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What Are the Key Drivers of Islamophobia in Contemporary Europe

Wednesday January 11, 2017 - 12:55:49 in Wararka by John Smith
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    What Are the Key Drivers of Islamophobia in Contemporary Europe

    Since the advent of Islamism, Muslims are staying in Europe. Due to European colonisation efforts and Crusades both Muslims and Europeans encountered each other at

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Since the advent of Islamism, Muslims are staying in Europe. Due to European colonisation efforts and Crusades both Muslims and Europeans encountered each other at

Leeds (BurcoOnline) 11.01.2017 Since the advent of Islamism, Muslims are staying in Europe. Due to European colonisation efforts and Crusades both Muslims and Europeans encountered each other at a more profound level. In the twentieth century the Muslim immigrants who moved to Europe portray the fourth Muslim tide. The era of World War II has been the main juncture point of Muslim migration to European nations. They mainly moved from developing and under-developed nations. In fact, in the consecutive eras also many other Muslim workers as refugees entered Europe due to aftershocks of severe natural disasters and civil wars. Europe was facing havoc social and political problems as population of asylum seekers, workers and migrants surged in due course of time. However, in most cases these refugees were either totally avoided all together or considered to be only visitors in the nation. The refugees hardly had any contact with the majority of the people residing in the cities. Moreover, the Muslim immigrants were perceived to be confined only to the society’s margin. For the first time Europeans discovered the Muslim community via various events of global scale. In this paper it will be elucidated how the contemporary Europe has been facing Islamophobia and what are the main drivers of such phobia. Islamophobia can be denoted as a form of racism which prevails in contemporary Europe. The "Muslim question” can be denoted as the central question in context of the "war on terror”. Arguably, there is a thin line of difference between Islamophobia and the broader concept of racism. It can be stated racism still consists of the residue related to "scientific racism”. For instance, while discussing about racism there are still references made to genetic or physical characteristics. On the contrary, Muslim and Islam identity can be defined as an inherited identity and culture or reflexive or elective identity. There are some key factors which had triggered the growth of Islamophobia in contemporary Europe. For instance, Muslim identities’ expression tends to interrupt the mechanism through which personalised opinions are developed against radicalised minorities within Western states. The religious identities are used by certain groups so as to influence mind-set of radicalised population. It is expected that in the next few decades, there shall be a demographic increase in context of the Muslim population within the Western. The involvement of Islam has somewhere raised question against the unequal power distribution, legal protection issues, social inequality, etc. In this study, the key drivers shall be further evaluated which has initiated the growth of Islamophobia in contemporary Europe.

Everyday racism

Both racism and Islamophobia are considered to be issues that people face in everyday life, especially in western nations. For instance, since the time World Trade Centre of America has been subject to attack, people of United States are scared or feel threatened from the Muslim immigrants. National identity and immigrations are definitely then remained on the forefront in the conscience of public. The communities are divided in United Kingdom after the Brexit vote as in the same migration control issue has been raised several times. For example, in the year 2015 it has been reported that anti-Muslim attacks grew almost by 78 percent in United States. On the contrary, Islamophobia surged up to 200 percent. The basic definition of Islamophobia is nothing but unfounded and unnecessary hostility deciphered against the Muslim community largely. Definitely, it comprises of unjust discrimination against communities and individuals belonging to Islam. However, the concept of Islamophobia is itself quite confusing. It is important to understand that on regular basis not only the Muslim community is targeted rather a diverse range of people belonging from other religious and ethnic minorities become victim of the same (Mueller, Dirks and Picca, 2007). Mostly, these types of situations occur when they are assumed to be Muslims but originally not. For instance, Sikhs, Eastern Europeans and south Asians are often lumped into the same category. As a result of these encounters, other ethnic and religious minorities are regarded to be insecure in various public places. Some geopolitical events are intricately linked with the community itself; such events include 2005 London bombings, 9/11, Syrian on-going conflict, on-going conflict, etc. In some of the researches it can be witnessed that before declining the graph of Islamophobia and racism, these types of events raise awareness amongst the common people. As per the concept of Erving Goffman there are two facades of behaviour. In case of nations and racism it can be observed on everyday basis. For example, a developed nation such as America warmly welcomes immigrants as per their constitutional system; however, in the back end of the nation, i.e., where public relations are not concerned immigrants face racism every now and then.

