International Conference on Islamophobia: Scholars ask Muslims to look inwards

Istanbul—The Muslim world is in leadership crisis which has resulted in phenomenon like Islamophobia, experts and scholars observed at the three-day international conference on Islamophobia hosted by Centre for Islam and Global Affairs at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University here.

The speakers stressed that Muslims need to organize themselves and engage in intense political activities to be a force to reckon with.

In his powerful presentation, United Voices of America leader, Ahmed Bedier, said, “Muslims in West need to be politically more involved and engaged.”

“The strategic goal of the Islamophobia network is to keep the Muslims disenfranchised and away from active political participation.”

“They want to keep us pre-occupied in cultural battles in which all our resources get absorbed,” he added, “despite the fact that we are not financially as competitive with the opponents who spend millions of dollars against us.”

“It (the cultural battle),” he noted, “keeps Muslims away from pro-active political power… we need to come closer to Congress, close to those who legislate. We have to work harder to go near the political power.”

Prof Mehmet Gormez, former head of Turkish Religious Authority, said that reputed Islamic scholar, Oxford Professor Tariq Ramazan, was latest victim of Islamophobia. “We, as Muslims, need to do something for him.”

Ramadan has been jailed for over a month now by French authorities over accusations made by a woman. However, so far, the charges have not been made officially.

Islamophobia is described as an intense fear or hatred of, or prejudice against, the Islamic religion or Muslims, especially when seen as a geopolitical force. Western countries have seen an upward trend in attacks on Muslims where Mosques have been attacked and Muslims attacked physically.

Bedier in reply to question said, “if Muslims start normalizing themselves, it will be harder for Islamophobes.” “We have to work within the system, we may not compete financially but we have to have commitment.”

To counter the Islamophobia, he said, “Muslims lack a strategic plan.”

CIGA director, Prof. Sami A. Al-Arian said that the ‘war on terror’ was “not actually a war on terror”. It’s part of a strategic objective to marginalize rising Islamic communities, groups, or states 

“During the cold war, there was an idiom that said: keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down, but today it has changed to ‘keep the Israelis in, the Turks out and the Iranians and Islamists down.’ He observed the detailing of how the Islamophobia narrative was its genesis in the “Islamic threat” narrative that started by a former Israeli operative in a US Congress task force committee in the late 1980’s, Yousef Bodansky.

“Muslims have no integrated vision; there is no real vision as how to handle the current situation,” he said. “We are pre-occupied with how to defend ourselves.”

Earlier during the session, Prof Hatem Bazian from University of California (UoC), US, explained as how Islamophobia is being used as a tool of ‘othering’ and marginalising the Muslims.

Replying to a question on Syria, Prof Bazian said, “it is the most complex challenge to whole world; it is a proxy war now as many regional as well as global actors are involved.”

“It is like a kitchen which is on fire and everyone is rushing in to cook,” he said in a sarcastic tone.

Dr Ramon Grosfoguel from UoC said that “this world has made the other worlds impossible”. “As an alternative to this world, there are other worlds but this world has made them impossible,” he responded to a query regarding the alternate system to the prevalent one.

In his captivating representation, Kashmiri-Canadian academic, Dr Farhan Mujahid Chak, said that Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan represents the middle ground in Muslim world “(and) that is why he is being targeted”.

“There is a counter reaction to target those normalising the Muslims in Americas,” he said about the Islamophobia. “In North American, these groups who work on normalising, reaching out for peaceful co-existence are being targeted.”

In his recommendations, Dr Chak said, “to counter the narratives which are against Muslims, four steps need to be taken including: Open houses, awareness campaigns, charity and political partnerships.” Dr Chak teaches at Qatar University, Doha.

In her speech, Dr Kaarina Aitamurto from a varsity in Finland said that roots of Islamophobia lie in imperial Russia. “Cultural racism and hate-speech against Muslims in Russia based on religiosity than ethnicity,” she noted. “Russian nationalists borrow anti-Muslim narratives from West.”

“Hizb-u-Tahrir was one of the first organizations to be banned in Russia. It was said that the organization aimed at changing the political system in Russia,” she added. “Discussion about Islamophobia is easily labelled as unpatriotic activity.”

A researcher from Singapore, Dr Mohamed Nawab Osman aid that politicisation of Hindu identity in India seeks to promote India as a Hindu nation.

“It aims to eradicate the ‘Muslim foreign seeds’ which the establishment deems threat to Hindutva project,” he said about the emerging right-wing in India under the current BJP led government.

In China, he said, “1980s heralded an era of religious tolerance and Muslims was seen assets to strengthen ties with Arab world for economic gains.” However, he said, “state bias against Uighurs has developed into anti-Muslims sentiment at the level of populace…. (and now) all Muslim are a problem.”

“There was unhappiness over privileges of Muslim communities,” he added.

In India, he said that there was an “institutional bias and discrimination towards Muslims who represented only 3.5% in higher position in Indian government in 2016”.

“Referring to Sachar committee, Dr Osman said, “the report of for the former judge said that Muslims in India lack behind in all social and other indicators.”

“No single political party represents Muslims in India at a larger forum despite the fact that the country claims to be secular,” he said. “AIIMM is Hyderabad is emerging as a pan Muslim party in today’s India.”

Dr Osman noted that India has a history of Hindu-Muslim communal riots. “(but) there is implicit support for violence against Muslims.”

He observed that partition of sub-continent in 1947 had “much to do with the growth of Islamophobia in India.”

“Islamophobia is expressed through riots and violence whenever there is cow slaughter; there is a new thing called ghar wapsi wherein Muslims are converted to Hinduism and there are enactments of anti-conversion of laws.”

Supporting his argument, the Singaporian researcher referred to the controversial Bollywood hit, Padmavat. “The Delhi Sultante ruler Alaudin Khilji has been depicted as barbaric, violent and homo-sexual but history tells us it was very highly unlikely be the case.” “Delhi Sultanate was influenced by Persian culture and were highly educated.”

He concluded that in India “vilification and marginalising the Muslims was an important aspect of nation-making”.

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