The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers changed the skyline of Manhattan, New York. About 3,000 people lost their lives and around 6,000 were injured; countless families were affected emotionally and financially.
In a larger context, the geo-political global order changed with new alliances formed for the US-led war on terrorism and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with. Economies have been strengthened and destroyed, political terms stretched and ended, with civilisations harmed and narratives built.
One such widespread narrative is about Muslims — terrorism and Islam are two deeply intertwined concepts. Islamophobia, as this racist notion is termed, follows that Islam perpetuates intolerance and violence, and that all Muslims have an inherent tendency to express it through acts of terror. A fear based on this extreme prejudice among non-Muslim groups and communities has in turn led to baseless abuse and violent behaviour towards Muslims.
The Christchurch attack — a planned act against Islam by a terrorist, killing 49 Muslims — is the latest example of Islamophobia.
A ‘fear’ has been translated into normalised racism-driven behavioural trend.
How has it happened though? How has fear of an individual, molded by a personal experience, converted into a norm? For example, a family was directly affected by 9/11 as it lost a loved one, the primary breadwinner for the household. As a result, it experiences an emotional void, battles a financial crunch and faces all investigation around the plot. For an obvious reason, the family may feel a sense of hatred for the master planners and terrorists involved that day.
However, this feeling becomes a mutual factor for the community because of one major reason: Perception.
Political leaders, agenda-driven media campaign and even academicians have been perception builders, the influencers of this narrative.
The overarching feeling isn’t in isolation; fear alone would have let to religious conversion, pain would translate in either improved effectiveness or further ineffectiveness. It is, in fact, a combination of all three.
The ratio of each may of course vary between different segments of the Muslim world itself. Place a third generation British-Pakistani in his early 20s, for example, with a first-generation immigrant to the US. The core identity, imposed or adopted, may or may not be religion.
As a result, the effect of Islamophobia absorbed is different.
However, to manage this, a counter-narrative is needed. A narrative not driven by an intense or even unjustified hunger for geo-political power or a monetary desire but based on a more pure need for a better world for all, irrespective of race or religion.
To accomplish this, people — as individuals and groups — and states have an integral role to play. Countering a concept as dangerous as Islamophobia needs collective action. Post-Christchurch, Muslims have a larger responsibility.
First, ‘understand’ your religion — it may not be the core identity you identify with, but it is certainly a component of element that defines you especially in an external setting. Second, ‘practise’ it in its most beautiful prescribed manner with the intention of making your community better.
The key, therefore, is elevating above your own self for a larger purpose. Now is the time for heads of Muslim states to let go of specific nationalistic goals for formulation of a common way ahead. Use platforms such as OIC to create impact and strategically present, project and further a counter-Islamophobia narrative.
Act before there is another Christchurch attack and more innocent lives are lost to intolerance and hatred. On the other hand, as for the heads of states of non-Muslim majority countries, dare I request you to move beyond “thoughts & prayers” and “do more”.
Let’s all — despite our differences — work towards creating a safer world for our future generations to live in.