Racism and social and mass media

"Everyday racism” has been characterised as the blending of everyday situations with racism via practices. Here, practices include behavioural and cognitive aspects of the same. The newspapers propagate several terminologies, languages and ideas that are related to Muslims. For example, before the incident of 9/11 the media portrayed negative images of the Muslim community (Hughey, 2011). In fact, since that time number of articles surged in Western presses pertaining to Islam and Muslim communities. After multiple researches it was found that the tabloid newspaper such as "the Daily mail” and "The Sun” may print stories related to a particular ethnic group in a more negative way. However, broadsheet newspapers restrict printing negative things as such in front of the general mass for fear of tarnished reputation. It is noticeable that not all but a specific number of people prefer tabloid versions of the newspapers.

Racist performance

Race is not any group or entity which can be defined. It is more of an on-going process that exists in all countries. Racial groups do not hold meaning when they are treated as distinct groups. Arguably, when racism is evaluated as performances or actions, it generally holds a lot of meaning. A thorough substantial analysis is required in order to understand the concept of racism. There lies a thin line of difference between religious, ethnic and racial groups. It can be stated that certain key factors help in uniting racial groups, such as societal positions, languages, resistance cultures, etc (HoutsPicca and Feagin, 2007). The overall racist performance tends to vary between countries. For instance, class-based discrimination is basically observed in U.K. On the other hand, the percentage rise in immigrants has resulted into diverse cultural and religious beliefs in U.S. and U.K. In U.K., there is a high degree of sensitivity towards race-based classification. On the contrary, certain degree of flexibility can also be witnessed in this region (Eliasoph, 1999). Mixed-race marriages can be regarded as a common phenomenon observed in U.K. However, similar approach is not witnessed within U.S. Religion-based discrimination always had negative impact on U.K. residents. For instance, the involvement of Islam was certainly accompanied with various distinct factors. In June 2016, a survey was conducted in order to determine the percentage rise in hate crime within the region. As per the survey results, there has been 57% rise in hate crimes within a span of four days. On the basis of such results, it can be determined that the concept of racism has dramatically increased in U.K. To be more precise, the increased level of hate crimes can also be denoted as one of the negative implications of racism in U.K. (Feagin, 1991). It can be claimed that racially motivated attack tends to adversely affect a geographical region. Racial groups can be considered as social constructions that tend to fluctuate to a distant degree. For certain racial groups belonging to the minority class, racism is exhibited in a strategic manner. In public context, private racism tends to create maximum negative impact (Essed, 1991). Public culture within the Western society revolves around colour-blind, convivial, post-racial or cosmopolitan racism. Private racist performance is closely knitted with using a particular cultural trait to govern the wider society. To a great extent, the broader framework of racism is based on the private racist performance. It is evident that religious beliefs usually tend to give rise to private racist performance.

Islamophobia’s emergence

For the first time Islamophobia was introduced in the year 1991. The same was printed in Runnymede Trust Report. However, it is noteworthy that the term was coined only in the context of United Kingdom’s Muslim. The report also printed to indicate various prevailing attitudes regarding the concept (Said, 2003). For instance, Islam cannot adapt to new realities and thus the same is monolithic. As a religion Islam is inferior in the eyes of Western communities.

The emergence of Islamophobia is somewhere deeply rooted into the concept of social exclusion. The involvement of Islam in governing racial groups became strong when Muslims were not allocated equal power. In foreign countries specially, there has always been an anti-Muslim prejudice. On the basis of such prejudice, various strategic decisions have been taken into consideration by the government. As per the Runnymede Trust, freedom of expression and speech can be considered as some critical components of democracy. The social exclusion policy has somewhere restricted Muslims from actively participating in various programmes. Islamophobia would not have emerged if the vulnerability of Muslims had not increased.

