How Islamophobia aids and abets Israel's genocide in Gaza

How Islamophobia aids and abets Israel's genocide in Gaza
8 min read

Mariya bint Rehan

20 February, 2024
Muslims have been so dehumanised that our death is expected and accepted for the comfort of the Western world, writes Mariya bint Rehan.
The genocide in Gaza is the logical conclusion of decades of Islamophobia and dehumanisation that strip Muslims of their humanity, Mariya bint Rehan. [Getty]

There is an ever-present sense of disbelief that accompanies us as we navigate through this hellscape of a now pro-genocidal world.

To most humans, the total disregard and sacrilege of life – man, woman and child – is so horrific and dystopian, it is hard to find the words to convey the true depth of horror that we carry with us.

The image of the beautiful seven-year-old Sidra Hassouna’s lifeless body hanging from a wall in Rafah, with only ribbons of flesh remaining of her legs, epitomises the surreal-levels of violence, sadism and brutality the population of Gaza continues to endure, and that we bear witness to, without any reprieve.

That a child should be subject to such savagery, that an image so violently aberrant could reverberate around the world without so much as a tokenistic condemnation from world leaders, is itself a testament to the unique space Palestine occupies in geopolitical terms.

What is it that enables this level of impunity, and wider complicity in Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of innocent civilians in the world’s most densely populated open-aired prison?

How has the massacre of tens of thousands of Palestinians become so normalised?

Much of what we are seeing is enabled by the ubiquitous and pervasive anti-Muslim sentiment that has propagated across the globe. It is what renders the sheer terror of the bombardment totally innocuous – indeed entirely justified – to many, despite it being an unimaginable nightmare for others.

The genocide in Gaza, and indeed much of the occupation that proceeded it and the forever wars adjacent to it, are facilitated by the lessening of Muslim life.

Both literally in the actual lives that are taken in Gaza – the near 30,000 killed, the approximate 67,000 maimed, and 2 million utterly destroyed over a mere 137 day period – and symbolically in how the aiding and abetting of this by Western governments signifies a total disregard for the Muslim lives and voices.

Indeed, the lack of popular outrage towards an onslaught which, staggeringly, claims a child’s life every fifteen minutes, is almost entirely due to Islamophobic sentiment. The lens through which much of the world sees Muslim, and by extension Arab, life means these war crimes are anywhere on a spectrum of acceptable, quotidian, invisible and justified.

The very way in which we conceive of Muslim ‘life’ is so perverted, and tortured, that the scale and depravity of the killing is deemed acceptable, and the tragic individual instances which make it up - that are so graphically, and bravely, documented online – are part of a theatre of war that forms the backdrop of our everyday lives.

We are visually trained to accept, maybe even expect, the brutalising of Muslims as the epitome of ‘foreign other’ for the comfort, safety and security of the Western world.

In the carte blanche industry of perpetual wars, fuelled by a propaganda machine which is built upon the paradox of democracy promotion in Muslim majority countries, the very concept of citizenship evades the Muslim.

This is true also for the hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq, the lives taken in the twenty-year war against Afghanistan and drone warfare targeting Pakistanis. If the Muslim state is the failed state, in need of ‘correction’, then the very construct of civic identity does not apply to Muslim citizens.

This is why Israel is able to justify indiscriminate killing of Palestinians: because the notion of ‘civilian life’ that is so sacred to international law is not extended to Muslim and Arab life.

The lofty commitment to the principle of human rights does not extend to Muslim rights, just like the commitment to anti-racist sentiment often stops short of Muslims, and the Muslim electorate voice is neglected. In addition to the continuing neglect of the Muslim electorate.


Islamophobia is an integral weapon in the arsenal of Western democracies who have built and sustained a military industrial complex in the amorphous War on Terror. Under the pretence of saving Western civilization, amongst several other grandiosely false narratives, they have justified ongoing military expenses, part of a wider necropolitics that is hugely advantageous to both national economy and their own personal interests.

Politically the Muslim is a non-entity, ideologically it is a monster. By creating a figurative Muslim that is subhuman, nefarious and a threat to national interest, they are able to fund the war on Gaza, and those wars that precede it, both financially and in terms of public support.

