Religious Encounter Issue
The issue examined in this case study analysis will be the Muslim response to Islamophobia and negative stereotypes associated with the religion due to high-profile media coverage of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. The case study along with other sources examined the attempt to provide a perspective, both academic and personal on the reality of the Islamic faith, how it is an inherently peaceful religion, and the internal struggle it faces to distance itself and combat the fundamentalists which misrepresent all Muslims in Western society (Clarke 2016). Anti-immigration and anti-Muslim nationalist attitudes have replaced the fear of communism in the post-Soviet collapse era. The image of exclusionist and violent Muslim societies was created in Western society in the late 1990s and especially post 9/11 as the primary fundamentalist cause of political, economic, and social problems. This discourse inherently defines Islamophobia and is being taken advantage of by right-wing extremists which erode values of human rights, multiculturalism, and democracy that the West strongly values (Kedikli and Akça 2018) Therefore, it is important for those with Muslim heritage living in Western societies to speak up and change the Islamophobic narrative.
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The first voice is an interview with Dr. Lynda Clarke regarding Islamic stereotypes and Islamophobia (Clarke 2016). Islamophobia is an irrational and uninformed fear and hatred of the Islamic religion. It is fueled by popular culture stereotypes. Islamophobia is often a controversial topic of discussion as the extent of disinformation may differ. The media is not completely at fault for promoting Islamophobia but makes a critical mistake of identifying one type of Muslim as a representative of the whole religious group, lacking diversity. For example, the common stereotypes of Muslims are emphasized as men or women who dress in traditional clothing and coverings, being very religious to point of militant hostility. However, on some occasions, the media does conduct competent journalism to represent the true diversity of Islam. In the conversation of Islamophobia, it is important to accept that there are fundamentalists and radical extremists. Nevertheless, a range of Muslim voices attempting to combat Islamophobia and irrational fear is much more extensive and worthwhile (Clarke 2016).
Muslims have a great diversity which is based on both personal history and preferences as well as societal aspects. For example, someone in a religious minority may arrive at the faith and therefore, be more emphatic and understanding of the perceptions around them. Meanwhile, someone who is born into the faith and contributes significant time to pray without giving much thought about the basis of such actions may offer a completely different belief. Muslims, such as those living in France where society is secular, may choose to lead a more private form of worship rather than attending mosques. Therefore, prayer, which is an essential foundation of being a member of Islam, is practiced and viewed very differently, representing the great diversity of the religion. In a consciously multicultural society, Islamophobia and negative public discourse should not prosper due to the tolerance of the population, openness of media, and a public dialogue led between the government and Islamic communities (Clarke 2016). Many Muslim organizations such as the Ismaili are actively attempting to build an understanding and a pluralistic society as it inherently helps for the acceptance of the religion and reducing Islamophobia.
The second voice is a TED Talk presentation given by an Islamic speaker and activist Dalia Mogahed (TED 2016). Muslims are often viewed as someone who is brainwashed and symbols of oppression. Many people believe that Muslims follow their faith blindly, thus resulting in concepts such as terrorism. However, many of them, similar to other faiths, question their beliefs and wrestle with many aspects. Muslim-Americans are just as afraid, uncertain, and condemning of terrorism. Despite the irrational and intolerant claims that Muslims should be removed from the United States, or at least, strictly monitored and restricted, Muslim-Americans are an essential component of American society, including from spiritual, social, and economic perspectives (TED 2016).
Terrorism and stereotypically violent perceptions of Islam are a narrative set by groups such as ISIS which do not represent the beliefs of the whole religion. Many people outside the faith believe that religion radicalizes individuals, particularly easily influence youth. This is supposedly done at Muslim gatherings such as mosques. However, the civic and community engagement which is the Mosque promotes as a place of religious gathering is the opposite of radicalization. Terrorists find and radicalize their followers by cutting them off from their families and local Muslim communities and making individuals believe that the twisted Islamic ideology of terrorists is correct (TED 2016). In a country that is not readily accepting of Muslims or condemns the religion of an individual in places of work or education, this can be a tremendously isolating factor. It can be argued that Islamophobia helps to create terrorists rather than protect them from them. Therefore, it is in the best interests of Muslims to gather in mosques and engage in public religious and civic activism which can be a mechanism to combat Islamophobia and common stereotypes by offering transparency and education about the faith.
