Figure 1: Young women carry signs during an anti-Islamophobia march (June 11,2021), after four members of a Muslim family were killed in what police called a hate crime in London, Ontario. The Christian science monitor. photo by Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press/AP.
Losing a loved one, hiding your beliefs, enduring discriminatory actions and words, and living in constant fear are a few among the many results of Islamophobia that Muslims face daily in Western countries. Islamophobia has always existed but reached its ongoing climax after the 9/11 attack, in which thousands of people lost their lives and others are still trying to survive the impact including Muslim women whom suffer the most.
Islamophobia means hatred, prejudice, and hostility against Muslims or those perceived as so, which often leads to racism, bullying and hate-crimes. Researchers have found that:
28% of adults said they had grown more suspicious of people of Middle Eastern descent; that grew to 36% less than a year later. Republicans, in particular, increasingly came to associate Muslims and Islam with violence. In 2002, just a quarter of Americans – including 32% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats – said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. Today, 72% of Republicans express this view, according to an August 2021 survey. (Harting & Doherty, 2021)
Those statistics explain the fact that the acts of discrimination against Muslims have been on a continuous rise in the last two decades and take different forms: the ban of traveling, name calling, harassments in public, school or workplace discrimination, online bullying, racism and hate crimes (hate speeches and physical abuse). The reason behind such actions are often related to the false representation of Muslims by the media (television, movies, the internet and social media) and the influence of powerful figures that use anti-Islam philosophies to gain political support and popularity. For instance, the businessman and former U.S. president Donald Trump announced in his campaign that he believes ‘Islam hates us’; therefore, more severe, and stricter regulations would be taken to ‘take care’ of Muslims. During his presidency, the rates of hate crimes and abuse rose because of how frequently Trump used Twitter to express his distaste for Muslims which normalized being an anti-Islam bigot. Islamophobia’s victims vary from Muslims to non-Muslims; however, Muslim women are the main targets of such hate speeches and actions. The rate of abuse women aged between 16-40 endure is greater than that of men.
“For instance, in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, respectively over 90%, 80% and 60% of the victims of Islamophobic incidents reported in 2015 and 2014 were Muslim women, most of them wearing a visible religious symbol” (Đermana, 2016).
This huge difference between the two genders belonging to the same religion is mainly because of the Hijab; the piece of clothing that covers a woman’s hair and sometimes whole face and body (Niqab). The term itself means a barrier in Arabic and religiously it is meant to protect women from being sexualized and to preserve their beauty from the public eye. Wearing a Hijab represents modesty, morality, and it is so personal and special to Muslim women that they consider it a part of their identity. So imagine the hurt, frustration, and anger women feel when government buddies restrict them from wearing any religious symbol in public, which in fact is the case in many countries like France and India. In 2004, a French law passed to ban girls from wearing a hijab in state sponsored schools. These two well developed and leading countries legally banned girls from wearing the Hijab in any educational space and workplace, and even set regulations and punishments (fines, losing their job, expelled from schools) for those who protest and refuse to take their Hijab off.
Human rights activists and feminists called those newly established laws a ‘painful sight’ and an ‘ignorant and degrading move’v and continued to explain how the newly established laws violate basic human rights such as freedom, security, equality, safety, dignity, freedom of choice, opinions, expression, the right to work, access to education and freedom of religion.
Ironically, those countries explain their unjustness with their wish to fight secularism and ‘save women’. But those are only to cover the fact that Western countries feel threatened by the strongly growing Muslim population, and the effect that that has on the host country’s national identity. “One 2019 report found that 44.6% of the country considered Muslims a threat to French national identity” (Lang, 2021).
Identity is a critical concept for every individual and specially to an ancient and historically rich country like France; therefore, the urge to stick to their roots would’ve been understood if they applied the same treatment to all the religions and races because France is one of the countries that has a varied and high rate of immigrants (legally or illegally). So why accept one religion and refuse another, and why disown Muslims after they have finally found a place to call home?
Scott (2007) documents a racist scene with a French woman against Africans and 'Arabs' captured while living in France in the 1960's, even before 9/11.
“... our attitudes are not racist, they are based in fact. These people are animals, they are not Christians; your blacks are Christian. The Arabs don’t live in real houses but in huts, in holes in the ground; they’re uncivilized, uneducated, unclean. Listen to their music; watch how they dance; they have a natural [or was it unnatural?] rhythm all their own. Your blacks were once slaves, these Arabs have no excuse. This is just how they are; this is the way the Koran teaches them to be.”
This reference exposes key issues around racism, Islamophobia, and anti-muslim hatred that violate human rights. It is imperative to not that countries like France attempt to create ethnic nationalism while maintaining structures of marginalizing indigenous groups or 'other' non-European groups, displaying a new form of racism and discrimination that is more systemic.
The book by Imran Awan and Irene Zempi, Islamophobia: Lived Experiences of Online and Offline Victimisation gives an insider perspective to the reader into the stories of the sufferings of Muslims all over the world and the impact discrimination has on their lives, which might help change the public opinion in the West. Spreading awareness on the matter and setting new laws protecting Muslims’s rights instead of invading them would be an efficient start towards an Islamophobic-free world where all races are safe and happy, and all religions are accepted.
Đermana, Š. (2016). Forgotten women: The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women. European Network Against Racism. https://www.enar-eu.org/wp-content/uploads/factsheet9-european_lr_1_.pdf
Harting, H& Doherty, C. (2021, September 2). Two decades later, the enduring legacy of 9/11. Pew Search Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/09/02/two-decades-later-the-enduring-legacy-of-9-11/
Lang, C. (2021, May 19). Who gets to wear a headscarf? The complicated history behind France's latest Hijab controversy. Time Magazine. https://time.com/6049226/france-hijab-ban/