Displaying items by tag: Islamophobia
World must speak out against religious violence
All over the world, we are witnessing rising levels of violent hate crime inspired by religious ideology for which there seems to be no lasting and sustainable solutions.
For example, India is now one of the top five countries in the world known for physical hostility against religious minorities, according to Pew Research.
For a start, the call should be to increase awareness of the phenomenon, as well as cultivate a sense of empathy with victims of religious violence and persecuted minorities who are not our co-religionists or compatriots.
Specific examples of religious violence around the world include ethno-religious cleansing of the Rohingya by the Buddhist Burmese majority; lynching of Muslims by Hindutva supremacists in India; vigilante persecution of non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan; communal and terrorist attacks on the Copts in Egypt; sporadic inter-ethnic and inter-religious violence in parts of Indonesia such as Sulawesi and West Papua/Irian Jaya; militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka targeting religious minorities, especially Muslims; acts of terrorism by Boko Haram against Nigerian Christians; and continuing oppression of Palestinian Muslims and Christians by Zionists (whose Jewishness or DNA credentials could well be dubious and), justified (wrongly so) by an appeal to a fantasy notion of biblical legacy.
It's submitted that the roots of religious violence lie deeper than just religious fanaticism. Religious identity only provides that ideological cloak for the competing and contestation of rival political, social or economic interests.
FIRSTLY, we have to be sensitive and empathetic to the plight of our fellow human beings in other parts of the world suffering from genocide and violent persecution irrespective of ethnicity and religion.
SECONDLY, we should be moved to take some form of concrete action, however small, in terms of that which is outside our society (that is, regional, international) which directly relates to these situations.
The kind of practical action we can take might be:
SPREADING the word to others such as neighbours, colleagues, co-religionists;
INVOLVEMENT with non-governmental organisations as members or volunteers/supporters in organising roadshows, public talks, seminars and so on to create awareness and explore concrete measures to address religious violence, etc;
COLLECTIVE prayers at mosques, churches, temples; and,
PETITIONING the relevant authorities such as Wisma Putra, and international bodies such as the United Nations, Asean, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Arab League, etc.s to pressure and assist host governments to combat the scourge of religion-based terrorism.
We at EMIR Research pride ourselves in taking the central or middle ground of moderation and rejecting extremes on both sides of the spectrum or polar opposites. It, therefore, behoves us to speak up about such issues with the view of promoting solidarity, sympathy and support for the affected communities (just as in the case of the Palestinians) in the name of humanity and universal values.
Whether these communities suffer from internal displacement due to ethno-religious conflict and cleansing or intense and institutional persecution by both state and society, all of us have a role to play in standing up to violence done in the name of our religion (whichever it is).
Not to mention, too, that so-called religion-inspired violence too often leaves behind a trail of destruction (infrastructural, environmental) that sets back the sustainability and liveability of these zones of conflagration. Thus, violence in the name religion also interlocks with environmental and sustainable development issues as embodied by theUN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In conclusion, in our effort to build a better, and more just, equitable, progressive and peaceful world, we certainly cannot avoid highlighting these issues, sensitive though it may be to a few. Speaking and standing up against religious violence should perhaps be on top of our agenda for the 21st century, among other policy challenges.
May we and our government have that resolve to articulate forcefully on this subject — beyond just the Palestine issue — on behalf of oppressed Muslims and non-Muslims alike as part of the common challenges we face as the human race.
The writer is head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research
Published in: New Straits Times, Thursday 26 November 2020
Muslims should take legal path
"WE will always defend freedom of expression...But freedom of expression is not without limit...
We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Business Times, Oct 31).
This extract from Trudeau's statement was in reference to the Charlie Hebdo reproduction of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) drawings on Sept 2. Indeed everything has its limits. If expression has limits, so does the reaction to that expression.
The editorial of the Charlie Hebdo magazine wrote: "We have always refused to do so, not because it is prohibited... but because there was a need for a good reason to do it.
"To reproduce these cartoons in the week the trial begins over the January 2015 terrorist attacks seemed essential to us."
So, what was this "good reason"? Perhaps, it saw a benefit to be gained from violence. Yes, it indeed benefited from the violence that these provocative cartoons had instigated.
Below is an extract from Wikipedia supported by the New York Times and France 24.
"Charlie Hebdo had struggled financially since its establishment until 2015. As the magazine was facing a loss of €100,000 by end of 2014, it has sought donations from readers to no avail.
"The international attention to the magazine following the 2015 attack revived the publication, bringing some €4 million in donations from individuals, corporations and institutions, as well as a revenue of €15 million from subscriptions and newsstands between January and October 2015. According to figures confirmed by the magazine, it gained more than €60 million in 2015, which declined to €19.4 million in 2016. As of 2018, it spent €1 million to €1.5 million annually for security services."
The French freedom of expression is protected by "The 1789 Declaration of Human and Civic Rights" incorporated by reference into the French Constitution, according to Nicolas Boring, a foreign Law specialist.
But then, why was Charlie Hebdo (earlier known as Hara-Kiri Hebdo) banned in 1970? According to Time.com, Charlie Hebdo "was banned for mocking the death of former French president Charles de Gaulle".
Following the reprint and Emmanuel Macron's defence of the reprint rights of the magazine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Oct 24 suggested that Macron was "mentally unstable".
This prompted the French government to recall its ambassador to Turkey because the head of the state is protected under the Law of July 29, 1881 (Limits on Speech against Institutions and Office holders).
Boring explains: "Yet, while French law considers free speech to be an essential component of a democratic society, it is not seen as absolute."
French legislators and courts seek to balance freedom of speech with other imperatives, such as other freedoms and rights, and public order. Thus, freedom of expression may be limited for the sake of protecting privacy, protecting the presumption of innocence, and preventing defamation and insults.
Freedom of expression may also be limited for the sake of protecting public order. It is, therefore, illegal to incite others to commit a crime, even when no crime ends up being committed. I am indeed forced to wonder what should have been the appropriate action of Macron's government based on past experience.
And if an ambassador can be recalled, what should have been the reaction of countries that consider Prophet Muhammad as their head and guide?
Talking of prophets, Muslims of France and the globe have erred in their reaction. They reacted and protested selfishly. They reacted partially. They must let the world know that Muslims cannot accept any obscenity when it comes to religious figures in Islam and Christianity.
In fact, there are more than 12 cases filed by Christian organisations against Charlie Hebdo for blasphemy.
Muslim organisations in France must join hands with them and take the legal path.
The French, Dutch, Danes and the world must understand that permitting obscenity against the prophets revered by millions benefits no one except those who promote hate mongering and violence.
Published in: New Straits Times, Saturday 21 November 2020
Memahami polemik negara, agama dan kebebasan di Perancis (in Bahasa Malaysia)
RENTETAN daripada komen-komen kontroversi Presiden Perancis Emmanuel Macron terhadap Islam serta tindakan beliau mempertahankan perbuatan menghina Nabi Muhammad SAW, umat Islam di seluruh dunia telah bangkit menyatakan bantahan dan amarah. Sehubungan dengan itu, Macron telah mengeluarkan beberapa kenyataan balas bagi membuat penjelasan dan meredakan ketegangan. Beliau berulang kali mempertahankan prinsip kebebasan bersuara, termasuk kebebasan untuk memperolokkan agama. Dalam masa yang sama, beliau turut menegaskan hak kebebasan beragama bebas diamalkan termasuk oleh umat Islam Perancis.
