The aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in Christ Church, New Zealand, has restored many people’s faith in humanity. For this Prime Minister Jacinda Arden deserves special credit. However, the general public, too, showed admiarable solidarity with the vicitms of the attack and their families. Telecasting the Firday call for prayers the very next week was a wonderful gesture to promote peace, harmony and unity. No wonder, Prime Minster Ardern has been named among Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. Acknowledging her empathy with the affected people and her effective handling of the crisis, London Mayor Sadiq Khan noted: “Not only is she delivering such swift action on gun control, she has sent a powerful message around the world about our shared values that those who seek to divide us will never succeed.”
Islamophobia has been on the rise in the recent decades. This has coincided with illiberal regimes taking power in the United States and across Europe. The Brexit process, far from complete, has already made it harder for immigrants, including Muslims. Post-Brexit tensions are feared to lead to a rise in hate crime in Great Britian. Right-wing extremists could try to exploit the situation.
The rise in anti-Islamic sentiment has been linked more to political rhetoric than any terrorist events. The FBI data showed that in 2015 there were 257 hate crimes agaist Muslims in the United States; the highest level since 2001 and a surge of 67 per cent over the previous year. Not only did cases of anti-Muslim crime rise in absoute numbers, they also grew as a percentage of all hate crime. They currently account for 4.4 per cent of all reported hate crime even though Muslims are estimated to be a mere 1 per cent of the population.
A joint report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California-Berkeley, shows that more than $200 million was spent by various organizations towards promoting “fear and hatred” of Muslims in the United States between 2008 and 2013.
The incident in New Zealand has exposed the gravity and danger of Islamophobia and how it might jeopardize well-being of Muslim populations across the world. We see these growing waves of extremism in various parts of the world ranging from Myanmar to China.
The solution to growing Islamophobia lies in education, an empathetic discourse and providing humanitarian assistance to those in need. Inequality in development also presents a grave challenge to progress and could fuel extremism
There has been no real accountability for the atrocities committed at the height of the ethnic cleansing campaign in Myanmar. The United Nations’ human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has stated that an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims cannot be ruled out by state forces in Myanmar. The Rohingya, who numbered around one million in Myanmar at the start of 2017, are one of the many ethnic minorities in the country. According to the analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch at least 288 villages inhabited by them were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine state after August 2017. The images show many areas where Rohingya villages were reduced to smouldering rubble, while nearby Rakhine villages were left intact. Additionally, the security situation in northern Rakhine is deteriorating, and humanitarian access, already highly restricted, is being further curtailed.
In China, the government has established 28 detention centres described by Amnesty International as comparable to “wartime concentration camps” aimed at eradication of Uighur Muslim identity. Detainees at the camps are subjected to psychological and physical torture to force them to renounce their faith and pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party.
There needs to be a concerted effort from Muslim leaders, the Organiation of Islamic Confrence and the United Nations to curb extremism and religious persecution emanating from Islamophobia.
We also need to turn our attention towards the grave humanitarian crisis emerging from Syria and Yemen in terms of food insecurity, child protection, displacement and political and security turmoil. The war in Yemen has left 11.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance, according to a 2018 UNICEF report. The wars in Syria and Yemen have lasted so long that an entire generation of children is missing basic education and nourishment.
The youth are especially hard hit. According to the UN, about 80 percent of Yemenis under the age of 18 are facing threats to their health and survival. The war has destroyed Yemen’s fragile economy. About 1.25 million public servants have not received salaries since August 2016. This has not only affected their ability to provide for their families, but also contributed to a breakdown of basic services like water, sanitation, healthcare and education, putting additional pressures on humanitarian organizations.
Prior to the war, Yemen imported 80 to 90 per cent of its staple foods and large amounts of fuel, but blockades have delayed and limited delivery, making these essential goods more expensive and hyperinflation has undermined people’s purchasing power. According to the UN all these factors are pushing Yemen to the precipice of the worst famine the world has seen in 100 years. Besides, Yemen is also facing the world’s worst ever recorded cholera outbreak, which has spread to nearly every corner of the war-ravaged country. More than 1.3 million cases have been reported and at least 2,700 people have died since the start of the epidemic. Many more are at risk, already weakened by hunger and the effects of the ongoing war.
It is an irony that despite such atrocities being committed against various Muslim populations in disparate regions, leaders in the Muslim world are not uniting to take up the fight against Islamophobia and humanitarian crises are not being ameliorated. Suppression leads to more alienation and extremism. For harmony and peace we need to emphathise with the Rohingyas, Kashmiris and oppressed Muslims in Palestine, Yemen and Syria.
The solution to growing Islamophobia lies in education, an empathetic discourse and providing humanitarian assistance to those in need. Inequality in development also could fuel extremism. The best way to tackle hate crime and Islamophobia is through education. We need to look at the roots of the problems – at social deprivation in society, inequality and discrimination.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter also share the blame. Today’s digital technologies offer immediate, high-impact platforms through which extremist elements can reach a global audience, often in real time. Social media platforms must share the responsibility and find ways to prevent their misuse.
Even as far-right extremism surges, most of the people across the globe recognize that there is more that unites humanity than that divides it. Effective responses to poverty, climate change and epidemics, require cooperation across territorial borders as well as racial, ethnic, and religious lines.