A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Rising Tide of Islamophobia in the US and Europe

It's hard to know where to start a consideration of the rising tide of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, nativism, and anti-immigrant sentiment that has spread across Eastern and Western Europe and the US in the past year or two. The anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric of the US Presidential campaign has unleashed some of the darker angels of American nativism, and since the results, some of the nastier attitudes that usually stay hidden under the rocks of the national psyche (the Klan, white supremacists, neo-Nazis) have felt emboldened.

But this is not just an American problem, though various watchdog groups report stepped-up instances of attacks on Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants since the election. The same thing happened in Britain after the Brexit vote, in France and Belgium after the Paris and Brussels attacks,and in Eastern Europe during the Syrian refugee waves. No single politician or political party incited this, though many cheered it on through dog-whistle language.  And to the new demonology of Muslims, immigrants, and nonwhites generally, is raised the old demon of anti-Semitism as well, not to mention misogyny.

Again, this has multi-national facets; it's not just an American problem. But every time a Westerner insults a woman in a hijab, burns a mosque or scrawls an obscenity on an Islamic center, they help jihadist recruiters and spread fear in the overwhelming majority of ordinary believers. Even such near-farcical measures as the "burkini bans"  of last summer, made more farcical by their imposition in Cannes and Nice, two towns that pioneered topless sunbathing, were a clear way to make conservative Muslim sunbathers feel like the unwelcome, alien Other, even though they were not objecting to the less modest dress around them. It is true that the immigrant communities in Europe are far less assimilated than those in America, but US Muslims are feeling fearful, and many non-Muslims are offering support and even escorts.

I don't have any rousing rhetorical conclusions here: things are getting bad, and may well get worse.

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