In recent years, Islamophobia has been spreading across the world, stretching from eastern countries like China to western countries such as Europe and the United States. In China, the government has been detaining more than a million Muslims since 2017. They are held in what the government calls “re-education” camps. A large portion of this group consists of the Uyghurs, an ethnic group mainly from China’s northwestern region called Xinjiang. Chinese authorities initially denied these camps’ presence until later when they described them as vocational training and re-education initiatives aimed at reducing poverty and counter-terrorism threats.
According to satellite images obtained by the Australian Strategic Policy institute, 380 of these detention centers ranged from low-security re-education camps to reinforced prisons. Despite this, Chinese officials continue to argue that the camps fulfill two purposes: to teach Mandarin and Chinese law and work skills while actively working to prevent extremist ideas, thereby stopping terrorist activities.
The Chinese government substantiates these claims with the fact that Xinjiang has not experienced a terrorist attack since December 2016, a fact that they attribute heavily to the camps for preventing violence. Despite these numerous claims by officials to assuage the calls for these camps to be closed, they refuse to allow journalists, human rights groups or diplomats independent access to the camps and visitors to the regions where camps are located face heavy surveillance. While China continues what many has called a cultural genocide, it is essential to hold their government officials accountable for the numerous individuals held captive. Still, we must also remember that this is not an isolated case but rather a growing concern as the rest of the world implements and grows in Islamophobic ideals.
In the United States, Islamophobia is nothing new, with a rapid incline after the tragic 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre. In a recent survey performed by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 62 per cent of Muslims within the U.S. and 68 per cent of Muslim women experienced some form of religious discrimination in 2019. The Pew Research Center also released a poll revealing 82 per cent of U.S. adults believed and agreed that Muslims within the country were subjected to at least some form of prejudice. This statistic is an overwhelming amount of individuals and does not even take into account the 56 per cent of people who believed that Muslims faced a high amount of discrimination within the country. This is not a phenomenon isolated to only the United States within North America; however as Statistics Canada discovered that hate crimes against those of the Islamic faith grew by 253 per cent from 2012 to 2015 in Canada.
There is a long and detailed history of policies within the Canadian sphere that promotes Islamophobia and limits the right of specifically Muslim women to freely and openly take part in their religion, a significant violation of the Canadian Rights and Freedoms. One of the most prominent cases that continue to be debated to this day is Quebec’s Bill 94, which banned the niqab from public and civic spaces, which only contributed to the insane amount of Islamophobia that continues to rise in Quebec. It is essential to note the contribution media has on this noticeable rise. When reporting on domestic terrorism within countries, there is a visible difference in the approach the media takes when the suspect is Islamic. When someone commits domestic terrorism, not of the Islamic faith, it does not receive the same amount of attention as one that is.
In June, the Constitutional Court of Belgium ruled that banning religious symbols, including hijabs, in higher education establishments does not violate the freedom of religion or right to education. This is a slap in the face to Muslim women who wear the hijab and niqab, especially when one considers the background of universities and higher education in general. The first university in the world was founded in 895 CE in what is now known as Morocco by Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya or as she is more commonly known as Fatima al-Fihri. Fatima was a proud Muslim woman who founded the university of Al Qarawiynn, which still to this day remains the oldest operational education institution. Despite the numerous protests that have been and continue to happen in Belgium protesting the new ruling by the Constitutional Court of Belgium, there has been minimal media attention given to these protesters, especially from some of the biggest worldwide news stations.
Belgium is far from the only country within Europe that is facing problems of Islamophobia. A prominent country that has arisen in recent years concerning religious discrimination issues in France has the largest population of Muslims in Western Europe. France is a staunch secularist country that it claims is a state of neutrality in religion areas, supporting neither the absence nor existence of religion, also emphasizing a strong separation of religion and the state as a whole. However, it is important to understand that the legal definition of secularism within France calls for the neutrality of the state and not enforced neutrality on individuals and this is where the reality strays from the perceived ideal. In 2004, France banned the wearing of any conspicuous religious symbols or clothing, a law which while applying to all religions specifically affected Muslim communities in a much more prominent way.
Islamophobia is an issue that we cannot simply attribute to one country alone or one section of the world. This is a prominent problem being faced by Muslims of all races, gender, cultural backgrounds and free of territorial claim, it is a worldwide problem that can never truly be solved without addressing the differing discriminations being faced by Muslims all around the world. We need to dismantle the discriminatory stereotype that is often pushed by world leaders due to terrorism and extremist groups who account for a very small percentage of the Islam community and who often twist and distort the ideals and pillars of the religion.
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