Last year, Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old from Texas in the United States, was handcuffed, taken into custody, barred from seeing his parents as he was transported to a juvenile detention facility and eventually suspended from school. His crime: bringing a homemade clock to school.
It is the same sentiment which resulted in a 10-year-old Muslim boy from Lancashire, England, being quizzed by British police for writing that he lived in a “terrorist” house – instead of a “terraced” house – during an English class.
The overwhelming paranoia that has resulted in children – their ingenuity and spelling mistakes – being viewed as potential terrorists is a growing trend in the global framework of Islamophobia – one which is consuming the mind-sets of many and needs to be urgently addressed.
Last week, the Danish government presented a list of measures to combat radicalisation, including steps to assist members of civil society to “systematically be present in social media and engage critically in relevant forums, take part in dialogue and challenge extremist views”, making it easier to prosecute those spreading “extremist views online”.
Getting the public involved in furthering the attitude that anything involving Islam is linked to terrorism is a slippery slope that every democratic country should avoid.
Australia, one of the most peaceful and law-abiding countries, is about to put people who might commit terrorism in prison – indefinitely. Under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s centre-right government, federal judges could stop prisoners being released after completing terrorism-related sentences. Further, it is now law to allow teenagers as young as 14 to be subjected to court-ordered controls, restricting who they can see and where they can go if any “suspicious” activity is assumed.
Anti-Islamic sentiments making their way into the laws of countries globally are a reflection of the cementing of beliefs that Muslims are not only prone to acts of terror, but are also the greatest architects of anarchy challenging global peace today.
A look at the facts will dispel this notion. An FBI report published in 2013 showed that only a small percentage of terror attacks carried out on United States soil between 1980 and 2005 were perpetrated by Muslims.
Princeton University’s Loon Watch compiled the FBI’s data, which showed there were slightly more Jewish acts of terror in the US than Islamic (7% versus 6%) in that period. These were not terrorists who happened to be Jews. Rather, they were extremist Jews who committed acts of terror based on their religious passions, carried out by groups such as Jewish Armed Resistance, the Jewish Defence League, Jewish Action Movement, United Jewish Underground and Thunder of Zion.
Yet the scrutiny by law enforcement and homeland security has been on American Muslims and has exponentially grown against Islam, setting the tone for worldwide trends.
A recently released 2011 FBI intelligence assessment found that anger over US military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “home-grown” terrorism.
Following 9/11, the anti-war movement was isolated because trade unions and civil society organisations had swallowed media lies and government propaganda. They had accepted a war of retribution against Afghanistan, an impoverished country of 30-million people, and the US-led military action in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and countless other Muslim countries. These invasions have left these lands devastated, with millions of innocent civilians losing their lives in the process.
The FBI intelligence assessment also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalisation”, concluding that it remained almost impossible to predict future violent acts. “It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual’s radicalisation or mobilisation to violence,” the assessment noted.
Despite this conclusion, the US government has announced plans to spend millions of dollars on “countering violent extremism” initiatives, where citizens are to help spot and stop would-be extremists.
“Countering violent extremism programmes are really a danger to us all,” says Karen Jayes, from advocacy group Cage Africa in Cape Town. “They hinge on very broad and vague definitions of ‘extremism’, and target any ideology that challenges liberal democracy. This is a dangerous approach, since it criminalises ordinary religious behaviour and stands to silence political dissent. This pushes ideologies underground where they may become violent.
“‘Radicalisation’ theories are built on the flawed assumption that the more religious a person, the more likely they are to commit violence, when in fact the opposite is true. These theories have been proven to be based on unreliable studies, in a report authored by Cage and entitled The ‘Science’ of Pre-Crime, which was also backed by more than 100 academics in the United Kingdom. Despite this, countering violent extremism programmes are expanding throughout the world, including in South Africa, because they are a multibillion-dollar industry that trades off a fear of Islam, which is fanned by corporate media and a growing security industry.”
From the US’s countering violent extremism initiatives to arbitrary yet dangerous laws being implemented in countries such as Denmark and Australia, the rapid move to vilify Muslims has become extreme. These moves seek to demonise Muslims as a whole, as a group and as an identity.
Instead of uniting people this serves to divide them; instead of cultivating respect, it sows contempt, fear and antagonism.
Most perniciously, it codifies antagonisms in society and in law and regulation. By systematically denying Muslims the civil liberties afforded to others, these moves are seeking to entrench Islamophobia in the fabric of our everyday lives.
Dr Aayesha J Soni is a medical doctor working in Johannesburg. Follow her on Twitter @AayeshaJ