Traditionally, the society in the West in general and in the USA, in particular, has been built on the principles of tolerance, democracy, inclusion, and acceptance, what has ensured that people of all nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities have been welcome and not judged based on their unique peculiarities. Thus, for instance, the USA has been considered a melting pot of cultures and nationalities for a long time now. Moreover, the society within the country consists of representatives of different ethnic groups and is constantly complemented with new immigrants. Nonetheless, the proclamation of the above values has not managed to eliminate and prevent discrimination in a number of cases, including prejudice based on gender, race, or religion, characteristics that are an integral part of social life in the USA and in the West. Of course, the governments of Western countries and their respective societies attempt to address most kinds of discrimination; but the problem is that some types of discrimination are not recognized. In fact, another essential principle of social life in the West is freedom of speech, which often is confused with discriminatory statements and behaviors. In addition, it makes it hard to distinguish between instances when people merely voice their opinion and when they discriminate and prejudice against others. One of the topical instances of discrimination that is often confused with the freedom of speech and is not recognized as prejudice is Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a relatively recent term that denotes a long-standing tradition of the way the USA and the West view Islam and Muslims in general. Hence, the current library-based research paper is aimed at studying such widespread contemporary phenomena as Islamophobia, trying to determine whether this attitude is really prevalent in the West and the USA. Thus, the research question of this study is the following: Is Islamophobia really how the West and the USA view Islam? While conducting the study, it is necessary to provide a definition of the key concepts under consideration, trace the history, discuss impacts on Muslims, and consider some implications of this phenomenon for Muslims in general and in the UAE in particular.
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An overview of the available literature on the topic of Islamophobia shows that even though it is a relatively recent and highly controversial phenomenon, many researchers and scholars have studied it from different perspectives. However, one of the most widely studied issues is the definition of the concept and the discussion of its characteristic features. In fact, the latter is aimed at finding whether such a phenomenon as Islamophobia exists or it is a simple manifestation of the freedom of speech exercised by people who do not agree with the basic principles of Islam. Besides, many researchers study Islamophobia from the perspective of how it is manifested and conveyed by the media, who use it as a key source of influence on the public in the West. Some other popular topics in the research include conceptual and theoretical frameworks, impacts of Islamophobia, ways to address the problem and eliminate the negative perception of Islam, and comparison of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The current section of the paper will briefly discuss some of the most studied issues related to the topic under consideration.
One of the most controversial and frequently debated issues connected to the overall topic concerns the definition of the concept of Islamophobia. Virtually all scholars pay some attention to this aspect and emphasize that there is no unanimously agreed-upon definition of the term, because of the different approaches and understandings of the concept. The overwhelming majority of scholars use the definition proposed by the seminal work on the field of Islamophobia study, 1977 report of the Runnymede Trust, although most of them point out that this definition is far from being perfect and is used for convenience rather than because of its validity and comprehensiveness. Hence, this report was the first thorough study of such a phenomenon as Islamophobia. In fact, the authors tried to understand the concept better because of the existing tensions between Muslims and the rest of the population in the UK in the mid- and late 1990s. Thus, the report by the Runnymede Trust defines Islamophobia as “dread or hatred of Islam” and an “unfounded hostility towards Islam” (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997, pp. 1, 4). It mainly takes the foundations for the concept from the practical manifestations evident in British society at the time, i.e. exclusion or an attempt to exclude Muslims from the social and political life of the country. This negative attitude towards Islam results in “fear or dislike of all or most Muslims” (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997, p. 1). Although this definition of the concept is rather brief and subject to criticism, it is still widely employed and the report is considered the fundamental study in the field of Islamophobia research.