To a great extent, social exclusion had resulted into physical harassment and violence towards Muslims in many geographical regions. The main motivation behind racist attackers is their inability to be actively involved in the procedure of a mainstream society. Islamophobia can be defined as a disparity prevalent within the society due to differences between Muslims and other racial groups. On the other hand, racial violence was probably an outcome for the prejudice belief against Muslims. Racial and religious violence is definitely not an appropriate way to react when a particular group is subjected to a lot of violence. The counter-reaction tends to develop a phobia within other societal groups. In the below given figure, a detailed explanation has been given about the factors which helps one to further reflect upon the concept of Islamophobia.

Figure 1: Islamophobia & its constituents

(Source: The Runnymede Trust, 2015)

According to the above given figure, discrimination towards Muslims have always been a key area of concern. In employment practices too, discrimination towards Muslims can be defined as a common phenomenon. It can be argued that Muslims have also encountered similar discrimination in health and educational sector. Islamophobia had emerged since the evolution of physical assaults, verbal abuse towards the minority group. There is no such definite time-period when it can be stated that Islamophobia had emerged in a particular region. It is definitely an on-going process with long-term and short-term implications. The long-withstanding prejudice has somewhere driven the emergence of Islamophobia. In U.K., there has always been a strong connection between Islamophobia and racism. The increased degree of hostility towards Muslims from South-Asia was one of the reasons behind emergence of Islamophobia in U.K.


Orientalism is nothing but coming to terms and get along with the people living in Oriental nations. Undoubtedly, the developing and under developed nations of the East were largely colonies of the Western nations. Orientalists are cultural, academic, journalistic and political experts who know more about Oriental nations. It can be of varying types such as cultural discourse, an academic discourse, etc. At certain point of time the same is denoted as the Western style of dictating over restructuring, dominating and having authority over the people residing in eastern part of the world (Miles and Brown, 2003). European culture and ideas gained via contrasting themselves with the Eastern people. Some of the themes related to orientalism are that the Western nations’ people are more developed, rational and human. On the contrary, orients are largely inhumane, undeveloped and irrational. Moreover, the orients also resist changing and thus they cannot represent themselves in the society properly. Apart from this, the orientalism is poorly understood in the White Supremacy logic. Moreover, the land of Orients has been feminised which cannot set norms globally. The concept of ‘Orientalism’ is somewhere deeply rooted within the European Enlightenment period. It can be stated that this concept provides a form of rationalisation in relation to Western colonisation. The concept mainly highlights the viewpoint of the Western cultures, specifically towards Eastern cultural traditions and behavioural trait of people residing in this location. In general context, the ‘West’ has always perceived that the ‘East’ is extremely inferior and different. For instance, the masculine nature of the Western countries can be determined through dominance of Western people over residents of the East. There are real-world examples where European males have been found to sexually assault Arab women. Therefore, such degree of dominance basically states the masculine characteristics of a country. On the other hand, the feminine characteristics of another region influenced them to be highly dominated. The Muslim societies were never given high preference by the people of the West. They have always been considered as the minority class with no such power in the mainstream society (Love and Hughey, 2015). Orientalism, a theoretical concept, helps to bring across the rigid mind-set of a region. The racial disparity along with broad differences in religious beliefs has somewhere encouraged the Western society to develop such perception. Arguably, the mentioned theoretical concept highlights perception building and historical context to be one of the key drivers behind emergence of Islamophobia within contemporary Europe. The media controversies surrounding the concept of Islamophobia had emerged because of the varying viewpoints for the Muslim society.

