Israel-Palästina-Konflikt: Fida Shafi: Islamophobia, is it?

© Fida Shafi
© Fida Shafi

Fida Shafi, a Palestinian PHD scholar in the University of Vienna. She has been educated in and out Palestine. She got, respectively, Human Rights Master degree from CEU-Budapest, MPA from USC-California. In Palestine, she got her Educational administration Master degree at AL Najah University in Nablus and BA degree in Social Service from Jerusalem University. Fida, enjoys a rich 13 years professional experience, respectively, as a Director of AFSC- Quakers Palestine Youth Project, Ministry of Women Affairs International Relation Coordinator, UNDP Local Gender Specialist, Middle East Nonviolence and Democracy-Choose a Future Project Manager, Save the Children-GGLS North WB Coordinator and UNRWA- Social Worker.

On January 25, 2006, the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas) won an election in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) that was widely accepted as fair and democratic. Why then, only five days later, did the EU boycott Hamas? It is argued that this EU position is guided by Hamas' unwillingness to accept three preconditions for political legitimacy; to denounce violence, to recognize Israel and to accept previous agreements between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. If Hamas were to accept these preconditions, the theory goes, it would be removed from the EU terrorist list and diplomatic contacts could then take place.[1] For Islamists and others, the EU boycott of a legitimately elected Hamas government is contrary to the EU’s support for policy of democratization. Further, this policy is perceived as part of a broader Western war on Islam in the name of combating terrorism; this only serves to lump together diverse Islamic groups – including Hamas – into a homogeneous terrorist enemy, and further placing it beyond reason and dialogue.[2]  

Perception: In the work of council of Europe, it is worth noting that accounts of violent incidents against people who are characterized as Muslims are not usually considered to be Islamophobic. In comparison, an attack on a mosque and anti-Islamic statements or drawings is clearly Islamophobic. Perception plays an essential role in Islamophobic incidents packed by two legal bases. Firstly, it is the victim perception of a crime as Islamophobic as a first step for potential Islamophobic incident as it might be. Secondly, the perpetrator perceives a target of abuse as a Muslim although s/he might be a non-Muslim can also be an Islamophobic incident.[3] Thus, perception is crucial in restoring the balance, and could come from acknowledging modest but profound views. The question is how Islamic movement as Hamas is perceived, and why? This article suggests an answer in articulation with other influential factors of significance, mainly, those outlined in the following text. 

Perception in Context

1. Psychology

When analysing the academic literature, it is clear that race and culture play an important role in explaining. The former is seen in the fear of demographic decline of the white European. The latter is seen in the fear of Islamizing Europe – if not by the old fear of Muslim force, then by the present fear of Muslim immigration. [4]

However, Palestine is not only perceived to be a place with Muslim majority that voted for Hamas, but it also is in conflict with Israel, a Jewish state by its own definition.[5] This Western perception evokes deep emotion in Europe that is likely more related to Jews as follows:

Firstly, a crucial psychological factor is the European feeling of guilt towards the Jews because of European Christian anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. Also, Israel has made great efforts to de-legitimize any critique of the Zionist project of colonizing Palestine, presenting any Palestinian rejection of the state of Israel as a hatred derived from culture and religion.[6]
 Consequently, this dilutes any rational behaviour against colonisation.

Secondly, this one is referred to as a Psychoanalytic concept of projection "attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or memories to others". It is perceived in projecting old hatred and anti-Semites on none European Arabs-Palestinians and currently Muslims.[1] It is disturbing to describe it “neo-anti-Semitism” in an attempt to deny old traditional hostility by projecting it on non-Europeans.

And finally, there is a feeling in the West that Israel is perceived as modern. This is contrast to how Islam is perceived. The result is that there Arabs and Muslims are perceived as the non-European, backward other, while Jews in Israel are perceived as European.[8] Also, there is the feeling of sympathy in Europe with occupied Palestine that receives EU humanitarian assistance at largest.   