Namun begitu, dakwaan ini dapat dipersoalkan kesahihannya dalam konteks realiti hubungan antara negara dan agama di Perancis. Ini kerana Perancis mempunyai undang-undang khusus bagi menangani masalah anti-semitisme. Sebarang perbuatan menzahirkan kebencian terhadap masyarakat Yahudi adalah dilarang, termasuk perbuatan mengkritik negara Israel dan rejim Zionis. Justeru, timbul persoalan berkenaan layanan berbeza terhadap agama Islam apabila perbuatan mempersendakan Islam yang menyemarakkan Islamofobia di Perancis dipertahankan atas nama kebebasan bersuara.
Selain itu, reaksi Macron sendiri dalam menghadapi kritikan keras masyarakat antarabangsa turut dipersoalkan. Ini kerana beliau sendiri seakan melatah apabila dikritik tajam oleh pemimpin dunia yang lain, sebagaimana yang dilakukan oleh Presiden Turki yang menyifatkan beliau sebagai memerlukan ‘rawatan mental’. Begitu juga Kementerian Luar Perancis yang menyeru supaya seruan boikot terhadap produk Perancis dihentikan serta-merta dan menganggapnya sebagai tidak berasas. Hal yang sama berlaku apabila kehidupan peribadi beliau menjadi mangsa olokan seperti tindakan Presiden Brazil yang mempersendakan jarak perbezaan usia diantara Macron dan isterinya.
Seterusnya, dakwaan bahawa kebebasan beragama bebas diamalkan di Perancis turut dipertikaikan. Larangan pemakaian simbol agama seperti hijab bagi muslimah, mempamerkan salib bagi penganut agama Kristian dan lilitan kepala lelaki Sikh di sekolah, bangunan kerajaan serta tempat awam yang lain jelas menyekat kebebasan mengamalkan ajaran agama. Bahkan tindakan keras telah diambil kepada mereka yang ingkar seperti tindakan buang sekolah kepada pelajar. Justeru itu, jelaslah dakwaan Macron berkenaan kebebasan bersuara dan beragama bukanlah sesuatu yang mutlak. Terdapat situasi di mana kebebasan bersuara serta beragama dapat dihalang melalui campur tangan negara. Oleh itu, timbul persoalan berkenaan pola hubungan antara negara, agama dan prinsip kebebasan di Perancis.
Bagi menjawab persoalan ini, kita perlu memahami konteks yang lebih menyeluruh berkenaan hubungan antara negara dan agama di Perancis. Perancis mengamalkan dasar sekularisme yang memisahkan agama daripada negara. Sekularisme merupakan ideologi dan pandangan alam (worldview) yang memfokuskan kepada aspek keduniaan dan materialisme dan meninggalkan aspek keagamaan. Manakala sekularisme versi Perancis yang dikenali sebagai laïcité dapat merupakan sekularisme garis keras yang bersifat asertif. Melalui dasar ini, sekularisme dianggap sebagai ideologi rasmi negara dan perlu memainkan peranan aktif memastikan ruang awam adalah bebas daripada unsur keagamaan.
Selain itu, dasar Perancis turut kuat dipengaruhi oleh elemen republikanisme, sebuah ideologi yang mementingkan hubungan langsung rakyat dengan negara serta nilai-nilai asas yang perlu diterapkan negara kepada rakyatnya. Ini menjadi justifikasi bagi dominasi institusi negara dalam ruang awam untuk menerapkan nilai sekularisme sebagai identiti negara dan seterusnya menghalang pengaruh nilai keagamaan. Elemen kepelbagaian budaya dan agama yang terhasil daripada kedatangan imigran luar juga kurang diambil kira dalam republikanisme Perancis. Bahkan para imigran ini yang dilihat perlu berintegrasi sepenuhnya kedalam masyarakat asal Perancis dan mengutamakan nilai-nilai masyarakat sekular yang sedia ada.
Dengan itu, kesemua elemen sekularisme, laïcité dan republikanisme ini memainkan peranan besar dalam menentukan perhubungan antara negara, agama dan kebebasan di Perancis. Ini tercermin melalui penjelasan Emmanuel Macron terhadap prinsip kebebasan yang diamalkan di negara beliau. Undang-undang anti-semitisme digubal untuk menjaga hak masyarakat Yahudi daripada terus didiskriminasikan. Dalam hal ini Macron membezakan antara kebebasan untuk mempersendakan agama sebagai sebuah ajaran (blasphemy), dengan larangan untuk mendiskriminasikan penganut agama berkenaan (public defamation). Oleh itu perbuatan mempersendakan dan memperolokkan Judaisme sebagai sebuah ajaran agama adalah dibenarkan, namun perbuatan menzahirkan kebencian terhadap penganutnya dianggap sebagai anti-semitisme yang dilarang.
Begitu juga halnya dengan reaksi beliau yang mengkritik tindakan boikot serta serangan peribadi yang ditujukan terhadap beliau. Ini dianggap sebagai melampaui batasan kerana dapat memudaratkan kehidupan masyarakat serta imej peribadi. Dalam kedua hal ini, jelas bahawa ideologi sekularisme telah dijadikan kayu ukur bagi menentukan had kepada kebebasan bersuara. Fokus hanya diberikan terhadap perbuatan yang mampu memberikan kesan buruk terhadap kehidupan fizikal serta material manusia, sedangkan perbuatan memburukkan imej dan simbol suci agama dianggap tidak mendatangkan sebarang mudarat fizikal dan material kepada sesiapa, justeru dibenarkan atas dasar kebebasan bersuara.
Manakala dalam isu kebebasan mempraktikkan agama, laïcité dan republikanisme memainkan peranan penting dalam membatasi kebebasan beragama sekadar dalam ruang peribadi kehidupan rakyat, sedangkan interaksi di ruangan awam perlu didominasi oleh ideologi negara iaitu laïcité yang menghalang sebarang simbol serta nilai agama. Hal ini bersesuaian dengan realiti ajaran Kristian di Barat hari ini yang telah mengalami proses sekularisasi, iaitu pemisahan antara institusi gereja dan negara, dengan ruang politik, ekonomi, dan sosial telah lepas bebas daripada kawalan agama. Namun begitu masalah timbul apabila ideologi ini terpaksa berhadapan dengan sistem agama yang bersifat komprehensif seperti yang terdapat pada agama Islam. Dalam hal ini, negara terpaksa campur tangan untuk menghadkan peranan agama kepada aspek peribadi semata-mata.
Walhasil, jelas bahawa prinsip kebebasan bersuara dan beragama yang dilaungkan bukanlah bersifat neutral dan sama rata kepada semua. Sebaliknya, ia sangat dipengaruhi oleh ideologi yang menjadi dasar kepada negara. Dalam hal ini, adalah menjadi satu ironi apabila prinsip kebebasan itu sendiri dijadikan alat yang berkhidmat untuk memperjuangkan ideologi yang bersifat memusuhi agama, manakala dalam masa yang sama mengekang kebebasan beragama. Ternyata bahawa kita sedang bermain di atas padang yang tidak sama rata, apabila hak kebebasan bersuara untuk memusuhi dan mempertikaikan agama dibiarkan sewenangnya di ruang awam manakala hak kebebasan beragama pula dihadkan dalam ruang peribadi semata-mata.
France must honestly reflect, no need to pontificate
As events unfold in France centring around Islamophobia, there is a feeling of déjà vu. We have witnessed this a few times before this sequence of events. There is some provocation or other targeting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) initiated by a non-Muslim group or institution.
Predictably, Muslims react. In the midst of demonstrations and rallies, an act of violence occurs perpetrated by an offended Muslim and/or his co-religionists, leading to further demonisation of Muslims in the media, which by this time is in a frenzy.
Feeling targeted, some Muslim groups escalate their response, sometimes causing more deaths to Muslims and non-Muslims even in countries far away. One also hears of calls to boycott goods produced in the country where it all started.
