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Nowadays the world is facing many problems that lie in the sphere of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism as a whole presents many different questions and problems of the minorities that strive to be heard. One of the main issues today in my opinion is the problem of a worldwide Islamophobia. It is hard to define the concept of “Islamophobia” because this term covers a very wide range of meanings and is open to interpretation. In general, Islamophobia is considered a kind of xenophobia, a collective definition for various forms of a negative reaction to Islam, as well as to related social phenomena. However, this definition may change as the problem develops. For example, researchers G. Engelhardt and A. Krymin believe that Islamophobia is “actions and statements that Muslims rate as hostile to Islam”. In this term they include the criticism of Muslims, Islamic activists, Islamic dogma and social practice. Another definition of Islamophobia, however, appeared in 1997 when the Runnymede Trust (published the report “Islamophobia is a challenge for all.” Gordon Conway, who led this project, believed that Islamophobia is ‘the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims inherent in the media at all levels and common in all sectors of society.’
The first mention of the term ‘Islamophobia’ appeared in the essay of Orientalist Etienne Dine ‘East through the eyes of the West’ (“L’Orient vu de l’occident”) to denote a negative attitude towards Islam, which was traced through many clashes between the Muslim world and Europe from the crusades to the period of colonialism, which was religion based (Islam versus Christianity).
A large number of definitions and variations of Islamophobia are explained by the fact that Islam in any manifestation plays one of the leading political, economic and social roles in society. For example, the fear of Islam from the point of view of politics is determined with the help of the short formula: “Islam is not a partner, but an enemy”. That is, the world powers initially perceive the Islamic states as a possible threat or hindrance. As a result, they come to the conclusion that such states should either be avoided, or kept “on the spot”, or used for their own needs. Such unfounded prejudice often causes military conflicts in the Middle East.
In Russia during the monarchy the concept of Islam was rather vague, since there were restrictions on the distribution of religions, and subjects had different rights and obligations depending on their religious affiliation. Officials knew practically nothing about the Islamic culture, and it seemed to them as something hostile and alien. It can be said that before the revolution, there was a clear discrimination of Muslims: their ability to be represented in government was limited, Islamic religious institutions did not have autonomy and were regulated by secular authorities. I think that this policy was caused by the problematic relationship of the Russian Empire with the Ottoman which represented the Islamic World. These two states were the largest in Europe at that time and constantly conducted military actions. The discriminatory policy towards Muslims was manifested, for example, in the decrees of Emperor Alexander II. According to one of the decrees, non-Christians were entitled to no more than a third of the seats in the city council, regardless of their share in the electorate. And in 1892, this limit was reduced to one-fifth. The tsarist government showed distrust towards people of muslim belief, even in such an important aspect as military service. If it was necessary to gather a large army as fast as possible, it freed the representatives of Islam in the Caucasus from the duty to serve.
A separate side of Islam is Wahhabism. This is a religious branch, which is often confused with the Islamic religion itself. Wahhabism is a hostile, in some cases terrorist ideology. It seems to me that it is precisely the confusion of Islam and Wahhabism that is the main cause of Islamophobia in many countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the process of religious revival began in the country. These conditions were considered favorable by supporters of Wahhabism. The fact is that many religious education centers, where representatives of the Muslim clergy were trained in Soviet times, turned out to be abroad. Muslims of the North Caucasus had to build their own system of religious education. This process inevitably faced a shortage of personnel and a lack of religious educational literature, based on the principles of traditional Islam in Russia. These shortcomings began to be reimbursed by foreign “benefactors” who offered teachers, literature, and much more. As a result, it turned out that in the middle and higher Muslim educational institutions that appeared in the North Caucasus at the end of the last century, both the teaching staff and textbooks were often of Arabic origin. That is how the ideology of Wahhabism was introduced and promoted to impressionable youth.
Another aspect that leads to the spread of Wahhabism on the territory of European countries and Russia is the foreign policy strategy of the countries of Saudi Arabia. At least six thousand Arabian charitable foundations distributed in various countries of the world, including Russia, Wahhabi literature and sent preachers to local Muslims. Similar literature was disseminated through Russian pilgrims who visited Saudi Arabia during the Hajj (pilgrimage, visiting Mecca).
The sharp rise in Islamophobia around the world is linked to the events of September 11 and the wars being waged by the United States in Muslim countries. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that mass anti-Muslim speeches in Russia were not recorded even after the terrorist attacks, the perpetrators of which declared their commitment to Islam. This is in contrast to the United States, where, after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, extreme anti-Muslim manifestations and media articles were observed.