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It should be noted that the report emphasizes that the given definition is too narrow to provide a comprehensive understanding of the concept, which is why the authors complement it with eight closed views that characterize Islamophobia and help distinguish this prejudiced attitude from an open-minded and objective criticism of the religion. Firstly, Islamophobia envisions the belief that Islam is a static and monolithic religion (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). It means that Islamophobes are convinced that Islam as a religion lacks diversity and can be considered as a universal and unified code of religious beliefs and practices, due to which its adherents have no differences and disagreements. It also means that all Muslims are deemed to be the same, for instance, if al-Qaeda launches an attack, it means that all Muslims can do the same and, therefore, are violent and brutal by nature. Secondly, Islam is viewed as something different and separate from the rest of world religions, i.e. it has no shared core values with Christianity or Judaism and the Western culture in general (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Thirdly, within the framework of Islamophobia, Islam is an inferior religion, especially according to the West, because of its sexist, barbaric, and irrational nature (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Fourthly, Islam is regarded to be the enemy of the West, and since it is violent, aggressive, and hostile religion, its clash with the West is inevitable (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Fifthly, Islamophobes see Islam as a manipulative religion and consider Muslims to be devious strategic thinkers who have some military and political advantage over their rivals thanks to their religion (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Sixthly, Islamophobia is tightly connected with racism and discrimination against Muslims, and because of the above-mentioned characteristics, it is generally believed by Islamophobes that such mistreatment is justified, as these people threaten the West (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Seventhly, it is supposed that criticism of the West by Muslims is not justified and is invalid, and only the West has the right to disapprove Islam and its adherents because of their inferiority (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Finally, the report emphasizes that Islamophobia has become so prevalent that the anti-Muslim discourse is now accepted as something trivial and natural (Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, 1997). Overall, these eight closed views complement the definition of Islamophobia provided by the Runnymede Trust report and used by most scholars within the field.
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However, some researchers criticize the above definition and closed views, and consider them a rather inaccurate understanding of the concept. Thus, Green (2015) notes the views of some scholars, saying that modern Islamophobia is not about turning the religion of Islam into the enemy of the West, as it has been in the past, for example, during crusades, but rather about launching an attack against the society of Muslims. In fact, another possible way to refer to the phenomenon is “anti-Muslimism”, yet this term fails to convey the meaning of the movement even more than Islamophobia (Green, 2015, p. 25). In turn, Green (2015) believes that the above-mentioned definition offered by the Runnymede Trust can be used as a foundation if complemented with two views. Firstly, Islamophobia should be considered synonymous with “anti-Muslim and anti-Islam bigotry and hostility”, as Muslims actually suffer from discrimination and exclusion because of their real and perceived religious affiliation (Green, 2015, p. 32). Secondly, the term also “reflects bigotry rooted in cultural racism in addition to perceived religious differences”, thereby making Islamophobia tightly interconnected with racial and religious prejudice (Green, 2015, p. 32). This extensive definition of the concept given by Green (2015) seems to be the most comprehensive and accurate so far, and it does not contradict most views on Islamophobia as identified from the literature overview and critical analysis.
History of Islamophobia is another point of discussion upon which not all scholars agree. Hence, some, like Green (2015), emphasize that the term and the phenomenon are not new and trace it back to 1918 when it has been used for the first time by Etienne Dinet in French. Others, like Tyrer (2013, p. 21), consider it to be a relatively recent phenomenon, which has appeared in the 1990s as “a form of religious discrimination that emerged most forcefully as a backlash against Muslims in the wake of the terrorist atrocities that occurred in 11 September 2001”. In turn, Ali (2012) provides a detailed description of the history of the phenomenon and divides it into three main stages. The first stage can be referred to as Orientalism, which is defined as “the process of Arab racialization” and “the precursor to and one of the foundations of Islamophobia” that became widely-spread in the 1980s and 1990s (Ali, 2012, p. 1035). Orientalism is often viewed as a particular type of thinking that opposes the West. Moreover, the Orient, i.e. Arabs, is considered as something other, inferior, and alien to the West. The main difference between Orientalism and Islamophobia is the focus, as the former views Arabs as a racial construct, while the latter focuses on the religious categorization and concerns not only Arabs but all Muslims in general (Ali, 2012). The second stage started after the events of September 11, when Islamophobia became a policy and ideology promoted by the US government, whereby Muslims became subjects of discrimination and prejudice on the scale never witnessed before (Ali, 2012). An ideological and discursive shift occurred at the time, as implicit prejudice turned into outright discrimination and Muslims were perceived stereotypically as potential violent terrorists hating the West. Finally, the third stage of Islamophobia that is continuing today has started in 2008 during President Obama’s campaign, when he has been accused of being a Muslim (Ali, 2012). When denying such accusations, President Obama failed to emphasize that there was nothing wrong with being a Muslim and reinforced “the notion to the public that American Muslims are not ‘citizens,’ but indeed ‘others’” (Ali, 2012, p. 1051). It is yet to be seen how to further history of Islamophobia unravels, and whether the current third stage will be replaced with the fourth, given anti-Muslim attitudes voiced by the President-elect Trump.
