The term Islamophobia is now common in both Western and Middle Eastern media, but at the same time it is often misused and misunderstood. The first and easiest definition comes from the etymology of the word itself: a phobia is an irrational fear, in this instance of Islam.
When trying to date the birth of "Islamophobia" in the West, people tend to go back to the period that immediately followed September 11th, 2001.
In 1996, the Runnymede Trust established a Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, and in 1997 issued the report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, in which Islamophobia was defined as "an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination." The same report identified eight perceptions related to Islamophobia:
- Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
- It is seen as separate and "other." It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
- It is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.
- It is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.
- It is seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.
- Criticisms made of "the West" by Muslims are rejected out of hand.
- Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
- Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.
But Islam cannot be seen as a monolithic bloc -- a saying of Muhammad relates that "there are no monks in Islam" -- so there can be as many Islams as Muslims. When the West looks at Islam as a monolith represented by terrorists and radical Islamists, it is likely to become Islamophobic, but could justifiably feel provoked into it. Conversely, terrorists, jihadi Islamists, and radical Islamists tend to present themselves as the only true Islam, one that dreams of the rebirth of the ideal umma [worldwide Nation of Islam]. And as the West is ignorant about the varieties of Islam, radical Islamists might understandably feel tempted to take advantage of this ignorance.
Whereas Stephen Suleyman Schwartz defines Islamophobia as : "The condemnation of the entirety of Islam and its history as extremist; denying the existence of a moderate Muslim majority; regarding Islam as a problem for the world; treating conflicts involving Muslims as necessarily their own fault; insisting that Muslims make changes to their religion; and inciting war against Islam as a whole," it is important to keep clear what is actually Islamophobic – imaginary and paranoid -- and what is not.
Since 2008, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) – all 56 Arab and Muslim nations, plus the Palestinian Authority -- has started an Observatory on Islamophobia, complete with annual conferences and reports. The Forward of the second Annual Report (2009), by the Turkish Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, states: "Islam is a religion that implies "peace" by its very nomenclature." [Note: The word Islam means Submission. This could be regarded as peace – after a fashion.] "It advocates respect for all religious beliefs and embraces the truth of the preceding Abrahamic faiths. In reaffirming the preceding prophethoods, it does not, under any circumstances and as a matter of belief, permit any attack on the prophets or other religious symbols of Christianity or Judaism. In this context it must be emphasized and understood that Islam is not a contender of Christianity or Judaism.
"Islamophobia signifies the contemporary proliferation of discrimination against Muslims and distortion of Islam and is partly due to the ignorance and lack of understanding of Islam in the West. It would be an unfortunate error in judgment in believing that Islam is linked to terror; that it is intolerant of other religious beliefs, that its values and practices are not democratic; that it favors repression of freedom of expression and undermining human rights."
This statement is as dangerous a generalization of Islam and Muslims it gets. It overlooks problems, such as that both Ihsanoglu and Muslim scholars would be unable to refute the claim that Islam considers itself as the last, supremacist monotheistic religion, and believe that Judaism and Christianity have tampered with the sacred texts (Koran, 2:75; 4:46; 5:13; 5:41). The term tahrif [alteration] is generally understood as a charge that previous religious communities, either through textual alteration or false interpretation, have expunged references to the advent of Muhammad contained in the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels.
As far as freedom of expression is concerned, one cannot deny that Islam condemns the apostate, as stated by a fatwa issued by the European Council for Fatwa and Research, based in Dublin: "All Muslim jurists agree that the apostate is to be punished. However, they differ regarding the punishment itself. The majority of them go for killing; meaning that an apostate is to be sentenced to death." There are, as we know, terrorist killings in the name of Allah -- as the US's 9/11, London's 7/7, the bombings in Madrid, and Theo Van Gogh's, Daniel Pearl's and Nick Berg's executions and many others have shown..
The danger of the OIC position is its total lack of self-criticism. The OIC does not admit that Islam has a problem in itself: it has no central authority like the Pope for Christianity; and that while the Koran calls for understanding other religions, at the same time it orders jihad and the killing of infidels.
As for organizations like OIC and Islamic associations -- such as CAIR in the US, or FIOE in Europe -- they do not recognize that Islam has always had problems with the interpretation of the sacred texts: since the very beginning of Islam there have been divisions and fights within Islam.
The current fight against Islamophobia can be defined as an ideological fight run by radical al=nd political Islamists against the West and its freedom of expression – so that in Europe so that in Europe, anyone criticizing any kind of Islam or its members, becomes guilty of "Islamophobia." As happened with Switzerland's referendum on minarets, the OIC defined the referendum as an act of Islamophobia, disregarding the fact that the referendum was not against mosques in general.
The Executive Summary of the OIC Report also states: "The OIC position on this important issue is firmly anchored in relevant provisions of international law, and mainly in a host of international legal instruments. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its para 7 stipulates: 'All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination and against any incitement to such discrimination.' Article 12: 'No one shall be subjected into attack upon his honor and reputation etc.'"
What is important to note is that although the Executive Summary references the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1990 the member states of the OIC adopted in Cairo the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), which provides an overview on the Islamic perspective of human rights, and which affirms Islamic sharia law as its sole source. CDHRI declared its purpose to be "general guidance for Member States of the OIC in the Field of human rights." CDHRI is, therefore, an Islamic response to the post-World War II United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 rather than an endorsement of it.
Although Article 10 of the Cairo Declaration further states: "Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of compulsion on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to convert him to another religion or to atheism," Article 22(a) states that "Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the sharia." Article 22(b) continues, "Everyone shall have the right to advocate what is right, and propagate what is good, and warn against what is wrong and evil according to the norms of Islamic sharia;" and Article 22(c) states: "Information is a vital necessity to society. It may not be exploited or misused in such a way as may violate sanctities and the dignity of Prophets, undermine moral and ethical values or disintegrate, corrupt or harm society or weaken its faith."
Why is an institution that did not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights now asking for its implementation, using it as a weapon shutting down anyone who criticizes anything and anyone who might question something to do with Islam -- and with no distinction between radical and liberal Muslims?
The OIC has been successfully lobbying the UN, the Council of Europe and Western governments – using democracy and Western laws to institute the beginnings of censorship.