In addition to identifying Islam and terrorism (Wahhabism), other causes of Islamophobia can be identified. For example, sometimes the authorities of the state do not wish to recognize certain Sharia norms. The problem of banning the wearing of the hijab to Muslim girls in schools, universities and public places is well known. Interestingly, this ban can appear not only in non-Muslim countries. Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk in his work “Snow” describes the situation when in Turkey, in one of the small towns, girls are forbidden to wear a headscarf. Turkey is a very ambiguous country from the point of view of Islam, it contains elements of strict Sharia and a secular attitude to the Koran. It turns out that such an interesting manifestation of Islamophobia applies not only to the people of another religion. Be that as it may, the unwillingness of the authorities to recognize any such demands (especially in a multinational state) leads to Islamophobia and religious confrontation.
The same effect has a criticism of certain aspects of Islamic dogma and religious practice. Since criticism of any phenomenon is made mainly through the media, it turns out that any negative statements in newspapers, magazines or television programs about Islam lead to the spread of Islamophobia. From here grow various prejudices and stereotypes associated with Islamic culture.
Numerous researchers, politicians, scientists and specialists hold different opinions about the manifestations of Islamophobia in Russia. This is due to the great diversity of cultures and nations that coexist in the Russian Federation, as well as the ambiguity of judgments and the danger of claims of discrimination. For example, G. Engelhardt and A. Krymin believe that the persecution of Muslims in Russia from the ‘European point of view’ does not exist. Islam is ranked among traditional religions, there are no obstacles to acting on the religious rights, the authorities provide assistance in building new mosques, Islamic religious figures participate in government events, and the federal media gives their representatives a platform to spread their message. That is, from their point of view, enough to ensure that Russian Muslims do not experience discrimination on the basis of religion. It seems to me that, if such conclusions can be made, it is limited to the northwestern and central regions of Russia. Due to the large territory of our country, it is impossible to build categorical theories and define Islamophobia for the entire state. In all regions, this manifests itself in different ways, since the percentage of Muslims is not the same everywhere. In some areas, general xenophobic attitudes of the population do not mean a manifestation of religious hatred. For example, in the Russian regions of the European part of Russia and the Urals, the ethnic origin of visitors is emphasized, and not on Islam.
On the other hand, a number of Muslim leaders see manifestations of Islamophobia in Russia, which, in their opinion, consist in identifying Islam with terrorism, not recognizing a number of Sharia norms, criticizing certain Islam norms in cases of refusal to grant land for mosques. A striking example of such discrimination is the so-called Operation Fatima. According to this order in 2003, many Muslim women were tested as potential suicide bombers (or “kamikazes”). It was no longer enough for Muslim believers to show the policeman a passport with their registration. According to the instructions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the framework of this special operation, it was recommended that citizens who are wearing Islamic clothes, especially women in headscarves, need to be checked.
According to G. Engelhardt and A. Krymin, the emergence of the problem of Islamophobia in Russia is associated with the confrontation between the United States and the Islamic world. They believe that raising the question of real or hypothetical persecution may be beneficial to the Muslim community for the following reasons: attracting new members, consolidating external pressure, attracting the attention of the opposition and foreign public, demonstrating power and influencing the global news. It turns out that the problem of Islamophobia can be directly related to the political disagreements of the United States and Russia. There are opinions that the US is using military conflicts in the Middle East as an attempt to fear monger Russia and find its vulnerable spot. Iran is issued as a ‘model’ Muslim country, and the Iranian missile program serves as a pretext for deploying the US missile defense system. But to a greater degree this system is directed against Russia. Thus, the Americans attract Europeans to their side (and against Russia), because the more Europeans fear Iran, the more willing they will be to support the American missile defense initiative.
All these factors and manifestations lead to the fact that it is impossible to get rid of the problem of Islamophobia in Russia while the people are under the influence of the media and while the government is taking steps to discriminate against Islamic society. “Islamophobia has never disappeared in Russia, but now it has reached its maximum in the entire post-communist era, and the authorities are not doing anything to stop it. It gained new strength with the start of the war in Chechnya and is growing with every terrorist attack attributed to Chechen terrorists … All Muslims living in the country become targets of Russian fear and hatred.”
All major research in Europe is conducted by the ECM – the European Monitoring Center, which studies the issues of discrimination against the Muslim population. For example, with the help of studies conducted at this center, it was noted that after the events in London and New York, anti-Islamic propaganda increased significantly.