Another widely studied issue related to Islamophobia is the desire to determine whether it is really discrimination and prejudice or merely a critique of Islam based on objective and subjective disagreements with its key provisions. As Green (2015) notes, many scholars, politicians, and activists truly believe that such phenomenon as Islamophobia does not exist, since there is no prejudice or discrimination against Islam and Muslims, but rather the exercise of the freedom of speech, under which all people have the right to criticize and question religious beliefs and practices, which they consider incorrect. Tyrer (2013, p. 21) mentions a popular view that “Islamophobia does not even exist other than as a cynically imagined political device designed to override our right to offend the foolish by critiquing their beliefs”. The most fundamental approach to this particular issue is offered by Imhoff and Recker (2012, p. 811), who distinguishes between “Islamoprejudice” and “secular Islam critique”. The term ‘Islamoprejudice’ is suggested to be a less negatively charged synonym of the term ‘Islamophobia’ and its definition complies with the one given by the Runnymede Trust as mentioned above (Imhoff & Recker, 2012). In turn, the secular criticism of Islam is used to distinguish prejudice from “laicist views that are extremely critical of certain practices allegedly commanded by Islam, Islamic fundamentalism, and religious authority over worldly manners” (Imhoff & Recker, 2012, p. 822). The use of the latter term may prove to be beneficial, as it can allow differentiating between unfounded prejudice and objective non-discriminatory criticism, yet the difficulty consists in developing a list of criteria that will permit considering criticism as impartial and unprejudiced by nature.
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Another theoretical consideration worth discussing in more detail is the comparison of Islamophobia with anti-Semitism. In fact, Tyrer (2013) notes that currently Islamophobia is widely studied as a form of xenophobia, while Green (2015) emphasizes that it is partially a manifestation of cultural racism. Bruckner (2015, p. 13) mentions that in its radical form, Islamophobia can be considered a part of “the Anti-Jewish archive …, a catalog of stereotypes, images, places, representations, stigmatizations conveying a perception and an interpretation of reality…As a discursive practice that can shift the object on which it bears, Anti-Semitism indeed transmigrated towards Islamophobia.” Nonetheless, it is difficult to compare the two movements since anti-Semitism has resulted in millions of deaths, while Islamophobia has less tangible impacts. However, the two are similar in terms of their enforcement on a state level, even though Islamophobia is hardly recognized as a part of the government’s policy as well as negative images of the targeted groups and decrease in the quality of life of these people.
The library-based research conducted for the purposes of writing the present paper allows answering the above-stated research question by stating that the USA and the West view Islam through the prism of Islamophobia, i.e. by applying negative prejudice, discrimination based on religion, race, and culture, and unjustified bias against the overall Muslim population. The “Muslim Problem” does exist in the contemporary Western society since the majority of people view Muslims negatively and perceive them through the prism of the eight aforementioned closed views used to define Islamophobia (Bruckner, 2015, p. 14). These negative views may be deemed to be prejudice based not only on religion, but also on culture, race, and ethnicity, which complicates the process of developing certain policies and measures aimed at addressing the problem. Besides, the views have severe repercussions for Muslims in the West and worldwide, because of the potential and real discrimination they might experience.
