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The Rise of Islamophobia and Political Islam

We are witnessing the rise of the extreme right and fascistic disposition once again in the western world. Are Europe and the West which produced Hitler and Mussolini, and spread the racial ideas throughout the world returning back to their old codes?

Will the system of the western countries manage to continue, which was built among themselves based on justice, human rights, rule of law, and equality after World War II, specifically not to live through once again the war’s destruction, havoc, and the bloody events, or the turnabout is about to start?

There has been a significant increase with the votes of the extreme right-winger parties for a while now. The racial discourses and the exclusionist language which alienates the foreign immigrants are being accepted at a concerning level in the western countries. And the politicians who oversee the acceptance of this language in the community, tend to use it for populist reasons. In fact, some of the liberal parties tend to give nationalist statements by solidifying their attitude, just not to lose votes to the right wing parties.

So, why there is an increase with the hostility towards the foreigners, especially towards the Muslim immigrants, and Islamophobia?

Significant Increase with the Hostility towards Muslim Immigrants

After the fall of the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty Organization, NATO and the West left without any enemies and needed a new one. The September 11 attacks indicated the West that the enemy they needed for was the “Muslims” and “Islam”. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, and the thesis which was a resource to the book identified the Islam and the Muslims as a community who are not capable of building a relationship, integrating, and furthermore stated as “an obstacle to the western civilization”, and as “an enemy”. Together with the September 11 attacks, which harbored many question marks and many points which needed clarification, the new enemy was made clear, and new strategies were activated according to this new enemy. Fukuyama’s The End of History virtually made the West speak about their ego. Their biggest enemy Communism, and the country representing the ideology had fallen. The western civilization saw themselves as a power to last forever without enemies, and had reached perfectness. The then allies such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and the groups originated from the Saudis, were provoked towards the new enemy. Should there be a date for the modern Islamophobia, September 11th could be accepted as the milestone.

After September 11th, Islamist radical groups were held responsible for the attacks happened in London, Madrid, and Paris, and the insecurity spread through the communities allowed them to be concerned about and fear Islam and the Muslims. The persistent instillation of the “Islamic terror” anxiety in the community legitimized the occupation of the Middle-East by the western countries in the public eye. They were quite successful with this. But the rising generation who witnessed the deaths and the pains followed by the occupation forced immigration in the communities of the deteriorated beyond recovery Middle-Eastern communities, head towards radicalism. Furthermore, the provocation of some of the politicians and religious functionaries, the hatred, revulsion, and the anger exploded among the young Muslims. This anger returned back to the extremist groups as a resource of men and armed militia. The occupation of the West and the resulting hatred induced the rise of the Islamist radicalism. The occupation generated terror, while the terror generated Islamophobia in the western communities. These two factors fed each other as a negative spiral, just like a vicious circle.


This vicious circle has two visible results. First, the rise of the Islamophobia in the western communities, and second, the welcomed support of the Muslims towards radicalism and extremism.

Western media played and still playing a principal role for the rise of Islamophobia

On the other hand, the western media played and still playing a principal role for the rise of Islamophobia. While even the organized incidents created by the people from other religions are not individualized, and not published together by focusing on religion, culture, and belief, the individual crimes committed by an ordinary Muslim were published directly citing “Islam”, “jihad”, and “religion”, allowing the western population to shape their conscious and mention Islam with terrorism in their minds.

The extreme right wing and racist parties and their leaders who lost their influence after World War II, and couldn’t get a response from the community, and were widely marginal in 2000s, used the atmosphere very effective after September 11. The extreme right winger parties consolidated their voters by Islam hatred, and terror victimization, and spread their mandate even more by every terror attack.

The relative loss of economic power within the European countries and the West, declining of the welfare level and the increase of the unemployment, and the economic factors caused hostility towards the foreigners in general, and hostility towards the Muslims in private within the west, especially the middle class communities. The citizens who lost their jobs and become uncomfortable blamed the immigrants for this. The terror attacks, casualties, and the pain reinforced the prejudice towards the Muslims.

The effects of Political Islamism and Erdogan’s Rhetoric

The traumatic behaviors of its population is visible after the fall of a big power, and it is observable in the European and American communities as well. When the longing for the old magnificent days of the people merges with the political interests of the politicians, the discourses and the policies towards the fear of the foreigners and hatred towards Islam started to sell. Similarly in Turkey, when Erdoğan presented the powerful era of the Ottomans as a target to the public and carrying out Neo-Ottomanism policies such as the phrase “let’s get back the old lands from the enemy” in the Janissary Band, Trump won the elections with a similar phrase of his which was “make America great again”. The longing for the empire where the sun shined upon without setting off brought Brexit to the British. Throughout all these downfalls, all of the blame, responsibility, and the sin are put not upon the cyclical changes, or the failiures of the management, but to the “others”, the immigrants, and the foreigners. For the Islamist politicians, while the “others” are the “West”, “Europe”, “infidels”, and “crusaders”, for the western politicians, the “others” are the immigrants who were the reason to alienate Islam and Islamophobia. Should the intellectuals and the intelligent ones not clarify these populist discourses and their dangers to the public, and stop the politicians to feed the public with hostility for the sake of their political ambitions, the blame will always be on the “others” and the world will not be a place to live on.