Distinction between racism and Islamophobia

It is important to understand that racism and Islamophobia are two distinct concepts. For instance, Muslim or Islam is the identity or inherited culture whereas racism still holds some biological fixation (Sayyid, 2011). At times social phenomena are explained with the help of racism examples while the same can be better understood from the viewpoint of other similar concepts. Both critical and analytical powers are lost when the racism is defined in a much broader sense. Islamophobia has been defeated as practice while the same is denied as a problem. Orientalism is sometimes relied upon when the facts are related to Western colonisation are thus discussed elaborately. However, racism can be considered to be ‘dummy’ or artificial in this case and that is why escaping from this realism is possible. In fact, the racists think that the Islamic people do not belong from any race as such. They are good at bad words throwing to others. The racism is more for Muslims. The concept of Islamophobia is comparatively new while racism exists since a long time. Moreover, the former one is complex in nature while racism is simpler comparatively. Understanding its merits, demerits and root cause will help in dissecting the difference between the two concepts (Allen, 2010). As per the proper definition of racism race is nothing but possessing distinctive cultural characteristics which is mostly determined by the heredity while the other one is more religious in nature. Islam is definitely a religion and not race at all. Religion is deep rooted in an individual’s DNA since their childhood times. In fact, it is embedded in life system of the individuals where various traditions, ideas and practices are reflected in due course of time. There is no evidence that race and religion are mutually exclusive to each other. Mostly, race of a particular person is determined by his or her looks. On the contrary, the belief system and other practices of the people can help others to determine what his or her religion is. Moreover, religious viewpoints help people to understand the thought process. Both racism and religion can create problems in large scale that are socially and politically more massive. For instance, racial discrimination can create massive riots, revolts, wars and revolutions in large scale. As a result, it is important to understand that the principles become more substantial for the people in case of religion while the opposite scenario takes place during the opposite situation. In religious revolts mostly women are targeted while in racial riots men and women both become equally victim.

Key drivers of Islamophobia

One of the main reasons of Islamophobia is lack of correct information or misinformation that is based on religion. However, the problem is that the people who are Islamophobic hardly feel like educating themselves for eradicating the fear. To some extent their fear is justified as they proclaim being physically harmed by Muslims. The above attitude will actually worsen the situation even more. It not only restricts everyone but also surges individual growth as well. At times it leads to excessive unfair demeanour to anyone who is right for the personal choice. As a result, it can be understood that the phobia is actually nothing but constructed only because of prejudices. The religion prejudice is actually creating barriers for the immigrants who want to reside in foreign nations with the feelings of brotherhood. If efforts are made from both the sides then it will eradicate Islamophobia largely (Franks, 2000). The change should be initiated at various fronts such as social and individual. Sometimes Muslims can actually be hated unnecessarily by the people of other communities, especially if they are belonging from the Western nation. It is evident that the prejudice is created amongst the people via media. The epidemic of hatred is spread by the media itself. For instance, whenever there is any terrorist attack, the media associates the same with the Muslim community. As a result, bad light is thrown on this community thereby terrorising the people of Western nations. In fact, it is stereotyped that most of the Muslim men are terrorists. On the contrary, Muslim community portray themselves as the victims of all these types of situations. In fact, this is the way how they feel safe. The stereotyping and the fear fuel the Muslim terrorists. Apart from these things, several political leaders want to create panic amongst the citizens in order to gain popularity as well as drive votes. Moreover, potential voters’ interests also grow for the political leaders who actually manipulate them largely. In fact, in recent times similar trend can be witnessed in case of Donald Trump. He is trying to cater the citizens’ demand of votes by arousing the feeling of hatred amongst them by giving speech against Islam. He moreover says that the citizens are not safe in their cities because ofMuslims. As a result, he makes false promises at this point of time to protect them by banning entrance of all the Muslims to the United States. However, the topic was controversial which gained him popularity in one way or another. For example, he’s also not ready to understand that there are risks associated with these types of publicities. It can ultimately ruin his reputation in due course of time and can be accused for being prejudiced about the races. Looking at the broader picture it can be witnessed that it is just merely President’s marketing technique to gain adequate number of votes in elections.

