World, Middle East

Israel’s Gaza war pushing Islamophobia ‘out of control’ worldwide: Experts

World facing worst waves of Islamophobia since Donald Trump’s call for Muslim entry ban, Corey Saylor of Council on American-Islamic Relations tells Anadolu

Leila Nezirevic  | 08.01.2024 - Update : 15.01.2024
Israel’s Gaza war pushing Islamophobia ‘out of control’ worldwide: Experts Hundreds of people gathered at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, United States on October 16, 2023 for the funeral of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy Wadea Al-Fayoume


Six-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times at his home in Illinois, US by his landlord, who was screaming anti-Muslim slurs as he brutally attacked the boy. 

Just moments before, the assailant, 71-year-old Joseph M. Czuba, told the boy’s mother, Hanaan Shahin, who was also stabbed and critically injured, that he was angry at her for what was going on in Israel, according to court documents.

Investigators concluded that Czuba targeted the boy and his mother because they were Muslim and as a response to Israel’s ongoing war on the Gaza Strip.

Currently, the primary driving factor for Islamophobia is “the genocide that’s going on in Gaza,” Corey Saylor, research and advocacy director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Anadolu.

Here in the US, there is a wave of hate against people who are supporting “Palestinians’ right to live, support their right to not have an occupation and not live under apartheid,” he said.

However, a fact that cannot be ignored is that Islamophobia is “baked into Western society, generally,” he said.

“Islamophobia is actually, unfortunately, quite strong worldwide at this point,” said Saylor, terming it “out of control.”

He said the world is facing the worst waves of Islamophobia since December 2015, when Donald Trump, then a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, called for a total and complete ban on Muslims entering the US.

CAIR received 2,171 Islamophobia-related requests or complaints of bias in the first 57 days after Israel started its war on Gaza, according to Saylor, who said the figure represents almost 50% of the total cases the organization had in 2022.

In the US, cars have been used as weapons against protesters in multiple locations, and there have been people firing guns into the air or pointing them at people who are “supporting Palestinian humanity,” said Saylor.

On top of these “bias incidents,” students have been targeted in very personal ways, he said, citing the case of digital trucks driving around Harvard University with images and names of students who have supported Palestine.

There are cases of Islamophobia at workplaces too, as those who attend protests against Israel are regularly reported to human resources by anonymous people, he said.

“So, it’s been a very difficult last couple of months for Muslims in the United States,” added Saylor.

- Islamophobia has ‘gone global’

“For quite a few years, and in an unnoticed kind of way, it used to be that we thought about Islamophobia as growing out of the Iranian Revolution, then the impact of 9/11, which usually then was equated with Islamophobia existing in the US and Europe,” according to John Esposito, a professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University.

“But the fact is that, today, it’s gone global.”

The root of Islamophobia goes back to the establishment of the state of Israel, and the 1948 mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians, according to Esposito.

A real play here is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet has religious far-right figures, people who really believe that “Israel is their land and that Palestinians don’t belong there at all,” he said.

He said the devastation of Gaza and its people raises questions in terms of not only what the Israelis are doing, but also about the response of the international community, in particular the US.

Anyone who looks at the definition of apartheid can see that Israel is an “apartheid state,” he said.

In fact, if you compare it to South Africa, “it’s of an even larger magnitude,” said Esposito, who is also founding director of the Alwaleed Centre for Muslim Christian Understanding and director of The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The boycott of Palestine by the international community, specifically the US, led to the creation of the Israeli “apartheid state and surge in hatred against Muslims,” he added.

The US has always tended to privilege Israel over the Palestinians, which has contributed to the rise in Islamophobia, according to Esposito.

The international community must become far more robust in its response to the brutal Israeli brutal military campaign, he asserted.

- Media fueling Islamophobia

Saylor pointed to the media’s role in spreading disinformation about the events of Oct. 7, citing examples such as the reports of babies being beheaded, which turned out to be false.

For several years, many media outlets have allowed anti-Muslim stereotypes to foster on their platform, he said.

When you look at coverage of Muslims, “it’s generally very negative” and very focused on giving voice to people who say horrible things about Islam and Muslims,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate because it leads to real-world attacks on real-world human beings, who are now suffering because of what’s going on in the Middle East,” said Saylor.

While Israel has used anti-Arab and Islamophobic stereotypes to push its narrative for decades, the US government is also pushing such narratives, he said.

This was evident when President Joe Biden himself used an “anti-Arab stereotype,” when he said that Palestinian numbers regarding the death toll in Gaza cannot be trusted, even though his own government had been using those figures, said Saylor.

On another occasion, Brian Mast, a member of the House of Representatives from Florida, said there are no Palestinian civilians, which essentially translates into unconditional support for what many scholars are calling genocide, said Saylor.

“Some people interpret that as permission to go out and target Arabs, Muslims, and other people who are supporting Palestinian humanity,” he added.

In other words, if the primary driver of this wave of Islamophobia in the US and elsewhere is the violence in the Middle East, then world governments are also giving “a wink and a nod to the Israeli government to continue with what scholars are calling genocide in Gaza,” he said.

It also contributes to Arabs, Muslims, and other people who are speaking up on behalf of Palestinian humanity to be treated as suspects, said Saylor.

This wave of Islamophobia in the US and the tension it has created will be a factor as we head toward “what is expected to be a really messy presidential election,” he said.

“Given that the current punching bags tend to be Arabs and Muslims, unfortunately, we can also expect that we'll see more of that (in the run-up to the elections),” he said.

Saylor, however, also pointed out that the coalition that is opposing Israel’s Gaza war includes people of the Jewish faith, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Asian Americans and the Black community.

“So, anybody who saying this is about an ethnic group against another ethnic group or religion against a religion is essentially misleading people,” he said.

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