Ece Koc

It’s not Islamophobia, it’s fear of fanaticism

A plea for understanding from a member of the less visible Moslem majority

Coined in Great Britain in 1995, the neologism Islamophobia, which literally means “undue fear of Islam,” has come to mean, as of late, “prejudice against Muslims.”

This never-before-heard term became one of the most frequently used words following a series of incidents that suddenly struck Western societies less than a decade after its coinage.

The post 9/11 era created an environment of fear and confusion in the minds of people who knew almost nothing about Islam, its teachings or its basic source, namely the Koran. The terrorist attacks that occurred following 9/11, especially the 2003 Istanbul bombings, the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2005 London bombings, further helped in fomenting the Islamophobic stance in the West. Adding to the equation were the perceived nuclear threat of Iran, the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the worldwide protests generated by the publication of cartoons blasphemous to people of the Islamic faith.

Critics (generally from Muslim communities) of those who harbor prejudice or antipathy against Muslims describe them as Islamophobic or Muslim-baiters. Thinking that the anxiety and unease over Islam is ungrounded and unfair, they tend to outright condemn what they see as their Islamophobic stance.

The problem arises from a point that needs clarification. It is true that anti-Islamic rhetoric has found increasing reception among the Western public, who are generally not well-acquainted with the religion of Islam. However this actually stems from the failure to distinguish between the concepts of real Islam, based on the Koran and the pure teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), and the system adhered to by radical fundamentalists, which they call “Islam”, but which is in no way compatible with true Islam.

This being the case and being generally uneducated about the real nature of Islam, the people of the West inevitably make the mistake of calling the system of these radical fundamentalists “Islam.” These misconceptions are further consolidated by the fact that it is these self-same fanatics who grab the headlines and the lead stories on the evening news, not only from their perpetration of the most appalling atrocities, but also because they have a tendency to make the most noise. The news media naturally reports such matters while regrettably paying no heed to the overwhelming majority of Muslims who certainly harbor no desire to commit acts of violence and mayhem.

So, when considered from this point of view, the fears and concerns of many in the Western world are fair and reasonable.

The system of these fanatics is largely one of superstition and outlandish utopian ideas. They adhere to particular principles and rules that they assert to be part of the religion of Islam. However, the principles they claim to be “Islamic” are far removed from Islam, the pure revelation that Prophet Mohammed received. The understanding of Islam as depicted in the Koran and practiced by the Companions of Prophet Mohammed in his time embraces the entire world with love and compassion. There is love for other human beings, love for children, love for women, love for the members of other religions, for animals, in brief for everything related to this life, for a true Muslim considers each and every one of them as manifestations of his Creator in this world and therefore treats them with the greatest love and respect. That is also why love and compassion is the essential power in Islam that regulates the relations among people as well as societies.

The system created by bigots, however, is characterized by the absence of mercy, love, compassion, tolerance or any of the most sublime feelings and thoughts; it largely constitutes malice, mistrust and willful ignorance. Their disdain for other Muslims who don’t share their fanatical worldview, their blind hatred for adherents of other faiths and indeed for humanity in general manifests itself in the form of senseless violence and oppression, to the point of mass murder. Indeed, the most frequent term you hear from such bigots is “cutting down,” as though the object of their rage were little more than a tree. It is not unfair to accuse fanatics of being misanthropic – of harboring a profound animosity towards their fellow human beings. Fanaticism is a grave and real threat to the entire world; it is a great scourge. For this reason it is of the most vital importance to defeat fanaticism in the ideological sense and to eradicate this scourge from the face of the world.

Thus, according to their own thinking, the people of the West have the right to cast a jaundiced eye towards – and even fear – such an uncivilized and inhumane mindset. But it needs to be emphasized that it is the fanaticism, and not Islam, about which they need to be alarmed. In this sense, we need to reconsider the terms and eliminate the confusion in our minds; it is certainly not Islamophobia but rather a genuine fear of fanaticism that people are suffering from. Mistakenly attributing the most vile traits of fanatical bigotry and misanthropy to the pure religion of Islam would mean doing a great injustice to Islam, which is a religion of love, mercy and tolerance.

About the Author
Ece Koc, an economist and peace and interfaith advocate, is a host on the "Building Bridges" show on Turkey's A9TV satellite television channel.