Who’s afraid of Islam?

Sunday 31/07/2016
A Muslim man walks past the church Sainte Thérèse in
Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen, France, on July 27th.

For many Western politicians, Islam is no longer a religion like any other, part and parcel of society. Rather, Islam or more specifically raising fears about the threat repre­sented by Islam and Muslims has become part of a political agenda that could help them reach power and they do not miss an opportu­nity to point this out, no matter the cost.

This is what we saw from US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has vowed to “stamp out” Islamic terror, although without giving any details about just how he means to do this. Trump previously pledged a ban on Muslims entering the United States until the government can figure out “what is going on”, something that would help radicalise more Muslims and strengthen Islamist terror.

Trump subsequently sought to back-pedal, saying instead this would be a temporary suspension of immigration from countries that have been a major source for terrorists instead of a blanket ban against an entire religious community.

Whatever the case, there can be no doubt that this goes against the constitution of the United States. Despite this, it proved popular enough to help propel Trump to the Republican nomination for president at a time when the American people are more afraid than ever of Islamic terrorism.

Trump and rising right-wing politicians in Europe exploit every single attack to raise their profile and score points against their political opponents, whom they accuse of being soft on crime and unable to protect the public. We saw this in the wake of the Bastille Day attacks in Nice with French President François Hollande facing criticism from right-wing rivals at a time when the country is gearing up for a presidential election in 2017.

In light of the number of Islamist and specifically Islamic State-linked terrorist attacks that we have seen in the West in the last year — from Paris to San Bernardino, Brussels to Orlando — right-wing politicians seem more and more prepared to say anything to mobilise their supporters with a fearful electorate increasingly prepared to countenance policies and ideas that previously would have been unthinkable.

Europe in particular has seen a rising number of attacks, from Nice, where a lone-wolf attacker mowed down 84 people with a lorry, to the first suicide bombing on German soil. Given this deteriorating state of affairs, is it any wonder that public discourse against Islam and Muslims seems to be on the rise?

Whenever news of an attack begins to be reported, millions of Muslims across the world hope and pray that the attacker does not turn out to be a Muslim or have ties to the Islamic State (ISIS). This is precisely what happened when news of the Munich shootings first broke and Muslims across Europe breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was revealed that this terrible crime had nothing to do with religion.

Far-right parties in Germany were quick to try to point the finger at Islam and particularly Muslim refugees even while the Munich gunman — a German- Iranian — was still in the process of committing his crime.

Germany, which suffered four violent attacks in a week and a number of other smaller incidents, is facing a difficult adjustment period following the massive influx of migrants and refugees from across the Middle East and North Africa, along with increasing fears of terrorism. This is an atmosphere that right-wing politicians exploit for their own ends, particularly feelings of disenfranchisement and xenophobia among citizens who are concerned about how this influx will affect their futures.

The latest attacks could lead to more votes for far-right parties and politicians who are warning against the threat represented by Islam and Muslim migrants and refugees, and that could ultimately have an effect on migration and security policies in countries such as France and Germany.

Fear of Islamist terrorism is more than justified but we must not allow this to go overboard so that every Muslim is viewed as a potential terrorist, particularly as this is something that only strengthens the terrorists and weakens those who would oppose them.