Among the most dangerous threats to world security today, in addition to the expansion of military armament, especially in the nuclear field and the spread of terrorism, is the phenomenon of antagonising religions, especially Islam, and seeking to demonise them using the most horrific methods. The most prominent of these methods is misinformation, distortion and stereotyping. After decades of targeting the political manifestations of Islamic movements, the old approaches of targeting religion have been restored.
This targeting deepened after the failure to target what was called "political Islam" and the involvement of parties hostile to the religious phenomenon in its essence, seeing it as an obstacle to the growth of absolute liberalism that seeks to skip religious instructions and its regulations. In addition to cultural motives, a lack of knowledge regarding the principles, values and legislative systems of Islam that protect the weak and rein in the greedy, exploiters and looters is the main motive for this hostility.
What is certain is that Islam has been subjected to the lion's share of targeting, which is no longer confined to the media. Rather, official policies in the Western world are taking this path that does not serve peace and security in the world. The liberal project actually shoots itself in the foot when it seeks to confiscate the principles it is supposed to adopt, especially in the field of public liberties. France, which is at the forefront of the new Western project to target religion, no longer adheres to the liberal rules of the game, especially in the field of freedoms related to personal choices such as belief, dress and religious practices. The current French President, Emmanuel Macron, has become one of the most radical French presidents towards Islam and he is supported in this approach by a large part of the media, although most human rights organisations reject the approach he is taking due to the embarrassment it causes to the liberal project. Last October, authorities closed a mosque in Allonnes, claiming that it promoted "radical Islam". The French Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, confirmed that the bank accounts of the mosque's administrators were also seized, adding that 13 Islamic organisations have been closed in the country since Macron took office and that 92 mosques had been closed.
Last March, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, said: "Islamophobia builds imaginary constructs around Muslims that are used to justify state-sponsored discrimination, hostility and violence against Muslims with stark consequences for the enjoyment of human rights including freedom of religion or belief."
Perhaps former US President, Donald Trump, was the first to disclose the new Western project aiming to restrict the religious phenomenon, especially the Islamic one. He began his presidency by issuing a law banning citizens of seven Islamic countries from entering the US, in what was considered a violation of liberal values themselves and an expression of intolerance, narrow-mindedness and persecution. American organisations working to promote democracy and support what they considered "moderate Islam" changed their policies to stop supporting the Islamic institutions they had considered to be "moderate".
One of the clearest examples of this change is what happened to the National Endowment for Democracy, as some of its officials concerned with Islamic institutions in the Middle East were changed, and support for a number of them stopped. During the Biden administration, the targeting continued in a quiet manner, and suddenly Islamic institutions and mosques in Western countries found themselves facing legal questions about their activities, trustees and funding sources, under various pretexts, including preventing money laundering, fighting extremism and combatting terrorism. Many of them were closed, especially in France, although the law is supposed to take its course by prosecuting those who violate it, and not turning mosques into arenas for internal conflict and strife.
Here we see the practical application of the saying "every citizen is a guard," as the imam of the mosque is required to report the worshippers to the police if he suspects their ideas and activities. Charities are required to avoid addressing the issues of Muslims in the world, claiming that this is not one of the activities they are allowed to practice. In an effort to avoid accusations of racism, the official bodies concerned with registering charities and monitoring their activities, put forward new policies that put more pressure on institutions through banks and accounting firms. These institutions began to carry out periodic "questioning" of Islamic institutions about their income, spending, supporters, what is said in Friday sermons and the rest of their cultural activities, as well as about their visitors and their intellectual and political identities. If they do not cooperate, their bank accounts are closed.
Islam is being targeted globally through the policies of Western countries that feed this spirit of demonisation, and through the phenomenon of Islamophobia, which has not stopped despite criticism from human rights and humanitarian organisations. Now India, which is called the largest democracy in the world due to its population that exceeds 1.25 billion, is blatantly targeting the Islamic presence, preventing female students from wearing the hijab in schools and universities, and practicing systematic persecution of Muslims who represent about one-sixth of the total population. Last week, Human Rights Watch said that banning the headscarf violates India's obligations under international human rights law that guarantees the right to express religious belief, freedom of expression and education without discrimination.
During the last 25 years, Muslims sought to promote interfaith dialogue, hoping that their presence in the West would be a factor in developing human and religious relations, and would contribute to building an understanding humanity, not antagonistic. However, it is now clear that there are forces that do not want this and which view Muslims with a sense of suspicion and doubt tinged with feelings of hatred. In recent years, this trend has become clear through targeting religious manifestations and expressions. The headscarf has been officially banned in a number of European countries, including France and some states of Germany and Denmark and in the last five years, there has been a tendency to crackdown on Muslims in order to limit the spread of religious observance.
Those carrying this out believe that it will reduce the spread of the phenomenon of religiosity, which they see as a threat to what they call "the values of the West." It is no longer strange to accuse others of "fighting our values" or "targeting our democracy". It is one of the manifestations of the populist phenomenon that is based on ignorance, shallow thought, and the lack of a true identity. It is also no longer a secret that the phenomenon of Islamophobia has escalated by exploiting some marginal issues to discredit Muslims or by exaggerating some problems to suggest that. There is widespread astonishment at the resentment expressed by some Western politicians towards China because of its persecution of the Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region. Some saw this as a form of hypocrisy and an attempt to confuse Islamophobia and the systematic targeting of mosques and Islamic institutions under the pretext that they are harbouring extremist or terrorist individuals and promote extremism. Moreover, some Islamic concepts have become subject to distortion and abuse, including the concept of jihad, which received special Western attention after it was claimed by Daesh and Al-Qaeda. There is even a fear of raising the subject of jihad, even if it is to clarify its true meanings in Islam. It is true that extremist and terrorist groups have misused this term, but this does not cancel the importance of this responsibility in Islamic legislation, which is regulated by many conditions.
Is Islam really being targeted? Does this targeting have political and ideological dimensions that are not usually disclosed? What does the demonisation of traditional Islamic movements and their manifestations mean in both Arab and Western countries? This targeting is not only intellectual and ideological, but it also has aspects aimed at uprooting the phenomenon of religious affiliation from its foundation.
Targeting Islamic movements with this brutality comes in parallel with the phenomenon of Islamophobia and the targeting of Islam in the world; in China, which is targeting Uyghur Muslims, in Myanmar, which persecutes Muslims solely because of their religion, or in India, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) adopts extremist policies, whether by banning the veil in schools and universities or by abusing Muslim women on the Internet. The same can be said about France, which started to implement the confrontation of mosques and banned the veil and the US, which unleashed its regional allies to confront the Islamists in particular and normalise with the occupation as part of a plan to terrorise opponents and the lovers of Palestine, who are the majority of Arab and Muslim nations.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 20 February 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.