There have been numerous instances of communal clashes in India in recent times. Among the far-right Hindus of India, Islamophobia is rampant. For some this hatred is so acute that had it been possible they would have perhaps killed Muslims in droves or driven them out of the country. However, those among the Hindus who are progressive free-thinkers can always be found standing in solidarity with the minorities, just like in other countries as well. Yet, even in countries which are known worldwide for their humanity and their adherence to principles of human rights, like Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the numbers of the Islamophobic, anti-immigrant neo-Nazis are steadily rising. These days such groups call public meetings in order to burn the Quran. An Islamophobic far-right politician like Denmark’s Rasmus Paludan has earned much of his ‘fame’ from his ant-Muslim activities. He used to upload his Quran-burning videos on YouTube, once even wrapping pork in the pages before setting them on fire. In 2017 he founded a far-right political party called ‘Stram Kurs’ (Hard Line) whose members are known to harbour immense hatred against Muslim immigrants living in Northern Europe. In the last Danish general election the party was on the ballot with Paludan promising that if he won he would drive out three lakh Muslim immigrants from Denmark and prohibit the practice of Islam there. It’s not as if everyone in Denmark supports Paludan, he has even been to jail a couple of times for his Islamophobic content on social media. This racist man even wished to visit Malmö in Sweden to attend a far-right anti-Muslim event where they were going to burn the Quran but he was ultimately not allowed entry into Sweden. In fact it was even declared that he would not be allowed into Sweden for the next two years. Paludan had been invited by the racist Swedish artist Dan Park who has similarly risen in rank among the far-right for his anti-immigrant rhetoric. In response, Paludan’s supporters and members of Stram Kurs took to the streets of Malmö in protest, poured petrol on copies of the Quran and set them on fire. When the videos of these acts were uploaded on social media, nearly 300 Muslims of the city came out in protest amidst chants of Allah-hu-Akbar, pelted stones at the police and set car tires aflame. The smoke had turned the skies of Malmö black.
Why this Islamophobia in the countries most renowned for their human rights?
In 2013-2014 Sweden granted asylum to nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees. Not just shelter, they were allowed to become permanent residents. Then again in 2015 they granted refuge to nearly 1,62000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was perhaps this that led to the rise in popularity of far-right political outfits in Sweden. Sweden Democrats, the right-wing political party that is the third largest in Sweden, is an exponent of Neo-Nazism. Sweden was the world’s leading Welfare State. Since the Second World War the Swedish government has provided child-care, education, healthcare and unemployment benefits to every citizen. Now this Welfare State is on the verge of crumbling and the right-wing believes that the sole reason behind this are the immigrants. That immigrants enjoy state benefits without engaging meaningful employment, that immigrants are always ready to exploit the benefits of a Welfare State, that for many immigrants it’s impossible to get jobs due to lack of necessary educational qualifications or skills. Thus the blame of the weakening of the Welfare State, run on the taxes paid by Swedish citizens, is being placed squarely on the immigrants. In 2018 unemployment rates jumped from 3.8% to 15%. It’s due to reasons such as these that racism and aggressive nationalism has grown in popularity in almost all European nations.
After Malmö in Sweden, fires erupted in the Norwegian capital of Oslo as well. The far-right factions there organised demonstrations, followed by counter-protests organised by the local Muslims. It resulted in communal clashes in even such a peace-loving little nation such as Norway. The reasons why Islamophobia is on the rise in countries like Sweden and Denmark are also behind the comparable situation in Norway. In these countries Muslims comprise the largest percentage of immigrants. Consequently, racism and anti-immigration is synonymous with Islamophobia. How can this Islamophobia be curbed? Those who had brunt the Quran were arrested, the racists who tried to use hate campaigns to incite riots were also taken into custody. These people spend some time in prison and then get released invariably. People can be imprisoned but the hatred in them can hardly be put behind bars. Hatred spreads, like wildfire from one place to another. I certainly don’t believe hatred can be ended by incarceration and levying penalties. Millions of Muslims are living in non-Islamic countries across the world today. Those who are terrorists are being branded as such. But those who have nothing to do with terrorism, who are not religious fundamentalists, who don’t believe in violence, the simple everyday folk who identify as Muslims, why should they have to bear the brunt of this hatred just because a few Muslims have committed acts of terror across the world? Must all Muslims be held responsible for the crimes committed by a few! In the countries of the west where Muslims have sought refuge or reached as immigrants, anti-Muslims sentiments are on the rise among the non-Muslim population of these countries as well. One must devise ways to combat this.
Living with hate isn’t good for anyone, be it a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Hate is debilitating for the mind as well as the body. It’s undeniable that many Muslims actually wish to live in developed and civilised non-Muslim countries rather than in their own because in the former they can enjoy more human rights, more humanity, more freedom of speech, free and improved opportunities of education, better healthcare and various other benefits. It’s for these reasons that Muslims will continue to emigrate from Muslim nations to countries like Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. There’s no point denying this reality.
At one time the racist Christians of Europe held deep hatred regarding the minority Jews living in their countries. This anti-Semitism reached its zenith with Germany’s Hitler and his Nazis. Nearly six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Racist Christians no longer hate Jews just as much. Despite Jewish roots tied to the Middle East they are nowadays largely considered European. Jews too are no longer hostile towards Christians, their hatred has shifted towards Muslims. Jews were originally a rather small community from the Middle East that had spread all across Europe. Jews have been subject to racism, they have faced the unimaginable horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they have died in the gas chambers, and yet they have remained indomitable, they have not demanded revenge or resorted to terrorism, when the Nazis were defeated the Jews did not rise up in vengeance and drag them to gas chambers to die. Instead they studied and got educated, they became the very best doctors, engineers, scientists, philosophers, film-makers and litterateurs. Today the Jews rank highest when it comes the number of Nobel Prize winners among them and comprise a majority of skilled personnel in almost any field. Who can hate them?
Muslims too must seek education. If they continue to foster lack of education, if they insist on denying the equal rights of all genders, if they continue to disregard freedom of speech, democracy, secularism, science and evolution, if they continue to be hostile towards non-Muslims and insist on adhering to 1400 year old laws, then it’s only hatred and not respect that they will receive. Muslims must become modern. Living among non-Muslims while simultaneously nurturing hatred for their faith and culture, engaging only in vengeance and discord, this cannot be a happy way to survive. Rather they must earn the respect of non-Muslims, they must become civilised, educated and cognizant individuals. Religious sentiments cannot be so fragile, they must be recast in steel. Just as there won’t be riots anywhere if a Bible was to be burned, the same must be ensured in case of the Quran. Christians were horrifying barbarians too once upon a time. They would slaughter anyone who expressed even the slightest of doubts regarding the existence of God. They have themselves evolved from such barbaric times. Truth be told faith cannot be found in a book, it exists within. Tolerance, generosity, humanity are the true tenets of faith. These are the qualities that we must learn to nurture.