Islamophobia makes democracies less safe for everyone Islamophobia

Islamophobic acts, such as the public desecration of a copy of the Quran in The Hague earlier this week, have an effect not only on Muslims but on the entire society in which they occur.

Earlier this week in The Hague, in an act that made right-wing American politicians look like paragons of religious tolerance, Edwin Wagensveid, the Dutch leader of the militant group Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), publicly desecrated a copy of Islam’s holy book and posted a video of the hateful act on social media. . This follows an incident over the weekend in which Rasmus Paludan, leader of Denmark’s far-right Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party, set fire to a Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Signaling that the incidents in Sweden and the Netherlands were part of a coordinated hate speech campaign, as he tore and crumpled a page from the Koran, Wagensveld said: “There will soon be reports of similar actions in several cities.” “It is time to respond to disrespect of Islam with disrespect,” he added.

On cue, and as the provocateurs intended, protests erupted across the Muslim-majority world. Western leaders then responded by lecturing Muslims about the subtleties of free speech and “respecting” different opinions.

Apart from this familiar pattern of Islamophobic provocations-Muslim rage-Western condescension, do such acts of provocation directed at vulnerable minorities have any effect on the societies in which they occur? Should non-Muslims living in Western societies worry if a holy book they don’t believe in is used in a hate-filled publicity stunt?

Yes, they should. Because the propagation of Islamophobia makes democracies less free and less safe – not only for Muslims, but for everyone.

I lead research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, DC, that provides research and education on American Muslims and the policies that affect them.

Our researchers, in partnership with academic institutions and consultants, created the ISPU Islamophobia Index, which measures the degree to which various groups in America support key anti-Muslim tropes.

Over the past five years, we have measured the index of Islamophobia among Americans of different races, ages, religions, and no religion. We also explored what predicts and protects against Islamophobic bias, and for which policies anti-Muslim bigotry produces public support. The results paint a complex picture, but ultimately reveal a simple truth: Islamophobia threatens democracy.

We found that endorsing anti-Muslim stereotypes was unsurprisingly associated with favoring government policies aimed at Muslims, such as mosque surveillance and the so-called “Muslim ban”—a Trump-era policy that barred travel to the US from a handful of Muslim-majority countries. But believers of Islamophobic ideas are not only ready to take away the rights of Muslims. Our research showed that they are also willing to give up their own: higher scores on the Islamophobia index predict acceptance of authoritarianism. People who support anti-Muslim expressions such as “Muslims are partially responsible for acts of violence committed by other Muslims” or “Muslims are less civilized than other people,” all else being equal, are more likely to approve of curtailing freedom of the press. and the suspension of checks and balances after a terrorist attack. In short, the propagation of Islamophobia undermines the very foundations of a free society; a disagreeable and well-informed citizenry.

Moreover, Islamophobia breeds other intolerances. We found that anti-Semitism and anti-black racism are among the leading indicators of Islamophobia.

Our research has also shown that Islamophobia does not just make democracies less free and more intolerant. This makes them less secure – and not just in the way many assume.

Yes, deviants who claim to act in the name of Islam use Western anti-Muslim political rhetoric to recruit people to their violent cause. But that is far from the biggest risk. We found that endorsing anti-Muslim ideas such as “Muslims are more violent than other people” or “Most Muslims are hostile to the United States” ironically coincides with condoning the very actions those who espouse these views attribute to Muslims: the deliberate attacks on and killing of civilians by army, which is considered a war crime, and also by a small group or individual, is usually called “terrorism”. The rise of white supremacist violence in the United States as the number one terrorist threat to American lives in the Trump era should therefore come as no surprise.

All this does not mean that hateful tricks like those witnessed in Europe over the past week should be made illegal as some have demanded. As a Muslim believer who reads the Qur’an daily and as a student of history, I know that God’s messenger endured much worse and that God’s book does not need our weak protection – it was revealed as a protection for us. Moreover, we should not feed the image of these otherwise irrelevant provocateurs as “rebel heroes for free speech” by censoring them. The worst punishment we can give them is to give them the attention they deserve: none at all. Political speech aimed at fermenting Islamophobia should be viewed by the rest of society for what it is, not as a defense of democracy, but as an act that undermines it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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