The Other Phobia

In their April, 2006 Policy Bulletin, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that a new paradigm is required in Western relations with Islam. 

"We can no longer speak of ‘Islam versus the West', but rather use a new frame of reference such as ‘Islam in the West."  
The Bulletin noted that Muslims in the West have been viewed as outsiders and Islam as the "other."  The result, according to CAIR, is that the West has put up barriers, "stereotypical assumptions and misguided pronouncements regarding beliefs, attitudes and customs," making integration of Muslims into Western civic and political systems more difficult.  The report also claims that anti-Muslim rhetoric permeates American society. 

"Islamophobia," coined as a term to describe prejudice and fear against Muslims and Islam, has gained institutional legitimacy.  It is now used to fend off criticism of anything negative arising from Muslims or Islam.   Less a psychological state of irrational fear, it creates a pseudo-racial classification for Muslims and Islam that allows criticism of, or opposition to it, to be defined as racist.  Politically, the language of phobia is being used as a battering ram to weaken security measures and strengthen the radical agenda of Islamists who do not hide the fact that they want to transform the United States into an Islamic country governed by shari'a.  These Islamists offer a caveat, that is, they want this transformation to be done without terrorism or violence, using only the political process to Islamicize American society. 

There is another phenomenon of prejudice which has no such name, but whose effect is ongoing and devastating throughout the Islamic world.  The "other' phobia demonizes non-Muslim minorities living in Islamic majority countries.   Loathing of the "other" has been embedded into legal and political institutions in Islamic countries.  Yet, there are no civil rights movements to shame the majority in those Muslim societies into treating their minorities with the justice and dignity that Muslims, as minorities in the West, demand.  Where are the moral movements in the Middle East promoting the cause of the non-Muslims, living on the margins in Muslims societies?    As much as Islamic activists bemoan the stereotypes and racist like attitudes of Muslims in the West, it is only an echo of the bigotry that haunts non-Muslim minorities in Islamic countries. 

Reuters recently reported that a recent census of government employees in Pakistan indicated that the 10 Jews who were counted three years earlier were no longer recorded.  The article quoted a former cabinet minister's surprise that there were any Jews left in Pakistan.  Prior to the partition of India, the article notes, there were two thousand Jews living in Karachi and Peshawar.  Although a non-Arab country, Pakistan society holds the same dim view of Jews as their fellow Arab Muslims.   

Christians and Hindus, who comprise about 4% of the 160 million population of Pakistan, began to feel pressure as minorities as the influence of Islamic religious leaders became stronger.  In 1973, Islam became the state religion, ending the secular goals of its founders.  Under President Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1977, shari'a was strictly enforced.  The adoption of a "system of separated constituencies" for religious minorities in 1985 disenfranchised non-Muslim voters.  Today, there are only a handful of Christian members of the Pakistan Assembly.  The adoption of the "Blasphemy Law" in 1991 further alienated Christians, Hindu and other non-Muslims from their Muslim neighbors.   Fabricated charges of blasphemy against Islam, kidnappings, rapes, forced marriages of non-Muslim women to Muslim men, and church bombings all make life very dangerous for Pakistani citizens who do not subscribe to Islam.   Since the War on Terrorism attitudes towards indigenous Christians have continued to degenerate into negative stereotypes of "crusaders" and "Zionists." 

Recently, the BBC reported that 45 Jews in Yemen had fled their traditional home of Salem to the provincial capital of Saada City after being threatened by an Islamic extremist group known as the Youthful Believers.  There are less than a thousand Jews left in Yemen.  Sixty thousand Jews were rescued from Yemen by Israel in 1948 and more left in the early 1990's.   A trumped-up charge of selling wine provided the latest excuse for persecuting the last of the Yemeni Jews, whose presence in that country predated the Muslims by centuries.
"We have the impression that someone wants to cancel us gradually from the history of the country where our faith was born," Iranian MP Kurosh Niknam, who represents followers of the original faith of Iran, told the daily newspaper, Khatam Yazd, on January 23. 
Until the 9th century, Zoroastrians were the majority population of Persia.  However, by the 13th century,  Muslim Turks and Mongols diminished Zoroastrians to a small minority located in Yazd and Kerman.  Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Zoroastrians have further decreased in numbers, from 32,000 to between an estimated 11,000 to 17,000 followers in Iran.  There are perhaps more Zoroastrians living in the United States today than remain in their homeland. 

Ten years ago the Islamic government of Somalia declared that there were no Christians left in Somalia.  It is estimated that less than 1% of the population is Christian, and that they practice their faith in secret.   Christians have been jailed, murdered and tortured.  Most remaining Christians have fled to Kenya.  Recent reports from Kenya indicate that Somali Christian refugees remain targets of their fellow Somali Muslim refugees. Christian schools were closed in the 1970's and there has not been a Catholic bishop in Somalia since 1989.  The Cathedral of Mogadishu is a bombed out shell.