There are pros and cons associated with the emergence of social media. Arguably, it is evident that social media has proved to be a platform for rapid communication of some key messages. On the contrary, exaggeration forms another drawback of using social media. Apart from traditional media, social media has even played a vital role in creating controversies regarding Islamophobia. In real, there is no such fear for Islam, but the anti-Muslim prejudice has somewhere triggered the belief that Muslims cannot be trusted (Bonilla-Silva, 2002). There is also evidence presented by Western societies to demonstrate violent attacks made by the Muslims. As mentioned earlier, political ideologies usually tend to initiate differences between Western and Eastern societies. Hence, fluctuating political conditions can be stated as one of the key drivers in relation to Islamophobia.

Contemporary Europe and Islamophobia

Due to less contact between the European nations and the Muslims situations have led to avoidance and ignorance. Ignorance, stereotyping and mutual hospitality resulted in these types of situations. However, the age-old fear and prejudice towards the Muslims have recently manifested in avoidance and unnecessary hatred. However, it can be dissected in these days that the religious factors no more affect the sentiments of Europeans towards Muslims; rather, several contemporary issues have cropped up because of the trade relationships between various countries. The conflict between Europeans and Muslims has taken place due to distance and contact. Issues related to segregation, exclusion, xenophobic violence, prejudice, discrimination and failed integration have resulted in distance between Muslims and Europeans (Said, 2003). The problematic situation has cropped up due to difference of practices and societal norms which are again deeply rooted in the religion teachings.

The laws are not that robust in the Muslim countries as they follow Sharia principles. As a result, the Sharia principles do not accommodate with the contemporary Europe. For instance, in banking system as per the Sharia laws it is not allowed to take interest from the customers while Europeans take hefty amount of interests from the people. In this scenario the ideological difference is quite clear from every aspect. The contemporary Europe has been growing in various aspects in leaps and bounds. Furthermore, it can be witnessed that anyone who is not supporting the principles and ideologies of Islam is seen as Anti-Islam. Apart from these, European democracy also reflects policies and practices that are not actually robust and thus expound against the other races which are different from theirs. However, under the doctrine of right to speech, anyone can proclaim against Islam and Muslims. Even human rights are not denied to them as well. As a result, appropriate rights are endowed to the Muslim migrants in contemporary Europe.

In contemporary Europe, the concept of Islamophobia had emerged due to multiple reasons, as discussed in the previous sections. The increased percentage of immigrants has somewhere resulted into diverse cultural traits within the region. It can be argued that the diversity in culture has somewhere formed a key reason behind emergence of Islamophobia in U.K. Religion-based racism has been prevalent in this region since many years, and there lies a thin line of difference between race-based racism and religion-based racism. The anti-Muslim prejudice forms a key driver behind the emergence of Islamophobia in contemporary Europe.


From the above study, it can be summarised that the concept of Islamophobia is an outcome of media controversy. In this study, the key difference between racism and Islamophobia has been properly portrayed. It can be stated that racism has no particular ethnic group or identity; rather it is an on-going process. Racism is more of an approach where one group is completely segregated from the other. In contemporary Europe, Islamophobia has emerged due to political ideologies and media controversies. The masculine characteristics of the West have played an important role in context of dominating the East. On the contrary, feminine features of the Eastern zone have also further worsened the entire scenario. Right from the time of large scale wars several Muslim immigrants are moving to various nations of Europe so that they can earn a decent amount of money. Moreover, these immigrants were from the less developed nations. Standard of living in Europe was always high. Other than migrants, workers and asylum seekers also shifted to the nation either temporarily or permanently. Racism is something that people face every now and then in their daily life. In case of Islamophobia both national identity and national sentiments work strongly. Mass media as well as political parties play integral role in Islamophobia. The former one does so for more revenue and the latter one does so for votes from the common people and secure their electoral seats. Moreover, the Muslim community is deciphered in a very negative way in various newspaper and social media as well, especially after any mass conflict, terrorism and wars. Some of the newspapers which broadcast the news regarding Islamophobia in a bad light are "The Sun” and the Daily mail”. Other researchers have depicted that the tabloid newspaper versions are likely to portray Muslims negatively.

Author : Omar Abdilaziz Samaale
University Of Leeds

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