On this occasion, too, it was French President Emmanuel Macron's vigorous assertion that cartoons of the Prophet, produced by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and republished since, represented freedom of speech that angered a lot of Muslims in France and elsewhere, though some other remarks he made recently about "Islam being in crisis" and "Islamic separatism" also annoyed some people.
However, it was the beheading of a French teacher who had shown the cartoons in a class discussion on freedom of speech by a Muslim youth of Chechen origin that provoked not only Macron but also other leaders and a huge segment of French society to react with hostility towards Muslims and Islam.
It should be emphasised that almost all major Muslim leaders and organisations in France condemned the beheading. So did many Muslims in other parts of the world.
Not many Muslim theologians have argued publicly that resorting to mindless violence to express one's anger over a caricature of the Prophet is an affront to the blessed memory of God's Messenger. For even when he was physically abused in both Mecca and Medina, Prophet Muhammad did not retaliate with violence against his adversaries.
He continued with his mission of preaching justice and mercy with kindness and dignity, an attitude that should be nurtured and nourished in the Muslim world today, especially by those who command religious authority and political influence among the masses.
If a change in approach is necessary among some Muslims, French society as a whole should also reappraise its understanding of freedom of speech. It should never glorify the freedom to insult, mock, humiliate another person or community or civilisation.
Respect for the feelings of the religious other should be integral to one's belief system, secular or not. Just because the French state and much of French society have marginalised religion, it does not follow that it should also show utter contempt for a Muslim's love and reverence for his/her Prophet, especially when six million French citizens profess the Islamic faith.
Indeed, respecting and understanding the sentiments and values that constitute faith and belief has become crucial in a globalised world, where at least 80 per cent of its inhabitants are linked to some religion or another. We cannot claim to be champions of democracy and yet ignore, or worse, denigrate what is precious to the majority of the human family.
This does not mean we should slavishly accept mass attitudes towards a particular faith. Reforms should continue to be pursued, but it should not undermine respect for the foundations of that faith.
French leaders and elites who regard freedom of speech or expression as the defining attribute of their national identity should concede that there have been a lot of inconsistencies in their stances. A French comedian, Dieudenne, has been convicted in court eight times for allegedly upsetting "Jewish sentiment" and is prohibited from performing in many venues.
A cartoonist with Charlie Hebdo was fired for alleged "anti-Semitism". A writer, Robert Faurisson, was fined in court in the 60s and lost his job for questioning the conventional holocaust narrative. Many years later, French intellectual Roger Garaudy was convicted for attempting to reinterpret certain aspects of the holocaust.
The hypocrisy of the French state goes beyond convictions in court. While officials are rightfully aghast at the violence committed by individuals, France has a long history of perpetrating brutal massacres against Muslims and others. The millions of Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans who died in the course of the French colonisation of these countries bear tragic testimony to this truth.
Vietnam and the rest of Indo-China reinforce this cruel and callous record. Even in contemporary times, the French state has had no qualms about embarking upon military operations, from Afghanistan and Cote d'Ivoire to Libya and North Mali, that serve its own interests of dominance and control rather than the needs of the local people.
Honest reflections on its own misdeeds past and present are what we expect of the French in 2020. No need to pontificate to others. This is what we would like to see all colonial powers of do — partly because neo-colonialism is very much alive today.
The writer is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Published in: New Straits Times, 04 November 2020
Kebebasan bersuara persenda agama wajar dipertikai (in Bahasa Malaysia)
Konflik berterusan antara Perancis dan masyarakat Muslim memasuki episod baharu.
Ia rentetan tragedi pembunuhan Samuel Paty, seorang guru sekolah di Paris gara-gara menayangkan karikatur menghina Nabi Muhammad SAW dalam sebuah kelas berkenaan kebebasan bersuara.
Tambah mengeruhkan keadaan ini apabila Presiden Perancis, Emmanuel Macron, memilih untuk mempertahankan tindakan penyiaran karikatur itu oleh Charlie Hebdo, sebuah majalah satira kontroversi yang sedia terkenal menyiarkan karikatur yang mempersendakan dan menghina agama lain, terutama Islam.
Tidak lama sebelum itu, beliau turut mengeluarkan beberapa kenyataan negatif terhadap Islam yang mengkritiknya sebagai agama yang sedang berada dalam krisis di seluruh dunia.
Tindakan itu menimbulkan kemarahan masyarakat Muslim seluruh dunia dengan beberapa pemimpin dunia Islam seperti Presiden Turki, Recep Tayyip Erdoan dan Perdana Menteri Pakistan, Imran Khan, mengecam tindakan itu. Turut digerakkan kempen boikot produk Perancis di negara Islam.
Provokasi dan penyebaran kebencian terhadap Islam dan masyarakat Muslim ini bukan baru di Perancis. Charlie Hebdo sebagai contoh berulang kali menyiarkan pelbagai karikatur menghina Nabi Muhammad SAW.
Namun, semua ini berterusan dilakukan atas nama kebebasan bersuara, sebuah prinsip yang dijulang tinggi sejak sekian lama dalam budaya dan masyarakat Perancis.
Hal ini terbukti melalui Declaration of Human and Civic Rights pada 1789 yang meletakkan kebebasan bersuara sebagai prinsip kebebasan asasi dan utama dalam masyarakat Perancis.
Justeru, perbuatan mengkritik, mempersenda dan melakukan satira terhadap agama sering dilihat sebagai sebahagian penting daripada prinsip kebebasan bersuara yang dijamin Perlembagaan Perancis.
Pada masa sama, limitasi terhadap pengamalan prinsip ini dilihat terlalu longgar serta terbuka untuk dimanipulasi. Di atas kertas, kebebasan bersuara ini hanya boleh dihadkan serta dihalang apabila pelakunya melampaui batasan seperti menyokong keganasan secara terang-terangan, mencetuskan fitnah dan menyebarkan kebencian.
Namun demikian, secara realitinya larangan ini kurang terpakai apatah lagi apabila membabitkan perbuatan mempersenda dan memperolok agama, terutama terhadap masyarakat Muslim.
Hal ini didorong sejarah panjang kon?ik antara negara dan agama di Perancis yang menatijahkan persepsi negatif terhadap agama. Sebagai kesannya, Perancis hari ini mengamalkan dasar sekularisme garis keras atau dikenali sebagai laïcité.
Ia membezakan antara urusan agama dan negara, mengehadkan agama kepada ruang peribadi semata-mata, seterusnya mena?kan peranan dan sumbangan agama dalam ruang awam.
Sejarah kolonialisme Perancis terhadap dunia Islam pada abad ke-19 dan ke-20 menyaksikan penentangan sengit oleh masyarakat Muslim. Ia seterusnya membawa kemunculan masyarakat minoriti Muslim di Perancis, turut menyumbang kepada imej negatif Muslim dalam kalangan sesetengah masyarakat negara itu.
Hal ini mendorong kemunculan golongan pelampau kanan yang memandang imigran luar terutama komuniti Muslim di Perancis sebagai satu bentuk ancaman kepada negara mereka.
Masyarakat Muslim yang mempunyai identiti berbeza serta teguh mengamalkan agama, dilihat tidak akan mampu untuk berintegrasi sepenuhnya ke dalam negara yang sekular itu.
Justeru, prinsip kebebasan bersuara tanpa panduan dan limitasi yang jelas disertakan dengan persepsi negatif sedia ada terhadap minoriti Muslim Perancis ini menyebabkan mereka menjadi mangsa kepada penindasan, tekanan dan diskriminasi yang dilakukan atas nama kebebasan bersuara.