The third voice is a scholarly panel conducted by Karima Bennoune, a well-known legal and religious scholar discussing the societal struggle against Jihadist terrorism (Bennoune 2015). She describes Jihadist terrorists as Muslim fundamentalists which do not represent the wholesome concept of the faith. It is inherently the Jihadists who drive the narrative of Islamophobia. Bennoune outlines several strategies of how the Muslim community and overall society can be used to support “opposition to fundamentalism in Muslim majority contexts and diaspora populations” (Bennoune 2015, p. 144). She notes that what the popular media and news often miss during the headline coverage of terrorism is the thousands of Muslims actively defying the violence and contesting the radical ideology behind it, even in regions where such terrorist groups operate freely and directly eliminate opposition.
The primary purpose of this argument is to serve as a reminder to be vigilant about radical Islam terrorism and the unjust discrimination against Muslims and immigrants in Western society. It is unarguably difficult, requiring a major paradigm shift in societal thought. The trend is for policymakers and international law experts to avoid speaking about Muslim fundamentalists. However, Muslim human rights activists and even the general communities are calling on the opposite – to engage in a dialogue that would no longer tie the radicals to political Islam. Those with Muslim heritage should not be afraid but speak out and participate in the debate, especially if they are safely living in Western diasporas. Through this dialogue and collaboration, it is possible that the world will begin to shift its perspective on Islam, and no longer be dictated by the narrative established by radical fundamentalists (Bennoune 2015).
The three voices analyzed for this assignment were similar in their theme of establishing Muslim solidarity, cohesiveness, and interaction with society as a minority as strategies of combatting the radical fundamentalists which only represent a significantly small population, and interpretation of the religion. Due to the violence and anti-Western attitudes of these terrorist organizations, Western society has grown to resent Islam or view it in a negatively stereotypical manner. Unfortunately, that is a narrative-driven by the media, as research demonstrates that the primary and majority of Islam-related topics in the news were regarding terrorism, war, and migration, with Muslims, framed in a dominantly negative and violent manner (Ahmed and Matthes 2016). In the modern information age where media holds such a strong influence over the attitudes of populations, it comes as no surprise that Islamophobia is so prevalent and many lack the understanding of the true nature of the Islamic religion. It is evident in personal interactions with individuals of Muslim heritage that they are kind and open. It is reflected in their worship, culture, and community which pray at Mosques. Islam has many aspects, with some strict rules, but it is a faith of tradition that Muslims attempt to respect and expect others to do so as well (SoulPancake 2013).
However, it is not anyhow associated with radicalism which is portrayed and discussed in the news and popular media on a constant basis. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, practiced in more than 48 countries but its image has been defined by a small group of fundamentalists for the past decades despite its core beliefs focused on altruism and peace (Esposito n.d.a). In a globalized world, it is inevitable that Western society will encounter Muslims through immigration and other means. However, the fear of Islamophobia must end as it is essentially a never-ending spiral of violence spawned by ignorance. The status quo can change with a competent delivery of information and profound understanding among people (Esposito n.d.b). Meanwhile, mainstream Islam continues to cohesively unite and send a message to groups such as ISIS. That ISIS is a cult that does not represent the values, teachings, ideology, or methods of Islam in any shape (Islamic Media 2017).
Ahmed, Saifuddin, and Jorg Matthes. 2016. “Media Representation of Muslims and Islam from 2000 to 2015: A Meta-Analysis.” International Communication Gazette 79 (3): 219–244. Web.
Bennoune, Karima. 2015. “Acting TOGETHER to Stop Those Who Are Killing Us: International Law and the Civil Society Struggle Against Jihadist Terrorism.” In Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law), Vol.109, Adapting to a Rapidly Changing World (2015), 143-152. Washington, D.C.: Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.
Clarke, Lynda. 2016. Interview with Laurie Lamoreux Scholes. Personal interview. Canada, November 9.
Esposito, John L. n.d.a ” Islam: Overview” Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Web.
Esposito, John L. n.d.b “Why Do We Need to Know About Islam?” Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Web.
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Kedikli, Umut, and Mehmet Akça. 2018. “Rising Islamophobic Discourses in Europe and Fight Against Islamophobia on the Basis of International Organizations.” Sciendo 9(1): 9-23. Web.
Islamic Media. 2017. “Powerful Message to ISIS | By Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman.” YouTube video, 2:37. Web.
SoulPancake. 2013. “Successful Day at a Mosque | Have a Little Faith with Zach Anner.” YouTube video, 9:57. Web.
TED. 2016. “What It’s Like to Be a Muslim in America | Dalia Mogahed.” YouTube video, 16:16. Web.