I had been waiting for it to show up in Iceland for a long time—or, more accurately, dreading the inevitability of it. It already had a stronghold in Europe, and I knew it was only a matter of time. Then suddenly it happened, following the City of Reykjavik´s decision to allocate a plot of land for a mosque: a full-fledged Islamophobic eruption.
Some pig heads were found on the plot of land, and pages of the Holy Quran desecrated with blood. The usual rhetoric about mosques being a breeding ground for radical Islamism was heard, and also the argument that Islam is inherently violent. The very notion that Icelandic Muslims simply wanted an appropriate place for worship was hardly mentioned.
Before the 2014 municipal elections, a new candidate joined the Progressive Party, proposing to withdraw the permit for the mosque, assuring people that her opinion was based on personal experience after living in Saudi Arabia—not on prejudice. This stance was received favourably and her party won three seats, contrary to earlier forecasts that indicated that they might not even get one.
The Ultimate “other”.
The root cause of the friction and rift between the West and the Middle East, each considering the other a bitter rival can be traced back to early days of Islam. Edward Said explains in his book ‘Orientalism’ that to justify colonising the Orient, the inhabitants became the ultimate “other,” in the eyes of their colonisers, with them seen as “backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous,” and us the exact opposite. The modern version however is believed to have been reinforced by the War on Terror, triggered by the horrendous attacks on America in September 2001.
Ever since the declaration of that war, relentless efforts have been made to counter terrorism. Invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, captures of “illegal enemy combatants,” secret jails, torture and assassinations with drones. Over a million people, the majority of them Muslims, have been killed and many more have become refugees.
The Western media has played a vital role in reinforcing the fear of Muslims by demonizing them, both in the news and entertainment media, with endless coverage of dark-bearded, dangerous men, and oppressed female victims. Criminals and terrorists are predominantly portrayed as Muslims. The killing of Muslims is even glamorized in movies like ‘American Sniper’, a biopic about a soldier “heroically” assassinating terrorists, supposed terrorists or those likely to become terrorists one day, in US-occupied Iraq.
One has to keep in mind firstly that Salafi/Wahabi extremists do not represent Muslims as a whole, and most prominent Islamic scholars denounce them. Secondly, inhabitants of the Middle East are more likely to suffer under these groups than are Westerners, be they Sunni, Shia, Christians, Yazidi or anyone else of any religion.
Thirdly, one must always look at the context. Al-Qaeda would never have come into existence were it not for the CIA uniting like-minded men from all over the Muslim world in order to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, back in the early 90s. Likewise, Daesh (ISIS) would most definitely not exist if it was not for the invasion of Iraq.
If the objective of the War on Terror is to rid the world of extremism and to protect freedom and democracy, it has failed completely. However, if there is a hidden agenda, as many critics claim, to gain access to the rich resources of the Middle East, it has been a huge success—won by creating friction and hostility between different religious and ethnic groups in the region, killing the innocent, and invoking more hatred against the West.
It is important to be self-critical when new fears come to existence, like in the case of imported Islamophobia, and to be aware of our orientalist racism-tainted lens. It is equally important to pay attention to stereotypes manufactured by the media and consider the absurdity of any presumption that 1.6 billion people, the total number of the world’s Muslims, could share the same traits. The two extremist sides might end up taking our fate into their hands: the West behaving like political arsonists, starting a fire while neither knowing how to put it out nor envisioning how it might spread, and the extremists using obscure interpretations of Islam to justify murder and mayhem, and again reinforcing Islamophobia.
Everybody will lose except for the powerful, with Islamophobia the necessary lubricant for the vicious cycle to continue.