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Report of Meeting on Islamophobia in Seville, Spain

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Submitted by Vishnu Gupta (India), Dec 5, 2005 at 23:34

An interesting report on Islamophobia.
[See http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=12066&CatID=19]

Islamophobia to the fore

Dileep Padgaonkar
Wednesday, November 30, 2005 20:39 IST

Popular and scholarly interest in Islam and the Muslim world soared in the West after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The number of converts to Islam also grew at a dramatic rate. Equally striking, however, has been the rising incidence of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim ideas, feelings and attitudes even within liberal sections of Western opinion. This much would be evident from the humiliations heaped on Muslims and from the phenomenal success of books spewing venom against Islam and its followers.

In the third week of October, a UN outfit and a private foundation brought together a dozen academics, journalists, clerics and social activists in Seville, Spain, to discuss the precipitous spread of 'Islamophobia'. The participants listed the manifestations of this phenomenon in much detail. These included, in the first place, the implicit and explicit association of Islam and Muslims with fundamentalism, bigotry, fanaticism, intolerance and terrorism through the 'institutionally Islamophobic media' in America and Europe.

The media were also taken to task for reinforcing stereotypes of Muslims as an educationally backward, culturally impoverished and socially retrograde people by reducing their beliefs - jihad, hijab, madaraasa-style education, kafir, triple talaq etc - to simplistic clichés. Such simplification, the participants agreed, served to harden racial attitudes against Muslims. It also projected a monolithic view of Muslims and as a consequence lent credence to the infamous doctrine of a clash of civilisations.

The one question that came up repeatedly at the meeting was whether Islamic injunctions were in tune with internationally accepted norms regarding democracy, human rights and gender equality. Muslim scholars were quick to point out that this was indeed the case and that any misunderstanding on this score had to be attributed to poor translations of holy texts, or that they were cited out of context.

Much the same sort of remarks were made in the discussion of other controversial issues such as the right of Muslims to convert to another faith, marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, the demonisation of non-Muslims and their religions in the media and history text-books of Muslim countries. A British Imam of Pakistani ancestry explained at some length that Islam enjoined on Muslims to interpret the Sharia in a way that allowed them to live in harmony with followers of others faiths and in accordance with the law of the land. This is why, he insisted, the entire Muslim community cannot be stigmatised because of the misdeeds of a few extremists in their midst who claim, falsely, to act in the name of Islam.

What then explains the outburst of joy in the Arab 'street' after a major terrorist outrage or the growing appeal of extremist Muslim groups? Is all this related only to the American tilt towards Israel in the Middle East conflict or to the American occupation of Iraq or again to the treatment of prisoners in American custody?

Several participants noted that Muslims indeed had their own phobias about other religious faiths and cultures which deserved to be urgently addressed. Moreover, they had to focus attention on why the Muslim world was deficient in terms of democracy, science, technology and the media. To merely reiterate that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance or to blame the West for all their shortcomings would not take them far.

A drawback of the Seville meeting was the near-absence of references in the discussion on Islamophobia to Islamic traditions in Africa and particularly in Asia which was home to the largest number of Muslims in the world. In both continents, Islam had mingled with local cultures for hundreds of years. Various schools of Sufism had flourished which were far removed from the rigid and austere forms of the faith that had evolved in West Asia.

As the only one in the meeting who did not belong to an 'Abrahamic' religion, I sought clarity on three issues. I wanted the participants to explicitly recognise that all religious endeavours deserve equal respect, in spirit and in law, from the state and civil society alike. Secondly, that no legitimacy should be accorded to individual or collective violence committed in the name of religion to settle historical or political scores. And, finally, that religious reasons should not be advanced to tolerate the violation of individual freedoms. On none of these three counts was there even a hint of dissent. At least not for the public record.
[Email: dileep.p@apcaglobal.com]

A friend comments on this report:

'Is it likely, one wonders, that "rising incidence of anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim ideas, feelings and attitudes" because of "humiliations heaped on Muslims and from the phenomenal success of books spewing venom against Islam and is followers", might just be a reaction to certain Muslim attitudes?

'Also, while he mentioned that topics like "rights of Muslims to convert to other faiths, marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, and demonisation of non-Muslims and their religions in the media and history text-books of Muslim countries" were discussed at the Seville conference, he sadly omitted revealation of what was the consensus of Islamic scholar-participants on these specific "controversial issues". That information might have been most enlightening.

'I rather feel that pious belief of Muslims to the very raison d'être of Islam – that all other religions are false and misleading [HQ 10:67, Pickthall] – cannot justly be viewed as "phobia", as some of the participants apparently opined, for it might be tantamount to questioning the faith itself.

'And his concluding remark (regarding three questions he posed) that "on none of these three counts was there even a hint of dissent" is wonderful news indeed! However, precisely what he implied by the last sentence, "At least not for the public record", was not immediately clear.'
Submitting....

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