Daahir Mireh Jibreel, Permanent Secretary for International Cooperation for the Transitional Federal Government of the Somali Republic, said recently that there are three goals that the government is pursuing following the defeat of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU): to eliminate radicalism, jump start financial development and establish a constitutional government where religion has no role.   He also added that the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Mogadishu and the churches in the south were important symbols for new Somalia.  He admits that these are lofty goals and there is a great deal to overcome. 

The Christian population of the Middle East, which at the beginning of the 20th century comprised 20% of the population, at the beginning of the 21st century has been reduced to about 2%.  Christians comprise 36% of the refugees fleeing Iraq into Syria and Jordan.   In 1987, Iraqi Christians numbered 1.5 million; they now number 600,000 - 800,000.  Mandaeans (followers of John the Baptist) in Iraq numbered 30,000 to 2003.  Estimates are that they now number 4,000.  Christians in Lebanon were once the majority; they are now between 42 to 46 % of the population. 

In the Holy Land, birthplace of Christianity, the number of believers continues to decline.  Christians comprised 80% of the population in Bethlehem until the Palestinian Authority took control in 1995.  They are now less than 15% of the population of a city so significant to Christian history.   According to the Jerusalem Post, Christian property has been under increasing attack recently.  Samir Qumsiyeh, who owns the Al-Mahd television station in nearby Beit Sahur, told the Post that he had documented more than 160 incidences in the recent years.  Land seizures by Muslims have increased without any redress or protection offered to the Christian land owners by the Palestinian Authority.  As the level of violence against Christians rises, believers flee, leaving empty churches and holy sites abandoned. 

Christians and Jews are indigenous to the region and yet they are treated as interlopers by the Islamists now in control.

If Islamophobia has infected the West, phobia of the ‘other' is an epidemic in the Islamic world.  Perhaps CAIR should open overseas chapters for their co-religionists.  They could lead workshops on themes such as promoting religious tolerance, combating religious discrimination and supporting religious minorities in phobia-driven cultures. The full integration of minorities is an essential ingredient for all healthy societies.  Islamic countries should not be granted exemptions.   

The Rev Dr. Keith Roderick is Secretary General of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights and Canon for Persecuted Christians, Episcopal Church Diocese of Quincy
In their April, 2006 Policy Bulletin, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that a new paradigm is required in Western relations with Islam. 

"We can no longer speak of ‘Islam versus the West', but rather use a new frame of reference such as ‘Islam in the West."  
The Bulletin noted that Muslims in the West have been viewed as outsiders and Islam as the "other."  The result, according to CAIR, is that the West has put up barriers, "stereotypical assumptions and misguided pronouncements regarding beliefs, attitudes and customs," making integration of Muslims into Western civic and political systems more difficult.  The report also claims that anti-Muslim rhetoric permeates American society. 

"Islamophobia," coined as a term to describe prejudice and fear against Muslims and Islam, has gained institutional legitimacy.  It is now used to fend off criticism of anything negative arising from Muslims or Islam.   Less a psychological state of irrational fear, it creates a pseudo-racial classification for Muslims and Islam that allows criticism of, or opposition to it, to be defined as racist.  Politically, the language of phobia is being used as a battering ram to weaken security measures and strengthen the radical agenda of Islamists who do not hide the fact that they want to transform the United States into an Islamic country governed by shari'a.  These Islamists offer a caveat, that is, they want this transformation to be done without terrorism or violence, using only the political process to Islamicize American society. 

There is another phenomenon of prejudice which has no such name, but whose effect is ongoing and devastating throughout the Islamic world.  The "other' phobia demonizes non-Muslim minorities living in Islamic majority countries.   Loathing of the "other" has been embedded into legal and political institutions in Islamic countries.  Yet, there are no civil rights movements to shame the majority in those Muslim societies into treating their minorities with the justice and dignity that Muslims, as minorities in the West, demand.  Where are the moral movements in the Middle East promoting the cause of the non-Muslims, living on the margins in Muslims societies?    As much as Islamic activists bemoan the stereotypes and racist like attitudes of Muslims in the West, it is only an echo of the bigotry that haunts non-Muslim minorities in Islamic countries. 

Reuters recently reported that a recent census of government employees in Pakistan indicated that the 10 Jews who were counted three years earlier were no longer recorded.  The article quoted a former cabinet minister's surprise that there were any Jews left in Pakistan.  Prior to the partition of India, the article notes, there were two thousand Jews living in Karachi and Peshawar.  Although a non-Arab country, Pakistan society holds the same dim view of Jews as their fellow Arab Muslims.   

