Published on March 04, 2017

Finally the world appears to be coming to terms with what Muslims have been experiencing for too long now –- Islamophobia or the fear of Islam and Muslims. This fear breeds prejudice and hate against Muslims at the hands of those who suffer a sort of mental condition wherein they are scared of everything related with Islam and the Muslims for a weird set of reasons.

Coined in Great Britain some two decades ago, the neologism Islamophobia literally means "undue fear of Islam". It also signifies "prejudice against Muslims" and joins other phobias spanning virtually every aspect of life. Over the years the term has achieved a degree of linguistic and political acceptance, to the point that as early as December 2004, then Secretary-General of the United Nations presided over a conference titled "Confronting Islamophobia". Subsequently, hundreds of conferences and seminars have been held and resolutions passed by international rights bodies and other forums to condemn the growing incidence of Islamophobia.

However, despite all this there has not been much change in the situation on the ground. Not only the common people but even the governments in the West have been involved in promoting and patronizing this hate. Indeed it is the amount and extent of this hate which has set people wondering whether Islam and the West inherently must clash. The centuries-old stereotypes of Muslims as “violent, oppressive, and intolerant” are a big reason, but a major share of blame can be placed on the mainstream media which has demonized Islam and the Muslims to such an extent that Edward Said dedicated an entire book – ‘Covering Islam’ to uncover this villianizing effect of the Western mainstream media. An interesting book ‘Islamophobia’ by Gottschalk, a professor of religion, also considers decades of political cartoons, Americans' casual demonizing and demeaning of Muslims and Islam as major contributing factors. The book says this demonizing is as common among liberals as conservatives.

This racist-like bias against Muslims is very real, and can be easily discerned by way of looking at the media’s reportage of and opinions about the events concerning or involving Muslims. It happens not only in the West but India’s mainstream media too is no different. The way news is packaged and presented is symbolic of the wider feelings and paranoia about Islam, and reflect misunderstandings and prejudice among the media-people about Islam which they keep on transferring to the huge swathes of audiences, thereby widening cultural chasms between Muslims and other communities.

Even as this growing Islamaphobia stands in sharp contradiction to international human rights obligations concerning freedoms of religions, yet it seems to have become a fad thing throughout the world. No wonder this prejudice against the followers of Islam fuels discrimination, extremism and misperception leading to polarization and fragmentation with dangerous, unintended consequences, some of which are already there posing serious challenges to the entire world. That Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism is and should be a cause of concern not only for the Muslims but other communities as well. It breeds a highly prejudicial behavior wherein a particular community is stigmatized, thereby legitimizing the discrimination they experience. This is something that goes against the grain of basic human decency, and as such merit outright condemnation by all those who believe in such virtues.

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