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Book Review: Western values and the Islamophobia industry

8th Jul 2022
Book Review: Western values and the Islamophobia industry

The Fate of Abraham – Why the West is wrong about Islam by Peter Oborne

In one of the first studies on Islamophobic crimes against mosques, a recent survey by Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND) found that 42% of mosques or Islamic institutions surveyed in the UK have experienced religiously motivated attacks in the last three years.

It also found that, unsurprisingly, there was an increase in attacks during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic given the Islamophobic nature of some of the social and online discourse that falsely insinuated that Muslims were flouting lockdown measures, with mosques featuring prominently in unsubstantiated claims that Muslims were continuing to hold communal gatherings.

In another recent report, ‘The Dinner Table Prejudice – Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain,’ by the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with the market research and data analytics firm, YouGov, Muslims are the UK’s second ‘least liked’ group, after Gypsy and Irish Travellers: 25.9% of the British public feel negative towards Muslims (with 9.9% feeling ‘very negative’).

The survey also found that more than one in four people, and nearly half of Conservatives and Brexiters, hold conspiratorial views about so-called Sharia ‘no-go areas.’ In addition, 36.3% of British people, and a majority of Conservative voters (57.3%) and Brexiteers (55.5%), believe that ‘Islam threatens the British way of life.’

More worryingly is the finding that people from middle and upper-class occupational groups are more likely to hold prejudiced views towards Islamic beliefs than people from working-class occupational groups. The survey found that prejudice towards Islamic beliefs, however, is more evenly spread across political groups.

In assessing the claim made in 2011 by Sayeeda Warsi, former Co-Chair of the Conservative Party, that Islamophobia has ‘passed the dinner table test’, the survey found that it has now extended “beyond political extremes into contexts of middle-class domestic respectability” and anti-Islam sentiments are particularly popular among the UK’s middle classes.

In The Fate of Abraham – why the West is wrong about Islam, Peter Oborne paints an extraordinary picture of how current perceptions of Islam and Muslims are shaped by decades of deliberate Islamophobia and bigotry. Government’s policy wonks, media commentators, political pundits, journalists, and an assortment of self-styled right-wing “Islam experts” have normalised the ubiquitous attack on Islam and Muslims in Europe and the US in the era of Donald Trump.

Oborne, a former political commentator at the Daily Telegraph, observes that “Islamophobia is the most virulent phenomenon of recent decades, fuelled by migration which has brought millions of Muslims to Europe. It is becoming more powerful every year, and has moved with ease from the far-right fringes to the political mainstream.”

In tracking the increasing hatred and anti-Muslim racism within Western societies, Oborne traverses the vast historical and contemporary landscape of Islamophobia. The five weighty chapters point to a meticulous study of the different strands and trends of Islamophobia taking hold of the political discourse from Washington to Whitehall, Paris to Policy Exchange.

The pernicious dinner table chats are underpinned and anchored by a pliant media who, Oborne belatedly acknowledges in his journalist life “were actually instruments of power and part of a client media class that worked alongside and formed part of the governing elite.”

This devastating critique of his colleagues is bound to raise the hackles of Britain’s fourth estate, whose shameful collusion in recent times in demonising and smearing the former leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reached unprecedented levels of fakery and misinformation. So, when it comes to Muslims and Islam, the adherents and the religion are easy targets for abuse and demonisation through deliberate misinformation and smears.

Oborne excoriates Western media reportage about Muslims: “The American, British, and French media don’t report on Muslims. It targets them, fabricating stories, and fomenting at best distrust and at worst hatred.”

By examining the nexus between right-wing Christian evangelicals and Israel, Oborne offers examples of the rising tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the US. Their increasing influence in the US body politic has orchestrated successive presidents’ policies toward Israel. Oborne asserts that there has been a special relationship between the US and Israel since the founding fathers landed at Plymouth Rock: “The Pilgrim Fathers modelled their governance on the Old Testament, particularly the concept that their prosperity or misery depended on their obedience to God’s commandments.

They saw themselves as a chosen people, like the Jews of ancient Israel, in a direct covenant with God, fulfilling a mission (and occupying territory) given to them. These concepts recur regularly in US history: most recently, evangelicals have reinforced them with the idea that the country’s relationship with God requires an absolute commitment to present-day Israel.”

The philosophical and theological subtext underpinning anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim racism is the notion of Judaeo-Christian tradition. It is the idea that Western civilization, as representative of the Judaeo-Christian religions, is under threat from forces intent on destroying everything it stands for. The not-so-subtle coded language used by one of the earliest proponents of the clash of civilizations theory is none other than Bernard Lewis whose fearmongering began at the end of the Cold War.

With the Soviet Union effaced from history, the new bogeyman was Islam, and Lewis was unequivocal in laying the foundation for his theses, which have formed the bedrock of Western political discourse: “We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations – the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judaeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both”.

Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington assumed this theme with renewed zeal and argued that the new struggle, post-Cold War, is between Islam and the West. Huntington’s comments about Islam were unvarnished, handing foreign policy experts a blueprint for launching wars and causing destruction: “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards.

The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation, whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

Oborne is clear that from India, China, Britain, the US and across Europe the “murderous hostility to Islam has been driven by a powerful, elemental narrative that Muslims are dirty, foreign, terroristic, anti-social and an existential threat.”

Oborne accuses the fourth estate in Britain of giving Boris Johnston a free pass even after his racist tropes against Muslim women’s dress. The atmosphere leading up to and post-Brexit was toxic for minority communities, especially Muslims.

Complicit in fanning the flames of Islamophobia was a willing media that never missed an opportunity to criticise immigration policies, the refugee crisis and rising crime. Muslims were the easy targets for editorial opprobrium.

As Oborne observes, the prevailing attitudes in the UK resonate with what is happening in the rest of Europe, “The United Kingdom is currently replaying an unpleasant debate about religious and national identity that has emerged time and again in history. Many of the moral panics today being mobilised against Islam duplicate or echo the torrent of murderous hatred that was directed against Muslims during the Middle Ages.”

Oborne accuses the Judaeo-Christian values-centric warriors of deciding that “the imperative of an existential struggle against a hostile and violent ideology liberated them to commit terrible crimes. These included illegal wars, torture, and a general repudiation of democracy, human rights, and decency.”

However, in all the gloom, Oborne believes, perhaps forlornly, that good will triumph over bad and that the three Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, are bound together by a sense of humanity, caring and respect.

The Fate of Abraham is an important and timely book that exposes in detail the philosophical roots of western anti-Muslim discourse and the growing Islamophobic industry that is sustaining it. Oborne has ‘put on notice’ the usual purveyors of false narratives about Muslims by exposing them and, more importantly, calling for a new intellectual engagement with the religion and its followers.

Mahomed Faizal

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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