The world press on Islamophobia

Al-Ahram: "Arabs and Muslims vehemently claim in Europe the very civil and democratic rights they firmly believe should be trampled at home."

By Compiled by Laura McClure
Published January 13, 2004 10:26PM (EST)

United Kingdom, Faisal Bodi in the Guardian

The BBC's decision to discontinue [Robert Kilroy-Silk's ] daily talk show pending an investigation into his article for last week's Sunday Express, in which he vilified the whole Arab world as a bunch of "suicide bombers, limb amputators and women oppressors", will be welcomed in all communities where his bigoted pen has drawn ire...

But it will be the nation's Muslims who have most to celebrate. For over a decade, it is they who have borne the brunt of the presenter's rabid rants ... "Muslims everywhere behave with equal savagery. They behead criminals, stone to death female -- only female -- adulteresses, throw acid in the faces of women who refuse to wear the chador, mutilate the genitals of young girls and ritually abuse animals," he wrote for the Daily Express in 1995...

While racism has fast become a red line in our society, religious prejudice is still acceptable, dare I say, fashionable in the more well-heeled social circles. The Express can get away with denigrating Muslims, but it cannot easily shake off allegations of racism. A raft of race legislation over the past three decades has set the tone of social discourse and steered society away from xenophobia. But it has manifestly failed to get to grips with Islamophobia, of which Kilroy's anti-Arabism is an obvious variant...

Suffice it to say that neither Kilroy-Silk nor anybody else would have been allowed to say the same thing in our national newspapers about black people or Jews...

The other reaction, epitomised by Will Hutton in yesterday's Observer, has been that Islam must assume a post-Enlightenment view of the world, failing which it must be dragged there kicking and screaming. This is the more troubling attitude, because it negates the prospect of genuine coexistence and presupposes a horrible clash of civilisations.

This is not to brush over the differences between western and Islamic value systems and their epistemological foundations. They are real. But in western liberal societies the choice is between a peaceful engagement and survival of the fittest or a likely violent conflict brought about by the imposition of secular liberalism over Islam.

The ball has been thrown into the court of the state to choose which route it wants to take.

Egypt, Hani Shukrallah in Al-Ahram

If the centuries since the Enlightenment show anything it is that people are as committed to their right to espouse ignorance, narrow-mindedness and crass stupidity as to their right to reason, knowledge and emancipation -- personal and social. The French government's "secularist" drive against "conspicuous religious symbols" in public schools and the civil service is foolish and smacks more of racism than of reason. Let us not fool ourselves. This is not about big crosses and small kippahs. France's, and for that matter, Europe's real problem is with the burgeoning Muslim minority in their midst -- 6 million strong in France alone. The real issue at the heart of the racket is the hijab [Muslim woman's headscarf].

It would be facile, however, to fall back on the now entrenched Arab/Muslim response to denounce Islamophobia. Given that the right to stupidity and ignorance extends as much to Muslims as to any other group, religious or otherwise, I might as well point out that there is something wholly absurd about shrill Arab and Muslim cries in defence of basic civil and personal rights ... Arabs and Muslims vehemently claim in Europe the very civil and democratic rights they firmly believe should be trampled at home...

The only coherent opinion made in the midst of all the hubbub has been that of the much maligned Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi. A realist par excellence, he at least presented us with a consistently authoritarian argument. In effect the sheikh's argument was that since we can -- and, indeed, should -- trample civil and personal rights in Muslim countries (the hijab, he insisted, was obligatory under Islam), Christians, secularists or whoever should be able to do the same in their own countries, at least until we conquer them, God willing.

There is a much more significant aspect to the debate, however. Adonis, among the most celebrated of Arab poets alive today, wrote recently asking: "...why do fundamentalist Muslims who have emigrated to the West see in the openness of their new home nothing more than an opportunity to proclaim their narrow-mindedness and isolation? Why do they choose to 'emigrate' once more from their point of their arrival?"

Pertinent questions...

Yet the fact remains that while narrow-mindedness, ignorance and stupidity can be critiqued, they cannot be banned.

Canada, John Robson in the Montreal Gazette

Those whose admiration for France is driven primarily by its opposition to American foreign policy need to remember how much ideas matter ... it must be a particular disappointment that after all their hectoring of Americans for provocative insensitivity to Islam, the French hijab ban (unthinkable in the U.S.) led Canadian Islamic Congress national president Mohamed Elmasry to write that "France recently topped the list of Western human-rights violators."

Why did France do it? Because French opposition to the "Anglo-Saxon model" does not simply consist of gratuitous if futile shots at George W. Bush. It runs much deeper. It offers a half-open society, with free political discussion about what people shall be required to do, not what they shall be allowed to do...

It's France that, at the end of 2002, established an official Muslim council. The interior minister called it "a chance to create an official Islam of France and a way to fight the Islam of cellars and garages."

It's no anomaly; similar bodies already existed for Catholics, Protestants and Jews. But France's record of social harmony is not impressive and my guess is French state-sanctioned Islam will not impress Muslims much, in France or elsewhere.

