By Olivia Ward, Toronto Star, August 1, 2011
Todorov, a Paris-based historian, has studied the age-old practice of scapegoating minorities and says the West is locked into a cycle of demonization and violence at a time when growing international immigration has made it more urgent to find mutual understanding.
In Europe, he said, far-right parties want to distance themselves from mass killings, and convince their audiences that their arguments are strictly reasonable. They draw on the fact that in once-homogeneous countries, Muslims are much more visible as immigration increases.
“The wider problem is that it’s not even radical Islam that’s seen as a threat — it’s the idea that all of Islam or Muslims are a threat,” Ali Esbati, of Norway’s Manifest Center for Social Analysis, told al Jazeera.
Resistance to Muslim influence has gone mainstream in some European countries.
In France, laws bar the hijab from public schools. The Dutch parliament banned burqas in public places, while Switzerland adopted a referendum against building Muslim minarets.
Meanwhile, the political map of the European Union has been gradually redrawn, with conservative parties governing all but four of its 27 countries.
Some are backed by far-right parties that have moved away from violent rhetoric to gain bigger audiences, while their anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views have migrated to the mainstream.
In the U.S., where Muslims make up only 1 per cent of the population, 9/11 sparked a massive backlash.
“It’s coming from members of the Republican Party who use anti-Muslim prejudice as a tool in support of their own agenda,” says Drew Courtney of People for the American Way, a Washington-based think tank that has just published a report on the American right and anti-Muslim extremism.
“Tied in with hatred of President Obama, fear of religious diversity and hostility toward immigrants and gays, anti-Muslim rhetoric and paranoia has become a mainstream if not ubiquitous part of the conservative movement and the Republican party,” the report argued. That has led to “anti-Muslim prejudice and increased attacks on Muslim-Americans and houses of worship.”
In her autobiography, Nomad, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes, in analysing the shooting incident perpetrated by Nidal Malik Hassan, the psychiatrist who killed thirteen at an army base in Texas in 2009, writes:
"Why, I asked myself, was there such a conspiracy to ignore the religious motivations for these killings? And then I began to understand. First there is a desperate need for intelligence agencies to recruit Muslim agents and sources in order to penetrate the radical Islamist networks. As all Muslims are offended by the charge that Islam is a violent religion, it is official policy not to do so. The same applies to the military: American and allied soldiers do not go into places like Iraq and Afghanistan simply to fight men in uniform whom they can easily identify as the enemy. Their mission is now a complex mixture of fighting, policing, social work, and 'nation building.' They too are in desperate need of cooperation from the locals, and that overwhelmingly means Muslims. Thus the military takes the same line as the intelligence services: It is not Islamic scripture, The Prophet, or the Quran that presents a coherent argument and activism for jihad, but a misguided few who have usurped the pure and peaceful teachings of Islam....
Diversity is a wonderful concept, I thought, and E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one," is one of the mottos proudly displayed on the Great Seal of the United States (and therefore on every dollar bill). But Americans still have a long way to go before they really understand the challenge posed to their country by radical Islam, a religion that rejects not only those core principles of the Enlightenment that so inspired the founding fathers, but also the very notion that the diverse many should become one united people. (p.144-145)
And in her discussion of the differences between Christian or Jewish schools and Muslim schools, Ms Ali writes:
It is important to remember that Muslim schools are different from so-called regular Christian or Jewish schools. By regular I mean schools that are Christian or Jewish in identity but have secular curricula. Muslim schools, by contrast, are more or less like madrassas, which emphasize religion more than any other subject. Students are taught to distance themselves from science and the values of freedom, individual responsibility and tolerance. The establishment of a Muslim school anywhere in the world, but especially in the West, gives Wahabis and other wealthy Muslim extremists an opportunity to isolate and indoctrinate vulnerable groups of children....
Veiled school girls are one very evident marker of the rise of revivalist, purist Islam, however. They are much less numerous in America than they are in most European cities, but their numbers are visible growing. And it is now a common sight to see young women in full-length dresses or robes and heavy headscarves, often pushing strollers, in the streets of American cities. The increase in the number of Muslims (whether they are tourists, American residents or citizens) determined to display their piety is both a measure of their conviction and a measure of growing attempts at social control of those Muslim women who might easily be distracted from the straight path. As more immigrants come to the United States from Muslim countries, they maintain enclaves of tradition that are far stronger than those of other, comparable immigrant groups. And as more dawa, missionary work, is done by revivalist groups financed by Saudi Arabia, Muslims in America are becoming much more hard-line.
Probably half the mosques in America have received Saudi money, and many (perhaps most) teachers and preachers of Islam have been supported by Saudi charities such as the Muslim World League. Through the Islamic Society of North America, Muslim student associations, the Islamic Circle of North America, and the Saudi-sponsored World Muslim League, the Saudis have financed summer camps for children, institutes for training imams, the distribution of Islamic literature, mosque building, lectures and dawa work through the United States. (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nomad, p.137-138)
Clearly, there is a significant disconnect between the American official policy and practice of "not attacking or disdaining Islam" and the Islamic radical movement to eventually impose Shari'a throughout the world.
Ms Ali points sadly to Christian leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury whom, she says in her book, Nomad, see the imposition of Shari'a in Great Britain as inevitable. She, like us, is appalled at such a view. However, she criticises schools and churches for being too polite to challenge the belief of Muslim children and their parents. "Textbooks gloss over the fundamentally unjust rules of Islam and present it as a peaceful religion. Institutions of reason must cast off there self-imposed blinkers and reinvest in developing the ability to think critically, no matter how impolite some people may find the results." (p.xix, Nomad)