Like in other Central European states, the migration crisis has dominated the Czech media space since 2015. Unlike any time before, xenophobic and Islamophobic attitudes have left the margins and have literally flooded the Czech public space.
Public figures as well as mainstream media outlets have created and spread a strongly negative image of Islam and Muslims, actively nurtured fear of migrants and prevented a rational debate about the various levels of the crisis. In analyzing the obvious spread of a general phenomenon of Islamophobia, it is important to discern its three components: Islamophobic attitudes, anti-Islamist ideology and the spread of negative stereotypes in the public sphere.
Islamophobic attitudes have been present in the Czech public sphere for more than a decade. Since 2015, three processes took place: previous marginal attitudes became mainstream and they have even been sanctioned by the highest political figures; a deliberate campaigning spread a new, an aggressive form of anti Islamism during the migration crisis and stereotypes became political currency.
THREE ASPECTS OF ISLAMOPHOBIA
Islamophobia covers a wide spectrum of manifestations of prejudices, discrimination and hatred against Muslims. Like anti-semitism, homophobia and antiziganism, Islamophobia is a manifestation of a feeling of superiority over a specific group. It leads to the degradation of this entire group of people based on perceived religious, national or ethnic identity, associated with a certain idea of Islam. The British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination”. The very fear and a criticism of Islam are not Islamophobic per se. Islamophobia arises when a negative attitude to Islam is motivated by hostility towards Islam and by the intention to conquer or “to fight against Islam”. In a historical perspective, Islamophobia is a critical term depicting a deliberate misrepresentation of Islam within the colonial context.
An early usage of the word is to be found in a book written by a French convert to Islam and an Algerian intellectual, both active in the sphere of experts within the context of colonial administration. Their notion of Islamophobia equals a criticism of a long-standing conflictual relationship between Europe and the Muslim Near East, of its colonial supremacist ideology and more particularly of deliberate distortions of the image of Islam by Western academics and Christian missionaries.
The modern concept of Islamophobia designs a negative and condescending perception of Islam not only by colonial state administrations but by the public at large. A criticism of the implication of colonialism into the discourse on Islam was introduced into academic circles by the critical studies of European colonialism and Orientalism in the 1970s by Edward Said. Concomitantly, a Persian version was used as a criticism of Western imperialism by Iranian Shia revolutionaries.
In Western Europe, negative attitudes towards Muslims as such have proliferated in the last 15 years. Migrant workers from Muslim countries began to be perceived under the sole prism of their religious affiliation mainly due to the so-called “war on terror” and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Gradually, the perception of Arab, Turkish and South-Asian minorities shifted from their status of “guest workers” to “permanent migrants” and finally to “Muslims” in the wake of 2001. Moreover, a number of social problems related to the integration of certain groups of migrants (housing, access to labor market etc.) were interpreted as a question about their non-European “culture” and their lack of integration potential as Muslims and not for example just Arabs or Turks.
Muslims generally became the internal “others” in relation to a supposedly homogeneous and original European or Western culture. In the last decade, the attacks in Europe in 2004 in Madrid, in 2007 in London and in 2015 in Paris, the anti-Western ideology and recruitment activities of global jihadism continue to lend to this perception an entire series of arguments.
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