Deconstructing Islamophobia

It needs to be made clear that there is a right to religion and a right from religion. Religion ought to be a private affair

Fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat that occurs in certain types of organisms, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a specific stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to body or life. The fear response arises from the perception of danger leading to a confrontation with or escape from/avoiding the threat (also known as the fight-or-flight response), which in extreme cases of fear (horror and terror) can be a freeze response or paralysis. In humans and animals, fear is modulated by the process of cognition and learning. Thus fear is judged as rational or appropriate and irrational or inappropriate. An irrational fear is called a phobia.

According to a Wikipedia entry, although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature. Many studies have found that certain fears (e.g. animals, heights) are much more common than others (e.g. flowers, clouds). These fears are also easier to induce in the laboratory. This phenomenon is known as preparedness. Because early humans that were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, preparedness is theorized to be a genetic effect that is the result of natural selection. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, different fears may be different adaptations that have been useful in our evolutionary past. They may have developed during different time periods.

So as humans, it is natural for us to fear those things which threaten our physical beings, our minds, our emotions and our spaces. Islam notwithstanding 9/11 is one such religion which garners that pure evolutionary response - the fight or flight response. I can already hear the clamor about the Sufi version of Islam being the peaceful one; the problematic literal interpretations argument; the contradicting schools of thought, etc angle rising to a crescendo. Then, it depends on whether you are a white feminist with colonial guilt hangover or a desi (local) apologist wanting entry into the frat boys' club to gain security that acceptance in the patriarchal hierarchy of the tribe can bring with it. So the dismissal of the experience of those who suffered under the bigotry and fascism of the said religion, commonly known as ''gaslighting''.

Let's deconstruct life in a Muslim household before there was ISIS, before 9/11, before there was any Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, before World War 1, (an argument very recently published in The Spectator) and before the petrodollars started exporting the Wahhabi/Salafi version of Islam around the globe.

A Muslim's life revolves around the pillars of his/her faith. That there is only one true God; that the Prophet was his messenger, apart from a few others that God/Allah sent before with their messages but which time and tide corrupted; that He is the seal and the last of the Prophets to come; that the Holy Quran is unchanged and infallible , that every Muslim is obliged to offer prayers five times a day without fail, except in certain conditions; that charity is a very, very important part of piety and even a smile can suffice provided it is given with the right intention; that if possible a pilgrimage to Mecca in a lifetime should be made; that it was obligatory for all able-bodied Muslims to observe fast in the month of Ramzan.

Now let us start with the Shahadah, the two-part affirmation of the oneness of God/Allah (Tawheed) and that the Prophet is his messenger. Now as children we were not afraid of declaring it, having had no sense whatsoever of what it meant but parroting what our elders taught us. It is only in the first stirrings of rebellious teenage years that the doubts, the non-belief, the first questions, the first skepticism is witnessed and depending upon the environment at home which receives or quashes the doubt, the fear of either an Almighty Being is instilled or the fear of voicing out one's doubts and expecting to be harmed or ostracized is cemented. I have no doubt there are many who do experience a spiritual awakening and start believing in what they had been conditioned to follow in childhood. But there is no space or relaxation for those who do not want to conform to the beliefs of the majority, in fact, it is the only one where there is some punishment for leaving the faith, depending on which country or region one finds themselves in.

From outright beheadings, or stonings to ostracism, to shaming the person or creating conditions for him/her to act deceptive and start a double life. Those saying that Islamophobia is intentionally there to generate hate for Muslims should examine the fear that the teachings themselves narrate of Hellfire and Brimstone. This is one theological dispute where reformation in Christianity and evolution of Judaic and Abrahamic thought differs from the Islamic one. There is no fear of apostasy and non-belief can be openly declared.

This leads to the next pillar of offering prayers five times a day. Having experienced this myself since the age of 6 and hearing about child abuse in madrasas across the Muslim world where children as young as 5 are kept up reciting the text for hours, starved until they get the pronunciation right, beaten if a prayer is missed, kicked out of bed for dawn prayers and shamed and humiliated if found not offering it in the correct way, is there any surprise that Islamophobia will not develop as a natural response? Those highlighting the verse ''there is no compulsion in religion'' and conveniently apologizing by saying that the abusers are not following the ''correct way'' need a lot of reflection and a daily interaction with those on the receiving end of the "piety".