2. Scholarly

In construct of Islamophobia, Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, and supportive of terrorism, engaged in ‘a clash of civilizations’. [9] Such features are also parallel to Council of Europe general recommendation noted in the aftermath of Sep, 11 and in light of subsequent attacks in Europe. In this construct, Al-Qaida has erroneously come to serve as an explanatory matrix for all of the heterogeneous Islamic militant groups. Further, emphasis on Israel self-defence against PALESTINIAN ‘barbarism’, Arab aggression and Islamic terrorism, including Hamas, serves as powerful images of a non-civilised other that understands only brute force and repression.[10]

3. Political Efforts

Perception is at play into the hands of a xenophobic politics. Islamophobic incidents in Europe are present and also enforced by political efforts. Further, this perception is carried out along an apocalyptic political discourse when political leaders talk about the struggle against evil and speaks in the name of God and try to impose their perception of the good.[11]

Whether in the presentation of right wing of Muslims by assuming that Muslim immigrants are capable of turning the Christian continent into a Muslim one whereby, the status of Christians linking it in this case to the Jews will be subordinated or by assuming Muslim immigrants are less capable to integrate in Europe due to their culture, religion, and sometimes race, or that of  the leftwing variation of Islamophobia by assuming that Islam as a monolithic religion allows no room for others from within,[12] political efforts in generalizing negative assumption ignores domestic circumstances, reasons and tensions which for example can explain outbreaks of violence in occupied Palestine much better than just the adherence to a certain religion, in this case Islam.

4. Realities

Of importance, Islamophobic incidents, including verbal and sometimes physical attacks against Muslims, are present throughout Europe; similar incidents such as these have also been carried out against Jews. This is not a new phenomenon. For some decades, these kinds of incidents have increased when there is high tension or violence in Israel-Palestine. [13] A recent study shows that both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise in Europe. [14]

5. Media efforts

The dynamics of the mainstream media helps justify the EU boycott of Hamas, places emphasis on the victimization of Jews in Israel at the hands of Palestinian and Islamic terrorism and recently rocket attack dropping aside contextual history of conflict that did not begin by Hamas violence. [15]

In conclusion

There is every reason why the Holocaust influences European thinking. It is necessary to acknowledge the pain caused by anti-Semitism but to reject counterproductive ways of dealing with the problem such as demonizing criticism of Israel. At the receiving end, the Palestinian and their electoral voices are robbed of legitimacy and pushed further to the margins of political discourse to an extent, inexplicitly, a wish that Palestinians should become the “Jews” of the Jews.  In Europe "we choose to talk to fewer and fewer" Islamists groups, critically, is argued while insisting that EU officials never thought the boycott will work but they "felt trapped".[16] The balance sheet is far from positive.

However, the Holocaust (whereas the Palestinian catastrophe was created A long time before the Holocaust), is intensively used to justify almost all measures to ensure it does not happen again (to whom?). Said says "we must accept the Jewish experience in all that entails of horror and fear, but we must require that our experience be given no less attention".[17] With this, I end. (23. Juni 2009)


end notes

[1]  Tocci, Nathalie, what went wrong? Center for European Policy Studies, (no.135, July, 2007)

[2]  Emerson, Michael and Youngs, Richard, Political Islam and European foreign Policy perspectives from Muslim Democrats of the Mediterranean, Center for European Policy studies, Brussels, (2007), p 1-12

[3]  European Monitoring Centere on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), Muslims in the European union, Discrimination and Islamophobia, Austria, (2006), p 63

[4]  Sajed, abduljalil in Anti- Semitism and Islamophobia, Islamophobia: a New Word for an Old Fear, Palestine- Israel Journal, East Jerusalem, (Vol 12, no.2 & 3, 2005), p 31-40

[5]  Bunzl, John, European Views of the Middle East, perception, prejudice, projection

[6] Massad, Josef, Palestinians and Jewish History, recognition or submission, journal of Palestine studies, (Autumn, vol. 3 no. 1, 2000), p 52-67

[7]  Bunzl, Ibid

[8]  Massad, Josef, the Post Colonial Colony: time, space and bodies in Palestine/ Israel in the persistence of the Palestinian Question, Routledge, NY, (2006),  p 13-40 

[9] The Runnymede Trust, last accessed, February 15, 2009

[10] Strindberg and Wärn, Realities of Resistance: Hizballah, the Palestinian Rejectionists, and al- Qa'ida Compared, Journal of Palestine studies, (Vol. XXX1V. no. 3, Spring, 2005)

[11]  Chahuan, Eugenio in Anti- Semitism and Islamophobia, An East- West Dichtomy: Islamophobia, (2005), p 47

[12] Sajed, abduljalil in Anti- Semitism and Islamophobia (2005), Ibid, p 31-40

[13]  Antony Lerman, Must Jews always See Themselves Victims? The independent (March 7th, 2009)

[14]  Unfavorable Views of Jews and Muslims on the Increase in Europe, the Pew Research Center, Washington DC, (2008)

[15] Antony Lerman (2009), Ibid

[16]  Emerson, Michael and Youngs, Richard, Political Islam and European Policy, Ibid, (2007), p 6

[17]  Massad, Josef , Palestinians and Jewish History, recognition or submission, Ibid, (2000), p 15