Through surveys of the ECM, the main trends of the image and mood towards Islam among Europeans were formed and many prejudiced stereotypes and general misconceptions were clarified. The majority of Muslims, despite the general trend of acceptance are discriminated against in the areas of work, housing or education. For example, in Germany, where the general nationality of an average immigrant is Turkish, the unemployment rate among Muslims is 20%, while the national figure is only 8%. A similar situation is with education. According to statistics, in countries where a significant part of migrants are Muslims, the percentage opportunity for obtaining higher education from a representative of Islam is much lower than that of the indigenous population. Most Muslims in France do not receive higher school or secondary special education. The same problem of Islamophobia is also manifested when applying for a job. According to the surveys, employers would rather hire a “white” citizens than a representative of Islam, or African and other nationalities.
Another finding of the ECM research is that hostility towards Muslims fits into the wider framework of xenophobia and racism towards migrants and minorities. Islamophobia enters into one big tangle along with discrimination of various minorities on the basis of religion, gender and cultural differences. The problem of migrants lies in the socio-economic marginalization, which causes them to coexist in ‘neighboring clans’ and not to enter into close contacts with representatives of the main social group. Fear comes from ignorance and rejection, and yet the fault of the migrants themselves is also there. This factor is even more important than religion.
Obviously, the media plays a big role in shaping Islamophobia in Europe. Apart from some atypical examples (the case of wearing the hijab in France), then, if you pay attention to the headlines of European newspapers, all the sensational and security-threatening topics will somehow be linked to Islam. From Islam comes the danger: in the form of direct physical danger – in the case of terrorism; in the form of danger to cultural, linguistic and national unity – in the case of discussion of specific religious practices; or in the form of danger to the established public order. The problem is that the media represents the life of Muslims in a ‘global’ way, without emphasizing that, for example, German Muslims have adopted more secularism than the conservative Muslims of Iran. This mixture of global and “separate” forces the citizens of the EU to see in every Muslim a potential threat. The media contributes to the construction of most of the problems of European Muslims, who, being not involved, are forced to ‘pay for’ the actions of others. And, of course, one of the driving forces to address the issue of Islamophobia was the events of September 11, 2001, which could be interpreted as a clash of two worlds – the Western and Islamic – that were not destined to live in peace and harmony.
Europe treats integration not as a necessary process, but as a problem. This perception is derived from the idea that integration is connected only with culture and religion. However, it has at least three levels: legal, socioeconomic, and cultural — and it is the combination of these three aspects that will allow us to take the right approach to the integration process and count on its success. Yet culture and religion in European society are considered as the most important elements. The immigration processes distinguish so-called “desired immigrants” (for Europe, these are Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans) and “suspicious immigrants (Muslims and Africans). Between these groups, an unofficial dividing line has been drawn up that regulates the level of discrimination of people in the areas of work, education and housing. The problem of Islamophobia in Russia and in Europe is decisive in many aspects. It is very important to understand its history and reasons in order to try to prevent its development. Having analyzed the current situation, it seems to me that the main engine of Islamophobia is the media. Recently, the role of the media has been distorted: now it is not so much about reflecting the world, but about creating it. From time to time the media creates new prejudices that, unconsciously perceived by society as true, lead to discrimination against minorities. Mass media does not have to declare that Muslims are dangerous. It is enough to give an example of a survey in the style of ‘yesterday Muslims did not like 30% of the population, and now 40%.’ Such things are strong enough in pushing people to choose a particular position, as the average person always wants to be in the jet and keep up with fashion.
Sometimes another problem of Islamophobia is the behavior of the authorities. Often, the current European governments are pursuing a policy that is undesirable for the people in terms of the infringement of workers’ rights. Under these conditions, it is important for them to divert the attention of the population from real problems and to occupy it with any secondary issues, for example, the acceptability of Muslim clothing for women. That is, the government creates false problems or accusations against the Shari’ah, while not realizing how much damage it can bring to the Muslim people. And we observe these consequences every day – from the rejection of communication with a representative of Islam to physical threats against him.
It is believed that Islamophobia in Europe may be associated with differences in the cultural traditions of Islam and other religions. This difference lies in wearing the hijab, in the matter of blood connections, in the predestination of marriages. However, no one requires, for example, to ban piercings, yoga or martial arts – all this attracts people much more, although it is a culture of another nationality. Europeans of past times would call piercing an imitation of savages, however now it is not inappropriate. It turns out that all the arguments about cultural differences do not make sense.
Discrimination on any grounds, especially religious, leads to cultural contradictions. In the era of globalization, it is very important not to allow the humiliation of any nationality. All instances of any kind of discrimination must be prevented, otherwise it may cause maximum tension between the nations and result in intense military conflict. In order to develop as human beings it is necessary that we stop hating on each other and realize that after all we are all people living on the same planet and that we all share common human traits. In the end, multiculturalism is what makes our world better and helps to understand each other, create and integrate new ideas into society and step forward in our cultural, technological and overall human development.
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