Islamophobia is a phenomenon that has been on the rise for several years now. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Islamophobia refers to a ‘fear, prejudice, and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility, and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement, and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world.’ It is a structural and cultural racism that targets the symbols and markers of being a Muslim, transcending institutional, ideological, political, and religious hostility.
The history of Islamophobia can be traced back to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and other horrific acts of terrorism purportedly carried out in the name of Islam. This institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions. Widespread negative representations of Islam and harmful stereotypes that depict Muslims and their beliefs and culture as a threat have perpetuated, validated, and normalized discrimination, hostility, and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities.
Studies show that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes frequently increases following events beyond the control of most Muslims, including terrorist attacks and anniversaries of such attacks. These trigger events illustrate how Islamophobia may attribute collective responsibility to all Muslims for the actions of a select few, or feed upon inflammatory rhetoric. Furthermore, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted in Islamophobic hate crimes.
In States where Muslims are in the minority, they often experience discrimination in accessing goods and services, finding employment, and in education. In some States, they are denied citizenship or legal immigration status due to xenophobic perceptions that Muslims represent national security and terrorism threats.
To combat Islamophobia, many Governments have taken steps by establishing anti-hate-crime legislation and measures to prevent and prosecute hate crimes. They have also conducted public awareness campaigns about Muslims and Islam designed to dispel negative myths and misconceptions. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by 60 Member-States of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which designated 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
In spite of the above, there is still a widespread perception mixing Muslims with Arabs, which extends the anti-Muslim hatred wave to all Arab or Arab-majority societies. Recent history shows that several Muslim countries have fallen victims to wars and military occupation, while others are scenarios of stark instabilities. No lessons have been learned from horrific crimes committed against believers. Racism, xenophobia, and related discrimination and intolerance exist in all societies, everywhere. Racism harms not just the lives of those who endure it, but also society as a whole. The fight against racism is everyone’s fight.
The devastating effect of hatred is sadly nothing new, but its scale and impact are now amplified by new communications technologies. Hate speech – including online – has become one of the most common ways of spreading divisive rhetoric on a global scale, threatening peace around the world. To tackle this issue, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, stating that hate speech incites violence and intolerance.
It is crucial to understand the epidemic of Islamophobia and its damaging effects on society. Education and awareness are essential in dispelling negative myths and misconceptions about Muslims and their beliefs and culture. Governments and individuals must take action to prevent and prosecute hate crimes, establish anti-hate-crime legislation, and conduct public awareness campaigns to combat Islamophobia. It is time to fight against racism, discrimination, and intolerance in all their forms and work towards a world of peace, tolerance, and mutual respect.