“I’m convinced that Gitmo and other places like Gitmo only exist because it’s detainees are Muslims. I can’t imagine a Christian Gitmo. I can’t Imagine a Jewish Guantanamo. It exists because of Islamophobia. It exists because in the United States the Muslims are the others.”
– Michael Ratner, late human rights lawyer
In 2005, Tarek Dergoul testified to CAGE about how guards had desecrated the Holy Quran while he was imprisoned in Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay. “I witnessed the Qur’an being thrown around and kicked, torn up and thrown into a bucket which was being used as a toilet,” he said. Many other prisoners told of the same stories.
Nothing embodies Islamophobia more than these heinous acts, which strike at the heart of Muslims the world over. As we observe Islamophobia Awareness Month, it is worth remembering these acts of hatred against Islam and Muslims which occurred within the prisons and torture rooms during the West’s ‘War on Terror’.
But it is important to highlight the long term effects of these abhorrent acts, since it is from them that other acts of hatred and “othering” of Muslims radiate. If interrogators and security services employed by the US and the UK are able to get away with treating Muslims in this way, then it is easier for individuals and organisations that operate in the public eye to get away with anti-Muslim smears that, though they appear lesser in comparison, in fact come from the same hateful root: Islamophobia.
Islamophobia and policy
Energised by a fear of Islam, Islamophobia has given rise to failed policies such as PREVENT, which seeks to determine what is acceptable Islamic belief and what is not. It’s a toxic policy that criminalises aspects of Islamic belief, and in turn normalises Islamophobia, and so the feedback cycle continues.
Where the tactics of guards and interrogators are overt and abusive, this type of manifestation of Islamophobia is more insidious, seeking to divide communities and smear their beliefs. It does so by presenting a the friendly face of ‘safeguarding’, while in the background it seeks to produce an Islam palatable to Western governments and compliant to their discriminatory domestic and aggressive foreign policy.
It also employs a new language, giving rise to terms such as “extremism”, which is defined by what is unacceptable to the state, including an attitude of questioning authority and much of the tenets of justice that Islam upholds. As such Islamophobia is central to the securitisation debate and is part of the state’s method to enhance its control.
It is employed by the media at the behest of powerful influencers and it filters into courtrooms where judgements are passed through a two-tier justice system. This has seen naive young people imprisoned for life and children removed or under threat of removal from their families for the most trivial of reasons.
All of this results in an atmosphere of enmity and hatred in broader society, which must be constantly countered by those who seek to restore justice and end the abuses of the ‘War on Terror’.
Islamophobia is what drives the ‘War on Terror’
Off the back of isolated, politically motivated acts, the security establishment stokes the narrative that Islam is a threat, and uses them as an excuse to push through ever more oppressive legislation that moves us all closer to a police state.
Muslims are then forced to only ever enter the public debate as apologists for state aggression, which only foments the belief that something is inherently wrong with Islam. So the cycle of Islamophobia continues.
No other community is made to pay for the actions of a few like the Muslims are, and this atmosphere of collective guilt is nurtured through Islamophobia, which is then adopted more broadly. Aspects of the Holy Quran are maligned, questioned, or abused. The tactics of the Islamophobes become exactly like those of the guards at Guantanamo Bay – just that they are done in a more politically expedient way.
For this reason Islamophobia is at the heart of the ‘War on Terror’. It must be nurtured and made permanent in order for the security establishment to continue to thrive and profit from it.
We must be on guard against these efforts and call out Islamophobia wherever we encounter it, in the best way we can. By resisting it, we will diffuse a whole host of harmful and dangerous policies that radiate from it. Surely this is our charge.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)