The term ‘Islamophobia’ is defined by the Runnymede Trust in 1997 as being an ‘unfounded hostility towards Islam’. There are some issues with this term. Specific emphasis on religion, race or individual phobias can cloud a precise a definition. However, arguably it is an invaluable term to use in discussing the current stance of the Islamic faith in the public eye.
There have been many significant historical events over the centuries that mark changes in attitude towards Islam and the Muslim people. These range from Christian crusades in the medieval Middle East, to 21st century acts of terrorism by extremist groups. The most famous of these events was the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City back in 2001, which changed public perceptions of Islam from ‘alien’ to ‘enemy’ in a matter of hours. This increased open hostility and violence towards Muslim communities, even if they did not support Al Qaeda’s actions toward the Western world.
Labelling all Muslims as a threat to national security based upon the actions of a small extremist minority is completely preposterous. It is as irrational as dubbing all Christians homophobic, racist and backward due to the actions of the extreme Westborough Baptist Church in America.
Often overlooked are the effects of Islamophobia on Muslims in the UK. Islamophobia is detrimental to their economic, social and equal advancement. Constantly stereotyped, homogenised and discriminated against, British Muslims have become a waste within the economy and are more likely to be unemployed than their white British counterpart. In fact, 35 per cent of Muslim households have no adult in employment – double the national average. This exclusion from socio-economic improvement based upon their religious grouping is something that needs to change but cannot do so until the attitudes of the media and, consequently, the general public change too.
With regards to the prevention of Islamophobia, I personally believe that there are only two ways it can be achieved. Firstly, education is vital to make the strange into the familiar. Fear of the unknown creates negative responses in society and slows much needed integration. If more was done to get the public educated about the simple facts of Islam, then I believe this fear will be replaced with understanding. Secondly, the media needs to change its tack on the portrayal of Islam. Placing all Muslims under one stereotype is harmful to those who are far removed from acts of terrorism and wish to engage with their neighbours, communities and the culture around them.