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Islamophobia and the West

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 15:33 IST
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Anti-Asian racism (especially against South Asia) has always been prevalent in the West.

If media reports are to be believed, Asians have been subject to some of the most brutal acts of harassment, injustice and hostility.

Well-known is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 where the Chinese were singled out and forbidden from stepping on American soil.

And this was the culmination of numerous acts of discrimination against Chinese immigrants in the United States. 

Another famous (or rather infamous) episode of anti-Asian racism was the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And done just on the basis of their ethnic ancestry!

Hence, it comes as no surprise that 9/11 evoked an Anti Islamic sentiment worldwide. The concept of Islamophobia did exist long before that fateful September day, but it had never been so pronounced.

Islamophobia may be understood to mean an irrational fear or hatred of the Mulims and Islam.

It assumed gargantuan proportions in the West, thanks to Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda. 

Post 9/11, we've all seen and heard stories of how Asians in the West have had their belongings searched without prior notice to find out if they are armed, and instances of several Muslims having to flee from Europe.

The question is, how much of what is reported is true? How many Asians actually feel singled out?

Indians abroad have differing views. Some say that Islamophobia does exist, but they are not immediately aware of its repercussions, while others are of the view that they do come across instances of bias against their Islam counterparts.

Sudarshan George, an Indian student at Germany's Bonn University, is of the view that Islamophobia does not exist at the university level in his country.

He does say, however that "there is a general feeling of hostility towards the Muslims everywhere, though subtle".

A friend of his was once denied an apartment on rent, just because he was Muslim. And interestingly, after 9/11, a pair of lovers, one of them Muslim, parted ways, because the other "could not trust Muslims after what they did to America". 

However, Shilpa Singh, an Indian housewife in Canada, has this to say: "We have a Muslim neighbour, but none of us have a problem. And they seem to be quite happy. We regularly exchange gifts and get together for all important occasions." 

Medha Saran, a student in at a reputed international university begs to differ. She cites an instance where, soon after 9/11, her friend was forced to vacate her hostel room at night, just because she was Muslim!

There are a few non-Muslims who have reported how soon after 9/11 they were searched at an amusement park to see if they were armed.

Then there is a bank employee in the US, Abhishek Kaul, who says that his Muslim friend has had to face abusive language at a few public places.

An interesting detail comes from Maureen, a school teacher in Alabama. "There were two Muslim kids in my class. And things were absolutely fine till 9/11. But soon afterwards, a few of the parents began to demand that the Muslim kids be sent away, or else they would have to shift their wards to a different school.

It took a lot of talking from my side to let them continue with the current state of affairs. But by then, both the Muslim kids were taken away from school by their parents."      

There is however, a unanimous view: That discrimination in some form or another does exist in the West. 

This is not surprising, since the West's penchant for bias is well known.  It could be subtle or aggressive, but it is there all the same.

A study of Asian discrimination in the West would take a lifetime. So we could arrive at a decent conclusion if we said that Islamophobia is a real threat out there in the West, and it takes varying forms.

But then the average Indian does not feel threatened to have a Muslim neighbour or friend.

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