Dr Aayesha J Soni
Last year Ahmed Mohamed, a 14 year old high school learner in Texas, was handcuffed, taken into custody, and barred from seeing his parents as he was transported to a juvenile detention facility. Eventually he was suspended from school. His crime: bringing a homemade clock to school.
The same sentiment that targeted Ahmed as a threat resulted in a 10-year-old Muslim boy from Lancashire, north-west England, bring quizzed by British police for writing that he lived in a “terrorist” house – instead of a “terraced” house – during an English class.
The overwhelming paranoia that fuels suspicion even towards children who make simple spelling mistakes or display ambitious ingenuity is a growing trend within the global framework of Islamophobia.
But instead of being challenged at the policy level, Islamophobia is becoming more deeply entrenched in law. Last week the Danish government presented a list of measures to combat ‘radicalisation’, including steps to assist members of civil society to “systematically be present in social media and engage critically in relevant forums, take part in dialogue and challenge extremist views”, making it easier to prosecute those spreading “extremist views online”, according to the government.
Getting the general public involved in furthering the mentality of anything related to Islam being automatically associated with terrorism is a slippery slope. The definitions of “extremism” and “radicalisation” by governments lack clarity and are so broad they are able, at a push, to criminalise legitimate political dissent and apply to all manner of organisations and individuals that challenge the liberal democratic model.
Another example of this legalised Islamophobia can be seen in Australia – one of the most peaceful and law-abiding countries, yet it is about to allow people who might commit terrorism to be held in prison — indefinitely! But the definitions of “terrorism” in Australia are notoriously broad and have been widely criticised by the Australian Human Rights Commission for their lack of clarity and due process.
Nonetheless, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s center-right government, federal judges could stop prisoners being released after completing terrorism-related sentences, detaining them indefinitely with little recourse to justice. Further, new laws will allow teenagers as young as 14 to be subjected to court-ordered controls, restricting who they can see and where they can go if any “suspicious” activity is assumed. Because these laws are primarily executed by police, this is a clear sign of Australia’s further descent into a police state.The underlying assumption is that Islamic-related activities of any sort are top on the watch-list.
Core issues remain unaddressed and violence continues
These sentiments are making their way into the laws of countries globally. They reflect a growing assumption that Islam is irrevocably linked to violence. What they don’t pay attention to is the crucial issue of grievances – that the underlying cause of political violence is a grievance with foreign policy against Muslims.
This crucial issue has even been acknowledged by security services in private for some time. A recently-released 2011 FBI Intelligence Assessment, a previously classified document, found that anger over US military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “home-grown” terrorism.
This has followed to some extent due to the capitulation of non-violent political avenues of resistance. Following 9/11, the anti-war movement was completely isolated as trade unions and civil society organizations swallowed the media lies and government propaganda against Islam. What followed was the acceptance of a war of retribution against Afghanistan – an impoverished country of 30 million people.
US led military action in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and countless other Muslim countries followed. These incursions have left these lands devastated, with millions of innocent civilians losing their lives. The global NGO Physicians for Social Responsibility reported that over two million Muslims have been killed as a result of Western-led wars since 1990, while others have stated the death toll could be as high as four million. While retaliatory violence should not be lauded, it is essential that we acknowledge this violence does not come out of a vacuum.
CVE is a form of structural violence against Muslims
The FBI report also called into question current anti-radicalisation initiatives. It identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts. “It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual’s radicalization or mobilization to violence.”
Despite this conclusion, the US government has announced plans to spend millions of dollars on “Countering Violent Extremism” initiatives, which involve community members spotting and stopping would-be extremists – a pattern of surveillance that has Orwellian overtones, and which, in its flawed theories linking religiosity to violence, is a form of subtle structural violence against Muslims.
“Countering violent extremism programmes are really a danger to us all. They hinge on very broad and vague definitions of ‘extremism’, and target any ideology that challenges liberal democracy. This is a dangerous approach, since it criminalises ordinary religious behaviour and stands to silence political dissent. This pushes ideologies underground where they may become violent,” says Karen Jayes, from advocacy group CAGE.
“‘Radicalisation’ theories are built on the flawed assumption that the more religious a person, the more likely they are to commit violence, when in fact the opposite is true. These theories have been proven to be based on unreliable studies, in a report authored by CAGE and entitled ‘The ‘Science’ of Pre-Crime‘, which was also backed by over 100 academics in the UK. Despite this, CVE programmes are expanding throughout the world, because they are a multi-billion dollar industry that trades off a fear of Islam, which is fanned by corporate media and a growing security industry.”
From the CVE initiatives in the US, to arbitrary yet dangerous laws being implemented from Denmark to Australia, the rapid move to vilifying Muslims has become extreme in itself. These moves seek to demonise Muslims as a whole, as a group and as an identity – not the individual acts of harm or evil committed by some.
Instead of uniting people this serves to divide them; instead of cultivating respect, it sows contempt, fear and antagonism. Most perniciously, it codifies automatic antagonisms in society as well as in law and regulation. By systematically denying Muslims the cherished civil liberties afforded to others, we are entrenching the ideology of Islamophobia within the fabric of our everyday lives, and this will have lasting consequences.
Dr Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor working in Johannesburg, South Africa. Follow her on Twitter @AayeshaJ.
(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.)