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Pourquoi l’islamophobie a-t-elle augmenté pendant la guerre de Gaza d’Israël ?

‘Seen as less ⁢human’: Why has Islamophobia surged⁢ amid Israel’s Gaza war?

Hate crimes and complaints‍ are at‍ record levels. Al Jazeera speaks to Professor‌ John Esposito to better understand why.

A protestor holds‌ a placard while taking part​ in ⁢the 'National March For Palestine' in central London calling for a ceasefire in the ⁤conflict between Israel and ⁢Hamas.
Protesters at pro-Palestine rallies across the United⁣ Kingdom were labelled as ‘hate marchers’ by the country’s former Home Secretary Suella⁤ Braverman, in ‍language suggested​ to be Islamophobic [Henry Nicholls/AFP]

Hate⁤ crimes against ⁣Muslims and‌ those perceived to be Muslim in the United Kingdom are⁣ up by ​140 percent compared with this time last year, according to British police.

The United Kingdom anti-Islamophobia organisation Tell ​MAMA ⁢has ‌received a sevenfold increase in reports of Islamophobia since October 7, when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel, killing 1,139 people and⁤ taking⁢ 240 others captive,‌ including women‍ and children. Since then, more​ than 20,000 Palestinians have ⁤been killed ⁤in Israel’s bombardment⁣ of Gaza, including ​at least ‌8,000 children, according to health officials in the enclave.

In the United States, the Council on ‍American-Islamic ​Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil​ rights group, said it had received 2,171 complaints of Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias since⁢ October 7, ⁤a 172 percent increase since the previous year.

Last month three men were shot in Vermont, and around the same period, ‍Stuart Seldowitz, a former adviser to President Barak Obama, was captured on video ⁣ taunting and ⁢threatening ⁤a ⁤fast food vendor in Manhattan ⁣with Islamophobic abuse.

While the⁣ Office of the United Nations High ‌Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a lengthier definition of Islamophobia (PDF), the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on ‍British Muslims uses the following definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism⁤ and is ⁣a‍ type of racism that targets expressions of‍ Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

The incidents accompanying the recent ⁣statistics range from‌ verbal harassment to violence against Palestinian human rights supporters ‍and represent “an unprecedented surge in bigotry”, ‌CAIR’s⁣ Research and Advocacy Director Corey Saylor said in a statement released to Al Jazeera.

“Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism are out of control ​in ways we have not ⁣seen in ⁣almost ten years.”

Saylor says that in the US, ‌the last large wave of Islamophobia was during US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December 2015 of a⁤ ban ⁤on visitors from a‍ set​ of Muslim-majority nations.

On October 15, six-year-old Palestinian-American boy Wadea Al-Fayoume was stabbed to death at his Illinois ​home by⁤ the apartment’s ‍landlord in what police said was an anti-Muslim hate crime, reportedly in response to the Hamas attack on Israel.

The⁣ UK has ⁢witnessed anti-Muslim language ⁢being ‍used at universities and⁢ schools, including people ⁢being called “terrorists”, reports Tell MAMA. Other incidents have included acts of vandalism.

Here, in conversation with Al Jazeera, John L Esposito, author of more than 50 books – including⁤ Islamophobia: The Challenge​ of Pluralism in the ⁢21st Century (2011) – explains what ‌Islamophobia is, and how Israel’s war on Gaza has led‍ to ‌an explosion in incidents.

Esposito is also a distinguished university professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC,⁤ in the US.

Al Jazeera: We have textbook definitions of ‌what Islamophobia is, but what can ‍it look like in⁤ daily life?

John Esposito: Islamophobic attacks can be‌ anything from abusive⁣ language used against someone who looks visibly Muslim –​ like a woman wearing a hijab; or it ‍could ‌be more covert, like not hiring a fully qualified professional based on their perceived Muslimness. In the current climate, since Israel’s ‍war on Gaza began in October, there have ⁢been growing incidents where ​people‍ have had their employment terminated for showing their support for a free ‍Palestine.

Islamophobia can of course escalate, in the killing of individuals like the ⁤ young boy in Illinois, and as we’ve seen it violently play out in attacks on⁣ communities ⁢and mosques, like the [2019] mosque attack ⁣in Christchurch, New Zealand. That’s just⁢ one example; there are so many more.

Al Jazeera: In ⁤your opinion, what would‌ you say are the roots of​ Islamophobia?

John Esposito: The trigger for⁤ this narrative goes back​ to the Iranian Revolution [1979].⁢ Remember ⁤that was when many people ​also finally had​ live TV [news],​ and would put on their TV ⁢every ⁤day. They’d see people in Iran shouting “Death to⁤ America”, which would lead⁣ viewers to think all Iranians, and then the wider Muslim world, must hold this belief.

