9/11: A decade of Islamophobia

Persecution of a people on account of their faith is as old as religion itself. Prophet Moses (A.S.) was hounded out of Egypt by Pharaoh when he preached the worship of none other than the One True God. Early Christianity suffered more under the Roman Empire. However, the ascendancy of Christianity as state religion from the eight century A.D. in most of Europe led to the persecution of various religious groups, including Jews and Muslims. All that was in the dark ages.

Strangely, religious minorities suffer more today when there is enlightenment and rhetorics of freedom. The situation is worse in “civilised” nations after the unfortunate attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Religious persecution against adherents of Islam has defined the character of state policy in those countries as a “war on terror” is fought. Violent extremism against Muslims by ordinary Westerners has increased.

In a statement last Wednesday, Minority Rights Group International (MRG), a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide, noted that in the ten years since the 9/11 attacks, ethnic and religious minorities have been targeted for large-scale human rights violations across the world, ranging from torture and extra-judicial executions to extra-ordinary rendition and restrictions on freedom of religion. In the statement, published to mark the 10th anniversary of the Al Qaida attacks, MRG (www.mrgmail.org) says the increased imposition of counter-terrorism measures by many states across the world has affected minority communities the most.

“Even though the rhetoric of ‘war on terror’ has been abandoned, the reality continues to affect minority communities worldwide,” MRG argues. “As we commemorate the terrible crimes committed on 9/11, we should also think of the tens of thousands of innocent victims killed in the wars that have followed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

In the U.S., as in parts of Europe, Muslims have come under attacks, with many killed by those who felt it was their duty to “purify” their countries of terrorists. Ethnic and religious slur, as well as racial profiling targeted at minorities, have increased, culminating into violent verbal and physical attacks, as well as various forms of discrimination. At work places, schools, airports and in the media, among others, Muslims are persecuted by bigots who look down upon them in abhorrent situations similar to those in the early years of Christianity when Christians were persecuted. One’s name or appearance is a give-away to theological fundamentalists who simply assume that anyone practising Islam is a terrorist. Examples abound, but one of the most prominent is that of Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan’s detention at the U.S. airport of Newark, New Jersey, in August 2009 simply because of his “Muslim-looking” name. Ironically, the high profile actor was in the U.S. to shoot a movie on discrimination against Muslims in the post-9/11 world, i.e. “My Name is Khan,” which eventually became a blockbuster. Also, the killing of Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces this year was celebrated with glee in the U.S. and other non-Muslim societies not just because of his status as the leading sponsor of terrorism but more because he was a Muslim.

This kind of profiling has seeped into otherwise peaceful multicultural societies, pitching adherents of faiths against one another. In Nigeria, where Muslims cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered a minority, Muslims are viewed by many as terrorists because of the activities of some in sectarian violence, even if they are in it for revenge, and those who bomb places, such as the Boko Haram sect. It does not matter to theological fundamentalists that not all Muslims are terrorists and that in as much as there are Muslim terrorists, there are also non-Muslim terrorists.

It is sad that our nation has become more divided during the 9/11 decade. Leaders who ought to show good example are leading the charge in widening the gulf. Communities in Nigeria and other nations will not find peace unless all the various forms of prejudice and bigotry that trigger violence, mostly promoted by our colleagues in the media, are stopped forthwith.

Published in my column in the current issue of BLUEPRINT

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