Two kinds of Islamophobia

Why and how did negative feelings about Muslims and Islam in the West in general, and Europe in particular, peak in the last decade of the 20th century and what role did ‘Islamophobia’ play in this? The Islamic world became aware of it as the Muslim expatriate community came under pressure because of the changing behaviour patterns of the host communities. Because of the rapid spread of global communication through messages and images, the entire Muslim world reacted to it in its own way, retreating into history and reinterpreting the West in the light of their understanding of the colonial past. The 9/11 attack added anger and an instinct for revenge to the earlier prejudice.

Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan noted the anti-Islamic wave in December 2004 when he said in New York: ‘Today, the weight of history and the fallout of recent developments have left many Muslims around the world aggrieved and misunderstood, concerned about the erosion of their rights and even in fear of of their physical safety. Stereotypes depict Muslims as opposed to the West, despite a history not only of conflict but also of cooperation and of influencing and enriching each other’s art and science. European civilisation would not have advanced to the extent it did had Christian scholars not benefited from the learning and literature of Islam in the Middle Ages and later’[1].

Muslim governments met at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to plan some kind of response to the rising anti-Islamic sentiment in the West. In 2008, the OIC established an Observatory on Islamophobia at the OIC General Secretariat. Its 35th Council of Foreign Ministers, noted manifestations of Islamophobia and the rising trend of Islamophobia in parts of the Western world.

Ekmeleddin Hisanoglu, the 9th secretary general of OIC, has outlined Islamophobia in the West, but has not taken much note of provocation by the expatriate Muslims who resisted integration and did not show moderation in the face of what they thought was discrimination and injustice. He states for example,: ‘Relations between the Muslim world have been impaired following the actions of misguided extremists who were responsible for the tragic terrorist attacks in New York and Washington (2001), Madrid (2004) and London (2005), together with the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in November 2004 and other heinous crimes. Regrettably the blame fell collectively on Muslims and the situation was exploited by the extremists on both sides to vilify the peaceful image of Islam’[2]

There is no evidence that the OIC ever considered the growing lack of integration of the expatriate Muslim in the West. While it showed concern for the discrimination of the West Islamophobia increased, it failed to take note of the radicalisation of the Muslim communities carried out by some of its member states through the funding of mosques. The Dialogue of Civilisations, where the OIC could have made a transactional compact with the West on the basis of re-education of the expatriate Muslim communities, faltered and petered out without much progress.

In July 2008, Saudi King Abdullah inaugurated an interfaith dialogue conference in Spain by declaring that ‘most of the dialogues between religions have ended in failure’. He hoped that the new effort being launched there would succeed by emphasising the common link between all religions: belief in God. The dialogue failed because one side of the dialogue was not willing to look critically at the behaviour pattern of the Muslims. While the West could draw lesson from its heritage of Enlightenment embodied in the constitutions of the Western world, the Islamic world was less able to bring a critical focus on its latest interpretations of religion. Still less able were the somewhat besieged Muslim leaders to critically examine the ‘meeting point’ of the West and the Muslim world: the expatriate Muslim communities.

The future of Expatriate Islam

Jihad continues to be the passion of a section of expatriate Muslims. It is from this community that Al Qaeda has drawn its strength. In their hinterland, the mujahideen are produced by a complex interaction of Saudi money, Salafist indoctrination through local hardline revivalists and even states using non-state actors to fight their covert wars. The passion of the expatriate has its birth in the question of identity, an introversion compelled by the conditions of living in alien societies. The Muslim is differentiated from other non-Muslim expatriate communities by reason of his transnational orientation. In his own country he is habituated to feeling secure or insecure on the basis of his identification with the mythical construct of the umma. This causes alienation with the nation-state that insists on a nationalism based on its self-interest. He carries abroad a dislike of his national identity and reconstructs a new identity based on the idea of the transnational umma, a function not encouraged by the nation-state but easily executed out in the alien West with full citizenship rights.

