A European Union report concluded last year that Muslims across Europe are confronting a rise in Islamophobia ranging from violent attacks to discrimination in job and housing markets. I do not know of a similar report done in Canada.
"The disadvantaged position of Muslim minorities, evidence of a rise in Islamophobia and concern over processes of alienation and radicalization have triggered an intense debate in the European Union," said Beate Winkler, director of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
The report reveals that in Spain, for example, positive opinions on Muslims held by the non-Muslim population have declined over the past year from 46 to 29 per cent. Respondents in Germany also have a majority negative view.
The report says: "In Germany, two opinion polls published by the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung in late 2004 asked respondents what they associate with ‘Islam’. The most common concepts were ‘suppression of women’ (93 per cent) and ‘terror’ (83 per cent); only six per cent of the respondents described the Islamic faith as ‘likeable’."
In my meetings with Muslim leaders from Europe, each one has begun by projecting a picture of Islamophobia in his or her country with the comment, "but I do not believe that the situation is as bad as in other European countries, in Canada, or the United States." By the time we have gone around the table few times, however, we all come face to face with a common truth: Islamophobia is almost as bad in all these countries and it is on the rise.
I worry about the negative impact of Islamophobia on my fellow Canadian Muslims, not only for their present well-being but also for the next generation. In fact, I am more than worried; I am frightened. This is because I am seeing parallel patterns between European anti-Semitism of the near past and the Islamophobia of today. Here are some leading examples:
1. The term anti-Semitism was coined by the German Wilhelm Marr in 1880 to refer to discrimination specifically directed against European Jews.
Islamophobia was coined during the 1990s to describe a similar phenomenon against European Muslims.
2. In Europe, anti-Semitism was once fashionable and promoted in the media.Political parties, such as the Deutsche Volksverein, Deutsche Reform Partei and Antisemitishe Liga, were organized around a common program aimed at humiliating the tiny German Jewish minority.
Today in Canada, Islamophobic writings are promoted in the media and publishers are more than willing to pay for books by mediocre writers who can attract sensation-loving readers by smearing Islam and bashing Muslims. Right wing Canadian politicians and their parties consider the "war against terror" to mean the same as "war against Muslims."
3. In Germany during the 1880s and 1890s, government representatives were elected on slogans like "Pereat Judea" — meaning "Down with Judea." Today, many of our elected politicians are more careful — and insidious. Many confirm their Islamophobia by saying nothing against it and by doing nothing to stop it.
4. During its first century of official existence, anti-Semitism was easily turned from pointing a finger to pointing a gun. European Jews were found guilty-by-association for many crimes, from killing the Son of God, to professional misconduct by a Jewish doctor.
Today Canadian Muslims are collectively judged guilty-by-association for every crime committed by Muslim individuals, organizations and states, no matter how obviously atypical, abnormal or extremist they are. If we consider the fast pace of contemporary mass media, it could take much less than a century — perhaps only a couple of decades — for some to begin pointing guns, instead of fingers, against Canadian Muslims.
5. Anti-Semitism was even propagated by some European Jews. Karl Marx wrote in his book "Problems Regarding the Jewish Question" that the Jews made and unmade kings, that they were striving to dominate world government, that their "God" was money, and that their main profession was usury.
Today in Canada there are (unfortunately) a few Muslims whose primary occupation seems to be a passion for fuelling Islamophobia. Worse still, they have become media darlings, hailed everywhere as "progressive Muslims," "modern Muslims," "reformist Muslims," etc. and they dramatically promote themselves as misunderstood victims of the majority of Muslims who are deemed (by default) to be "Islamists," "fundamentalists," "conservatives," etc.
6. Anti-Semitism was propagated one hundred years before the rise of Adolf Hitler, the democratically elected leader of a modern European nation-state. By relentlessly driving home an anti-Semitic agenda Hitler managed to make most of the 70 million Germans of his day hate the Jews.
Similarly, Canadian Muslims — if they do not participate more actively in the public square — will also wake up one day to discover a new Hitler has been elected; one who will just as easily manage to make fellow Canadians hate the Muslims living among them.
7. Anti-Semitism formed a powerful historic bond between dangerous partners, some for religious reasons, some for political reasons, and yet others for reasons embedded in the basic human vices of greed and envy.
Similarly, today’s Islamophobia is shared by right wing political extremists, as much as with anti-religious factions and the fundamentalists of other religions.
My hope for my fellow Canadian Muslims is that they will learn well the history lessons of anti-Semitism in Europe and work hard to make the shameful attitudes of Islamophobia — and their resulting crimes against humanity — a discarded footnote of history, instead of its determining force.