The opaque line between Muslims and Islamists

Azza Radwan Sedky
Sunday 2 Apr 2017

It is not fair to judge the 1.6 billion Muslims that inhabit the world by the actions of a few thousand radicals

After President Trump banned citizens of seven, now six, Muslim-majority, “terror-prone” countries from entering the US, all Muslims travelling to or even living in the US have become apprehensive.

Some of these Muslims may have lived all their lives in the US, travelled to and from the US dozens of times, or even been born in the US. However, the concern related to how a Muslim will be treated or looked at when entering the US, even if he isn’t from the six identified countries, is real.

Immediately US border security was intensified. An Afghani-Canadian doctor was detained at the US border and held for several hours. A Canadian of Indian background, born and raised in Canada and en route to a Vermont spa, was denied entry to US as the customs officer told her, “I know you may feel like you’ve been ‘Trumped’.”

In her case, the discriminative detainment was due to her colour, nothing more, nothing less.

If Canadians, who are assumed to be the least likely to act against the US, can be held at the US border, how will those travelling from, say Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Lebanon feel? Should they postpone their travel for the time being? Find another school to study at instead of the American one chosen? Or head to Europe for their medical check-up instead?

The director of The Salesman, the film that won the best foreign language film category at the Oscars this year, was banned from attending the Oscars. 

No doubt Ashgar Farhadi is in no way connected to suicide bombers, but with a sweep of a pen, he is bunched in with them.

Even Muhammed Ali, Jr., the son of the boxing legend, was detained at the airport more than once while about to fly on domestic flights. Ali Jr. was held for hours and forced to answer questions such as, “Where did you get your name from?” and “Are you Muslim?” Ali’s only shortcoming, his Muslim name, dictated interrogation and detainment.

It is not the US alone that exacerbates this sentiment. It is shared by many leaders and prominent figures around the world. In Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico called for the “restriction of the freedom of Muslims in Europe.” This while a law was passed that bans Islam from gaining official status as a religion.

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, also fans anti-Muslim sentiment and has been hailed for his Islamophobia. He is the leader who pushes the conspiracy theory, that Muslims are planning a jihadi invasion of Europe, the farthest.

Raging a war against Muslims, Geert Wilders, Dutch right-wing politician, pledged to “de-Islamise” the Netherlands and shut the borders to immigrants if he wins the national elections.

Wilders’ anti-Islamic platform revolved round shutting down mosques and banning the Quran, obliterating a person’s right to choose what religion he practices and criminalizing four percent of the Dutch population for actions they have absolutely nothing to do with.

Had he won, he would have given another seal of approval to today’s trending perspective that Muslims are inherently destructive.

Understandably, many worry about potential terrorist attack on US and European soil. When no country is able to protect itself from the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, and the many other radical groups, efforts to keep out radical Islamist terrorists is justified.

However, radical Islamist terrorists are a far cry from Muslims. To point at the general Muslim population around the world, approximately 1.6 billion, and identify them as radical Islamists is bizarre, misleading, and partisan.

More than anything else, it aggravates worse sentiments amongst supporters. After a terrorist attack, a leader, to quell anxiety and avenge victims, calls for restrictions on Muslims, a venting tactic but a risky one nonetheless. Soon afterwards a spate of hate crimes against Muslims follows. Fear-mongering is catchy, you see.

This while Muslims are the most targeted by the Islamic State and its allies. Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Kuwait, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia in addition to Syria and Iraq have seen the brunt of attacks from IS and other terrorists.

And yet, an Arabic name or a darker pigmentation can criminalise a person and smear his identity for good. Even reading a Syrian art book is suspicious enough to cause a Muslim honeymooner to be detained at a British airport.

Women wearing headscarves are the most victimised of all because they are a visible minority; often discriminated against and subjected to humiliation and harassment, they are lambasted on streets and asked to return to where they came from when, often, they are in the city of their birth.

Why does it matter if a woman wears a burkini on a beach in France? How is wearing a head scarf different from wearing a beret or a cap to a university? Why do we generalise and assume that everyone looking different is against the mainstream?

Blind bigotry will ultimately segregate nations even further pitting some against others.

The writer is an academic, political analyst, and author of Cairo Rewind: the First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution, 2011-2013.

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