Kebebasan bersuara kini bertukar menjadi alat tunggangan bagi menjustifikasikan perbuatan mempersendakan Islam yang menjurus kepada Islamophobia.
Hal ini jelas berbeza dengan prinsip kebebasan bersuara menurut perspektif Islam. Islam sejak awal lagi meletakkan tujuan yang jelas bagi penggunaan prinsip kebebasan bersuara ini.
Manusia diberikan kebebasan untuk bersuara dalam rangka untuk mendatangkan manfaat dan kebaikan kepada orang lain, serta menjauhkan mereka daripada mudarat dan keburukan.
Oleh itu, kebebasan bersuara perlu disertakan dengan tanggungjawab untuk melakukan kebaikan seperti bagi tujuan menasihati, perbincangan (syura), melakukan inovasi (ijtihad), melakukan kritikan dan semak imbang (mu‘aradhah) serta mencegah salah laku (hisbah).
Kebebasan ini tidak boleh digunakan sewenang-wenangnya bagi tujuan yang sia-sia, apatah lagi menjurus kepada keburukan dan mudarat.
Lantaran itu, Islam meletakkan had sempadan jelas terhadap pengaplikasian prinsip ini. Terdapat larangan keras terhadap perbuatan jahat yang dilakukan atas nama kebebasan bersuara seperti menyakiti orang lain dengan kata-kata, menghasut dan mem?tnah, mencaci, menyumpah seranah serta mempersendakan agama.
Dengan itu, jelas bahawa prinsip kebebasan bersuara perlu dipandu dengan tujuan yang jelas bagi mendatangkan manfaat kepada orang lain, serta tidak boleh melampaui batasan sehingga memudaratkan orang lain.
Tindakan Perancis yang menggunakan alasan kebebasan bersuara bagi membenarkan kebebasan mempersenda dan memperolokkan agama lain, wajar kita tentang dan pertikaikan.
Apatah lagi, terdapat hipokrasi jelas dalam tindakan ini, bila mana kebebasan bersuara dilindungi dengan begitu bersungguh-sungguh, namun pada masa sama, hak kebebasan yang lain terus ditindas dan disekat, terutamanya hak kebebasan mengamalkan agama, seperti yang berlaku dalam kes pengharaman hijab di sekolah dan tempat awam di Perancis.
Sesuatu yang ironi apabila hak kebebasan Muslim untuk beragama terus ditekan dan dihadkan kepada ruang peribadi semata-mata, namun ruang kebebasan untuk melakukan penghinaan dan provokasi terhadap Islam itu sendiri dibuka seluas-luasnya di ruangan awam.
Oleh yang demikian, kita perlu menyampaikan mesej lantang dan jelas kebebasan bersuara ada hadnya!
Prinsip kebebasan bersuara perlu dipandu dengan tujuan yang jelas bagi mendatangkan manfaat kepada orang lain, serta tidak boleh melampaui batasan sehingga memudaratkan orang lain.
Penulis adalah Penganalisis Institut Kajian Tinggi Islam Antarabangsa (IAIS) Malaysia.
Berita Harian 29 Oct 2020
Islamophobia and the Law: Unpacking Structural Islamophobia
When we think of Islamophobia, most of us imagine physical harassment, verbal abuse, hate speech, or even to a lesser degree, dirty looks and insensitive passing comments. In reality, this is how we, or people we know, have experienced anti-Muslim racism and bias. It is real, tangible, and in your face. Often these forms of Islamophobia evoke an emotional response from us as they are experienced at a very individual level and are tantamount to attacks on our very being and essence as individuals. Such experiences can have the effect of caricaturing us to reductionist embodiments of a monolithic block of ‘Muslimness’ that in no way represents our faith, beliefs, or our intersectionality as complex multifaceted beings composed of multiple identities, affiliations, and viewpoints. However, there are more subtle and insidious forms of Islamophobia that exist, which may pose far greater challenges for Muslims living in the West. These forms of Islamophobia are institutional and structural in nature. In previous articles, I have written about the notions of ‘structural Islamophobia’ and ‘private Islamophobia’ as described by Beydoun.
Private Islamophobia, as alluded to in the discussion above, is enacted by private actors. These could be informal and formal groups, like the English Defence League and other street protest movements, or individuals like neighbors or a random stranger in the street. Structural Islamophobia, on the other hand, consists of anti-Muslim racism and bias authorized by the state. With structural Islamophobia, state power is operationalized to legislate policy and programming to subordinate and oppress Muslim classes and to vilify Islam. The notion of a ‘clash of civilizations’ is embedded within structural Islamophobia; this notion legitimizes and sanitizes the securitization of the Muslim subject. The reason that structural Islamophobia is more problematic than other forms that may randomly appear in our day-to-day experiences is because structural Islamophobia, in essence, legalizes Islamophobia. In other words, through the law, state power is able to create regulations that target and marginalize Muslims simply because they are Muslim. This can have devastating effects on young Muslims and can possibly contribute to internalizing Islamophobia.This article explores the notion of structural Islamophobia and how it is increasingly becoming endemic in a number of European and North American nations.
Structural Islamophobia in the European context
Most forms of structural Islamophobia manifest through limiting and controlling visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ in the public sphere. Muslim women are often the targets of this type of Islamophobia. A number of European nations have passed legislation curtailing expressions of ‘Muslimness’ and Islam through laws that prohibit face and head veils. In some instances the laws are framed in general terms, banning clothing that covers one’s face for security reasons, while in other instances there is no pretense of neutrality and the law specifically targets Islamic face coverings. In 2011, one of the first European nations to implement a face-covering ban was Belgium. Belgium implemented a nationwide ban on full-face covering clothing including burqas and niqabs. This law was challenged on the basis that it violated basic rights of religious expression; however, in 2017 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the ban did not “violate the rights to private and family life and freedom of religion, or discrimination laws.” In 2016, a number of smaller European states followed suit and implemented similar face-covering bans. Both Bulgaria and Latvia implemented laws banning face veils. Individuals found wearing the face veil in Bulgaria could face fines up to £660, while in Latvia, this law was instituted despite there being only three known instances of people wearing such clothing in the nation. In 2017, The Austrian Parliament adopted a face-covering clothing ban in public spaces. This law was implemented under the guise of preserving national security. Individuals wearing face veils such as the niqab were fined 150€. Similarly, in 2018 Denmark passed a law banning face veils. People violating this ban would be fined £115, and repeat offenders could face fines ten times that amount. The Netherlands also passed a face veil ban in 2018. Under this law the face veil was banned in public spaces such as schools, hospitals, public transport, and government buildings; however, it was still permitted in public streets. Face veils were not the only visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ that were banned. Restrictions were even placed on Islamic looking structures in some European nations. For example, in 2009, Switzerland held a referendum to ban the construction of minarets on mosques. Media coverage of this issue included inflammatory rhetoric from the political Right arguing that minarets were a symbol of the impending Islamization of Switzerland, despite the fact that there were only four minarets in the country at the time of the referendum. In all of the above-mentioned examples, these laws and bans were implemented through support from right-wing and far-right political parties that came to power in these nations. However, not all instances of Structural Islamophobia have been at the hands of right-wing and far-right political parties. In the case of France, the notion of French secularism was used to advance structural Islamophobic discourse and legislation.