In truly open societies, by contrast, you are allowed great latitude, including in choice of headgear. But, crucially, an open society is open at both ends...

An open society shouldn't ban hate speech. It's far better that evil be defeated in open debate...

If you're looking for an alternative democratic model, consider France. Its government even officially certifies Muslim moderates. Unfortunately the same approach leads, logically, to a ban on hijabs in schools.

Korea, Jeremy Seabrook in the Korea Herald

Globalization does not obligingly halt at some ill-defined frontier between economics, society and culture...

It is disingenuous to assume that economy, society and culture operate in separate spheres. Indeed, the way in which geographical entities are now designated shows the increasing porosity of these notions. An advanced economy, an industrialized nation, a mature economy are set against a developing country, an emerging market, a liberalizing society. The terms are almost interchangeable.

This suggests that, once exposed to the globalizing imperative, no aspect of social life, customary practice, traditional behavior will remain the same...

Some people believe it is possible to get the best of both worlds -- they accept the economic advantages of globalization and seek to maintain something of great value, language, tradition and custom.

This is the relatively benign response. The other has become only too familiar: the violent reaction, the hatred of both economic and cultural globalization which many not merely perceive, but feel in the very core of their being, as an inseparable violation of identity.

The resentment of many Muslims (not only extremists) toward the U.S. and Israel, the defensive posturing of Hindu fundamentalism, opposed both to Islam and Christianity, are the most vivid dramatizations of this...

The stigmatizing of the bearers of resistance as extremists or those who hate freedom is too simple a formulation for these complex and painful processes. To be unable to acknowledge the profound and complex social and religious disruptions that come as inseparable spectral companions of economic globalization has been the most grievous failure of the rich and powerful.

South Africa, Buddy Naidu in the Sunday Times

Two South African Muslims have been deported from the U.S. as a result of the country's controversial new security checks...

Durban businessman Moosa Suleman and prominent cleric Moulana Ahmed Suleman Khatani visited the U.S. to attend an Islamic convention hosted by the Atlanta Islamic Institute...

After a 17-hour flight from Johannesburg, Suleman and Khatani were detained by immigration officials, fingerprinted and photographed.

Suleman, 66, said he was sent back home after enduring "five hours of hell, uncertainty and embarrassment". Khatani, 33, was detained and spent over 24 hours in a U.S. police cell with four criminals before being deported.

Suleman said he and Khatani were taken to a customs office at the airport and forced to hand over their passports, wallets and documentation.

He said armed guards escorted them to the toilets during their detention. "They raised their voices when they talked to us and failed to inform us as to what was going on. "

Suleman said they were asked questions about the reason for their trip, adding that he was also questioned about trips he had made to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia. "They informed me that I should return to South Africa and apply for a new visa."

Suleman said he refused to leave without Khatani but was threatened by officials that he could "be detained and they could send me back whenever they wanted to".

Suleman, who had spent R12 000 on his air ticket, said U.S. authorities discriminated against Muslims. "My documentation was all in order. It was quite clear that I was discriminated against because of my beard and appearance."

Lebanon, Abdulwahab Badrakhan in Al-Hayat

Tom Ridge has insisted on taking every possible measure to humiliate all visitors to the U.S.

He has the right to do so, but it seems there are no limits to his assistants' imagination. Worse still, it seems that every time the measures are tightened, doubts are raised, for nothing is enough ... to say that the security system in the U.S. is secure ... If it is difficult to feel secure in the U.S., then the world is subjected to American worries and anxiety...

Shortly before the New Year's Eve, a tense atmosphere was manufactured. It was said that a terrorist attack was about to happen, as if it escaped from the security forces' hands and only God could undermine it. People in New York, Chicago, London and Paris thought that the streets were under the mercy of terrorists. But when newswire services polled the American people's mood, they concluded that although they heard the warnings, they did not change their programs. The fact is, people are well aware now that security forces exaggerated the situation.

It is obvious now that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sees the necessity of trying out its warning siren from time to time ... However, exaggerating these warning sirens, without informing people first, will drive them to believe nothing at the end. This is the real danger.

Singapore, Tay Yek Keak in the Straits Times

It seems that from now on, there will be a guy with a gun in an airplane.

You don't know who this guy is.

He could be sitting next to you, across the aisle, maybe even hogging the loo, because his identity will remain a top secret.

This fella is the Air Marshal.

This sad state of affairs has come about because the world is now filled with gunslingers.

I don't know about you but I'm walking. I don't care how far it is.

Actually, to make the world a happier place, I suggest different kinds of people for a plane.

I read that recently an elderly British woman had a lucky break when she suffered a serious ailment while flying with about 15 doctors on their way to a conference in the U.S. They saved her.

So the Air Doctor is someone I'd like to sit next to. I also want an Air Rabbi, Air Mullah, Air Swami, Air Lama, Air Priest, etc., so that religious harmony will gang up to counter any terrorist threat on board.

And then an Air Joker to keep me entertained will be a pleasant way to round up the flight.

I think Jim Carrey will do nicely.

Compiled by Laura McClure

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