The ‘reconstruction’ of a new ‘transnational’ Muslim identity in the West is assisted by the policy of multiculturalism, that is, allowing ‘integration’ through remaining ‘separate’ without any obligation to imbibe Western culture. In Western Europe and the United Kingdom, the Muslims have been allowed to attain a hardline Islamic identity more in line with the influential, financially-leveraged Arab Islam than the relatively moderate Islam of South and Southeast Asia. In the case of Pakistani expatriates, some pride is experienced in becoming more distinctly Muslim than the Muslims of Pakistan. The onus of ‘discovery’ is then placed by the expatriate Pakistani on fellow-Muslims back home through a number of symbols, including a new style of self-grooming and dressing. The first ‘discovered’ identity is cast aside and a new one, ‘constructed’ under conditions of freedom, is embraced[3]. The truth however may be that this ‘construction’ is under coercion from a group and may actually be a ‘discovery’ while growing up in an expatriate Muslim home in the West.

The new ‘synthetic’ identity of the expatriate Muslim is puritanical and ‘judgemental’ of other Muslims, and that tends to focus ultimately on Muslims who have been labelled heretical down the centuries. This synthetic identity rejects the West on the basis of the unchanging divine text, but it also focuses on the ‘heresy within’ becoming intolerant and fractious as it tries to face outward to the alien environment in the West. Secretly observed mosques in the United Kingdom and Canada now praise Al Qaeda and the Taliban as soldiers of Islam.

If there was some space for discussion between the West and the Muslim states it has become narrowed in the new millennium by the closing of positions of the expatriate Muslim on the one hand and the Muslim governments on the other. How has the European Union tackled the rise of extremist Islam? It becomes relevant because there are around 20 million Muslims in Europe with France heading the list of ‘importers’ at 5 million and Germany next with 3 million. In some cities of Europe they make up nearly 25 percent of the population. And they are fired with a revivalist, tough Islam with which their mother countries also find difficult to handle. Then there are ‘home states’ feeling angry about the West in general and willing to cause events to take place, as in the case of Libya.

Two categories of expatriate Pakistanis threaten the political equilibrium in Pakistan. The European expatriate has developed a hard Islamic creed on the basis of the rights of full citizenship bestowed on him: he develops an identity-in-retreat that is opposed to the culture of freedom. The expatriate in the Middle East develops a hard Islamic identity in the midst of lack of right of citizenship in an effort to bring his identity close to that of the Middle Eastern societies. Both categories are partially alienated from society in Pakistan, their youths visiting the madrassas and jihadi organisations when in Pakistan.

Anti-blasphemy rioting in Pakistan

The ingredient of violence that sometimes accompanied anti-blasphemy protests hurt the protesting countries themselves as public and private properties were burnt and destroyed. In Pakistan, the protest came from the religious parties who used the seminarian youths of their madrassas (Islamic schools) to demonstrate in the streets of the big cities. These groups were invariably joined by hooligans who inflicted vandalism on public and private property and looted shops in the main business centres of the country.

In March 2006, Danish cartoons caused one of Pakistan’s most historic cities, Lahore, to be torched. The politicians, keen to steal the thunder of the clergy, joined in the anti-cartoon march of the extremists and refused to act as the moderating influence in society. Teaming up with Lahore’s leading cleric Sarfraz Naeemi and his numerous allies inside Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Rasalat Mahaz (Front for the Protection of the Honour of Prophet) to stage a protest march in Lahore against Denmark was a not a wise policy. For anyone located in Europe, this was betrayal of civilisation. Earlier, Naeemi had taken up arms against poor Christians after their churches were destroyed by mobs in Sangla Hill that year, ironically on the charge of desecration of the Quran. In November 2005, the Christian community of Sangla Hill in Nankana District in Punjab had experienced a hair-raising day of violence and vandalism that burned down three churches, a missionary-run school, two hostels and several houses belonging to the Christian community. This was done by a mob of some 3,000 Muslims.

The Denmark cartoons which had been published in September were avenged in November. Pakistan was shocked by the virulence of the Sangla Hill violence. No one defended the vandals except Sarfraz Naeemi who actually took an extreme posture to shame even the jihadi militias. The secretary general of Tanzimat Madaris Dinia (Administration of religious schools) declared that the Christian clergy had set the churches on fire after the desecration incident and should be put behind bars and not allowed to leave the country. He warned that he was taking a procession to Sangla Hill to get the Muslims released from jail. He protested against religion minister Ijazul Haq’s statement that the Muslims had destroyed the churches.

The rightwing Punjab government thought it could ride with Naeemi to capitalise on the Muslim rage and win the 2007 election. But anything started by Naeemi was hardly going to be peaceful and of benefit to the government. On Lahore’s Mall, the rioters torched hundreds of cars and motorcycles and damaged government buildings and private businesses. Outlets of foreign fast food companies McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut as well as several local restaurants and businesses were attacked and set on fire. Several shops and travel agencies were broken into and looted.

