Originally published in The Express Tribune
This weekend, fliers threatening Muslims with mass murder were left at a bus station minutes from my home near Boston. The warning on the fliers: Muslims in America be ready to face death if ISIS did not surrender within the following three days, as if Muslim Americans command and control the actions of the terrorist group.
This unfortunate incident follows a series of anti-Muslim hate crimes in America in the last few days. Following the brutal Chapel Hill shootings in which three young Muslims were killed execution-style, an Islamic community centre in Houston, Texas, was burned down. A fireman posted on social media, asking his fellow firemen not to put out the fire. Another man was arrested for making a bomb threat at a Muslim community centre in Austin, Texas. A Hindu temple, mistaken for a Mosque, and a nearby school in Bothell, Washington, were spray painted with a swastika and the words “Muslims, Get Out”. Then, a Muslim day school in Rhode Island was vandalised with the words, “Now this is a hate crime” and “pigs,” along with expletives referring to the Islamic faith.
Why is there a sudden rise in Islamophobia? And who is responsible?
Anti-Muslim bigotry has been systematically nurtured in America for quite some time now. The Islamophobia network, which includes funders, organisations, media outlets, propagandists, activists and political players, has been busy creating a climate of fear, hate and suspicion of Muslims in America. Hatemongers like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller on the far right and leaders of the new atheist movement – prominently Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins – both play into this dynamic. Different as the two groups are, they have found a romantic connection in their common anti-Islam agenda.
For those unaware, new atheism is a movement that is vehemently anti-theist, seeking the destruction of religion, especially Islam. They are fittingly referred to as the ‘mullahs of the atheist world’. New atheist thought leaders like Harris are on record for claiming religion is worse than rape, that Muslims, and all who look like them (whatever that means), be profiled in the United States. Harris claims that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is truly Muslim, and the majority of peaceful Muslims in the world are “nominal”.
The Islamophobia network glorifies the actions of ISIS-type groups as truly Islamic, and flaunts their narrative as the only credible one on Islam. Every other narrative is considered deviant and against Islamic Scripture.
And it is this mass misinformation that has led to the recent rise of Islamophobia in America.
For if in fact a group like ISIS are the true face of Islam, and if the right-wing propaganda that Muslim Americans engage in “stealth jihad” to subjugate fellow Americans is true, why should my neighbour not look at me with suspicion and disgust? According to the family of the victims, radicalised new atheist Craig Hicks viewed his Muslim neighbours in Chapel Hill the same way. For such a hate-fed paranoid neighbour, a ‘parking dispute’ is all it would take to tip them over.
The Islamophobia network pretends to be fighting the terrorist ideology, when in fact all it is obsessed with is convincing the world that this evil is real Islam. It is quite telling that while people like Harris, Dawkins and Spencer readily retweet and quote Muslim extremists like Anjem Chowdry, they have blocked me on Twitter for presenting evidence –based narrative on Islam and for inviting them to discourse.
They are no fans of Muslims like me, and the majority of Muslims of all sects, who fight the ideology of the terrorists and are killed in places like Pakistan for standing up to them. A pluralistic, tolerant worldview from a Muslim is anathema to their anti-Islam agenda. It terrifies them. This is why instead of siding with the moderates and reformers in this fight, they chose to fight us instead.
In a recent exchange with Spencer, all he had to offer in response to my rebuttal of his propaganda was ad hominem attacks. When I asked another new atheist blogger to discuss Islam’s position on blasphemy laws, he refused to debate. I had debated him earlier on Huffington Post on the issue of apostasy laws in Islam. Just as the mullahs in the Muslim world run for cover when invited to intellectual discourse, so do the mullahs of the Islamophobia network. They make claims they cannot defend.
So how can Pakistanis help counter the rise of Islamophobia elsewhere? Simply by stopping the continuous supply of fodder to the Islamophobia network.
There is no denying the fact that religious extremism is a genuine problem in parts of the Muslim world. It is also true that certain extremist interpretations – on issues like jihad, apostasy laws, blasphemy laws and theocratic rule – are taken away from Islam’s message of peace and love. The biggest victims of such extremist narratives are the Muslims themselves. Hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of terrorist groups in Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.
Pakistan is a perfect example of a nation badly in need of reform. Bigotry and mullah-ism has taken over our land in the guise of religion. We must speak out loudly and reclaim our faith from those who have hijacked it for their own political ends. We must question the mullahs who preach hatred and division. We must stand up for universal freedom of conscience. We must speak up for the rights of minority communities – Ahmadis, Shias, Christians, Hindus, atheists etcetera – who are persecuted by religious zealots. We must press on our government to clamp down on hate speech in our mosques and madrassas. It is time to say enough, and reclaim our beautiful faith back from the extremists who have made it their livelihood to exploit it.
It is religious extremism that the Islamophobes disseminate as the true face of Islam. By fighting it, we leave the Islamophobes helpless.