page that outlined his genuine desire to care for his congregation and his understanding of the current pervading sentiments within the community. Imam Webb posted:
I’m receiving a number of calls from American Muslims who are horrified and troubled by yesterday’s massacre. I want my Muslim family to know that I’m here for you in my capacity. If you need anything, please contact me here or on Twitter. You are not alone! I encourage centers and mosques to provide counseling to community members and support. Second: if you are concerned about your co-workers and your work enviro, I suggest meeting with HR, explaining your fears, your feelings and letting them know that you are saddened and as upset as they are. If you need assistance, please text my office at xxx-xxx-xxxx. We will schedule a time, and I will get back to you, inshallah. Note: we will only respond to things related to the massacre yesterday. Suhaib
The eradication of hate, bigotry and intolerance from societies is a something we must all be involved in. Initiatives like Islamophobia Awareness Month that brings seminars, conferences and conversations to public institutions to help deconstruct certain stereotypes play an important role in facilitating this. In today’s modern society, it is unbecoming that an atmosphere of hate is able to fester. As Muslims, we must increase our commitment to engage with all communities and present to them Islam as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Above all else, we must ensure that the protection of human life is the prevailing sentiment within communities and that future generations are not negatively defined by their differences but embraced because of them as a mark of the tolerance we hold so dear.