Monday 30 August 2010

Who's Afraid of Islam?

An awful lot of people it would seem, judging by some of the events of the last year or so.  In the USA much of the focus for this outpouring of anti-muslim hatred has been centred on the proposal to build a mosque and cultural centre at Park51, near to the so-called Ground Zero in New York.  Opponents have made much of the claim that this area is now hallowed or sacred land.  This claim of course is pretty much absurd and anyway Park51 is two blocks away from Ground Zero.  Many opponents also assert that it is insensitive of Muslims to want to build a mosque there.  Though judging by the banners and the views expressed on recent protests there is precious little sensitivity on show from the opponents.  Associated Press reported that a recent protest drew hundreds of “fever-pitch demonstrators with opponents carrying signs associating Islam with blood.”
If two blocks from Ground Zero is too close, then how far away should the mosque be?  How about Tennessee?  Oops, it seems that there was an arson attack at the site of new Islamic centre in a Nashville suburb.  Just who is insensitive here?  This example from Tennessee is just one of many from across the USA.  The Associated Press has recently reported that, “Muslims trying to build houses of worship in the nation’s heartland, far from the heated fight in New York over plans for a mosque near ground zero, are running into opponents even more hostile and aggressive.”
This is not just an American phenomenon.  Europeans are just as disposed to ugly expressions of Islamophobia.  Here in Europe the focus is more on the dress codes for women.  Several countries, including France, have voted to, or are proposing to, ban the burka and other face coverings.  Nothing against Islam of course, just wanting to promote the liberation of women.  Muslim women of course are oppressed and nobody could possibly choose to wear a burka or face covering veil.  So, they must have been coerced into it.  So in future the State will now force them not to wear the veil.  Some liberty!  Great sensitivity!  
Thus it appears that in Europe the focus for anti-muslim sentiment is women’s clothing, while in the USA it is the building of mosques.  Though as Switzerland has already voted to ban the building of minarets, it may not be long before some Europeans start calling for a ban on mosques as well.  What is going on here?  Why this fear of muslims, particularly in the USA, where muslims only make up about 1% of the population?
This is alas, an old story.  For centuries people everywhere have had a fear of the “other”.  Almost anyone or any group can become the “other” and the focus for hatred and persecution.  Witches were for centuries the victims of horrendous, not to mention disgusting treatment.  In more recent times, blacks, Jews and catholics have filled this role.  In Scotland it was Irish catholics who until relatively recently suffered discrimination, persecution and abuse.  Now it seems that in both the USA and in Europe it is muslims who have become honoured with the role of the “other”.
It seems to be a basic need for some people to have someone else to blame for whatever misfortune has beset them.  Unemployment, low pay, poor schools, too much crime, poor housing, you name it and it is always the fault of someone else - usually a poor immigrant.  It is just so much easier to blame someone else, than to stop and try and work out just what is causing unemployment, poor schools etc.  Could it have something to do with our greed based capitalist system?  Or the lack of a fair taxation regime?  Perhaps if we stopped invading and killing other people we might have more resources to care for people back home.  Not to mention that we would then have fewer enemies who might want to attack us.
All this requires some effort and a willingness to go out and do some positive campaigning - in favour of something.  So much easier to just shout abuse and oppose.  Especially in times of crisis, like now, the temptation to blame the “other”, can degenerate into something really ugly and dangerous.  Dangerous to us all.  I end with a quote from another Scottish blogger, Caron, who sums up perfectly the dangers facing us all, not just muslims.  “We human beings are a diverse bunch - we have a huge range of views and likes and dislikes. When you start chipping away at the edges and banning things which are practised by a minority for no good reason other than they're different, it's a slippery slope which could lead to us all having a right wing tabloid press conformity forced on us. I think that's a really worrying prospect.”

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