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Ein Volk, Ein Ummah, Ein Muhammad?

Monday 19 November 2007, by Mustafa Akyol

The Narodni Strana and other Islamophobic parties are dangerous for the world. And it is in the best interest of all of us to help them calm down.

Last Sunday evening I was strolling down the biggest avenue of the Czech capital and suddenly a blonde and blue-eyed young lady approached me. She handed me a tabloid paper and said something in Czech, which, of course, sounded to me like Chinese. “Excuse me,” I asked, “could you please repeat that in English?” She kindly did. “Come join our cause,” she invitingly explained. “We are standing up against Islam.

I was definitely not the most promising candidate to be inspired by that message, but I found it interesting. The headline of the tabloid read, “Progressive Islamic Occupation of Europe.” The “news story” had alarming revelations about the increasing number of mosques in the old continent, which were, supposedly, “like sharp lances stuck into the heart of Christian shaped Europe.” Islam was so dangerous for these folks, because it was, they believed, “an aggressive, spiteful and cruel religion that considered fighting against the ‘infidels’ as a natural and right cause.”

The Czech ‘National Front’

The alarming headline story was supplemented by an eye-catching graphic. The famous Hitler poster in which the German dictator poses messianicly in front of his brown-shirted storm troopers was adapted to the “Islam” this paper had in mind. Hitler was replaced by a man with a beard and a turban, and whose flag carried a crescent instead of the swastika. The caption summarized the whole message. Instead of the Nazis’ notorious motto, “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer,” it read, “Ein Volk, Ein Ummah, Ein Muhammad.

A minute later this “standing up against Islam” became much more exciting, because the comrades of the tabloid-handing lady lined up in front of the splendid statue of Saint Vaslav, the national hero of the Czechs, and started to sing patriotic hymns. I realized that they were the members of the ultra-right Narodni Strana, or “National Party,” which has not ever been able to pass the 5 percent national electoral threshold in order to make its way into the parliament.

The Narodniks are apparently a marginal element in Czech society, but they are not the only ones who have a strong zeal against Islam. Similar groups in various European countries continuously fuel fear about and hatred toward Muslims. And although they think they are “defending” their countries, they are actually making them more vulnerable by fuelling the global threat called “clash of civilizations.”

The term Islamophobia has been coined recently to define the psycho-ideology of such groups, and it reminds of other ethnicity or religion based hatreds. Some of the vile comments made by Islamophobes about dress codes, beards, or dietary laws of traditional Muslims indeed sound like the way Nazis affronted Jews in their propaganda tools such as the notorious film, Der Ewige Jude, or “The Eternal Jew.

Don’t expect any gas chambers as a result of this paranoia, but there are less direct perils. The more Islamophobia will grow, the more the gap will deepen between Europe’s Muslim communities and their host societies. That will make those communities more open to radical ideas, and hence more Islamophobia will follow. A truly vicious cycle.

What is to be done ?

But what should be done in the face of this trouble ?

Here, as a Muslim myself, let me say this: Much of the responsibility lies in the hands of Muslim leaders and intellectuals. We should see that there is Islamophobia in the world, because there are men who blow up innocents, respond to any criticism with fury, treat their wives as slaves, and do all of these in the name of Islam. The racist and xenophobic tendencies in European societies add a lot to the problem, to be sure, but they are secondary. The primary issue is what some misled Muslims do.

Thus Islamophobia will never end by reiterating that it is too bad. Many Western leaders do say that, but some of their people disregard their comments as political correctness. What is really needed is an initiative by Muslims to reject and denounce all the horrible things done in the name of their religion – and do this frankly and persuasively. The objections to the West and its policies, on the other hand, should be made calmly and constructively.

The event that brought me to Prague is actually very much directed at fostering such a dialogue between Muslims and the West. Organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and supported by the Czech government, the American Embassy, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Prague Civic Institute, the conference addresses a crucial topic: “What Unites and What Divides Us: Tough Questions for Islam and the West.” Muslim speakers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Turkey will discuss with panelists from Europe and the United States the issues that both sides are most curious about. In my next column, I will let you know what comes out of it.

What is outright certain is that the Narodni Strana and other Islamophobic groups are driven by a wrong and dangerous cause. It is in the best interest of all of us to help them calm down.

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Source : Thursday, November 1, 2007 TDN

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