Welcome to International Islamophobia Awareness Week Awareness Month proper.
Without any ado: a story that already had an introduction.
Oh, and don’t let the masthead put you off. Give it a chance and we think you’ll agree that—for a Guardian article—this is 6-sigma, ‘I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Brad!’ good.
Not great, but… you know. ■
“Fear and loathing: a social history of Islamophobia”
[Monday, 15 May 2017]
According to a major survey, Islamophobia has edged out the fear of snakes—ophidiophobia—on the list of things that keep Britons awake at night. To put this in perspective, leading mental expert Professor Stephan Lewandowsky says we’re now more afraid of Muslims than spiders and clowns combined.
While the Big Three fears—heights, nuns and public speaking—are unlikely to be dethroned any time soon, adds the Bristol-based boffin, the emerging landscape of religion-specific, terror-inspired phobia does pose a new challenge for all of us. But Lewandowsky has faith in the psychology community’s ability to meet the problem head-on, and the therapeutic track-record to back it up.
“For the millions of ordinary people living with Islamophobia, the message now is a simple one,” says Lewandowsky: “Real, effective, evidence-based help is available.
“Sadly, most sufferers are too ashamed to ask for it. That’s the real crime.”
In good company
If the idea of sharing an elevator with a mufti, mullah or muezzin gives you palpitations and clammy palms, there’s no need to feel alone.
Famous phobics include Tony Abbott, the former Australian PM who won bipartisan praise in 2013 for admitting he found the sight of a burqa “confronting”—a brave revelation that opened up a national dialogue on mood disorders.
For his trouble, Mr Abbott was vilified by sceptics of the condition, who nicknamed him the Mad Monk and dismissed his fears as the byproduct of a Catholic education.
(“You can take the boy out of the priesthood but you can’t take the priest out of the boy,” sneered David Marr, an Islamophobia denier and member of what passes for an intelligentsia Down Under.)
Even Christopher Hitchens, the great man of Anglo-American letters, confessed to an involuntary dread whenever a group of youths emerged from a madrassa on a dark Beirut, Bombay or Belgrade street.
Hitch may have lost his battle with oesophageal cancer in 2012, but his witticisms never will.
“Islamophobia,” he once said, “is a word invented by psychologists, and used by diagnosticians, to treat patients.”
For Professor Lewandowsky, though, it’s no quipping matter. Having worked with hundreds of sufferers on two continents, he’s seen for himself the broken cross-cultural marriages, abandoned military careers, and grown men and women too scared to go out for groceries in Bankstown Centro (or downtown Brixton as the case may be).
It can also lead to tragedy—which is how the illness came to popular attention in the first place.
“If you’re like most people, you probably had no idea there was such a phobia until 2001,” says Lewandowsky, “when a Sikh man in Manhattan fell victim to a pointless act of brutality in the wake of 9/11.
“At trial, the perpetrators both pled ‘Islamophobia,’ as their high-priced experts dubbed it. It seems these two rednecks wanted to lob their Molotov cocktails at a Muslim community centre but lost their nerve at the last minute, retreating in a panic to the nearest convenience store… where Mr Singh happened to be on shift at the wrong place, wrong time,” he continues.
“The New York D.A. was satisfied and the rest, as they say, is precedent. In the view of the court, the pair had made a good-faith effort to target a Muslim site, and would have succeeded if only their bowels didn’t turn to water within fifty feet of all things Islamic. They were convicted, if I recall, on one count of the Misuse of Fire—a proverbial slap on the wrist.”
Justice may have been served that day, but the verdict had a darker consequence: it would usher in an age of persecution and prejudice against all Islamophobic Americans.
Islamophobo-phobia: a prejudice without borders
“And the hate didn’t stop at [the other side of] the Atlantic, either,” recounts Darrell Harb, president of the Islamophobic Students’ Association’s [ISA] United Kingdom chapter.
“An entire people has now been tarred with the deeds of a tiny minority.”
Mr Harb reckons the climate today is as hostile to Muslim-fearing citizens as it has been in years. And he should know; one of the rôles of the ISA is to monitor media chatter.
“We always see an uptick in anti-Islamophobic bigotry in the days and weeks following a high-profile terror event. It’s invariably fuelled by a political narrative that paints the whole Islamophobic community as a bloodthirsty mob, out for vigilante-style payback.
“But the recent fashion for Trump-bashing represents something new, and ugly, in the discourse.
“What the non-Islamophobic community needs to understand,” urges Harb, “is that the vast majority of Islamophobic Britons—or Americans, Belgians or whatever—are normal, law-abiding people just like them, who reject the use of violence in our name.”
The awareness deficit hypothesis
Lewandowsky couldn’t agree more, but fears the education campaign is going to have its work cut out for it. If ignorance and misconstrual of the Islamophobic perspective are widespread in British society, he says, they’re virtually pandemic among disadvantaged and minority groups such as migrants.
“Take the Muslim population [in England], for instance. If you want to hear a faithful recitation of every misconception in the book, just ask them about Islamophobia.
“They’ll tell you it’s about racism, or Orientalism; that it makes you a bad person, or that it’s your fault. Myth, myth, myth.”
Yet, as Lewandowsky hastens to add, Muslims themselves can hardly be blamed for any distorted or stereotyped views they might hold of their Islamophobic neighbours, relatives and co-workers.
“It’s human nature to suspect and resent what we don’t understand,” he points out. “When you add to this a continuous diet of demonisation and vilification by the media—a media [sic] which goes out of its way not to give airtime to the voices of authentic, mainstream Islamophobia, because Allah forbid anyone subvert the caricatures!—is it any wonder people like Muslims are less than positively predisposed [to Britons with Islamophobia]?”
And that’s not the final twist. According to the latest data on our media habits, British Muslims now get the majority of their news from the Qur’an—a source described as “somewhat dated” and “[coming] from a less cosmopolitan social context” by Ibn Warraq, the newly-appointed Chair in Religious Studies at the University of East Anglia.
Professor Warraq adds that he “read [the Qur’an] from cover to cover once, and there wasn’t a single positive Islamophobic character in it.”
For all of us in Western society, one thing is certain: unless and until we find a way to accommodate our new Islamophobic populations, unpleasantness will persist. ■
Panic not, Stephan Lewandowsky will return as soon as International Islamophobia Awareness Week Awareness Month [IIAWAM] continues, with Learning To Fear Islam Just the Right Amount. Update: here it is.
Gaius Augustus Scepio “Scepticus” Afro-Caribbeanus,
Fist of my Name,
King of Low Low Prices and First of the Fist Men,
The Watcher in the Early Afternoon and the Clock Upon the Wall,
known as Kublai Khal, The Stallion that Mounts the Fist