A panel of five scholars addressed the intellectual roots of Islamophobia and how Muslim scholars should address this phenomenon, at a panel discussion at IIIT on Wednesday October 17, 2007. The title of the discussion was “Islamophobia: The Intellectual's Response”. Moderated by Dr. Abubaker Al Shingeiti, IIIT, the panel included Dr. Louis Cantori, Dr. Sulayman Nyang (who was present by phone), Dr. Robert Crane, Dr. Muhammad Nimir, and Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad.
Dr. Imad opened the discussion with a reference to the political usage of the English Language as indicated by George Orwell. He pointed out that the word “fascism” referred to the worship of the state, as defined by Mussolini himself, and thus could not be applied to Islam by its very nature. He talked about the dishonest de-contextualization of Qur’anic verses practiced by Islamophobes.
Dr. Louis Cantouri gave an overview on the liberal roots of Islamophobia. He referred to Republicanism and Conservatism in the nature of Islam. Quoting Isiah Berlin, Dr. Cantori suggested that the Western enlightenment focused on similarity and identity, not diversity. Thus intellectual discussion beginning with ideas of peace and cooperation may end up with a state of war. Scholars should carefully study the complexity of contemporary thought.
Dr. Sulayman Nyang referred to the confusion that some may see in Muslims being members of a civic society and of a religious body at the same time. Since Napoleon, ideology has been the currency of Western Thought. Islamophobia has been used as a new political tool to settle scores. He suggested identifying Christian groups to build inter-faith alliance with. Dr. Nyang quoted the philosopher Whitehead as suggesting that Western civilization was only a footnote to Plato, and advised active involvement by Muslims in various theatres of discourse in the West.
Dr. Robert Crane opined that the West had lost all sense of the sacred. This has resulted in creation of new false gods, such as the State. He discussed Robert Spencer’s book about Prophet Muhammad, and the need to deconstruct its claims to expose the true nature of Islamophobia as exemplified by him. Dr. Crane also asked the questions: Are Islamophobes the only enemy or their equivalent among Muslims are also the enemy? Should we limit our response to Islamophobia to mere “police action” or we need an all-out “offensive”? He suggested that we needed to adopt the pro-active long-term approach of conflict resolution through education, and the short-term approach of marginalizing Islamophobes by not mention “demonizers” by name. There is room for a think tank to work on both approaches.
Dr. Muhammad Nimer began by asking what factors could lead to de-escalation in Islamophobia. He suggested that the overarching causes of this phenomenon were misconceptions – both philosophical and pop-cultural – and real grievances – including an imperialistic quest. Misconceptions could be remedied through dialog and exchange. He suggested that many Westerners might perceive Muslims as, bombers, billionaires, and belly dancers (3Bs), while many Muslims might perceive Westerners as rich, ruthless, and raunchy (#Rs). There is a circle of aggression in which terrorist attacks lead to increased Islamophobic incidents which increase anti-Americanism, and further terrorist attacks. In the absence of conflict resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, strategy dictates Isalmophobia. (Complete text)
Dr. Abubaker Al-Shingieti referred to Bernard Lewis’ book on Islam with the sub-title “What Went Wrong”, and suggested that it connects two different traditions – the orientalist and the neo-conservative. Islamophobia may be a new phenomenon, but it has ancestral, intellectual roots that need to be explored and connected to its current manifestations. An old version of it is seen in Winston Churchill’s work “The River War”, for example. He asked if we can explain or relate the concept of Islamic state and its rejection by the West, which is wedded to the concept of nation-state, to Islamophobia. How can we engage the post-modern debate, in which Muslims are represented in more unfair ways than the modern representations? How can we engage post-modern intellectuals? He suggested that Muslims might be accepting the post modern cultural assumptions and images of their culture and religion and, consequently, taking a defensive rather than an offensive stance.
Following presentations by the panelists, several members of the audience, including Dr. Anwar Haddam, Imam Johari Abdul Malik, Prof. Mir Ali, Dr. Zahid Bukhari, Dr. Ijaz bin Shaikh, presented their points of view and input on the subject, and engaged the panelist in active discussion.
Dr. Anwar Haddam challenged the use of “Islamophobia” as incorrect and suggested that they should be using “Muslimphobia”; we don’t need to protect Islam, but do need to protect Muslims. He opined that Muslimphobia was the result of cessation of the use of ijtihad by Muslims to adjust Muslim life to world developments.Imam Johari Abdul Malik suggested creating a framework for interfaith dialog. He proposed a point by point response on blogs and such, exposing the adversaries with valid information as to who they are and what their objectives are.
Prof. Mir Ali reminded the audience that the dictionary definition of phobia is an unreasonable fear of what does not exist. So, Islamophobia should be called what it really is: – anti-Islam.Responding to some of the comments, panelist Dr. Cantori said that the monistic and monotheistic character of the Enlightenment is religious in its foundation. It is the West that is responding to Islam, having adopted a point of view that is not compromising.
Also responding, panelist Dr. Crane pointed out that whereas European Enlightenment was secular in nature, Scottish Enlightenment was actually Islamic, and it is that which led to the American revolution, and to Thomas Jefferson’s passion for education and love of God. Then America was where Islam is today.Another panelist Dr. Nimer responded that Islamophobia was the irrational fear of Islam, so it gives us a way to connect with people who engage in anti-Islamic rhetoric out of ignorance.
Dr. Zahid Bukhari suggested that phobia was part of the American history, as evidenced by early incidences of phobia against Indians, blacks, Catholics, etc. Its basis is in racism which pervades throughout the society. As such a phobia could rise and vane as has happened before. He recommended a connection between the intellectuals and the community leaders who are acting in response to the phobia. He asked how anti-Islam, which Islamophobia is, can be made a part of the socio-legal environment as anti-semitism is.
Dr. Ijaz bin Shaikh opined that Islam and America have identical values.
Commenting on the discussion, moderator Dr. Al-Shingieti suggested unpacking the nexus of relationships that constitute Islamophobia, such as fear, hate, and imperialism.
Finally, panelist Dr. Cantori reminded the audience that Islam was not presented in the U.S.A. as a conservative religion. This means that Islam is losing, because being a conservative is a plus in America. He added that Muslims could define a place in the democratic party for their own conservatism. Islam does not come across as having a political point of view. If it did, it would change the Islamophobia debate.