Overall, the critical analysis of several credible sources focused on the study of Islamophobia shows that this concept is “a composite and multi-dimensional construct” with several dimensions and different connotations (Iqbal, 2010, p. 81). Furthermore, “in its essence, the phenomenon is subtle, hard to understand and too complex to measure” (Iqbal, 2010, p. 82). However, it does not mean that scholars have to abandon attempts to develop tools that can measure the extent of Islamophobia in society. For instance, Imhoff and Recker (2012) have developed a new scale aimed at measuring Islamophobia to which they refer as Islamoprejudice and the secular Islam critique. The tool consists of several surveys with questions administered to participants to determine whether their views on Muslims and Islam are based on prejudice or critique, which is a part of their freedom of expression. The tool seems to be quite promising as it has managed to predict accurately an opposition to the construction of a new mosque to be a manifestation of Islamoprejudice, but more studies need to be conducted to test its validity (Imhoof & Recker, 2012). Based on this tool and theoretical considerations presented by Green (2015, p. 21), it may be established that there is a difference between Islamophobia as discriminatory prejudice and “legitimate, critical discourse about Muslim beliefs and practices”. One easy way to do so is to include in the latter criticism the policies implemented by Muslims that violate internationally acknowledged human rights and freedoms, as well as condemning terrorism. Nonetheless, it is difficult to determine which of Muslim practices and beliefs can be included in the category of legitimate and justified criticism, since the line between criticism and prejudice is very vague.
Another important finding of the present study concerns the impacts of Islamophobia on Muslims in the West and worldwide. Hence, Ali (2012) points out that the present stage of Islamophobia in the USA has degraded the status of American Muslims and affected all Muslims who want to come to the USA or any other Western country. Nowadays, they are considered as second-class citizens in the USA, since a typical Muslim American remains “a status citizen – but who is nevertheless denied full enjoyment of citizenship’s substance, including rights associated with citizenship” (Ali, 2012, p. 1053). Besides, even though today Muslims’ formal legal citizenship status is still intact, there have been some propositions to revoke the status based on a person’s loyalty or disloyalty to the country. Finally, Muslims are treated as second-class citizens because of limitations that have been recently imposed on their political participation caused by nationwide Islamophobia in the USA. For example, the country increased surveillance of this group, engaged in discrimination based on religious affiliation, outcried against the construction of mosques, and officially suggested banning the Sharia law in the USA.
Moreover, Islamophobia had become so pervasive in the West in general and the USA in particular that it turned into government policy. As evidenced by Lean (2012), after the events of 9/11 Islamophobic tendencies and moods have been incorporated into the national and foreign policies of the USA. The War on Terror launched in 2001 has instituted a belief in the West that Muslim-majority countries are hostile, dangerous, and terrorism-prone, which has contributed to the international spread and intensification of Islamophobia. The Bush Administration had created a belief that there were both “bad Muslims” and “good Muslims”, but the Americans became suspicious of all Muslims (Lean, 2012, p. 143). The governmental officials attempted to convince the American public that some Muslims, including primarily American Muslims, were good as they “were anxious to clear their names and consciences of this horrible crime and would undoubtedly support ‘us’ in a war against ‘them’” (Lean, 2012, p. 143). Nonetheless, the central message of such proclamations and policies was the fact that “unless proved to be ‘good’, every Muslim was presumed to be ‘bad’” (Lean, 2012, p. 143). Prejudiced attitude towards Muslims is also evident in the assumption that Muslims have to prove that they are good and loyal to the state, since people of a similar, yet more radicalized religious affiliation, have committed a horrible terroristic act. However, representatives of other religions were never obliged to clear their names and conscience despite other members of their faith who had engaged in serious crimes. For instance, Christians were never forced to prove that they are good when other Christians launched terroristic attacks or committed crimes affecting a large number of people like mass shootings. This comparison shows how unequally representatives of different religious and cultural groups are treated in the West, whereby dominant groups pressure minority groups into being accountable for the deeds of particular individuals from their community, which is highly unfair and discriminatory by nature.
