chapter  2
22 Pages

West encountering Islam: Islamophobia reconsidered

An anxiety of our times: ‘Islam’ versus the ‘West’ No subject in contemporary public discussion has attracted more confused discussion than that of relations between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’. Whether it be the discussion of relations between Muslim states and non-Muslim countries, or that of relations between non-Muslims and Muslims within Western countries, the tendency has on both sides been, with some exceptions, towards alarmism and simplification. Alarmism has concerned the ‘threat’ which, from one side, ‘Ilam’ poses to the non-Muslim world, and on the other, which the ‘West’ poses to Muslims. Non-Muslim simplification involves many obvious issues: terrorism - as if most Muslims are terrorists or most terrorists are Muslims; the degree of aggressiveness found in the Muslim world and the responsibility of Muslims for this; the unwillingness of Muslims to allow for diversity, debate and respect for human rights. It is not only the sensationalist media, but also writers with an eye to current anxieties of the reading public, such as V. S. Naipaul and Samuel Huntington, who reinforce such misrepresentation. Muslim simplification is itself two-sided: on the one hand, a stereotyping of the ‘West’, on the other the assertion of a unitary identity for all Mulims, and of a unitary interpretation of text and culture.