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Karen Armstrong: Islamophobia: We need to accept the ‘other’

Islamophobia: We need to accept the ‘other’

A decade after 9/11, the West seems more bitterly divided from the Muslim world than ever. In Afghanistan, there’s been a violent explosion of anti-Western sentiment after last month’s Koran burning at a U.S. base and the slaughter of 17 Afghan civilians by an American soldier two weeks ago. But this hatred is not confined to distant parts of the globe. We’re witnessing a surge of virulent Islamophobia in Europe, especially in the Netherlands and some parts of Scandinavia. And sadly, this seems to have crossed the Atlantic.

In 2002, a survey of Canadian Muslims by the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations found that 56 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one anti-Muslim incident in the 12-month period since 9/11. Mosques or mosque construction sites in Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Waterloo and Vancouver have been targeted by vandals. In January, anti-Islamic graffiti were spray-painted on the walls of the Outaouais Islamic Centre in Gatineau, Que. – the third such attack in four months.

These hate crimes are committed by a small minority, of course. But unfortunately, on both sides of the divide, extremists set the agenda. The news media, for example, inform us of terrorist attacks but don’t give much coverage to those Muslim leaders who regularly condemn them. Between 2001 and 2007, Gallup conducted a massive survey representing the views of more than 90 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. When asked if the 9/11 attacks were justified, 93 per cent of respondents said they weren’t – basing their arguments on religious grounds. This finding wasn’t widely reported and could, therefore, make no impression on the widespread view that Islam is an inherently violent faith.

This belief is deeply engrained. It dates back to the Crusades, when Western Christians were fighting holy wars against Muslims in Syria and Palestine; their brutal ferocity stunned the people of the Near East. Even though Islam had a far better record of tolerance than Christianity at this time, European scholar-monks depicted Islam as a fanatical religion of the sword that was violently opposed to other faiths. They were, perhaps, projecting buried anxiety about their own behaviour onto their victims – Jesus, after all, had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them.

As Europeans fought their way out of the Dark Ages, Islam, a great world power that dwarfed Christendom for centuries, became their shadow self, arousing in them the same kind of complicated resentment as the United States inspires in some regions today – an image of everything that they were not (or feared obscurely that they might be). This distorted image of Islam became one of the received ideas of the West.

During the 12th century, anti-Semitism also became a chronic disease in Europe. It seemed absurd to the Crusaders to travel to the Middle East to liberate Christ’s tomb when the people who had killed Jesus – or so the Crusaders mistakenly believed – were alive and well on their very doorsteps. Those who couldn’t go on Crusade would often do their bit by attacking Jewish communities at home. Jews were said to kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzo at Passover. This image of the Jew as child-slayer, representing an almost Oedipal fear of the parent faith, persisted well into the modern period and regularly inspired pogroms in Europe. Without a thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism in Europe, the Holocaust would have been impossible.

We now know what can happen when unexamined prejudice is allowed free rein. 9/11 was a terrible crime. But if it has stained the reputation of Islam, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have equally tainted the image of the West. Islamophobia is also a violation of essential Western values: tolerance, liberalism and egalitarianism. Founded on fear and ignorance, it also flies in the face of Western rationalism. We have created a global market in which, whether we like it or not, we’re interconnected as never before. If we want a peaceful, stable and sustainable world, we have to learn to live with those we instinctively regard as “other.”

Karen Armstrong, a historian of religion and founder of the Charter for Compassion, received Simon Fraser University’s Jack P. Blaney Award for Dialogue last week.

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  • Sameer

    @ truth seeker: The link says: “Yes Sir, are an idiot…..”(In case if his/her network is slow…)

  • Sam Seed

    Having a Muslim screen-name does not make one a Muslim.

  • corey

    @truth seeker

  • corey

    @truth seeker
    I think the proper reaction would be

  • From the wastelands….

    has lost 2d20 sanity points after reading Truth Seekers post.

  • Truth Seeker

    Karen Armstrong is an ex-catholic Nun and a paid apologist for Islam by SAudi Arabia.She is brain washed like most Muslims.9/11 had to happen to open the eyes of the West that they could also be sunk like Titanic.It is going to be hell ,once, the Muslim terrorist get hold of the nuclear weapons.America is already sunk financially because of 9/11 and unless It makes itself a fortress,It could face worse attacks.The European countries also found out as to how vulnerable they were.The home grown terrorists are worse.They are like the bug in your trouser.You get so sick,you end up getting rid of your trousers.

  • @JT

    Good comment JT, and I agree: “There are extremists in all religions and just because there are some nutters who profess to be Muslims, does not give you the right to claim that all Muslims are ‘ignorant’ and ‘blind.'”

    They may have the right to say it, but in doing so, they are revealing the fact that they are engaging in stereotyping and therefore they are projecting their ignorance and blindness onto a whole group of people.

    What a shame! Projections are the darnest things: You see yourself and think it’s someone else.

  • JT

    Sulayman, you speak of all Muslims like they are backward and ignorant and of all Christians as if they are the best humans possible. There are extremists in all religions and just because there are some nutters who profess to be Muslims, does not give you a right to claim that all Muslims are “ignorant” and “blind”.

    Although you are Muslim, anyone who is just browsing the comments here would immediately identify your remarks as being Islamophobic. That should give you some idea about what kind of language you are using and that you are failing to recognise that there are plenty of good Muslims out there.

  • Jack

    Something tells me ‘Sulayman’s’ real name is Bob.

  • Sulayman

    Volume 9, Book 88, Number 180:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    I heard the truthful and trusted by Allah (i.e., the Prophet ) saying, “The destruction of my followers will be through the hands of young men from Quraish.”

    Volume 9, Book 88, Number 182:
    Narrated Usama bin Zaid:

    Once the Prophet stood over one of the high buildings of Medina and then said (to the people), “Do you see what I see?” They said, “No.” He said, “I see afflictions falling among your houses as rain drops fall.”

    Volume 9, Book 88, Number 183:
    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    The Prophet said, “Time will pass rapidly, good deeds will decrease, miserliness will be thrown (in the hearts of the people) afflictions will appear and there will be much ‘Al-Harj.” They said, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is “Al-Harj?” He said, “Killing! Killing!” (See Hadith No. 63, Vol. 8)

    Volume 9, Book 88, Number 184:
    Narrated ‘Abdullah and Abu Musa:

    The Prophet said, “Near the establishment of the Hour there will be days during which Religious ignorance will spread, knowledge will be taken away (vanish) and there will be much Al-Harj, and Al-Harj means killing.”

  • Sulayman

    While Christianity has moved forward and shed it’s hated ignorance the Muslims have willingly swallowed it. Everything that Christianity was in it’s dark ages has been swallowed by todays ignorant blind Muslims. Look in any Arab country today you will find this.

    anti Jewish garbage inherited from Christianity which they no longer
    anti Shia if they are Sunni
    anti Sunni if they are Shia
    anti Sufi
    Always pretending the Muslims of old were better and today are ignorant
    pretending extremist preachers are blameless

    and all the other shit

    Does anybody know the Hadeeth which says in the end, Islam will revert back to where it came from, this is how bad Muslims will become? This is where we are headed with our black deeds.

  • mindy1

    YAY for rational people 😀

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