by Khaled A. Beydoun, author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear
The public conversations spurred by promoting my book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, were not bound by the geographic scope of its title. Violence against Muslim Americans was swelling, but events in China and India, France and nearby Quebec, Canada, illustrated that Islamophobia was hardly an American phenomenon—but very much a global scourge. Therefore, American Islamophobia—the book and the phenomenon at large —provided an opportunity to discuss and draw critical links with the forms of anti-Muslim violence unfolding in other countries across the world.
The book was being read in countries where Islamophobic animus and violence was rising rapidly, including in India, where a populist prime minister pushed a Hindu-nationalist vision that targeted the country’s Muslims as rivals. Narendra Modi spewed rhetoric casting Islam as a “violent faith” and Indian Muslims as “foreigners,” echoing Donald Trump, to shore up his base and claim the highest office in the land through strategic deployment of Islamophobia. However, Modi’s message superseded mere rhetoric, as his demonization of Muslims spurred on an unprecedented spread of mob violence against Muslims in India, and as illustrated by the recent siege in Kashmir, a Hindu-nationalist vision fueled by aggression against Muslims within and beyond India’s bounds.
For Modi and his growing legions of supporters, Islam stood directly in the way of India’s vision of becoming a Hindu state. Modi did not direct his aggression solely at Muslims, as Sikhs, Dalits, and other ethnic and religious minorities were targeted by his political ire as well. Yet Muslims were branded Hinduism’s natural arch enemy, and as a result, the country’s nearly 200 million Muslims were isolated as open targets.
Asif Khan, a 29-year old human rights activist from Mumbai, shared,
The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] have successfully convinced the majority of India that Muslims are a threat to India, that the Muslim population is growing too fast in India, and they will convert India into an Islamic country. They demonize Muslims through the media and social media, spread fake propaganda against Indian Muslims, and promote the idea that Muslims are naturally criminal and cannot be trusted. Because of this, India has become a very unsafe place for Muslims.
Indian activists, like Khan, have become instrumental in highlighting the threat and effect of Indian Islamophobia through the use of social media. However, their activism exposes them to backlash from both the state and private hatemongers. This was in June, after Khan and other Indian activists brought the mob murder of Tabrez Ansari to the world’s attention, sharing a video of the 24-year old being gruesomely beaten and forced to chant Hindu-nationalist slogans. Indian Islamophobia, inflamed by a prime minister bent on wielding it as a political tool and carried forward by vigilantes and mobs, was every bit as violent and virulent as its American analog.
Yet, Indian Islamophobia was hardly the most sadistic form of Islamophobia taking place on the globe. India’s neighbor, China, provided a living and lurid case study of the world’s most brutal form of structural Islamophobia. This was especially the case for China’s Uighur Muslim population in the Xinjiang province, the northwestern region of the country that is home to approximately 12 million Uighur Muslims. For many years, the Chinese government implemented draconian surveillance and policing programs in Xinjiang, which Uighur Muslim political movements claim as their indigenous land—and the envisioned site of their independent state. These programs included omnipresent cameras placed throughout the province, ubiquitous on-the-ground police presence, and the prohibition against Uighur Muslims’ observing Ramadan, Islam’s holy month.
However, Beijing’s punishment and persecution of its Uighur Muslim population took a drastic turn in 2018, with the establishment and expansion of massive internment camps that confined millions of Uighur and other ethnic Muslim populations. In Al Jazeera, I wrote,
“In August [of 2018], a United Nations human rights panel reported that nearly 1.1 million Uighur Muslims were being held in concentration camps in Xinjiang – the autonomous region in western China, home to approximately 11 million Uighurs. Gay McDougall, who sits on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, claimed that the imprisoned population could be as high as 2 million. Notwithstanding the estimates, the number of Uighur Muslims being arrested, uprooted from their families and lives, and imprisoned in concentration camps – for no other reason than being Uighur and Muslim – is rising with each passing day.”
And the numbers have, according to several estimates, risen since the UN broke the story of Chinese internment camps. While Islam in the United States and India, France and even Muslim-majority countries like Egypt is routinely tethered to terror suspicions and national security threats, Chinese authorities classified it as a “mental illness”—a designation that exposes Muslims in China to the most inhuman forms of structural Islamophobia today, and with the expansion of interconnected policing programming and technology-driven surveillance, even more frightening forms still lay on the horizon.
American Islamophobia, since its publication in April of 2018, has opened doors for new conversations and, just as importantly, opened up my eyes to the interconnected and independent strands of Islamophobia unfolding across the globe. Islamophobia is, indeed, a global phenomenon. And a global phenomenon that demands its own careful consideration, attention, and, as the threat continues to rise in line with emerging populist movements that position Islam as the enemy, a concerted resistance that meets them in the middle.