The claiming of lives of Muslims is perceived in an entirely different way to the lives of white Europeans – as the Ukrainian war so tragically demonstrates. We have seen Israeli officials crudely evoke these tropes in their erratic and cacophonous narrative to attempt to justify one of the deadliest wars in recent history.

The very premise of this genocide rests upon the idea that Muslims are simultaneously exceptionalised - animalistic, blood hungry, inherently racist and therefore worthy of racism – and minimised – our blood is worthless, we are in our millions, worthless.

The logical extension of this attempted truism that Muslims are denied a claim to citizenship and humanity is of course that they are denied the right to life. The only moral thing that Palestinians can apparently do is die.

Death is imposed upon us by a world that has created its own Frankenstein, and insists upon seeing it brought to life. The irony of course is that, even with death abounding in Gaza, Palestinians have a profound and inspiring appetite for life, in spite of the Israeli government attempting to decimate every vestige of it.

Muslim women are another narrative device in the wider story of Western imperialism, deployed when and however necessary to legitimise military intervention. While previous wars depended upon a perceived attempt to liberate Muslim women, in Gaza, where the Israeli goal is to indiscriminately end life, Muslim women cannot be framed as victims, without agency, nor atoneable from the crime of being Muslim and the collective blame and punishment that entails.

Indeed, an ongoing, perverse trend on TikTok is the sexualisation of Muslim women. Israeli soldiers film themselves rummaging through and posing with Muslim women’s lingerie in houses they’ve been forced to flee, as a tenuous attempt at evidence of their lack of innocence or complicity with terror.

Palestinian women are shamed for their underwear, but Israeli female soldiers committing genocide are somehow the embodiment of feminism.

As ever, Muslim women do not conform to dominant notions of womanhood – we are not considered within the conceptual bracket of what it means to be a woman according to Western, populist thought, particularly those upon which feminism is built.

This is most explicit when we look at the silence amongst women’s right groups, and indeed the world at large, at the 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, with no healthcare system, 40% of whom have high risk pregnancies, and many of whom are undergoing the atrocity of Caesareans without anaesthesia.

While rescuing Muslim women from their male counterparts in the name of Western imperialism appears to be a priority for Western foreign policy, the honouring of their life, dignity, and safety is not a fashionable or recognised cause.

The Muslim woman as a prop in the broader mission of democratisation is redundant when we are reaching the end stages of ethnic cleansing. Then they just need to be erased.

The most painful example of how Islamophobia has facilitated a genocide is undoubtedly the toll it has taken on children, and how the cogs of anti-Muslim sentiment have led to this rampant machine of infanticide.

An estimated half of the Gazan population are children - the fact this is crudely referenced to justify military intervention as part of inherently racist ‘overpopulation’ claims underscores the very point about the questioning of Muslim right to life, legitimacy and space on earth.

Gaza’s children represent an inconvenient future to global political interests. Western media cannot bring themselves to afford Gazan children even the notional value of childhood– using increasingly ludicrous euphemisms to describe the children who are killed, orphaned and maimed by a progressively sinister regime.

In Western policies, such as the UK’s Prevent strategy, Muslim children are vilified, seen as potential terrorists and threats to national security. The Muslim family is not perceived as life-affirming but as a threatening presence.

Undoubtedly the most vilified demographic, Muslim men have long been the archetypal villains in the metanarrative of liberalism versus barbarism that shapes so much of global conflict.

Countless images of them stripped, blindfolded and denigrated are publicised as a barometer of the war’s success. Indeed these images are in themselves considered a justification for the onslaught in Gaza. Muslim men are simply not worthy of sympathy. 

The genocide in Gaza is the logical conclusion of Islamophobic tenets that question the very value of Muslim life.

Uniquely, this situation is like a Rorschach test; for the powerful and oppressive who only deem Muslims as inhumane, the violence plays out the Islamophobic construct they themselves have created - both literally in enacting genocide and figuratively by enabling it.

Mariya bint Rehan is a writer and illustrator from London, with a background in Policy and Research and Development in the voluntary sector. She has written and illustrated a children’s book titled The Best Dua which is available internationally. 

Follow her on Twitter: @ummkhadijah13  

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.