The demonstrators entered the Punjab Legislative Assembly and torched a room next to the chamber of the opposition leader. After that they moved on to the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) building and broke its front. They attacked the hotel Holiday Inn on Egerton Road and the nearby Aiwan-e-Iqbal, smashing windows and burning cars. On The Mall, Dayal Singh Mansions were thoroughly destroyed. The blaze at the KFC restaurant spread to the upper stories of the Coopera Art Gallery, a Muslim Commercial Bank branch, a National Bank branch, and a Telenor franchise. The mob had earlier set fire to a petrol station there.

When contacted by a TV channel for comment on what was happening in Lahore, leader the ruling party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain launched into a tirade against Denmark and emphasised the importance of Islamic protest because the offence had gone to the heart of Muslim faith. The same kind of comment was made by chief minister Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who was however shocked by the destruction of his city by a mob that he had earlier allowed to stage the protest. Boys from Lahore’s schools and colleges entered the streets with clubs in their hands. It was obvious that the march was not planned to be a peaceful one. Breaking into cars and then setting them on fire was not a spontaneous response to provocation.

TV commentators kept noting that the police was not present when the mob began to act violently. When police officers arrived on the scene afterwards, they simply stood around and watched as public and private property was being demolished. The destruction was planned and many boys  had handguns which they fired at chosen targets. On Davis Road, in fact, they got together in a phalanx and fired their guns in volleys. Those who were busy breaking into shops and banks were clearly youths who looted private citizens at night while posing as followers of religious parties in daytime.

There were other ‘participants’ too. Intelligence sources said in Lahore that the chain of violent incidents was orchestrated by a group of trained young activists of religious organisations. Activists belonging to the student wing of Jamaatud Dawa (formerly known as Lashkar-e-Tayba), Islami Jamiat Tulaba and Shabab-e-Milli of Jamaat-e-Islami, gave the destruction a professional touch. (Jamaatud Dawa was to attack Mumbai in India in November 2008 with its band of terrorists.) Groups of at least 35 men each carried out most of the violence, including burning and ransacking buildings across Lahore. The main group travelled around in a maroon jeep and motorcycles, and most of its members had long hair, beards and were clad in commando uniforms. The Jamaatud Dawa flag hung from the jeep and motorcycles. All of them were trained and many had been summoned to Lahore from other cities. They were armed with petrol bombs, firecrackers, small weapons and a ‘fire accelerant’ chemical.

The politicians got it all wrong. They took out a ‘silent’ procession of the parliamentarians in Islamabad; one of them actually threatened violence ‘the next time around’. It was the government in power in Islamabad which was threatened because a newspaper in Denmark had blasphemed. The European Union which accounted for 30 percent of Pakistan’s exports – Pakistan’s largest trading partner together with the United States, both accounting for 60 percent of our exports – was not the planned target.

In the north of Pakistan in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province chief minister Akram Durrani thought he would let the same kind of thing happen in Peshawar and reap another kind of windfall from the orgy of Islamic passion. In Peshawar the mob was not from the schools but from the Afgan refugee camps and the general riffraff reared on the Islamic propaganda of global victimhood. Some 60,000 participated in rallies and rioters attacked foreign businesses, police and witnesses said. Two people were killed and 70 injured. They torched a KFC franchise, two petrol stations, 16 Daewoo buses, attacked several banks, a police check-post and offices of Norwegian mobile phone firm Telenor. One hospital was destroyed because it belonged to the Aga Khan Foundation because Islamists think Aga Khan’s sect, the Ismailis, heretical. The NWFP government had to close all schools and colleges for a week and the universities for three days.

Islamophobia of another kind

What happened in Pakistan after the arrival in the Tribal Areas of Al Qaeda and its Pakistani and foreign ancillaries, aroused a different kind of fear: fear traditionally aroused as policy by terrorism[4]. The Taliban used intimidation to suppress opposition to their presence in territories occupied by communities traditionally hostile to interlopers. What is more important, the ideology of terrorism was the same as the ideology of the state of Pakistan; in fact, in terms of its purity, it was a superior brand of Islam, complete with Islamic punishments that Pakistan’s liberal infrastructure of justice was not able to award. There was some interface of this ideology with the history of pre-colonial jihad in the region, as also with the growing hard Islamic orientation of the state security agencies.

