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Not another wave of Islamophobia please!

By Alice Aslan - posted Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Islamophobia still dominates any debate on Islam and Muslims in Australia, and the terrorist attacks in India are very much likely to exacerbate this.

The horrific attacks in Mumbai are the latest manifestation of the destructive power of violence - which actually never achieves the social or political solutions and change intended by its perpetrators. On the contrary, violence begets violence and creates a vicious cycle by causing much suffering and compounding grievances on both sides of conflict, while destroying the possibility of negotiating differences and resolving conflicts through dialog, diplomacy and politics.

Whether perpetrated by a superpower like the US against other states - as in the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq; or by a state against a marginalised group - such as the violence used by the Israeli state against marginalised Palestinians; or by marginalised groups against civilians - such as the violence perpetrated by the Palestinian suicide bombers; or by the marginalised Muslims in India against civilians: violence cannot be justified. All these examples of violence have so far shown that resorting to violence is not the right solution for achieving social and political goals.

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It is therefore time to reflect on establishing a strong and just international legal system which will be equally binding for all states in the world, and which will encourage and enforce the use of diplomacy in conflict resolution. Also the marginalised minorities should be incorporated into the mainstream political system in every country and given the chance to express their demands and grievances through politics, thereby replacing violence with peaceful methods of negotiation.

While violence can never be justified, I also believe that the 9-11 terrorist bombings in the US, other terror attacks in Europe, and the latest attacks in Mumbai, all of which were perpetrated by Muslims, happened in different contexts and reflect different social and political realities, which rather than framing these attacks as another manifestation of clash of civilisations, need to be understood.

Unfortunately today violence is often used in ethnic and religious conflicts; for example as Irfan Yusuf points out in an opinion piece, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and all other extremists in India resort to terrorism. So it is important to understand the root causes of violence, and to establish credible local and international legal systems which secure justice for everybody. It is also important to genuinely promote human rights and minority rights as ways of stopping violence, rather than resorting to arguments of culture wars by Muslims against non-Muslims.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks some people have called on Muslims to speak out against these terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists. These people “imagine” that there is a global homogenous Muslim community which acts together as one body and which should be held accountable for the actions of Muslim extremists.

The Muslim world is not homogenous at all. It is diverse and made up of different ethnic, national and sectarian groups and individuals with different worldviews, political opinions and lifestyles. In Muslim countries there are atheists (like myself, I am an atheist from a Muslim background from Turkey); agnostics; non-practicing Muslims; Muslims who are not aware that they are Muslims; Muslims who have never read Koran; practicing Muslims; conservative Muslims; very conservative Muslims; liberal Muslims; secular Muslims; “lefty” Muslims; socialist Muslims; capitalist Muslims; intellectual Muslims; working class Muslims; middle-class Muslims; poor and rich Muslims; young and old Muslims; peasant Muslims; provincial Muslims; urban Muslims; celebrity Muslims; Muslims with reality-show-addictions; Muslim housewives; Muslim career-women; Muslim single-mums; homosexual Muslims; arty Muslims; funky Muslims; environmentalist Muslims; feminist Muslims; sexually conservative Muslims; sexually liberal Muslims; Muslims who enjoys the company of the opposite sex; Muslims who prefers female/male segregation; Muslims who are legally obliged to live in a female/male segregated society in theocratic Islamic states; Muslims who drink alcohol; Muslims who never drink alcohol, and the list goes on.

Furthermore, these Muslims can be Algerian, Arabic, Australian, American, Bosnian, German, Turkish, Kurdish, Iranian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian and so on, and they might belong to Sunni, Shi’ite and other Islamic sects.

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So why do some people think that all these Muslims with diverse identities should feel related to the Indian Muslim terrorists and should feel responsible for their horrific violent actions just because these extremists happen to be Muslim as well?

I suggest that it is more reasonable to call on the Indian government to punish these terrorists, and take necessary social and political measures to prevent any ethnic and religious violence in India since in the contemporary world the nation-state is the highest authority in every society. The populist rhetoric that always describes Muslims as one big global community and holds them responsible for Islamic terrorism only fans the flames of Islamophobia.

Unfortunately, Islamophobia - the discrimination against Muslims- still prevails in Australia, and even appears in On Line Opinion, supposedly a quality Australian e-journal of social and political debate. For instance, Keysar Trad, the founder and spokesperson of Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, recently published an opinion piece "In defence of Muslims" in On Line Opinion to inform the Australian public about issues related to some Australian Muslims. His post has generated much discussion, if we can call it a discussion, which mostly involves abusive Islamophobic comments.

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About the Author

Alice Aslan is a Turkish-Australian anthropologist, writer and activist based in Sydney. She is passionate about the arts, ideas and justice. She is the author of "Islamophobia in Australia". She can be contacted at alice.aslan@gmail.com

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