“What does it take for the citizens of one society to hate the citizens of another society to the degree that they want to segregate them, torment them? [It is] a psychological construction imbedded deeply in their minds by propaganda that transforms those others into ‘The Enemy’.” [The Lucifer effect, Zimbardo].
On Monday the 4th of January a Buddhist man was assaulted by a 20 year old for being ‘an ISIS bomber’.
The Buddhist, Sri-Lankan man was abused and assaulted on the top deck of the bus; accused of carrying a bomb and harassed for being an ‘ISIS supporter’.
Incidents such as these have been occurring increasingly following ‘trigger’ events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, Tunisian shootings in June and the Woolwich attack.
Muslims and non-Muslims alike are experiencing Islamophobic hate crime all across the globe, from America, through France and the UK.
Trigger events have caused negative stories in the Media, and spiked hatred online as well as offline.
There is no denying that the media is a powerful social agent, wielding enough power to influence communities and societies’ perceptions about topics, groups and ideologies.
It creates a narrative and stereotypical conceptions about ‘the other’ which dehumanises perceptions about ‘the other’. This process, in of itself, involves using derogatory terms against Muslims. Statements perpetuating the idea ofMuslims ‘having their own Muslim world’, being ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’, are just a few examples of the vilification Muslims experience at the hands of the Establishment Media.
The depiction of ‘the other’ as being less human creates an image of this group as being a fundamental threat to the values and beliefs of a particular country.
Being fed such an idea can turn any normal human being with values and a moral stance to carry intolerable thoughts, ideas or, worse yet, actions, towards others.
The First Steps: Part of a method of war has always involved creating propaganda whereby an opponent, ‘the enemy’ group, become labelled as being less human; a threat; not deserving of any human mercy or compassion.
We can cite many instances in history whereby the above tactic has been used and, in worst-case scenarios, has led to the total destruction and genocide of a race, religion or group.
French journalist, Jean Hatzfeld, interviewed ten Hutu Milita members who were arrested in prison for committing atrocities against the Tutsi minority during the Rwanda catastrophe in 1994. The prisoners were ordinary people and their comments led the journalist to conclude that “human beings are capable of totally abandoning their humanity for a mindless ideology, to follow and then destroy the group known as ‘The Enemy’.
Negativity over Positivity
Researchers have concluded that the power of negativity bears a greater weight and impact than positive stimuli. Negative associations carry more weight in the brain due to our innate survival instincts. Therefore, continually being presented with terms of this ‘other’ Islamic group wishing to kill, overtake countries and destroy the culture of a particular country, creates a paranoia in the minds of regular people. Until recently, their sole concerns extended to what to have at tea time on a Saturday afternoon.
“With public fear notched up and the enemy threat imminent, reasonable people act irrationally, independent people act in mindless conformity and peaceful people act as warriors. Dramatic visual images of the ‘enemy’ on posters, television, magazine covers, movies and the internet imprint perceptions in the mind with powerful emotions of fear and hate.”
Humans have, in the past, gone above and beyond in their assault and torture against their own kind once they are viewed as no longer being part of their tribe or community. Once they bear the mark of being a threat to themselves and their families, they become a target for attack. A feeling of superiority of one’s own race or tribe takes over. This, combined with the view of ‘the other’ as inhumane, diminishes all consideration for the principle of ‘right or wrong’.
We need to recognise that propaganda such as this has existed throughout history, with devastating results. In most cases, the land has seen the genocide of one particular race as a result.
It is imperative that we continue countering such efforts by providing positive alternatives. We must shed this apathetic, and oftentimes elected, attitude of victimisation. ‘I am the victimised group. Why should I have to make an effort, when they started it?’ Such mentality fruits nothing except lethargy and a sigh of hopelessness.
Make conversation, not War
Islam is not a race, therefore in my opinion Islamophobia cannot constitute the term ‘racism’. However, being an Islamophobe automatically makes a person intolerant.
It is crucial to live in a harmonious environment whereby there is tolerance towards one another, regardless of religion, background and ethnicity.
Whilst it is important to counter stereotypical views from Non-Muslims towards Muslims, there is a slight trend rising amongst certain Muslim communities whereby families or young people carry a ‘dislike’ or fear towards non-Muslim ‘Whites’. A student yesterday told a story of how someone in her neighbourhood made an Islamophobic comment about her head covering, to which another student made a comment about how she ought to live somewhere with fewer ‘White people’. This is counterproductive, as it distances human beings from one another and exacerbates the problem.
Many organisations, communities and groups have made great efforts to dispel the intolerance in society. They have invited the public to their venues for open dialogue, offering the opportunity to engage in discussion about irrational fear and, in so doing, possibly eradicate stereotypical views.
Social interventions which aim to increase contact between groups of people from different backgrounds and religions establish tolerance as the social norm in society. Efforts to build connections with groups should continue, be encouraged and more should always be done. We, as a Muslim community, possess powerful platforms for building and maintaining networks, amongst which are our mosques, businesses, cafés and restaurants. Let us use them to carve a society open to diversity and tolerant of difference.