Table of Contents

I. Prospectus
II. Circles of Antagonism: Popular Culture
III. Circles of Antagonism: The Intellectual Idiom
IV. Causes of Antagonism
V. Constructive Attitudinal Change
VI. Structure of the Islamic World
Afterword by Javeed Akhter
About the Author

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Causes of Antagonism

1. Contemporary Factors
The reasons for West's unsympathetic reception of Islam are several. The most immediate cause can be found in the fear of rising Muslim violence spawned in the context of frustration over the plight of the Palestinians. This rationale has now been almost entirely displaced in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran and Iraq by political discontent in contexts unique to each country. In the United States this image of Islam is reinforced by official policy towards Israel and the concomitant result that enemies of Israel must be regarded with suspicion. In Europe the roots of antagonism are essentially demographic. Germany, France, Austria and the United Kingdom are troubled by a massive increase of Muslims, first by immigration and now by the birth rate of domiciled immigrants.

The problem in France is more acute that in other countries because of former French colonial rule of Morocco and Algeria and the geographic proximity of these countries to France. The French see Islam as a threat to their culture. "We don't want France to be come an Islamic republic," says Philippe de Villers, a member of the National Assembly. Charles Pasqua, Minister of Interior, has begun large-scale deportation of illegal immigrants, and pledges to close French frontiers and to reduce immigration to zero by the year 2000. France is concerned that the increase in population in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria will produce a massive invasion. This is not to suggest that Pasqua is anti-Islamic, for he has also taken actions, mentioned later in this essay, which indicate an understanding and sympathy for Islam. His concern is the likelihood of France being overwhelmed by immigration, especially from North Africa. The fact that such immigration is Muslim is secondary to the issue of the magnitude of an impact too great for the nation to absorb. The novel The Camp of the Saints, first published in France in 1973, forecasts a cataclysmic invasion. This novel by Jean Raspail was popularized in the United States by Matthew Connelly and Paul Kennedy in a bleak analysis of the global immigration problem appearing in The Atlantic Monthly in December 1994.

The wearing of the hijab (head scarf) by girl students in French schools has been the precipitating even in antagonism towards Islam. The Ministry of Education banned the wearing of "all ostentational religious symbols in public schools." The Conseil d'Etat had ruled against the ban but in 1992 the Constitutional Council overturned the decision with an ambivalent verdict declaring the hijab compatible with the French ideal of secularism but banned a religious sign if the manner of wearing it was provocative. The Minister of Education determined that it was provocative; hence the ban. This decision has been attributed to a "wind of 'Islamaphobia' which is more serious in France than elsewhere in Europe."

The Muslims in France number 4 million (1.2 million of whom are from Algeria) of 1/16 of the total population; the ratio in other European countries is much lower. The violence in Algeria generated by the frustration of Muslim groups deprived of their legitimately elected government and by the military coup which usurped power by nullifying that election was frightening to the French. That violence is associated with Islam generally. The problem is exacerbated by the instability of the government to deal with some 600 Muslim organizations and with a Muslim population that, while predominantly Algerian, includes Muslims from sixty countries. The current conflict is a legal problem of the relationship of Conseil d'Etat to the Constitutional Council which can be resolved only by action of the National Assembly.

The close geographical and cultural ties with Algeria have acerbated relations and there is suspicion that the agitation in France is supported if not caused by the Algerian National Salvation Front. The children of immigrants, now French citizens by birth, are demanding political rights. Organized into groups such as Young Citizens of France, they have turned to Islam as a political protest. The expulsion of some 88 girls from school for wearing headscarves is especially troubling since Sikhs are allowed to wear turbans and Jews may wear skull caps (yarmulke). In December 1994 highjackers commandeered an Air France Airbus 300 in Algiers. En route to Paris the plane stopped to refuel in Marseilles where the hijackers killed three passengers and released others. French commandos stormed the plane, killed the four highjackers, released all the passengers and found about twenty sticks of dynamite beneath the plane' s seats. It was though the plane was on a suicide mission to explode in or over Paris. The next day, four Catholic priests, one of the Belgian, three French, were murdered in northern Algeria.

In Germany the focus is on unemployment, especially since unification. In Austria the attitude towards Muslims is merged into the larger problem of immigration, most of which is non-Muslim. Located on the frontier of Europe's immigration phenomenon, Austria has received and process the bulk of refuses from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe: some 42,000 from Yugoslavia alone. Nearly half a million foreigners live in Austria whose populations is 7.5 million. New immigration laws passed in 1993 make it difficult for immigrants to live and work in Austria. The backlog of applications for residence permits is some 60,000 and the long delay means that the applicants lose jobs, places to live an are forced to return to their places of origin. As in other European countries, the strict immigration policy enhances the standing of some politicians who advocate an end to all immigration.

