The blatant Islamophobia of the post 9/11 era is making a hateful comeback
Lately, it feels like we have been transported back to the Islamophobia of the early 2000s: those dark, post 9/11 days in which every comedy show on TV included jokes about Muslims stoning women or beheading infidels or blowing things up.
An era in which narratives about Muslim women being mute and Muslim men being savage barbarians were not just taken as gospel but peddled in every news programme or television drama.
But it’s not 2002, it’s 2024.
In the last few weeks alone, Piers Morgan has insinuated that Western women only convert to Islam because they want to be ‘oppressed’, Bill Maher has reposted an old clip in which he mocks women wearing niqabs in a farcical fashion show and, most recently, British presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer has accused prominent Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti of “not being used to women speaking” despite having spent the entirety of the interview yelling over him (a perfect example of white feminism if one was ever needed).
"It certainly isn't the case that Islamophobia has simply ceased to exist since then. But it cannot be denied that it has morphed, metastasised and arguably even disguised itself a little better"
Given that Islamophobia is structural, embedded in the systems that dictate our lives, woven into our laws and into the hearts and minds of those that govern us, it’s not as though the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was the only time things have been tough for Muslims.
It certainly isn’t the case that Islamophobia has simply ceased to exist since then. But it cannot be denied that it has morphed, metastasised and arguably even disguised itself a little better.
Nowadays, anti-Muslim prejudice is dressed up in the clothes of counter-terrorism, it masquerades behind the language of immigration and fiscal policy, hides within legislation, diversity quotas and the ever-increasing encroachment of right-wing ideals into the mainstream narrative.
It’s no coincidence that it is at precisely the same time that the genocide waged by Israel upon Gaza continues to escalate in barbarism and scale that we have seen a regression to the blatant, unabashed and puerile Islamophobia of the turn of the millennium.
In fact, these two things couldn’t be more intertwined. The function of mocking Muslims on the global stage is not just to make Islam and Muslim-ness something to be derided and ridiculed, but to strip us of our humanity entirely and render us as something less than human.
This serves one bloodstained goal: legitimising our slaughter at the hands of the West’s last colonial outpost - otherwise known as the state of Israel.
When members of the establishment, the elite and the media peddle ideas, like Hartley-Brewer, that Muslim women are oppressed and Muslim men are their barbaric dictators, this creates an “us versus them” narrative in which the Muslim, the Arab or the Palestinian is always on the side of the other.
They oppress their women whereas we superior Westerners do not. Their men are savages and misogynists whilst ours are enlightened.
If the Palestinian is always the ‘other’, then the Israeli is de facto always the ‘us’.
In this ill founded dichotomy between good and evil, it doesn’t matter that Israel is enacting a genocide in Gaza in which over 25,000 people have been killed, or that Israeli occupation forces are gleefully boasting about committing war crimes.
It doesn’t matter that Israel is being tried for genocide in The Hague as I write this article.
Because when Muslims are dehumanised and made to be the villain in every story, Israeli crimes become sanitised in the name of defending Western liberal values from those Arabs, those Muslims, those Palestinians. Those backwards brown people who support terrorism, silence their women and teach their children to hate.
"We must raise our voices to drown out that narrative and to remind the world that it is the people behind the rifles, dropping the bombs, and funding ethnic cleansing whose humanity should be questioned"
The likes of Piers Morgan, Bill Maher, and Julia Hartley-Brewer are far from harmless media personalities looking to stir up a little controversy. They form part of a wider, structural, systemic and, crucially, deliberate ploy to make the very concept of a Palestinian something that is beyond humanisation entirely.
Take how Palestinian guests on talk shows are treated compared to Israeli politicians who brazenly defend genocide with little challenge. Take how newspapers will speak of Israeli citizens being brutally slain whilst Palestinians seem to simply mysteriously drop dead at the hands of an unnamed phantom source.
Or even how Israeli young adults are humanised to rile sympathy whilst Palestinian infants are referred to as ‘young ladies’ or ‘males who are not adults’ in order to prevent even the chance that someone might view their murder as inhumane.
What we are witnessing is no coincidence and it is something we cannot ignore. The consequences of this rhetoric are already being felt by Muslims around the Western world, where deadly hate crimes are on the rise.
At the dawn of the so-called War on Terror in the 2000s, Muslims were demonised by the media to pre-justify the death of the one million Iraqis that would be slaughtered in the name of liberation.
American politicians wore the burqa in Congress as though the mere sight of a covered woman at the heart of American democracy should be enough to get every bleeding-heart liberal caught up in a pro-war frenzy.
Western politicians talked of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in turbulent Arab hands, of the threat of Islamic terrorism on our freedoms, of how war could be justified if it meant emancipating poor Muslim women.
Comedians poked fun at our clothing and we were vilified in the press. And it was all designed to portray us as deserving collateral damage in the minds of the public. As something not worthy of outrage or sympathy.
It is vital we do not passively allow history to repeat itself, especially as Israel continues to indiscriminately bomb Gaza.
As it was in the 2000s and as it is now and as it will be the next time, Western leaders and media use the guise of liberation to further their own colonial agendas. And our dehumanisation is crucial to this project.
Whether through protest, complaints to regulators or through social media, we must raise our voices to drown out that narrative and to remind the world that it is the people behind the rifles, dropping the bombs, and funding ethnic cleansing whose humanity should be questioned.
Nadeine Asbali is a secondary school teacher in London.
Follow her on Twitter: @najourno
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