But it was really ​9/11 that became ‍a major catalyst for Islam and ⁣Muslims to be seen ‍as a global threat. ‍We now saw the “Global ⁤War on Terrorism“, [Osama] ⁤ bin Laden and al-Qaeda, which​ played a major role in the growth of ‍Islamophobia, as​ Muslims and‌ Islam came to be seen as violent and dangerous.​ Then‍ of course most recently there​ was the Islamic State [ISIL, or ISIS], which had ⁤an enormous amount of media coverage, ‌far more than it ever should ‍have, ‌essentially ⁤allowing a minority to falsely portray who Muslims are.

And now in this recent war in Gaza, we’ve seen Hamas being equated to ISIS, ‌which somehow helps ⁣fuel attacks against Palestinians as they are being‌ painted with the same brush as ⁣an⁢ extremist group.

The result has been Israel’s totally disproportionate war and genocide.

Al Jazeera: You’ve mentioned the media. What role does it play?

John Esposito: I’d say it’s hugely responsible for the rise in Islamophobia.

The media has always cared ‍about headlines. There’s a famous line that I ⁢often quote, “If it bleeds, it leads”,‌ and ⁢news organisations’ focusing⁣ reporting on “terrorist” attacks has been exploited⁣ by⁣ far-right political and religious leaders and​ media commentators who are quick to speak out about​ Islam and ⁢Muslims, without checks⁤ or balances.

A great example of it is in the current war.‍ Initial reports ‌that were coming out of Israel mentioned the beheading of babies. [US] ‌President [Joe] Biden withdrew his statement confirming its falsehood the day after,‌ but by that point, the ‌story had already been repeated countless times on mainstream media and social media.

I ⁣was told when I first came to Washington, “Remember, if you throw it⁣ up⁣ against the ​wall three times, it’ll ​stick”,‍ and you ⁣know that’s what’s happened here. An unverified piece of news is repeated more than three ‍times, and by the time it’s retracted, it’s‌ already stuck in people’s heads, ⁤feeding into this Islamophobic narrative of who these people are⁣ and what they are capable of doing.

Al‌ Jazeera: But‌ you’ve ​also said it’s no⁤ longer just mainstream​ media that’s responsible?

John Esposito: Yes absolutely, there ‍are also well-funded anti-Muslim social media campaigns.

There is a study ⁣ by the Center for American​ Progress, called⁣ Fear, Inc. [August 2011], that‍ documents $42.6m flowing from seven foundations over 10 years (the ‍first decade of the century) to support⁤ Islamophobic authors and websites. Then there’s another by⁣ CAIR‌ and the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley.⁣ It’s ⁣called the Confronting⁤ Fear​ report [2016] ⁢ and that concluded⁣ that between 2008 and 2013, 33 Islamophobic groups ​had ⁤access​ to $205,838,077 to reinforce their misinformation.

Al Jazeera: Is social media making it easier to‍ be Islamophobic?

John Esposito: ⁤ Social media has had ‌an enormous impact. It can create a reality where any claims‍ can be presented as a fact. I certainly see ⁢that now with regard to the war‍ in Gaza, and the example I gave about ‌beheading babies.

Al Jazeera: How has the current war between Israel and Hamas added, if at all, to the⁢ Islamophobic rhetoric?

John Esposito: Israeli politics has used the Islamophobic rhetoric⁢ to create a devastating⁤ impact in ⁣portraying Muslims and Arabs as ⁤the‍ enemy ⁢and denying their fundamental rights, and so justifying an indiscriminate war whose victims ⁢are ⁤being⁤ viewed as less​ valuable ⁣than⁣ other human​ beings.

We know the October 7 attacks were carried out​ by members of Hamas, ⁢but⁢ [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu claims⁤ that these attacks represent all that ‍Hamas ​is.‌ In fact, Hamas has‌ also been a⁤ major political movement that governed in Gaza⁢ for ⁤many years and continues to ⁣be a political movement.

Netanyahu ‍and his ⁤ Jewish fundamentalist government officials – as well ⁢as several European and Western​ governments, allies ⁤with‌ Israel – even equate ⁤all Palestinian demonstrations and organised‌ opposition with being supportive [of armed groups].

Unfortunately, the initial unwavering support of Israeli⁢ policies, by the US and UK as well as other countries, has added to the Israeli narrative⁢ that all Muslims and all Arabs are the enemy.

Early in the war, members of the Israeli ⁤government referred to Palestinians​ as “human animals“. ⁢Netanyahu even quoted from the ‍Old Testament, ‌describing Palestinians as the⁤ “Amalek”, the‌ Jews’ archetypal enemy. (The Amalek could transform⁣ themselves into animals to avoid capture).‍ He says this to ‍justify his policy that has increasingly been labelled by⁢ many in the international community as ⁣genocide and war crimes.

