by Marwan Al Husayni | Apr 10,2012 | 22:42
“Islamophobia” is a term that came into common use after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. It refers to the hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims in certain Western contexts.
This is history now. Current affairs in the Middle East and the Arab region are leading to a new aspect of the fear of Islam. Muslims themselves are becoming Islamophobic.
The chaotic and complex nature of change is one reason. Other reasons are the over-politicising of the peoples’ movements and the high cost of human conflicts.
Modified versions of political Islam with a touch of democracy and constitutional flavours are not accepted by everybody as eligible substitutes for totalitarian regimes. But the rise of oppressed Islamic parties to the power in Arab countries is apparently supported by the United States.
This new US coalition with Arab Islamists is not expected to address the real issues concerning the citizens of the region in a healthy way.
One such issue is freedoms. The drastic changes that are taking place in the Middle East are magnifying the hopes and fears of the peoples.
Are the new Islamist regimes or governments expected to meet the hopes or add to the fears? Are the Islamists ready to change and walk down the paths of citizenship, civil liberties, women’s rights and respect for political, social and religious diversity?
While many analysts perceive the Arab world as a religiously conservative place and its people generally want to see an important role for Islam in public life, new feelings are making themselves felt.
The winds of the Arab Spring are bringing seeds of more hatred to the region. In the past, hidden conflicts dominated the political status quo, especially when it had to do with a dialectical relation with the regimes. Now it is all public, after mobilised citizens broke down many barriers of fear.
Still, there is one fear to deal with by the individuals. In the social sphere, most Arab Muslims do not differentiate between Islam and Islamists.
“Those who pray and go to the mosques are better than me” was an often-heard justification for rationalising the support for Islamists by many individuals. A Koranic verse, a hadith or a fatwa by a certain sheikh would be an accepted answer to any big problem or crisis. This is not applicable when managing a country.
The Islamists are not the leaders of the “Arab Spring”, yet they are rising to the power. Many analysts and commentators refer to the “social fabric” and “historical reasons” when explaining this illogical, but understandable, outcome.
But living in the past while building future is a losing game. The tools for change and power are totally different. Issues like economic reform, development, poverty, unemployment, social justice, freedom of speech and religious diversity need a new set of thinking.
Questions which were once popular in Islamophobic Western circles are likely to have a strong presence in the Middle East: Is Islam compatible with democracy? Is Islam compatible with freedoms? Is Islam compatible with women’s issues? Is Islam compatible with modernity?
The list is too long.
Islamists are rising to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They have louder voices in other countries, like Jordan, Morocco and Syria. Many Muslims are already asking: Are Islamists compatible with power?
The writer is media strategist, and interfaith and intercultural specialist. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.