The third pillar is the only pillar that cannot incite any fear of Islam in anyone although sadly, it is the least followed of all the pillars and the one most trumpeted in the display of piety at mosques and on Eid occasions when actually followed. The reality is far different in the open caste/race discrimination or 'dhimmitude' that Muslims practice daily. Blatant class discrimination on social occasions such as marriages is also a visible evidence of not practicing what we preach.

The piety attached to fasting goes through the roof during the month of Ramzan and it is the most cherished of the ''honor brigade'' or 'morality brigade' ór the 'mutaween' and their obsession with the culture/religion. It is the time that the desi or foreign 'mutaween' (religious police), whether virtual or in real life, brazenly go around terrorizing anyone not keeping the fast or showing any inclination of not believing in it. This becomes hard for the regular apologists to deny, with new and faster technology capturing these ''piety soldiers'' in their most zealous moments. So why wouldn't any sane person, who doesn't feel inclined to participate in the collective piety of the Ummah, feel fearful of the this religious policing, and either take up devious, deceptive lives to save their sanity and physical well-being or start calling out the hypocrisy which then is termed as Islamophobia by the postmodern experts and SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) or as they are now being called the ''Fiberals''?

Every year the state-sanctioned religious police in the Middle Eastern countries or the normal, everyday wallah bros, or hijabi gals take it upon themselves to create a psychosis of fear that most of the silent majority, disagreeing with them then turn inwards and often go along with the motions of keeping up the charade of being believers or practising Muslims. I personally know the effects of this behavioural and personality change, being in the field of education - kids as young as 14-18 displaying elective mutism, addiction in youth to alcohol, drugs, OTCs like cough syrups, paint thinners, or the other end of the spectrum - denial and going full ''Wahhabi'', complete with the whole getup of beards, skullcaps, upturned pajamas and zeal for prayers and the rosary.

The last pillar of the faith instills fear in a reverse way. Most Muslim economies are middle class and the status given to anyone returning from the Hajj is something maximum Muslims covet. So a middle-class man or woman becomes a cog in a wheel their whole lives, saving and scrimping for that dream of sending their parents for the journey in order to gain the precious tag of ''Haji'' and the idyllic redemption as a reward in the afterlife. A visit to any psychiatrist's clinic will tell you how much stress this has enabled on believers. Hidden symptoms of anxiety, distress, and fear of not being able to fulfill the command are giving way to many visible and invisible ailments such as depression, and schizoid disorders.

Somehow going on a pilgrimage for getting closer to God/Allah and gaining spirituality became equated with the other markers of economic progress in life like getting a house, a car, bank balance and jewelry. It was bound to bring the usual side effects in a capitalist/urban economic system.So my question is why not Islamophobia? Why shouldn't something be feared that encroaches upon the personal space of an individual and not only attempts to dictate his/her clothing, morals, and thoughts but in fact insists on it with textual sanction - which in plain terms is called bigotry?

I haven't even touched upon the fact the other aspects - the codified subjugation of women and homophobia. Unconfirmed or unverified Hadith (Sayings) are used to justify the violence meted out to women in various ways or to apologize for regressive practices developed, or retained in the Muslim faith due to culture or numerous renderings of the confirmed and verified Sayings. I have not taken up the racist aspects of it, which would definitely instill fear in growing communities of people who long for a freer life, and an alternate lifestyle, protected by liberal democratic Constitutions and hence the increased influx of refugees to the West or the increase in the stats of Muslims leaving the faith.

The whole field of Islamophobia has been developed to shut off any criticism of regressive practices in the Muslim culture, and even ex-Muslims, or apostates are not spared by either white scholars or experts who wallow in white guilt in their postmodernist view, or by social justice left-liberal warriors who want to stick to political correctness. Now with bills being passed in legislatures about criticism of Islam, it won't be long before freedom of speech gets delivered a death blow in the near future.

It also needs to be made clear that there is a right to religion and a right from religion. Religion ought to be a private affair and that is why secular democracies are successful because they tend to keep religion out of the political sphere - the classic separation of the State and Religion. Millions of people get their spirituality from religion, and they do not go around interfering in other people's lives or dictating their preferences through the use of fear, intimidation of terror. It is also true that religions have a way of culturally dominating the scene, or blurring lines between politics, and secular, democratic institutions. So those who speak out or vociferously ask for reform should not be dismissed as mere Islamophobes - the very fact that there is no Christianitophobe, or Judaismophobe, or Hinduismophobia should be enough to expose how much lopsided this is. The fear of regressive practices in Islamic culture is very real and even if we take away the fringe community practicing the most brutal interpretation of it, the moderate one is not really joy-inspiring either.

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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