One of the most important reasons feeding the Islamophobia and the extremism is the uncertain and the indecisive behavior of the public and the intelligent people of the Muslim communities towards the accusation of Islam with terror and violence. Unfortunately, we are unable to see any rebuttals from the religious scholars, opinion leaders, and the intellectuals who are respected widely in the Muslim communities, even though in Islam, it is rejected and is a huge sin to kill somebody, especially the civilians, and even in war, there are strict rules to take a human life. Piece by piece, alongside the individual condemnations, there weren’t any global protests with decisive steps towards these terror attacks where Islam was blamed. Just on the contrary, the members of the ulama class like Yusuf El Kardavi tried to justify the suicide attacks, which cannot find a place in any way in Islam, with invalid arguments such as “obligation”, “unable to find any other way”. Since there wasn’t any decisive and strong rejection and the rejections made were not published by the media, and sometimes were ignored, the words “terror and Islam” were started to be used together, Islamophobia becomes even stronger in the west.

Because of the approach of the political Islam’s dominant role among the Muslim communities within the last century, the Muslims are acting rather reactionist, exclusionist, and factionalized instead of actionist, constructive, and conciliator. In fact, Islam is actionist, not reactionist, and its purpose is not to destruct the other. It has its own thesis, civilization criteria, and system of values. The Muslims adopted a manner where they were reactionist, harsh and incomprehensible instead of trying to build upon these values, and convince other people, and give confidence. Even though there were many attempts to improve the dialogue and reconcile, to point out the common truth and values, and to live together with peace, these attempts were ineffective towards the discourses of political Islam and propaganda. Furthermore, the political Islamist intellectuals opposed and demonized these attempts, and even sometimes declared the people behind the attempts as an unbeliever.

Oh the other hand, the Muslims living in the west together with other religions and beliefs couldn’t convince their entourage and neighbors and manage to eliminate their concerns towards Islamophobia. There were no studies and efforts towards this issue. And the ones which were done was weak and ineffective. The people in the west started to justify the Islamophobic discourses since they witnessed the lack of educational level, lack of professional ethics, and the integration problems of the Muslims they personally know around them, and they chose not to oppose Islamophobia. In the scope of the human rights and freedom, even though the poor representation of the Muslims, and the inciting of Islamophobia by the media and the politicians, we can say that the public opinion in the west effectively protected the rights of the Muslims by taking initiative and action. Nevertheless, since the culture of democratic reaction is not developed in the Islamic countries, the Muslims cannot feel susceptible towards protecting the rights of both their fellow Muslims and the non-Muslims.

The Muslims living in the west experience serious integration problems for generations, negative samples towards experiencing Islam, ethical weaknesses revealed by the Muslims, ignorance, and ghettoization, and the identity crisis of the new generations can be listed as the main factors feeding Islamophobia. The rising tide of crime among the Muslims, and their readily participation with the terrorist and crime networks, many youngsters who grew up in the West joining and actively fighting as a militia for the organizations like ISIL and Boko Haram, and these events being widely published in the western media cause Islamophobia to establish a base, despite the fact that all of the values about democracy and the human rights are already settled and being strictly defended by the law.

Integration Problems of Muslim Immigrants

Another reason for the Islamophobia to find a place in the western community is that the Muslims do not consider themselves as a part of the countries they work, make a living, and even have a citizenship from, and not feeling a belonging to the countries they live and actively show it, which also results the young Muslims to have an identity crisis. As it is seen in the politics of Erdoğan, Muslims/Turkish people are not the part of the solution, but the problem in the west. They tend to be interested in the politics in the homeland closely, and easily manipulated and mobilized by the politicians in the homeland. While the Muslims benefit from all of the blessings, rights and freedom of democracy, they do not consider themselves as a part of the democratic community. Such attitudes which are seen in many of the Muslim communities cause the rise of the Islamophobia, and the loss of hope for the Muslims to be able to integrate into the democratic values and western countries. 

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Mahmut Akpinar
Mahmut Akpinar
Dr. Mahmut Akpinar is a political scientist focusing on international relations and Turkish politics.

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