In the areas where the Taliban and Al Qaeda were allowed to impose their Islamic system, intimidation became the most effective instrument of domination. It was supported by the madrassa network of Pakistan, estimated to be above 20,000 in number across the country, which had never accepted the ‘half-hearted’ Constitution of Pakistan in terms of its Islamising aspects. The populations which lived under the governance of the Taliban in the Tribal Areas and administrative territories close to the Tribal Areas obeyed the new order because of this fear. It had all the corollaries of fear as anywhere else in the world. There was obedience but there was also ‘empowerment’ in joining the tormentors. How is this fear and secret loathing different from the Islamophobia in the West?

In the West, Islamophobia is characterised by hatred of an alien faith embraced by émigré communities. In Pakistan, it is hatred of an imposed order which is a part of the Islamisation of the state. It is spread by foreign Al Qaeda ancillaries as well as by local Taliban and their acquiescing seminaries, using coercion and violence. Because of the outreach of the terrorists into the cities, fear and loathing is felt by the urban moderate-liberal communities who are then forced to either keep quiet or intellectually tolerate the terrorist ideology. But given the chance – on the rare occasion when the army is able to push back the Taliban from their occupied strongholds – enslaved communities return to their earlier allegiance to the state.

In Western Islamophobia, those who act on the basis of prejudice are opposed by forces of tolerance loyal to the traditions of the West. In Pakistan, Islamophobia lodges in the mind of an overwhelmingly moderate-liberal population allowed to suffer terrorist attacks by a state much weakened by its own strategy of jihad through non state actors now aligned with the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine. The most negative effect of this Islamophobia is registered by the media which 1) will not talk negatively about the Taliban; 2) will not criticise the clergy which is aligned with the terrorists on the basis of jihad outside the monopoly of state violence; and 3) will pillory the liberal as a heretic if he decides to speak out.

The difference between the two Islamophobias is to be found in the nature of the states. In the West, the state is highly organised and has clear allegiance to a liberal Constitution. In Pakistan, and in some cases, elsewhere in the Muslim world, the state is weak and the Constitution is only partial acceptable to the clerical class. In the West, the ideology that arouses Islamophobia is alien; in Pakistan, the ideology that arouses Islamophobia is a part of the state’s trajectory towards a utopian Islamic society. In the West, Islamophobia is inspired by prejudice, the conduct of expatriate Muslims, and media coverage of increased violence in the Muslim world. In Pakistan, Islamophobia is inspired by the real and present danger from target-killing and suicide-bombing. Because of this difference of aetiology, the inspired hatred of a rising ideology has a different social effect.

The reaction of the societies in the West to hardcore Islam is a fear that activates attitudes of prejudice and discrimination. In Pakistan it has engendered Islamic extremism, as if the people were anticipating an Al Qaeda takeover and were readying themselves for it. This has given rise to a new proliferation of Islamophobia among certain categories of individuals: among members of the non-Muslim community, among Muslim sects and the moderate-liberal intellectuals. Extremism springs from a condition of certitude. And no certitude is possible without reductionism. When certitude wells up it leads to violence. Individuals become fascistic in their effort to impose their creed on others. People who are fired by conviction can be opposed at the risk of attracting the label of heresy. Liberals are less impressive because they find fault with creeds and are singularly lacking in the symbolism of power.


[1] Ekmeleddin Hisanoglu, The Islamic World in the New Century, Hurst & Company 2010, p.164

[2] Ibid. p.147

[3] Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, WW Norton & Company 2006; p.9. Sen sees the process of ‘discovery’ of identity as conformism with collective prejudice: ‘However, the unquestioning acceptance of a social identity can be sold as a piece of alleged “discovery” without reasoned choice…My disturbing memories of Hindu-Muslim riots in India in the 1940s include seeing—with the bewildered eyes of a child—the massive identity shifts that followed divisive politics. A great many persons’ identities as Indians, as subcontinentals, as Asians, or as members of the human race, seemed to give way. The carnage had much to do with elementary herd behavior by which people were made to “discover” their newly detected belligerent identities, without subjecting the process to critical examination. The same people were suddenly different’.

[4] Matthew Carr, The Infernal Machine: A History of Terrorism from the Assassination of Tsar Alexander II to Al Qaeda; The New Press New York 2006; p.5: ‘The deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends’.