Last Updated: Fri Apr 13, 2012 09:03 am (KSA) 06:03 am (GMT)

Rana Khoury: Islamism: For scare, sale or hate?

Performance artists attending a "Rally Against War, Racism & Islamophobia" in New York, 2011. (Reuters)
Performance artists attending a "Rally Against War, Racism & Islamophobia" in New York, 2011. (Reuters)

When Frenchman Mohamed Merah murders children in Toulouse, he is portrayed as a ”Muslim terrorist.” When Anders Breivik commits atrocities by killing children in Norway, he is also a terrorist, first having been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic then, more recently, as a sane “mass killer.”

Cho, a senior English major, kills 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007. He is said to have been previously diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder.

Two years earlier, in July 2005, terrorist suicide bombers targeted civilians on public transport in London. They were described as home-grown “Islamist” terrorists.

Why is “Islamism” worth mentioning in the media and amongst the public when horrible crimes are committed, but the same doesn’t always hold true for other religions?

One explanation could be that post 9/11, Westerners are truly, sincerely and simply scared of Arabs and Muslims … to the extent of paranoia.

The McGill Daily reported last month in an article titled ”Why you shouldn’t tell American border guards you’re in Islamic Studies” about a PhD student who was hauled up for questioning for reasons still not clear to him.

On May 1, 2010, Pascal Abidor was riding an Amtrak train from Montreal to New York to visit his parents. After looking over Abidor’s American passport at the border, the officer asked two simple questions: Where do you live and why? Abidor replied that he lived in Canada because that’s where he was pursuing a PhD in Islamic Studies. Next, the officer asked him where he had traveled in the previous year, and he answered Jordan and Lebanon.

Abidor was arrested, interrogated and his laptop confiscated. He was released later on, but his privacy was invaded. His crime? Pursuing a PhD in Islamic studies and visiting Jordan and Lebanon.

In another story, few weeks ago, a U.S. airliner made an emergency landing in Texas after the pilot, who was shouting about al-Qaeda and bomb threats, had to be restrained by passengers, officials and reports said.

The captain went to a restroom just outside the cockpit, and when he emerged began shouting “Iraq, al-Qaeda, terrorism, we’re all going down!”

The plane landed safely. And the pilot was sent for medical evaluation. But the first associations made, even though they might have come from mental delusion, were terrorism therefore al-Qaeda, so obviously Iraq and Iran.

So yes, Westerners (and other citizens of the world) could be scared.

A good story to sell?

Another reason for the latest media and public trend to highlight “Islamism” could be that it sells.

While surfing the news nowadays, some keywords are likely to pop-up on a daily basis: Islam, Hijab, Shiite, Sunni, Prophet … not to mention all negative connotations that quite often escort the latter such as terrorism, murder, bomb, killings.

Also, if one tends to monitor the comments on news stories or on Facebook posts, we would be surprised how far the conversation can swing from the subject of the story to a cultural debate on Islam vs. the rest of the world.

So “Islamism” must be interesting, attractive, and trend-worthy. French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s latest “fury” against Islamists is but just another episode of so many frontrunners’ campaigns in the West who are now focusing on issues of Muslim communities in their countries over all other electoral focuses.

The look of the “Other”

Whether the world is scared of Muslims and Arabs or they make for good headlines could be tolerable, and nothing to be terribly anxious about.

However, it becomes a cause for concern when it morphs into hatred.

Each era in modern history has been stained with racist waves of abhorrence. From Native-Americans to the Jewish community, to black people; today it is surely Muslims and Arabs who are under the actual spotlight of cross-cultural heated conversations and racist fueled topics.

If this is the age of “Islamophobia” it is futile to depict its origins. One would argue that we brought it on to ourselves. Perhaps some of us did.

Also, one can question the not-so-friendly look “others” give to Arabs and Muslims. From airport security checks, to “go back to your country” messages, from unconditional support to Israel or simply through reading the media, one could feel offended.

Whether it is to scare, to sell or hate that has pushed “Islamism” onto today’s front row of political and cultural debate, it is nonetheless being used as a justification for crimes, terrorist attacks or violations made in the name of Islam or the Arab nation.

However, the “circle of hatred” is called as such, because a circle has no beginning and no end. Until one breaks it.

(Rana Khoury is a journalist at Al Arabiya and can be reached at rana.khoury@mbc.net)

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