All⁣ of these denigrating charges both reflect and feed the dangerous growth of Islamophobia‌ in many parts of‍ the world.

Al Jazeera:⁣ Are there any ⁣other reasonsLe conflit actuel à Gaza a-t-il conduit à des pics d’islamophobie ? ⁤C’est la question que⁤ s’est posée Al Jazeera lorsqu’ils ont interviewé John Esposito, professeur de religion et ​d’études islamiques à l’Université de Georgetown.‍

Al Jazeera : ⁤Le conflit actuel à Gaza a-t-il‌ conduit à des pics d’islamophobie ?

John​ Esposito : Oui,⁤ le‍ gouvernement de ⁢Netanyahu légitime ⁢cette guerre totale à ⁤Gaza en comparant simplement Hamas⁤ à l’EI​ [Etat Islamique], ce qui n’est pas le cas.⁤ En agissant ainsi,⁣ Israël alimente l’islamophobie, en⁤ nourrissant‌ l’idée selon⁢ laquelle il s’agit d’une guerre contre une organisation “terroriste”​ musulmane, et non contre ⁣des personnes ​palestiniennes.

L’EI​ était un mouvement transnational dont la vision et la mission étaient de créer un califat au Moyen-Orient, alors que les racines et les problèmes de Hamas font partie ‌intégrante de‌ l’histoire des Palestiniens. Cela remonte à l’expulsion ⁣violente de 750 000⁢ Palestiniens et à la destruction de ​500 ⁣villages palestiniens,​ de leur société, de leur culture et ⁢de leurs droits politiques. Le ​résultat a été‌ le Nakba, la catastrophe. Comment les gens du monde entier peuvent-ils comprendre ce que beaucoup de⁤ Palestiniens ⁢appellent aujourd’hui le Second Nakba s’ils n’en ont aucune connaissance ?

L’incapacité de la communauté internationale à‍ répondre et à s’opposer à l’absorption⁤ continue par Israël de territoires palestiniens qui a‍ créé un pays d’apartheid‌ doit être reconnue et ⁤rectifiée.

Al Jazeera⁤ : Y a-t-il des moyens d’arrêter l’escalade de l’islamophobie ?

John ‍Esposito ⁤: Il faut une ⁣meilleure éducation, non seulement dans nos écoles et nos universités et ​nos ⁣séminaires, mais aussi de nos⁤ dirigeants politiques, de nos décideurs. Il est‌ important d’être suffisamment bien informé pour pouvoir distinguer entre les enseignements de⁤ l’islam et les musulmans⁤ de la majorité ​et les actions de la‌ minorité fondamentaliste militante, comme Al-Qaïda et l’EI.

Il​ y a des ​gens très bien éduqués – je parle de ⁤professionnels qui sont médecins, dentistes, avocats, ⁢etc. – mais⁣ leur compréhension de l’islam est limitée à ce qu’ils ont vu​ à la télévision.

Mais des conversations sont en cours et la ⁣compréhension évolue. Les gens sont maintenant attentifs. De plus, ⁤les​ programmes et le dialogue inter-religieux augmentent ‌aujourd’hui une ⁤perspective et⁤ une compréhension multi-religieuses et cela peut conduire à une réduction de la ‍violence, de l’hostilité ‍et des crimes ‍anti-religieux. Bien que l’Internet ait été⁣ une source importante d’islamophobie, il a également été et peut être une source de compréhension, de suivi et de contre-mesures contre l’islamophobie. C’est pourquoi notre centre⁢ à Georgetown a créé‍ The Bridge ⁤Initiative : Protecting Pluralism and Countering Islamophobia.​ Nous suivons et fournissons des informations sur la mondialisation ‍de l’islamophobie tous les‌ jours.

Al ‌Jazeera : L’éducation⁤ suffit-elle ?

John Esposito : C’est un début, mais d’autres changements⁤ doivent inclure ce que disent et comment ils le disent nos dirigeants. Cela compte⁣ énormément. Les gouvernements et les dirigeants politiques​ sont en‌ position de confiance et si ils⁢ font des⁢ déclarations anti-musulmanes, comme nous l’avons vu ‍dans le langage utilisé dans cette guerre par Netanyahu et⁣ ses alliés – ou créent‍ des politiques intérieures et étrangères qui impliquent⁣ que les ‌musulmans sont l’ennemi, ⁢comme⁣ nous l’avons ⁣vu à‌ travers l’Europe en France, en Autriche,‍ en​ Allemagne et aux États-Unis – alors cela ne⁢ fera ⁣qu’attiser les flammes de⁤ l’islamophobie.

Dans le cas de la guerre ​actuelle à Gaza, il est⁢ impératif​ de se souvenir que ‍«ceux qui ne se souviennent⁤ pas ⁤de l’histoire sont condamnés à la ‍répéter». C’est ce que ⁤nous voyons maintenant.

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