Breaking the vicious circle of fear
Since the events of September 11, 2001, a growing wave of anti-Muslim fear has been riding the even bigger wave of anti-terror campaign worldwide. As in all campaigns, fear of the other, and in our case of Muslims, is the common denominator of a campaign spanning different countries and cultures.
The situation is quite paradoxical. The sensible and far more efficient approach to dealing with anti-Muslim fear is opening channels of dialogue to remove the intricate connection between ignorance and fear and finding the best ways to dam this flow of terror. What has happened, however, is that anti-Muslim feelings have been exploited to serve purposes other than those ostentatiously declared. There were indeed political benefits for both Arab and Western regimes in the war on terror.
In the Western world, internal crises were constantly being linked to two terror-connected fears: Demography and security. When the local economy is in crisis, unemployment and marginalisation hit the local population hard. It becomes easy then to turn that reality into a demographic fear and blame everything on immigration, especially Arab migrants.
At the same time and for equally internal considerations, the far right in those countries will fan the flames of the security fear under the pretext of facing the external threat of political Islam.
When looking at the political and media discourse in the West, there is the realisation of the extent to which the fear of anything Arab or Muslim has been cultivated. Western governments find that context useful because it removes for them the pressure of finding appropriate solutions to the internal crises engulfing their citizens. They can simply focus everybody’s attention on one single threat, “Islamic terrorism.”
Yet, a 2014 report by Europol concluded that only 2% of terrorist acts in the EU in the previous five years were religiously motivated. An even smaller number of terrorist acts were carried out by “extremist” Muslims. The report showed that most terrorist acts were perpetrated for racist, nationalistic or separatist reasons.
In the Arab world, terrorism and religious extremism were extremely useful to the reigning regimes. They allowed them to protect their selfish interests by turning the fear created by these two dangers into an external threat and thus place themselves and their citizens in the same basket fighting for the same cause. It became easy for these regimes to silence all social and political demands for employment or freedoms or democracy and substitute them with one single demand, the demand for security. Ironically, terrorist threats to the regimes in place do not weaken them but reinforce them most of the time and clear them of any wrongdoings against their own populations.
The twin fears created by terrorism and anti-Muslim sentiments have given birth to another no less dangerous phenomenon, namely fearing for the fate of Muslims everywhere.
This fear among Muslims is naturally nurturing widespread feelings of solidarity among the faithful and is paradoxically feeding religious extremism. Muslim communities in the West feel threatened at the very heart of their religious identity and therefore react by curling up and not participating in fighting anti-Muslim sentiments in public opinion. On the contrary, we see a reinforcement of these sentiments through the adoption by these Muslim communities of anti-West discourse and through condoning terrorism as defensive acts of survival, which in turn feeds into the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim campaign everywhere.
It is also very revealing of the amalgamation of terror and resistance in people’s minds as well as of a deep sense of despair and inadequacy to stand up to a developed West. From there, it is easy for takfir ideology, which condones the physical elimination of anyone who disagrees with it, to find its way among Muslim populations.
Fighting terrorism and violence must be a Muslim priority first and foremost. Dwelling forever on accusing the West of all the ills befalling Muslims everywhere and sounding the alarm of a war against Islam and Muslims simply will not do anymore.
Muslims are living in a vicious circle created by two fears, fearing Islam and fearing for the fate of Islam. One fear feeds the other. This vicious circle must be broken so people in the East and in the West can connect on a human level beyond cultural stereotypes and beyond each side being frightened of the other. Only then can they be safe from violence and immune to manipulation by their own governments.