France was the first European nation to implement formal restrictions of Muslim women’s dress in the public sphere. As early as 2004, under the guise of advocating state neutrality and secularist ideals, France implemented a ban on religious clothing in state schools. Though this ban affected a number of religious minority groups, Muslim women were overwhelmingly targeted through this law, as it was regularly referred to both in public and political discourse as the ‘veil law.’ The state went on to ban Islamic face veils through a niqab ban in 2010, and even attempted to ban the burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women, in a number of French municipalities in 2016. The lines between public and private policing of Muslim women’s dress became blurred in France through a recent controversy over the selling of sports hijabs by sports retailers. In February 2019, Decathlon, Europe’s largest sports accessories vendor, decided against selling sports hijabsbecause of growing criticism and scrutiny from French politicians over such clothing. This distaste for visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ within French culture and society is not a recent phenomenon. Rather, it has an enduring legacy that can trace its roots back to the colonial era.
In his critical essay ‘Algeria Unveiled,’ Frantz Fanon discusses the French colonizers’ project of removing the Muslim headscarf from Algeria in the 1930s. According to Fanon, the colonizers perceived the headscarf as a cultural identifier. They believed that by eliminating the headscarf they would be taking steps towards destroying Algerian culture in the colony. Dismantling Algerian culture was essential, as the colonizers viewed themselves in stark contrast to the colonized. According to Al-Saji “[t]he representational apparatus of colonialism not only constitutes the image of the ‘native’ but posits this image in opposition to a certain self-perception of colonial society and against an implicit normalization of gender within that society.” It is through this dichotomizing gaze that a civilized self emerged in contrast to a barbaric ‘Other.’ This perception of the ‘Other’ constructed the Muslim head veil as a deviation from French society and was therefore deemed unacceptable. This historic legacy of racism and limiting religious and cultural expression in the public sphere has fostered an atmosphere in France where political parties can legislate laws that target minority communities, claiming they are threatening French culture and identity. In addition to policing Muslim women’s dress, structural Islamophobia has manifested through legislation that has disproportionately targeted Muslim men. The most virulent example of this can be seen in anti-terrorism laws and programming aimed at curtailing and preventing individuals from violent extremist activities.
One of the most widely criticized aspects of the United Kingdom’s response to countering violent extremism programming has been the Prevent strategy. The Prevent strategy forms a branch of the UK’s overall countering violent extremism policy referred to as Channel. Prevent came about in the mid-2000s and was aimed at identifying individuals who may be on a trajectory towards violent extremist activity and to prevent such individuals before they engaged in these activities. In 2015 the program was instituted on a statutory basis. This required people working in the public sector, such as teachers, nurses, and other healthcare professionals, to report individuals they suspected were vulnerable to radicalization. Not doing so could involve institutional repercussions. The Prevent strategy did not claim to target any specific ethnic or religious group; however, in practice, the Prevent strategy has unfairly and overwhelmingly targeted Muslim communities in the UK. According to data collected by UK government in 2018, ‘Islamist extremists’ are 17 times more likely to be referred to Prevent than individuals engaging in ‘far-right’ extremist activities. Despite only representing 5% of the UK population and accounting for roughly 5% of the terrorist-related activities in the nation, Muslims represent 65% of the referrals to Prevent. Furthermore, 95% of the Muslim referrals to Prevent require no further Channel intervention. In other words, 95% of the Muslims referred to Prevent are falsely identified and pose no threat to UK society. Muslims are 40-50 times more likely than non-Muslims to be referred to the Prevent strategy, a quarter of these referrals are youth under the age of 15. Clearly, the Prevent strategy has disproportionately targeted Muslim communities in the UK and consequently has had far-reaching effects in these communities. Many Muslims in the UK feel stigmatized because of the wide net cast by this program. Muslim parents have to think twice about how they educate their children about Islam and may even encourage them to engage in self-censorship out of fear that they may be flagged through this program. These concerns are very real and legitimate, as Muslim children as young as four-years-old have been misidentified by this program. A similar process of structural Islamophobia can be observed in North America through legislation policing visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ and through state surveillance and securitization programming.
Structural Islamophobia in the North American context
Structural Islamophobia in the Canadian context can be observed at both the provincial and federal levels of government. Some Canadian provinces have passed laws and legislation targeting Muslim minorities in ways that are specific to their localized contexts, while the federal government has also enacted nationwide policies that have adversely affected Canadian Muslims. With regard to localized manifestations of structural Islamophobia, the province of Quebec recently passed legislation banning religious clothing, including the hijab, in certain public spaces in the province. With the emergence of a right-leaning nativist government recently coming to power in Quebec, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), emboldened by their majority election victory, was able to pass Bill-21. Bill-21 is a law, under the guise of promoting state secularism in the public sphere, that would prohibit state employees in positions of power, such as teachers, police officers, judges, and others, from wearing religious symbols. A number of religious minorities have been affected by this ban, as it prohibits the Sikh turban, Jewish skull caps, and the hijab, to be worn by public sector employees. However, as was the case in the European context, this ban disproportionately impacts Muslim women, as a number of women who wear the hijab work within educational institutions throughout the province. This is not the first time the province of Quebec has targeted Muslim minorities through discriminatory laws.
In the mid-2000s there was an uproar in the province around the notion of reasonable accommodation—permitting religious minority groups to adhere to their religious practices in the public space. These concerns were precipitated by a series of highly publicized cases including a Sikh boy wanting to wear a kirpan to school, an 11-year-old Muslim girl being disallowed by a referee from participating in a soccer match because of her hijab, as well as a synagogue requesting an adjacent YMCA to frost their windows so that women wearing tight-fitting clothes would not be visible to members of the congregation. A few other incidents exacerbated tensions such as the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruling against a local French university, École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS), forcing them to accommodate Muslim students attending the school with prayer space, as well as cases of disputes of pregnant Muslim women requesting female doctors in Quebec hospitals. Ultimately, this led the Quebec government to launch a wide scale investigation into the issue of reasonable accommodation. The commission investigating the issue found that Quebec identity and culture were not in any significant way under threat. However, in the aftermath of these public debates, municipalities across Quebec instituted horribly ignorant and racist immigration codes of conduct, despite these municipalities having a practically non-existent immigrant population. These immigration codes banned things such as the stoning of women, honor-based violence, and other acts, which were already illegal within the province and country. Clearly, a number of the declarations by these municipalities were banning practices commonly associated with a perception of Muslim barbarism. These declarations, not so subtly, made certain assumptions about the backwardness and incivility of Muslim immigrant communities and unapologetically proclaimed their incompatibility with Quebec society and culture. Structural Islamophobia can also be observed at the federal level in both the USA and Canada through securitization practices and countering violent extremism programming. The most blatant examples of this can be seen in the USA PATRIOT Act and the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act.
The USA PATRIOT Act is a piece of legislation that was introduced in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks ostensibly to strengthen national security. Measures within the Act have been widely criticized by civil rights organizations as it introduced extensive measures to enable a hyper-securitized state that compromised fundamental human rights. Provisions within the Act enable the state to detain non-citizens suspected of terrorism indefinitely; use secret evidence, without granting permission to the accused to access the evidence; monitor religious and ethnic groups; obtain wiretaps and searches without warrants; as well as many other abuses of power that are tantamount to pre-emptive punishment—a situation where people are being punished before they have committed any crime or wrong-doing. In the Canadian context, similar laws have been enacted in the form of the Anti-Terrorism Act (2001 and 2015) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Measures within the Anti-Terrorism Act (2001) include:
the strengthening of state powers of surveillance and detention; the imposition of greater restrictions on immigration and refugee policies; the increased scrutiny of immigrants and refugees (both at the borders and within the country) and a strengthening of the powers of deportation; a commitment to fighting the war against terrorism under the leadership of the Bush administration, most specifically to participate in the war on Afghanistan; and the intensification of intelligence, security, and military alliances with the United States.
