Islamophobia seems very modern and recent, but in reality, it has roots that reach back to the 16th century, and its impacts are still affecting the Muslim youth until today.
It seems like recently Islamophobia has been on the rise again, and some might say it is even worse than it was after 9/11. With the countless shootings, murders, and bombings that are motivated by Islamophobia; it provoked me to wonder, why Muslims? Why Islam?
Islamophobia might seem like a 21st-century term, recent and modern, but in actuality, it has deep-seated roots that go back to the colonization era of the 16th century (Bayat, 2015). Islamophobia could be traced back to the concept of Orientalism. Orientalism started with the British and French colonization of the Orient. To the colonizers, the “Orient” included anything – and everything – that was different and strange to the colonizers from Europe. That included the Middle East, North Africa, East and South Asia, and many more (Said, 1978). To categorize such a huge amount of people into one big category called “the Orientals” led to the creation of many stereotypes and even went to the extent of promoting a lot of bigotry and racism that is evident till today.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte visited Egypt and brought along with him scientists, linguists, artists, and scholars. The end product was the “Description de l’Égypte” which was the largest research conducted on Egypt at the time, used for scientific purposes to capture the Egyptian civilization and heritage. (Linda Hall Library, n.d.) While conducting this research, not one Egyptian citizen was interviewed or surveyed, but rather, the whole research was based on the colonizer’s observations (Said, 1978). Thus, the Middle Eastern culture was lost in translation because the original residents of Egypt were not given a chance to express their views on their own culture. In the French colonizers’ perspective, most of the people of Egypt lacked advanced education and development to explain their own artifacts. This led the Orientalists to produce unqualified misjudgments about the Orientals that were based on racist assumptions. This goes back to the beliefs that the colonizers in the 16th century had, which were very strong beliefs of evolutionary advancement and development in comparison to the rest of the world, which justified colonialism to many. Since the Orientalists were in a position of power and affluence compared to the Orientals, they had the advantage of freely documenting this bias and publishing them to the western globe (Said, 1978). This led to the spread of stereotypes of Easterners, and specifically Muslims, around the world which still has a negative effect on Muslims up to this day (Bayat, 2015).
More recently, Islamophobia has been promoted and spread by two main factors: the mainstream media and Hollywood. It is clear how the mainstream media continually focuses on broadcasting the conflicts in the Middle East such as the civil wars, terrorists, and dictators. Yet it fails to broadcast the successful Middle Eastern countries that formed unions and states after their decolonization. Such countries include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco, and many more. At the same time, Hollywood focuses on showcasing Muslims as good-for-nothing, barbaric, terrorist Muslims through movies such as Patriots Day (2016), and American Sniper (2014).
Islam is a religion of truth and peace, and Muslims should be the medium through which the west views the true and real Islam. As a Muslim, I think it’s important that Muslims aim to work on bettering their depiction to the west through digital ways. Most importantly through social media, which has been on the rise lately. Social media connects people that otherwise would have never had the chance to interact with one another, so this gives us the chance to show our true selves to people from around the globe so that they would understand us better. Using such campaigns for the purpose of enlightening people about our culture and religion will definitely help the world to see the real Islam and Muslims.
Bayat, A. (2015, September 15). Asef Bayat: Neo-Orientalism. Retrieved from Futures We Want: http://futureswewant.net/asef-bayat-neo-orientalism/
Linda Hall Library. (n.d.). Napoleon and The Scientific Expedition to Egypt. Retrieved from The Napoleonic Invasion of Egypt: https://napoleon.lindahall.org/learn.shtml
Said, E. W. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Random House, Inc.
Hamda AlSharid is a 20-year-old International Relations student and a part of the senior management team in the Peers Assistance Leaders program at Zayed University. Hamda is passionate about politics, history, and culture. She is also an avid reader and a poetry enthusiast. Hamda’s greatest mission is to give back to her community and society in any possible way. Throughout her journey of self-development, she hopes to shed light upon issues that are important to the well-being of both the youth and the society in our fast-developing world.