Embracing plurality, dialogue and collaboration can combat Islamophobia: Experts
“We have to accept the diversity our nations, the plurality of the nationalities, the colors, the ethnic groups, political orientations and intellectual orientations…We have to admit and accept them,” Muhammad Muzaffari, from the University of Religions and Denominations in Iran, told the conference.
The three-day conference, titled “Examining the Cultural and Geopolitical Dimensions of Islamophobia in Muslim-majority Countries,” was the fourth such conference hosted by the Istanbul-based Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) which brought together 51 speakers from 12 countries.
Muzaffari stressed that Muslim societies must “start constructive dialogue not only with our brothers but also with seculars.”
“Because if we want to manage our society…we want to open a new horizon for our future, we have to do it through constructive dialogue,” he said, calling Islamophobia in Muslim-majority nations a “challenging task.”
‘Need for political activism to combat Islamophobia’
Calling for a deeper understanding of the problems that Muslim face, Asim Qureshi, research director at the UK-based CAGE Advocacy Group, said “we are not uncritically regurgitating narratives that are in the longer term unhealthy for us…because it is very easy to reach for easy answers.”
Lauding the UN’s declaration of March 15 as the Day to Combat Islamophobia as an “important turning important and first step,” Bayrakli said that while there was “enough literature” available on Islamophobia, “what we have to do now is establish an NGO.”
Bayrakli also called for steps to declare an “Islamophobic country, politician, movie or novel of the year.”
“So that we put pressure…so that there is a price, for being Islamophobic, to pay… at least politically,” he said.
The Turkish academic also urged the need for advocacy work and building alliances while also challenging Islamophobic incidents in courts, which “needs lots of funding.”
Bayrakli said there was a need for funding academic research on Islamophobia at all levels.
“Coming together, working together, learning from each other…as how Islamophobia is operating in different countries,” Qureshi said, calling the conference “very important” to combat Islamophobia, which is a global phenomenon but “has local flavors.”
Call for ‘safer’ tech spaces
Uveys Han, a research fellow at CIGA, said there was a “need for more precision about trying to make sure that states don’t hide behind this kind of language or order to justify the Islamophobic actions.”
Han also stressed focusing on a long-term strategy impacting the psychological elements of colonialism through social media, especially through creating safe spaces for Muslims to have more open conversations
While most of social media messaging “is managed,” Han said it was “no longer a safe space for our youth and ourselves…There is false information.”
“We need to start to look at technological interventions which we are so embedded in and roll out solutions that will allow for, especially the next generation, to be less and less prone to interacting with tech spaces where Islamophobia is normalized,” he said, pressing on the “social and spiritual well-being of Muslims” to combat Islamophobia.
Professor Sami Al-Arian, the director of CIGA, discussed four areas “resulting” in islamophobia in Muslim-majority nations, including “authoritarian regimes, which use Islam for their own purposes; the role of foreigners or colonialists to serve colonial economic or geopolitical interests; secular elites at the intellectual and cultural levels and established structures within Muslim societies such as the court system, media, academia, political class and bureaucracy.”