Islamophobia discussed at İstanbul conference

The conference addressed the roots of Islamophobia, which can manifest itself directly in verbal or physical attacks on Muslims.

Islamophobia discussed at İstanbul conference

The "International Conference on Islamophobia" held in İstanbul over the weekend brought together around 100 scholars, academics and NGO representatives from around the world to discuss the issues surrounding the status of Muslims and suggest solutions for the problem of pervasive misconceptions about Islam and widespread anti-Muslim sentiment, also known as Islamophobia.

At the conference British writer and lecturer Karen Armstrong asserted that the West is deeply Islamophobic. She noted that Islamophobia is the result of a long process of prejudice, dating back to the Crusades. She said, however, that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 have strengthened the prejudiced belief that "Islam is a religion of the sword."

Organized by the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW), the conference took place Saturday and Sunday at the Grand Cevahir Hotel & Convention Center. The conference addressed the roots of Islamophobia, which can manifest itself directly in verbal or physical attacks on Muslims but also indirectly in negative images of Muslims presented by the media. Islamophobia was said to have been worsened by anti-Islamic policies, publications and activities, particularly in Europe and the US.

Necmi Sadıkoğlu, the secretary-general of the UNIW, said Islamophobia is not only a cause of discrimination against Muslims but also an open threat to world peace. He noted, "With this conference, we are aiming to increase the sensitivity of the domestic and foreign media and to determine the methods to fight against this phenomenon."

One fact all the scholars agreed on was that the roots of Islamophobia date further back than the Sept. 11 attacks, which are commonly considered the main cause of the rise of this phenomenon throughout the world. They also stressed that the Western media and intellectuals play a significant role in spreading Islamophobia.

Islamophobia, means for legitimation

Scholars also debated the ideological roots of Islamophobia, saying that the US created this phenomenon to legitimize its own foreign policy. Ghulam-Nabi Fai, the executive director of Kashmiri American Council (KAC), suggested that those spreading Islamphobia have a special agenda

Louay M. Safi, the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, emphasized that Islamophobia is a strategic weapon that is used to marginalize American Muslims, saying: "The neoconservatives in the US believe that the rising number of Muslims in the US may pose a threat in the future." He also stated that the "moderate Muslim" notion is used as tool in the US to promote people bashing Islam. Agreeing with Safi, politician Numan Kurtulmuş added that the US needed a new "enemy" after the Cold War.

Armstrong: The West is deeply Islamophobic

British writer and lecturer Karen Armstrong agreed that the West is deeply Islamophobic. She stressed that the roots of modern Islamophobia are political and provoked on both sides by the extremists, the terrorists -- specifically refraining from using the term "Muslim terrorists," saying it has nothing to do with Islam -- and the Western secular extremists.

Dr. İbrahim Kalın, the general director of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), addressed the issue of identity and political loyalty, saying that Muslims define themselves as "Muslim" before their nationality. "Eurocentrism still poses a problem. Islamophobia became a form of racism, and the political loyalty of the Muslims is questioned in Western countries. However, there is no neat identity that can be applied to everybody."

'Headscarf ban is also a form of Islamophobia'

Another interesting topic that the conference raised is that negative attitudes towards Islam exist even in Muslim countries. Necati Ceylan, the head of the Turkish Foundation for Volunteer Organizations (TGTV), noted that Muslims suffer from discrimination in Muslim countries, adding, "The headscarf ban in Turkey and the distortions in the press also stem from this matter."

Defining anti-Islamism as a cultural or religious phenomenon, Ceylan emphasized that it differs from the Islamophobia, which is based on political and ideological roots, and that it is normal, unlike Islamophobia..

Ways to fight against Islamophobia

Intellectuals and scholars offered various suggestions, such as analyzing Islamophobia and building bridges between those promoting peace and those spreading hatred as well as between the three main monotheistic religions.

Swiss Muslim academic and theologian Tariq Said Ramadan emphasized that Muslims should get rid of their "victim mentality" and be able to acknowledge legitimate critics. He stressed the importance of spreading Islam's "universal peace" discourse.

Saying that Islamophobia affects Western policies, Armstrong added: "Whether or not you like it, we must create a global community where everybody lives in peace and we must learn to respect each other."

The conference hosted several other guests such as Study and Information Center on International Migrants (CIEMI) President Vincent Geisser, founder and President of Christians and Muslims for Peace (CAMP) William Baker, former president of Kashmir Sardar Mohammed Abdul Qayyum Khan and former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar İbrahim, as well as many others.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 10 Aralık 2007, 16:14