Although not as many Muslims have been affected by this law in Canada as in the US, a number have been racially profiled, intimidated by Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), and most notably, provisions within this law allowed for the illegal detention, extraordinary rendition, and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent in 2002. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act authorizes the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in conjunction with the Solicitor General to issue a security certificate. Security certificates, like the provisions mentioned above, suspend rights and due process for non-citizens residing within Canada. The majority of security certificates in the post-9/11 context have targeted Muslim men of Middle Eastern origin. A security certificate permits:
the detention and expulsion of non-citizens who are considered to be a threat to national security. Detainees have no opportunity to be heard before a certificate is issued, and a designated judge of the federal court reviews most of the government’s case against the detainee in a secret hearing at which neither the detainee nor his counsel is present. The detainee receives only a summary of the evidence against him. Detention is mandatory for non-permanent residents…and there is no possibility of release unless a person leaves Canada, or the certificate is struck down, or if 120 days have elapsed and deportation has still not taken place.
Additionally, detainees deported to their countries of origin as a result of a security certificate face the possibility of torture there. These provisions strip away basic and fundamental human rights. Muslims detained on the grounds of security certificates in the post-9/11 context include Hassan Almrei, Mohammed Mahjoub, Mohammed Jaballah, Mohamed Harkat, and Adil Charkaoui. All men have languished in prison for three to seven years and have spent varying amounts of time in solitary confinement. All five men have spent time under house arrest with extremely strict conditions; some of them felt the house arrest conditions were so humiliating and difficult that they preferred to return to prison. Another component of the structural Islamophobic security apparatus in the post-9/11 context has been the use of agent provocateurs by the state.
There have been a number of instances, both in the US and Canada, where agent provocateurs have been employed trying to fish out terrorists where they would not otherwise exist. A report published by New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice entitled Targeted and Entrapped (2011) found that the government often resorted to “a dangerous incentive structure” by offering informants reduced criminal charges or changes in immigration status. The report goes on to mention that the “government’s informants introduced and aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad and moreover, actually encouraged the defendants to believe that it was their duty to take action against the United States.” This has been the case with a number of informants and agent provocateurs including Shahed Hussain in the case of the Newburgh Four; Craig Monteilh who infiltrated a Southern California mosque for the FBI, Shamiur Rahman, who was paid US $1,000 a month by the NYPD to ‘bait’ Muslims into making incriminating statements; as well as Mubin Sheikh and Shaher Elsohemy, the informants who provided a firearm, three tons of ammonium nitrate, and were paid $300,000 and $4.1 million, respectively, in the Toronto 18 case. The practice of pre-emptive punishment and the use of agent provocateurs is indicative of how a constant cloud of suspicion is cast over Muslims in North American societies and demonstrates how Muslims have experienced structural Islamophobia in the post-9/11 context. Structural Islamophobia in the European and North American contexts has also had serious negative effects on young Muslims in these nations.
According to one study conducted by Suleiman, young American Muslims feel exasperated at the need to demonstrate their ‘Americanness’ in the present climate. Such a status was not a taken-for-granted experience for these youth. In a sense, these young American Muslims feel they need to prove their ‘credentials’ as their ‘Muslimness’ may have brought their loyalty to their nation into question. Such a scenario is hardly surprising when the state has legislated and legalized Islamophobia. Suleiman’s study also suggested that the mental anguish brought on by heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in society has caused young Muslim women in America to question the extent to which they display visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness.’ Suleiman described how the vast majority of the young women interviewed in his study who wore the hijab considered taking it off out of fear. Almost half of the respondents said that they did take off their hijabs in certain settings because they felt threatened. Undeniably, structural Islamophobia has had serious repercussions, especially among Muslim youth. When visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ become increasingly seen as a violation against the state, and targeted laws associated with national security overwhelmingly police Muslims, it reinforces the notion that Muslims are ‘Other’ in society. Consequently, Muslims may feel conflicted between being Muslim and American and in some instances may feel that they need to choose between those two identities. In other words, due to structural Islamophobia, some youth may feel an incongruity between their Muslim and American identities, seeing these categories as mutually exclusive. As such, structural forms of racism, like Islamophobia, can cause young American Muslims to devalue their position in society and can have damaging effects on their mental health and self-identification.
Structural Islamophobia has become increasingly pervasive in western nations in the post-9/11 context. It frequently manifests as legislation policing Muslim women’s dress, as well as policies that promote securitization practices and targeted countering violent extremism programming. This type of Islamophobia is more impactful than private Islamophobia as it legalizes anti-Muslim bias. Laws aimed at regulating visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness’ like the hijab, niqab, and burqa in the public sphere are often framed as measures to promote national security or state neutrality, while simultaneously viewing such clothing as an affront to national values, culture, and ideals. Laws that promote the securitization, surveillance, and policing of the Muslim subject are also lauded as neutral laws and necessary measures for national security. Structural Islamophobia is far more insidious than private Islamophobia because it is subtle and indirect. Furthermore, it can have harmful effects on Muslim youths’ self-identification, as many young Muslims have internalized Islamophobia through the ‘Othering’ caused by structural Islamophobia. This ‘Othering’ may cause some youth to feel that being Muslim is incompatible with being a westerner. Islamophobic legislation are usually framed in neutral terms not identifying any specific groups. But how neutral are these laws when they overwhelmingly target a specific group?
These laws are framed as exceptional in nature. In the example of laws that limit visual signifiers of ‘Muslimness,’ it can be argued that personal rights of self-identification, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion are values that are trumped by national security or the values and culture of that society. But in how many instances do such measures even promote national security? Are children not allowed to wear masks on Halloween? Do people not cover their faces and heads because of weather conditions? Has anyone dressed in a niqab or burqa committed crimes and used these forms of dress to hide their identity? Furthermore, by arguing that these visual signifiers somehow contradict state values, culture, and identity, it is further excluding vulnerable and marginalized members of society. Does this not contradict the western ideals of inclusion and diversity? Laws that target Muslims through securitization and countering violent extremism programming are also described as states of exception necessary for national security in the current climate. As such, racial profiling and targeting of specific groups for securitization measures have become endemic, while other groups or individuals who do not fit a Muslim profile often fly under the radar.
Introducing laws and legislation that are framed as states of exception is an extremely slippery slope, as those states of exception become normalized and embedded in law and society. Though such practices may initially be sanitized through rhetoric concerning national security, the eventuality of these states of exception is that certain groups become excluded from society by law indefinitely. It is essential for Muslims living in the west to understand structural Islamophobia and to resist it, as silence in the face of these targeted laws and practices threatens our existence in these nations. Furthermore, the existence and promotion of structural Islamophobia emboldens Islamophobes and feeds into the narrative promoted by Islamophobic hate groups that promote a “clash of civilizations” viewpoint, arguing that Muslims do not belong in these nations. Ultimately, structural Islamophobia adds fuel to the private Islamophobia fire. It creates living conditions for Muslims in western nations that are increasingly challenging and may cause doubt with regards to their sense of belongingness to these societies.
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TV project is first step in tackling Islamophobia
The decision made by the governments of Malaysia, Turkey, and Pakistan on the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly to jointly establish an English television channel to counter Islamophobia in the West is very timely.
I have written in this column on how the debate on Islam and Muslims in the West has been shaped and largely determined by the secular-liberal ideals of European enlightenment which cannot accommodate a non- Western religion such as Islam.
This skewed discourse on Islam in the West is being actively promoted by an Islamophobia industry that manufactures hatred of Muslims.
Pushing back against this narrative is not easy because Islamophobia did not suddenly come into being after the events of 9/11.
Like anti-Semitism and xenophobia, it has long and deep historical roots.
Its contemporary resurgence has been triggered by the significant influx of Muslims into the West in the late 20th century, the Iranian revolution, hijackings, hostage taking, and acts of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe.