It should be noted that there is a connection between the religious affiliation of individuals and their likelihood to have Islamophobic views on Muslims. Jung (2012) has conducted an empirical study aimed at revealing factors accounting for Islamophobia. The study has shown that religious affiliations are a statistically significant and relevant predictor of Islamophobia, according to which Christians have low regard for Islam and negative views on Muslims (Jung, 2012). This relation is also mediated by whether Christians claim God to be just or merciful. Thus, people who believe that God punishes individuals for their sins have a more negative view of Islam (Jung, 2012). However, frequent contact with Muslims somewhat mitigates the relationships and improves the view on Muslims and Islam in almost all representatives of different religious affiliations with the exception of evangelical and black Protestants (Jung, 2012). Contrary to other groups, the latter two have a worsened view of and lower regard for Islam and Muslims after the increased exposure to them. This way, it becomes obvious that the religious beliefs of individuals affect their attitude towards Islam and Muslims, as well as predict the likelihood of their support for Islamophobia.
In addition to religious and governmental causes of the spread and intensification of Islamophobia, the media and history are partially accountable for the present situation. Thus, since the Middle Ages, the Westerners have had negative views on Islam and have considered it to be a “threat to the western world”, “a threat to western security”, “present terror of the world”, and the “fifth column” (Iqbal, 2010, p. 88). After the events of 9/11, Islamophobia has become an attitude shaped by the mass media that have played an instrumental role in the promotion of hatred and hostility towards Muslims and Islam. In fact, the contemporary media are responsible for creating and reinforcing a wide range of stereotypes, as well as they are able to shape public attitudes and opinions, which they have done with respect to Islamophobia. However, it should be noted that they had built upon already existing inherent negative perceptions of Muslims that existed long before 2001 in the USA and the West in general. Therefore, the Western public readily accepted Islamophobia (Ali, 2012). Misrepresentation of Muslims in the Western media has resulted in the creation of fear and hatred among the Westerners. However, it had an unexpected outcome, since the Muslim media had changed the image of the West in the Muslim world. Hence, “just as the Muslims are being portrayed in the West and Europe as barbaric, irrational and intolerant, the West is also being represented as intolerant and anti-Muslim by the media in the Muslim world”, which is why Islamophobia and “anti-Americanism” have been growing at a similar pace (Iqbal, 2010, p. 97). Such tendencies negatively affect the relations between different countries, for instance, the USA and the UAE, and had adverse impacts on the international geopolitical situation by fostering division, intolerance, suspicion, and hostility. Overall, all the aforementioned findings support the hypothesis that the USA and the West view Islam and Muslims mainly from the perspective of Islamophobia.
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In conclusion, the library-based research shows that the USA and the West in general currently view Islam and Muslims through the prism of Islamophobia, i.e. from the perspective of unjustified prejudice and discrimination. This view is rooted in religious tensions between Christianity and Islam dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as contemporary phenomena, such as the media propaganda and the creation of the archenemy represented by Muslims as a part of the US War on Terror. Islamophobia is a complicated phenomenon that has several dimensions and has become deeply ingrained into the Westerners’ worldview, which is why it will be difficult to eliminate. In addition to having an impact on Muslims residing in the West, it affects the UAE and other Muslim-majority countries. With respect to the UAE, the rise of anti-Muslim views in the West means worsened relations with the USA and other European strategic partners of the country. It can also result in the intensification of anti-Western views among citizens of the UAE, which in the end can lead to the Cold War-like confrontation between the West and the Muslim world, including the UAE. Such confrontation will have adverse outcomes for the national economy, regional stability, and global security, and will provide international terroristic organizations with an opportunity to expand, while the most developed and rich countries of the world will be busy fighting each other. Therefore, Islamophobia is a dangerous tendency that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, which will benefit the world, including both Westerners and the international Muslim community.