In Britain anti-Muslim sentiment arises from fear of British culture and institutions being overwhelmed by foreign immigrants (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Wet African, West Indian) whose cultures are markedly different from that of Europeans. The Islamic dimension of this fear is subordinate to the issue of the magnitude and incompatibility of the new migration. To a lesser extent than in the United States, this sentiment gains some strength from the Zionist-Arab politics of the Palestine issue in which British policy played the determining role in 1948. The galvanizing event (analogous to the wearing of head scarves in France) has been the matter of government support for Islamic schools. There is some feeling that this policy started with Sir Keith Joseph, a Zionist; whose as Minister of Education maintained that Islamic education would contaminate the cultural purity of British education. This view has continued for there is no objection to support of Jewish, Catholic or Protestant schools. The British National Party's success in getting its candidate elected to the Borough Council of Tower Hamlets in London's East End was disturbing since the National Party Platform advocated forced deportation of all blacks and Asians. This election of September 1993 followed the beating into a coma of a 17-year old Bangladeshi by a group of whites. In the context of 7,993 racial attacks reported for 1993-almost double the number for 1992-this election was viewed with alarm by Muslims.

2. Bedrock of Antipathy
Beyond these contemporary sources of antagonism lie deeply rooted circumstances. It can justifiably be said that these 20th century feelings can be traced to the Crusades which generated repugnance towards Islam in the 12th and 13th centuries. Dante's Inferno sentenced Mohammed and Ali to the ninth bologia as dangerous sowers of discord and disunity (seminator di scandalo e di scisma). Mohammed was regarded as the figure who broke the hold of Christianity, hence was sentenced to the cruelest punishment described in the Inferno: being cleft from head to crotch. Allegorical though it was, the Inferno was undoubtedly a reflection of mediaeval thought.

Only six centuries after the rise of Christianity, Islam emerged incorporating some of the doctrine of its two Abrahamic predecessors, Judaism and Christianity, and claiming to be the ultimate divine revelation Islam was, and continues to be activated, by a dynamic zeal for global propagation which directly confronted the same Christian impulse. The universality of Islam was threatened by this dynamism as Islam spread in Asia an Africa and to the very gates of Vienna, destroying the possibility of converting the whole world to Christianity.

The second factor, peculiar to American culture, is the phenomenal rise in the United States in visibility and authority of evangelical Protestant fundamentalist Christianity with its emphasis on the Old Testament, and on "biblical inerrancy,"i.e. the literal interpretation of Scripture as the infallible word of God. An important part of this view is the literal belief in biblical prophecy. These views, persuasively propagated by televangelists, emphasize the special status of Israelites and Zion and warn that divine retribution will be meted out to whomever disagrees. The contemporary Israelis are equated with biblical Israelites, and their possession of Palestine is proof, according to this view, that a biblical prophecy has been fulfilled. These notions are coupled with what might be called the Judaization of Christianity, in which the Judaic antecedents of Christian doctrine and the Jewish genealogy of Christ and the Holy Family are given so much emphasis that the distinctions between the two religions are blurred. The theological and historical relationship between these two religions cannot be denied and should be explained and taught. But this view ignores the third Abrahamic religion, Islam, which has both Jewish and Christian roots. Thus Islam, marginalized, is seen as the enemy to both. Since these ideas touch the very essence of the Arab-Israeli problem, namely the status of Israel and Palestine, they are hardly conducive to increasing empathy for Islam. The recent work of Fuad Sha'ban shows the depth of these beliefs and reveals a dimension which ahs been eclipsed or isolated form the political context in which Islam is immersed. He shows that fundamentalist views of Zion are not new but are deeply embedded in American 19th century literary and religious sources. It is the millenarian attitude, enmeshed in Old Testament prophecy, which generated much of the pilgrim's euphoria inspiring the settlement of the Unites States. America became the Zion, the paradise, for the early settlers, later including the Mormons. This is reflected in the names given to thousands of towns throughout the United States: Salem, Sinai, Nazareth, Providence, new Jerusalem, Bethel, Mt. Olive, New Bethlehem, Zion, Hebron, Mt. Carmel, Mt. Hermon, Canaan, Mt. Pisgah, Nebo, Lebanon, Palestine, to name but a few.

Some of these names were given by settlers from Syria/Lebanon but most were bestowed by European settlers inspired by biblical references. The New Jerusalem of the early settlers' fantasy is materialized in the recreation of the Jerusalem of modern Israel. The relationship between this view of Israel and the consequent isolation of Islam is subliminal but remarkably influential in molding American views of Islam. These modified perceptions are strengthened by antecedent imagery of the Crusades against the infidel allegorized in the Inferno and are given new and stronger meaning by contemporary events which plunge them into the maelstrom of global politics. The consequence is that the emotional circumstances sustaining a western alienation with Islam are given new meaning and depth. American attitudes towards Islam and Arabs are not exclusively the consequence of the 1948 establishment of Israel, the Arab oil embargo, the Iranian hostage taking or other violent events attributed to Islamic inspiration. They have much deeper roots.