Turkey leads new initiative to track Islamophobia worldwide

Published 07.04.2016 01:50
Updated 07.04.2016 08:14

Turkey to establish a new Islamophobia Research Center with headquarters in both Europe and the U.S. to maximize its efficiency in the fight against Islamophobia

Recent terror attacks in Europe and the Middle East have propelled numerous Western scholars to debate the basic concepts of Islam, thereby questioning the legitimacy of a religion followed by millions of people around the globe. A recent editorial by Charlie Hebdo, a Paris-based satirical magazine that was the target of a terrible terrorist attack in January 2015, reveals the bigotry of some European elite toward Islam and Muslims who live peaceful, ordinary lives.

The article "How did we end up here?" featured fabricated members of the community, including a veiled woman devoted to her family and a bearded Muslim baker who is liked by his customers despite the fact he doesn't serve ham or bacon sandwiches. It then had the audacity to represent them as perpetrators and put them in the same category as the Brussels bombers. Both the airport and metro attacks were possible, the article went on to claim, because members of the general public are reticent to create controversy, or risk being called an Islamophobe by criticizing the fictional veiled woman or the baker. There is no point, I know, for the Hebdo editors to mention that the attackers of both the magazine and the Brussels airport and metro were European nationals who felt alienated by their own societies. There's no reason why Hebdo should mention that the post-colonial European heritage feeds widespread racism against Muslims in France and Belgium, and is the cause of massive economic hardship and sustains a disintegrating society for young Muslims.

There's no way even the DAESH suicide bombers in Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia could convince Charlie Hebdo editors that terror is more about political and social problems than about the religion itself.

This article singlehandedly proves more than ever that there is a need for a worldwide campaign against Islamophobia. Even the new world is not immune to this hatred, as Republican support for Donald Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States gains momentum.

However, there is hope. At the official opening of the Diyanet Center of America in Washington this past weekend, the head of Turkey's Presidency of Religious Affairs Mehmet Görmez, brought some good news. At the ceremony opening the largest Islamic complex in the country, Görmez, a talented, soft-spoken Muslim theologian, said that the establishment of a new Islamophobia Research Center with headquarters in both Europe and the United States has begun.

Religious Affairs counselors in Turkish Embassies around the world will gather information on Islamophobic attacks, collect media articles and record human rights groups' accounts in their respective countries and forward them to the two headquarters. This could lead to a game-changing probe into this issue as well as improve the quality of the Islamophobia debate. If it works well, it could even lead to legal amendments, or at a minimum, raise basic awareness for the need to educate societies and decision makers worldwide. Turkish-Americans living in Washington are willing to establish an Inter-Civilization Platform under the auspices of the Diyanet Center where Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy can work together to counter both xenophobia and Islamophobia. The platform would also aim to create dialogue to promote positive interactions between people of different religions, including theological debates.

In the past, these kinds of activities were left in the hands of the secretive and politically controversial cult led by Pennsylvania-based leader Imam Fethullah Gulen. Gulen abused the use of such dialogue to promote his goal of establishing a supreme religious command despite the fact he has been dubbed a "moderate Muslim scholar" in the media, thus legitimizing his covert acts.

Though clashes in front of the Brookings Institute between some journalists and protesters and President Tayyip Erdoğan's security detail cast a shadow on his visit to Washington last week, it's important to remember that he is the anchor for both the Inter-Civilization Platform and the Islamophobia Research Center. Like any world leader, Erdoğan has shortcomings, but, perhaps compared to others, his merits have been the most underestimated.

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