By Mohamed Elmasry
Just as some Jews betrayed their coreligionists by aiding the Nazi propaganda machine before and during WWII, today there are Muslims just as eagerly and effectively helping the Islamophobia industry to stereotype and marginalize their brothers and sisters of the faith. These Muslims are very much appreciated and celebrated by those who stand to benefit from the promotion of Islamophobia; in fact, they are in such demand that the hate-and-fear industry can’t find enough of them.
Islamophobia has been around for quite some time, but since 9/11 it began to take on form and structure, supported by financiers, researchers, writers, and academics, many of whom were self-styled “experts” on Islam and terrorism. The Islamophobia industry directly filled a need created by right-wing politicians, war mongers, racists, lobbyists, and the military war business (from professional mercenary companies to arms dealers and manufacturers). Every time a perceived need is revealed in a capitalist society, an industry is created, sometimes by design, to fill that need.
The West led by the U.S. saw and promoted the need for an Islamophobia industry; and now that it is established, it will be around for years to come.
There are five central reasons for this phenomenon:
1. The Muslim world is rich in resources, especially crude oil, and the West is determined not to pay fair market value for it. Capitalist financial powers would rather rob Muslims and the entire Muslim world of this valuable resource, using violence if necessary, as in the case of Iraq.
2. In geopolitical terms, the Muslim world covers a strategically vital area, in which the West is determined to establish a permanent presence; military occupation is one favoured means of doing so, as in the case of Afghanistan.
3. The Muslim world represents a huge market of close to 1.5 billion people, whose buying power is essential if the West is to succeed in controlling the one-way flow of its goods—no matter how inferior they may be, compared to those of emerging economies in Asia and the flow of accumulated Muslim capital the other way.
4. The Israeli factor wields a persistently strong influence in western politics, especially the powerful American Israeli lobby in Washington. The U.S. and its allies are determined to maintain Israel as a strong military outpost in the Middle East and ensure that its anti-Muslim policies are immune from any negative judgment; hence the Israel-can-do-no-wrong bias.
5. The U.S.-led “war on terror”, plus the politicization of all terrorist attacks dating from 9/11 and later, translates in practical terms to a need for Islamophobes and other organizations to work together in both the public and private sphere. This has led to the enactment of anti-civil-liberty laws, Muslim profiling by authorities, the restriction of Muslim immigration to the West, and the further marginalization of Muslim minorities already established in western society.
Like other corporate entities, the Islamophobia industry has been very active in creating a public “branding” for its product and a new lingo or jargon to identify its artificially created place in our language. Thanks to the Islamophobia industry, terms like Islamist, Islamofascism, and Eurabia are commonplace.
In the past, Islamist was used within academia to legitimately identify specialists in Islam, just as the word Orientalist indicated someone specializing in the study of the Orient. But Islamophobes have mis-appropriated the term Islamist as a shorthand indicator of every imaginable negative idea pertaining to Muslims and Islam.
The term Islamofascism became familiar after the September 2001 attacks as a way to describe any ideology based on Islam, even if it had no connection whatsoever to negative constructs.
The American group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) found in its search of a major reference database that Islamofascism was mentioned just twice before 9/11; both times in the British media. In 1990, a remark by Independent writer Malise Ruthven about governments in predominantly Islamic countries stated: “Authoritarian government, not to say ”˜Islamo-fascism,’ is the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan.”
Ironically, considering the term’s current usage, most of these authoritarian governments—including Morocco and Pakistan—were backed by the U.S. at the time. The second mention, also from the Independent in 1990, came in a response criticizing Ruthven for coining the term.
Reviewing the term’s subsequent history, however, FAIR reports that: “Since 2001, use of the expression has exploded. That year, according to a search of major English-language papers in the Nexis database, the word and its variant ”˜Islamofascist’ appeared 12 times, nearly all in reference to Al-Qaeda. The next year that number rose to 69, and it reached 92 in 2003 as the word’s definition began expanding to include Saddam Hussein’s historically non-religious and somewhat ecumenical Ba’athist regime. (As an example, Tariq Aziz, Hussein’s familiar spokesperson, was a Christian.)
“The word’s prevalence continued to increase in 2005,” FAIR continues, “the year George W. Bush used it in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy (10/6/05); and in 2006 it appeared 594 times in major papers. David Horowitz’s ”˜Islamofascism Awareness Week’ (IFAW)—organized on about a hundred (American) college campuses in October 2007—was a sign that the term had fully arrived in some right-wing circles...”
The word Eurabia is another volatile word, coined to create a growing fear that every good thing in Europe (culture, economy, ethnic identity, et cetera) will end as its Muslim population increases. The term motivates violence against Europe’s Muslim minorities. Meanwhile, American Islamophobes are using it to promote the idea that “you have to deal with the problem before it comes here”.
FAIR also reported that “At Michigan State University, the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom invited a bona fide fascist—Nick Griffin, the head of the racist British National Party—to speak on how Europe is becoming ”˜Eurabia’.”
These days, it seems any writer—including those who have never achieved much in the way of popularity, profile or status—can get a book, op-ed, article, or editorial letter easily published through the influence of the Islamophobia industry in western publishing and media. Books on such a “hot” topic as the Islamic/Muslim “threat” are sure to be widely reviewed from coast to coast, regardless of their accuracy or quality.
Mohamed Elmasry is professor emeritus of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, founder of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and member of the editorial board of The Canadian Charger.