Here, I won’t be discussing whether phobias of people (homophobia – fear of gays; xenophobia – fear of foreigners etc) are phobias in the strict sense of the word, whether they are the equivalent of fear of high places, or snakes. However, beyond the semantics, the crucial element here is what all these phobias have in common – irrational fear.

 

Many argue that fear of Muslims isn’t irrational, thus it’s not a phobia at all. I disagree.

Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders. If someone goes berserk because he sees a spider walking on the floor few will doubt whether this is normal behaviour or not. Probably the person next to him will pick up the spider and tell him “Look, it’s harmless”.

 

Yet, poisonous spiders do exist, some are even lethal. So do Muslim terrorists. Does this make the fear of my next door neighbour whose name is Mahmoud and doesn’t eat pork, justified?

 

Fear of “the other”, in this case the other being a member of a particular religion, has always existed. I don’t think that any religion in the world that hasn’t been feared one time or another exists. However, the spike in the fear of Muslims towards unprecedented proportions has a date: 11th September, 2001. What happened on that day is only partially the cause of the rising Islamophobia. The other part is what came after – the war on terror.

 

In order to justify the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan politicians in the West – especially George W Bush and Tony Blair – leashed a media campaign against Islam and Muslims. How could they convince the public to finance these two expensive wars if they couldn’t prove there wasn’t a real threat?

 

Blair and Bush were proved wrong, especially on Iraq. They have probably become two of the most hated politicians in the West, yet the damage on the reputation of Muslims was done. Needless to say, the Madrid and Londom bombings by Muslim terrorists continued to “justify” the fear of Muslims.

 

Why do I then continue to insist that fear of Muslims is completely irrational? Aside from reading scientific research (rather than sensationalist media reports) that shows that the absolute majority of Muslims oppose terrorism, I arrive to my conclusions by meeting and knowing Muslims personally, both in Malta and abroad.

 

The most significant was attending a conference on Islamophobia organised by the Federation of Young European Greens  in Turkey in 2007. Even more than the lectures and presentations, what really left most impact were the people on our group and the discussions we had. The following are three examples of questions asked and discussed in the group:

 

1) “If you disapprove of Bin Laden why don’t you, as a Muslim publicly distance yourself and denounce him?

 

Because if I do, I will be saying he’s a Muslim. He’s not. What he does is directly opposite to  the teachings of the Koran.”

 

2) “I’m gay, do you have a problem with that?

 

Do you think I hadn’t noticed? (laughter). We were joking on the roof yesterday, would I have done that if I had a problem? Come, here’s a hug”.

 

The next is a little conversation I had with a Muslim woman from Slovenia, wearing a veil. My answers betray a little fear and misconception I had:

 

3)  “If I am passing around and you see me dressed like this (points at the veil) and you are in difficulty, you had say, an accident, would you ask for my help?

 

Of course I would. What I would find difficult is if it was you who had an accident. I would be afraid to touch you because of your religious beliefs.

 

So, you would leave me dying, just not to touch me? What’s wrong with touching a person to save his life? I don’t know of any religion that prohibits that.”

 

Needless to say, I’m sure that Muslims who partially or completely disagree with these three people exist. However, I can honestly say I haven’t met one yet, and due to my interest in the topic, I’ve met a lot of Muslims since that seminar, with whom I’ve discussed these issues. I did meet a couple of Muslims who have a negative attitude towards homosexuals, however, I must also sadly admit that it wasn’t any worse than the attitude of some Catholics living in Malta.

 

Should an Imam calling for Jihad and retribution be feared? Definitely, and those countries (such as the UK) who dismiss such a call for violence as “freedom of speech” should start re-thinking their laws.

 

Should I fear Mahmoud next door? Of course not.

 

I have no idea how to get over the fear of spiders, but I think I do know how to overcome the fear of Muslims – by meeting them and knowing them personally

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