A USA Today-Gallup Poll last year found that a substantial number of American minorities admit to having negative feelings or prejudices against people of the Muslim faith.
Similarly, statistics and attitudes documented by a number of research institutions all point to an alarming increase in Islamophobia in the West.
The European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, for example, had documented that there were increased and widespread acts of discrimination and racism against Muslims in 15 European Union member countries following 9/11.
In a follow-up report in 2008, the Runnymede Trust concluded that Islamophobia was a pervasive feature of British society and characterised media reporting on Muslims and Islam as biased and unfair.
It should be noted that those who speak out on the issue of Islamophobia often do so at great risk.
The network of Islamophobia industry is quick to smear and slander anyone that would challenge them, and counter their hateful messages with calls for equality, justice, and religious freedom.
The Islamophobia industry may be driven by a relatively small network of individuals and organisations but the extent of their reach and consequences of their programmes engender anti-Muslim hate within vulnerable groups of people who, once tuned in to such propaganda, join their ranks.
The prejudices they generate are not of little consequence.
They are no longer a fringe element that can be dismissed. They have managed and continue to attach Islamophobia permanently to the banner of right-wing populism that it is fast becoming structurally identical to anti-Semitism and other such institutionalised hatreds.
The anti-immigrant drumbeat about the impending demise of Europe’s religious and cultural identity in the face of Islamic threat has been aided by media coverage that lumps diverse identity, demographic, economic, and social conflict issues together under the umbrella of religion.
Rioting in French ghetto areas inhabited by North African Arabs is portrayed as Muslim rather than as protests against poverty and hopelessness.
Muslim boycotts in London protesting Danish cartoons that depicted Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist with a bomb in his turban and conflicts over the hijab in France, Turkey and Denmark are seen exclusively as religious issues rather than also as issues of civil rights and freedoms, such as the women’s right to dress as they choose.
Because European Muslims are defined simply in terms of their faith, these problems and issues are incorrectly seen as ‘Muslim issues’ when in fact, given their nature and primary causes, they require social, not religious solutions or policies.
Extravagant fantasies about war and erosion of civil liberties of minority groups are amplified by the Islamophobia industry, then reproduced by powerful policymakers and world leaders whose decisions, if coloured by toxic misrepresentations, have the potential to change lives in catastrophic ways.
Muslims and Islam are not to be feared, any more than blacks, Jews, Catholics or any other group that faces systematic discrimination.
There is a great urgency to resist and counter those whose aim is to divide humanity into minority blocs, pitting them against one another and gambling with people’s freedom for the sake of politics or profit.
A common charge both with regard to Muslim-West relations and the integration of Muslims in both the United States and Europe is that Islam is incompatible with the realities of modernity and Western culture and values.
This narrow scope of a liberal political system that defines secularisation as the only and normative emancipatory power in the modern world marginalises Islam and Muslims in a world of Western modernity.
With the privatisation of religion under the secular framework of Western modernity, there is little or no accommodation for Islam, which is then subjected to the historical specificities of each respective nation’s Christian, secular experience.
The current attitudes towards Islam and Muslims determine the limits of multiculturalism in Europe and in the US and that a proper understanding of such phenomena as Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslim is needed now more than ever.
Setting up an English-speaking channel to counter Islamophobia is the first step in challenging biases and hatreds against Muslims that had been ingrained in the West for centuries.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, Sunday 6 October 2019
Islam compatible with human rights, democracy
A typical narrative on the relationship between Islam and freedom in the West will undoubtedly focus on how draconian and inhumane Islamic laws are.
Islam is said to be incompatible with human rights and democracy, and the benchmark used to make this assessment is almost always Eurocentric.
In the Malaysian and Indonesian context, for example, uneasy co-existence between syariah and the civil courts has solicited much criticisms not only from the West but by human rights organisations as well.
A case in point is the punishment meted out to Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a part-time model, by the syariah court in Pahang.
In July 2009, Kartika was sentenced to six strokes of the rattan cane and fined RM5,000 for drinking in public.
After much protests from the public, the sentence was reduced to three months of community service. In the Malaysian legal system, caning may be meted out as a punishment for particular breaches of syariah law, including adultery, the use of intoxicants (such as alcohol) and apostasy.
At present, three states — Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan — have implemented such punishments.
Hudud (in Arabic, hadd, which may be defined as a limit or prohibition, is a punishment fixed in the Quran or Hadith for crimes considered to be against the rights of God) laws were first formulated in Kelantan (1993) and Terengganu (2002), where the Islamic party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia , formed the state governments.
A similar pattern can be observed in Indonesia where local governments have created a range of syariah-inspired by-laws, most of which are directed at matters of public morality.
In the province of Aceh, where the right to implement syariah law was part of a broader autonomy package intended to put an end to a decades-long civil war, an Islamic criminal code has been implemented since early 2000.
From a Western perspective, these developments can be interpreted as a sign of the increasing strength and appeal of political Islam, in combination with the influence of transnational organisations and networks, or explained as a result of the growing anxiety about religious identities.
But they also indicate changing interpretations of the “proper” relation between state and citizen. The implementation of syariah-based laws in Malaysia and Indonesia amounts to conceptualisation of the positions of the individual citizen vis-à-vis the state and other citizens.
From a liberal secular perspective, they amount to a massive infringement of personal freedom, an attack on women’s rights, an unwarranted foray of state institutions into religious matters, and an intrusion of the state into the private sphere.
From forbidding women from going out after dark, punishing homosexuals and penalizing extramarital sex to banning alcohol and prescribing modest dressing, they do not just impose physical punishments for moral transgressions but also aim to regulate several aspects of people’s private lives. As such, they institute a form of differentiated citizenship, imposing different behavioural standards on Muslims.
Increasing Islamisation in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei is seen by the West as something retrogressive and as going against Western ideas on the rights and duties of individuals vis-à-vis their communities.
The discourse that gives a high priority to Western ideals will naturally always privilege Christian and Western beauty, knowledge, traditions, spiritualties and cosmologies while deeming as inferior and subaltern the non-Christian and non-Western beauty, knowledge, traditions, spiritualties and cosmologies.
Those subjects rendered inferior and subaltern by these hegemonic discourses will develop their own “identity politics” as a reaction to racism by the former.
The dominant discourse at the global stage also paints the image that European tradition is the only one that is naturally and inherently democratic, whereas the non-European “others” are presumed to be naturally and inherently authoritarian, denying democratic discourses and forms of institutional democracy to the non-Western world (which is, of course, distinct from Western liberal democracy), and as a result, supporting the political authoritarian racism of the former.
This process is necessary as part of a process of self-valorisation in a racist world that renders “the other” inferior and disqualifies their humanity.
We will fall into this vicious trap should we accept the Eurocentric fundamentalist false premise that the only democratic tradition is the Western one.
This merely reproduces an inverted form of Eurocentric essentialism.
As with syariah law, the hudud in particular, the so-called “cruel and unusual” punishments that are often tied to it should be seen in a broader context of a just and credible legal system that places a stringent requirement on witnesses and the evidence adduced.
Put in another way, the continued inferiorisation of syariah law is nothing but a case of epistemic racism whereby the thinking and practices of the non-West are considered unworthy of emulation.
Epistemic racism allows the West to unilaterally decide what is best for Muslim people today and obstruct any possibility of serious inter-cultural dialogue.
Islamophobia as a form of racism against Muslim people is not only manifested in the labour market, education, public sphere, global war against terrorism, or the global economy, but also in the epistemological battleground about the definition of the priorities of the world today.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, Sunday 7 July 2019
A false image of muslim men
The exaggerated image of Islam as “uncivilised” and “violent” in the Western media has been instrumental in stirring the wave of anti-Muslim racism linked to Islamophobic discourse.
