OPINION

The two sides of Islamophobia

Islamophobia was not born on September 11, 2001 with the destruction of the Twin Towers, but deadly terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have reinforced skepticism toward Islam. This is not simply religious rivalry. In the Western world, religious faith is a private affair and is usually widely respected. But religions also have a cultural dimension. And this is even more true of Islam, as it has a definitive influence on the Muslim way of life. And it often works as a political ideology. Culturally speaking, the Islamic identity is very strong. That is the reason why some of the large number of the Muslim migrants who have moved to the West find it hard to integrate into the Western way of life. Questions like the possible burqa ban in France are the manifestation of tensions between hard-core Islamic values and basic human rights. This cultural antithesis has fueled skepticism within Western societies toward the Islamic element in their midst. But such skepticism would be less potent if it were not fueled by a belief that Islamic fundamentalism is a legitimate ideology within Muslim communities. That said, lashing out against Islamophobia is not enough to ward off a phenomenon that originates from and is encouraged by existing and often tense cultural divisions. The conventionalism of political correctness is blind to these contradictions and their more profound repercussions. Finger-wagging often produces the opposite result, as can be seen in the controversy surrounding the proposal for a mosque and Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero in New York City. The Muslim community has the constitutional right to erect a mosque and US President Barack Obama has sided in favor of the project. However, a number of public surveys indicate that the vast majority of citizens in multiethnic and multicultural New York are against the project, interpreting the gesture as a provocation. Most Americans obviously connect the case to the fact that the 9/11 terrorist attack was carried out in the name of Islam. No less important, however, is the belief that Islam provides a breeding ground for extremist violence.