What explains the rise of Islamophobia in Western Countries?

Posted by on Apr 14, 2017 | Leave a Comment

By: Abdullahi Adan ( Caswsey)

images-12Two months ago, a student in Quebec, Canada who supports Trump’s negative narrative towards Muslim immigrants in North America attacked a mosque and killed seven Muslim worshipers while they were praying (CBC, 2017). This incident is part of increasing Islamophobia in western countries in the last decade. There are several contending explanations for the rising such irrational fear about Islam, and the marginalization of Muslims in the west. One of the popular narratives of anti- Muslim discourse is based on the notion that all Muslims are terrorists because the young men who attacked world trade center in September 11 were Muslims.

However, some scholars argue that Islamophobia can be explained within the framework of racism and cultural prejudice. Semati (2006) argues that current incidents of Islamophobia in western countries is constructed within the context of long process of socio-political aggression in cultural terms, which informs the foreign policy of most westerners countries (p.257). In accordance with Semati (2006), this paper discusses the history of Islamophobia , and how racism, which is not based on biology but rather on ‘ cultural prejudice ‘ is the best framework to explain the increasing Islamophobia in recent years. I will shed light on practical strategies that can be used to confront racism based on cultural prejudice such as Islamophobia.

Some social scientists believe that explanations of the increasing practices and policies, based on discrimination towards Muslims can be found within the psychological reactions by non-Muslims concerning the increasing number of Muslims in the West and the terrorist attacks since September 11 (Lean, 2014). Islamophobia is much more complicated than social and psychological reactions by non-Muslims towards the increasing visibility of Muslims in the West because ‘Islamophobia’ has a long and complex history within the imperial policies of America and Europe as allies towards Middle Eastern countries as foreign enemy, while people who immigrated from middle such as Muslims are seen as domestic threat (Lean, 2014,).

Semati (2006) argues that current America and European foreign policies target ‘brown’ men of the Middle East as foreign or domestic enemy.  Consequently, Semati (2006) suggests that, ‘brown’ man is a new racial category drawing on culture rather than biology or ideology; and the process of racialization of ‘brown’ men transitioned from “exotic other” to “signifier’ of an impending risk and horror to the current global order in the age of imperialism. Thus, Semati (2006) traces how the process of racialization of brown men from “exotic other” to a terrorist happened?

Semati (2006) suggests that, it is difficult for the new global political order as an empire with the aim of the socio economic domination of the world to use race, based on “biology” as differentiated marker in the “ geopolitical imagination” ( 257). However, it is convenient for the Empire to use racism based on “cultural differences” in the new global order and its “political imagination” of the Other (Semati, 2006). Since the end of the Cold war, Islam and Muslims became targets of racists foreign policies by the new political order based on “cultural prejudice” (Semati 2006).

Scholars believe that culture developed into a supposed clarifying power in adopting (global) socio-political aggressions because it can legitimize the foreign policies of new global order to categorize Muslims and the brown men from Middle East as the “Other” (Semati, 2006). There are two main explanations why the empire ‘ essentializes’ all brown people from the Middle East and, Muslims as terrorist given that there is diversity within Muslims (Semati, 2006). The first explanation is based on the notion of inferiority of Islamic “civilizations and cultures” under the new political order (Semati, 2006).

According to this notion Muslims ‘other’ is perceived as the personification of inferior cultures, has a potential threat to the politics of the civilized world (Semati, 2006). The current Islamophobia, gains some popularity in many western countries can be explained through the frame work of racism based on “cultural prejudice.” For example, recently, the newly elected president of the USA, Mr. Trump, issued an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States of America. As per the executive order, the new administration wants to develop extreme vetting system that can stop potential terrorist from these seven Muslim countries to enter America (New York Times, 2017).

Semati (2006) illustrated that several media personalities, intellectuals, and conservative politicians in the West who support discriminative policies towards Muslims, based on ‘Islamophobia ’ notions such as the this new executive order which bans immigrants from seven Muslim countries to enter America.

The second reason for the categorization of Muslims with their diverse groups into a single category as ‘Other’ in the current political order projects the culture of Muslims as an uncivilized culture (Semati, 2006). Edward Said argues that western intellectuals studied the cultures of ‘Orientals’ from their perspectives and biases. In this process, Muslims societies were conceived as the ‘Other’ or people who have one culture different from civilized cultures such as Judeo-Christian cultures in the west (Semati, 2006). For example, there are numerous intellectuals, social activists such as feminists in the West, who always suggest that women and young girls in Muslim countries need to liberate from the atrocities and injustices of their cultures.

Moreover, there are human right organizations in the west, who claim the existence of human rights abuses and violations in Muslim countries because the lack of democracy and freedom. Semati (2006) ads that for the two reasons noted above, ‘Islamophobia’ became an ideology that can be used as a response to the imagined threats that Muslims as ‘ other’ advances towards the new political order- the Empire and the culture of the civilized world.

Therefore applying this framework gives us a genealogical sketch of the appearance of brown men from the Middle East and Muslims as potential domestic and foreign threats. (Semati, 2006). However, Semati (2006) does not illuminate strategies that can be used as mechanisms in confronting the rising “Islamophobia” in the West, based on cultural prejudice.

Love (2009) observes that increasing hate crime and discrimination policies toward Muslims in the West may be challenged with anti- Islamophobia movements positioned within the historical background of civil right activism against racism and discrimination in the USA. Since the explanations for the rising Islamophobia in the West can be found within the framework of racism based on cultural prejudices.

Furthermore that anti- Islamophobia movements need to learn lessons from the struggles of Black and Hispanic civil right movements against racism practices with in the USA. Accordingly, Love (2009) suggests that Middle Eastern American communities can form advocacy organization as anti- Islamophobia movements to confront racism based on cultural bigotry.

Overall, this discussion has argued that the rise of current Islamophobia against Muslims in the West as ‘Other’ is the result of discriminatory policies under the new global order-Empire adopted to gain socio economic dominance (Semati, 2006). The essay has argued that since the Empire is not able to embrace racism based on biology in their political imaginations to discriminate the ‘Other’, ‘Islamophobia” as an ideology became a discriminatory instrument within the foreign policies of the Empire (Semati, 2006).

For example, brown men from the Middle East who once were considered as ‘ exotic’ because of their looks developed into a single category of domestic and foreign enemy in the ‘political imagination’ of the Empire due to their religion and background as uncivilized Arab culture (Semati, 2006).

In that regard, the discussion has pointed out that the best sociological explanation for the current rise of Islamophobia in the West can be found within the framework of racism and cultural prejudice adopted by the Empire as domestic and foreign discriminatory policies against Muslims as ‘Other’. This essay suggests that increasing hate crime and discrimination policies toward Muslims in the West can be challenged with anti- Islamophobia movements that mirror the historical struggle for civil right movements  against racism and discrimination in the USA (Love, 2009).

By: Abdullahi Adan ( Caswsey)

Email: sthinktank@gmail.com


Love, (2009).The problems of Islamophobia. Soundings: A journal of politics and

culture, 57 (1), 145-148.

Semati, M. (2010). Islamophobia, culture and race in the age of empire. Cultural Studies,

24 (2), 256-275.


Leave a comment



You can subscribe by e-mail to receive news updates and breaking stories.

Tag Cloud

Enter Analytics/Stat Tracking Code Here