The said discourse has manifested itself in the form of cultural racism before and after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.
Put in another way, anti-Muslim racism has been around for centuries and Muslims living in the West, especially in the US, are feeling the heat of Islamophobia.
It is worth noting that Islamophobia is multidimensional, and that the inferiorisation of Muslims had gone through many phases.
When, for example, the relations between the European empires with the Islamic empires turned from an imperial relation into a colonial relation, Muslims in the late 15th century Al-Andalus were seen as people with the wrong God.
This racist imaginary was then projected and transformed in the post-colonial and post-civil rights era in the form of cultural racist discourses against Muslims.
Today, one of the cultural racist arguments levelled against Muslims is their “patriarchal and sexist abuses of women”.
This is essentially a continuation of the manufactured image of Muslims as inferior human beings in relation to Western peoples.
On their part, Western patriarchs and conservatives have tried very hard to portray an image as the defenders of feminism.
Former US president George W. Bush’s main argument to invade Afghanistan, for instance, was the need to liberate brown women from the atrocities of brown men.
The hypocrisy of this argument is crystal clear for all to see when the Bush administration was actively defending Christian patriarchal fundamentalism, opposing abortion and women’s civil and social rights during the eight years of his administration, while using a women’s rights argument against the Taliban to invade Afghanistan.
The rhetoric of “white men as saviour of women of colour from coloured men’s patriarchal abuses” goes back to colonial times.
It has served historically to conceal the real reasons behind colonisation of the non-West.
We now know that the real reasons behind the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan and president Barack Obama’s continuity are due to geopolitical strategic location and importance in terms of its closeness to oil and gas in South Asia.
Immediately after the invasion, occupied Afghanistan provided legal permission to transnational gas and oil corporations to build pipelines over its territory.
Islamophobic representations of Muslims as savages in need of Western civilising missions are the main argument used to cover up global, imperial, military and economic designs.
The colonisation of Islam by patriarchal tendencies is not unique. We can see the same abuses against women among Christian and Jewish men.
We can also find many patriarchal and sexist arguments in Christian, Jewish or Islamic texts.
What is presented in the Western media, however, is solely the image of Islam as sexist and patriarchal while there is a self-censorship on the patriarchal oppression of women as practised by Judaism and Christianity in the West.
It is worth highlighting that Islam is the first religion in the world to grant women the right to divorce. I am saying this not to justify patriarchal abuses of women done by some Muslim men but to question the stereotypical racial representation that highlights Muslim men as the source of abuses against women.
The stereotypical image of Muslim men is false and it only serves Western global and imperial designs.
What we have today is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of fundamentalism and a clash of patriarchies.
The Bush administration defended Christian fundamentalist arguments to characterise the Islamic enemy as part of the crusade wars, while Islamic fundamentalists used a similar language.
The former defend a Western form of patriarchy while the latter defends a non-Western form of patriarchy.
Islamic feminists, however, have argued that patriarchal versions of Islam are inherently un-Islamic and this is primarily due to the fact that the interpretation of the Quran and Hadith were monopolised by men throughout the history of Islam.
The same thing could also be said of the Jewish and Christian sacred texts whereby interpretations that were controlled by the patriarchs became the dominant perspective in these religions.
It is therefore misleading to talk about a single patriarchal system in the world when there are multiples patriarchies in the sense of several systems of gender domination of males over females.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that Western views of Islam are informed by racist exotic and inferior representations.
These orientalist representations of Islam after the 18th century were preceded by 300 years of occidentalism (the superiority of the West over the rest).
Orientalism has enabled the West to construct with authority the Islamic “other” as inferior.
This is crucial because Islamophobia is not exclusively a social phenomenon but it is also an epistemic question.
Unless and until epistemic racism is challenged, Islamophobia will continue to dominate the imaginary of the West.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, 16 June 2019
Dispelling Islamophobia: Syariah espouses mercy, not punishment
Brunei’s decision to implement syariah law was met with intense criticisms by not only the West but liberal leaning Muslims as well.
Such a negative reaction and notion by these parties is only to be expected. This is due to the fact that accolades from the West on anything Islamic are an exception and not the norm.
Brunei’s implementation of syariah law has also solicited the ire of Hollywood celebrities ranging from Elton John to George Clooney. These Hollywood superstars have called for a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels. The condemnation of the Brunei move by the celebrities is a reflection of how prejudice and stereotype figure into our ill-informed judgments.
To be clear, fears about syariah are a manifestation of Islamophobia, and these fears are purposely fanned by certain segments of Western society.
Syariah law has been described by the Western press as inhumane, barbaric, and cruel. Syariah, according to the West, promotes an eye for an eye justice.
The coverage of syariah in the West usually focuses on the criminal justice provisions, known as hudud, developed in the seventh century. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same offence was punishable by eighty strokes.
The gravest crime, the waging of war against Islam or spreading of disorder in the land, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.
In the case of other acts of violence, a victim of the next of kin was formally authorised to act.
These punishments look distinctly pre-modern from a twenty-first century perspective, but it would take either naivete or ill will to characterise them in terms worse than that.
Corporal punishment was a feature of the age, while crucifixion owed its popularity in the Middle East to centuries of Persian and Roman practice and among Muslims, at least in later years, it was intended to be a non-fatal means of humiliation rather than a method of execution.
Torture, which was routine under Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Quran. As a matter of fact, the Quran was suffused with more general concepts of mercy. Repentance was often reason enough to exclude punishment for hudud.
Where an offence gave someone a right to seek vengeance, retaliation was limited by the original crime, and victims were urged to accept compensation or exercise mercy instead.
The rules, for all their rigour, also reflected the ancient notion that responsibility was a matter of honour, and less was expected of those lower down the social pecking order: someone who had unlawful sex having never before been married was subject to lashing than stoning, and the number of strokes inflicted for adultery and intoxication was halved if the convict was a slave.
The most striking fact of them all is the one that today is most likely to be overlooked — physical punishment was authorised just five times in the entire Quran.
The system’s relative leniency is paradoxically illustrated by its harshest prescription — the stoning to death for a married or divorced person who had sex out of wedlock. The penalty itself had been known since at least 2,350 Before Common Era when the king of Mesopotamia stipulated in the world’s oldest known laws that promiscuous women should be executed with rocks bearing their names, and the Israelites notoriously adopted the punishment to kill adulterers as well as blasphemers, witches, wizards, and disobedient sons.
Islamic procedures were novel only in so far as they made it harder to impose.
In order for fornication to be proved against a defendant who denied guilt, four witnesses had to attest to the actual act of penetration in explicit terms and the evidential hurdle was as challenging as it sounds.
Put in another way, the narrative on syariah has to focus on mercy and restraint as opposed to punishment.
As a legal instrument, syariah is constituted by moral law. Unlike the Western legal system, syariah is a moral system in which the law is a tool and technique that is subordinated to and enmeshed in the overarching moral apparatus, but not an end in itself.
In syariah law, the legal system is the instrument of morality and not the other way around. Being constituted by ethical and moral values, syariah strives towards the realisation of moral ends.
While syariah aims to achieve certain ideals, it is not almost always fully achieved in the real world. But rather it appears as benchmarks against which reality is not only measured but pressured.
Syariah law was promulgated within an ethical conception of the world. The premise underpinning syariah is that human beings live in the world not beyond it. The Islamic juridical system is therefore a clear reflection of how Islam conceives the world and its relations with humans.
In syariah, humans are charged with custodianship of this world, and are bound by moral and ethical duties and not rights.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, 22 April 2019