Christians and Hindus, who comprise about 4% of the 160 million population of Pakistan, began to feel pressure as minorities as the influence of Islamic religious leaders became stronger.  In 1973, Islam became the state religion, ending the secular goals of its founders.  Under President Zia ul-Haq, who came to power in 1977, shari'a was strictly enforced.  The adoption of a "system of separated constituencies" for religious minorities in 1985 disenfranchised non-Muslim voters.  Today, there are only a handful of Christian members of the Pakistan Assembly.  The adoption of the "Blasphemy Law" in 1991 further alienated Christians, Hindu and other non-Muslims from their Muslim neighbors.   Fabricated charges of blasphemy against Islam, kidnappings, rapes, forced marriages of non-Muslim women to Muslim men, and church bombings all make life very dangerous for Pakistani citizens who do not subscribe to Islam.   Since the War on Terrorism attitudes towards indigenous Christians have continued to degenerate into negative stereotypes of "crusaders" and "Zionists." 

Recently, the BBC reported that 45 Jews in Yemen had fled their traditional home of Salem to the provincial capital of Saada City after being threatened by an Islamic extremist group known as the Youthful Believers.  There are less than a thousand Jews left in Yemen.  Sixty thousand Jews were rescued from Yemen by Israel in 1948 and more left in the early 1990's.   A trumped-up charge of selling wine provided the latest excuse for persecuting the last of the Yemeni Jews, whose presence in that country predated the Muslims by centuries.
"We have the impression that someone wants to cancel us gradually from the history of the country where our faith was born," Iranian MP Kurosh Niknam, who represents followers of the original faith of Iran, told the daily newspaper, Khatam Yazd, on January 23. 
Until the 9th century, Zoroastrians were the majority population of Persia.  However, by the 13th century,  Muslim Turks and Mongols diminished Zoroastrians to a small minority located in Yazd and Kerman.  Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Zoroastrians have further decreased in numbers, from 32,000 to between an estimated 11,000 to 17,000 followers in Iran.  There are perhaps more Zoroastrians living in the United States today than remain in their homeland. 

Ten years ago the Islamic government of Somalia declared that there were no Christians left in Somalia.  It is estimated that less than 1% of the population is Christian, and that they practice their faith in secret.   Christians have been jailed, murdered and tortured.  Most remaining Christians have fled to Kenya.  Recent reports from Kenya indicate that Somali Christian refugees remain targets of their fellow Somali Muslim refugees. Christian schools were closed in the 1970's and there has not been a Catholic bishop in Somalia since 1989.  The Cathedral of Mogadishu is a bombed out shell.

Daahir Mireh Jibreel, Permanent Secretary for International Cooperation for the Transitional Federal Government of the Somali Republic, said recently that there are three goals that the government is pursuing following the defeat of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU): to eliminate radicalism, jump start financial development and establish a constitutional government where religion has no role.   He also added that the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Mogadishu and the churches in the south were important symbols for new Somalia.  He admits that these are lofty goals and there is a great deal to overcome. 

The Christian population of the Middle East, which at the beginning of the 20th century comprised 20% of the population, at the beginning of the 21st century has been reduced to about 2%.  Christians comprise 36% of the refugees fleeing Iraq into Syria and Jordan.   In 1987, Iraqi Christians numbered 1.5 million; they now number 600,000 - 800,000.  Mandaeans (followers of John the Baptist) in Iraq numbered 30,000 to 2003.  Estimates are that they now number 4,000.  Christians in Lebanon were once the majority; they are now between 42 to 46 % of the population. 

In the Holy Land, birthplace of Christianity, the number of believers continues to decline.  Christians comprised 80% of the population in Bethlehem until the Palestinian Authority took control in 1995.  They are now less than 15% of the population of a city so significant to Christian history.   According to the Jerusalem Post, Christian property has been under increasing attack recently.  Samir Qumsiyeh, who owns the Al-Mahd television station in nearby Beit Sahur, told the Post that he had documented more than 160 incidences in the recent years.  Land seizures by Muslims have increased without any redress or protection offered to the Christian land owners by the Palestinian Authority.  As the level of violence against Christians rises, believers flee, leaving empty churches and holy sites abandoned. 

Christians and Jews are indigenous to the region and yet they are treated as interlopers by the Islamists now in control.

If Islamophobia has infected the West, phobia of the ‘other' is an epidemic in the Islamic world.  Perhaps CAIR should open overseas chapters for their co-religionists.  They could lead workshops on themes such as promoting religious tolerance, combating religious discrimination and supporting religious minorities in phobia-driven cultures. The full integration of minorities is an essential ingredient for all healthy societies.  Islamic countries should not be granted exemptions.   

The Rev Dr. Keith Roderick is Secretary General of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights and Canon for Persecuted Christians, Episcopal Church Diocese of Quincy