In February 2008, the Swedish journalist Andreas Malm wrote a series of three articles for Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s most respected daily newspapers, on the subject of Islamophobia. He was warning his readers of its dangers and was lamenting that it had been shown to be on the rise. Owing to the reaction to the articles being of a rather vociferous nature, Dagens Nyheter published a remarkable seventeen counter articles with television, radio and other media outlets jumping on the bandwagon. Whilst some of the participants of the debate agreed with Malm, most of them felt quite the opposite and the comments from the critics were incredulous – according to them, Islamophobia doesn’t exist and is a term thrown around to silence legitimate criticisms of Islam. Malm, however, reacted to this media storm by writing a rather insightful book entitled ‘Hatet mot muslimer’ (Hate against Muslims).
In his book, Andreas Malm discusses the rise of Islamophobia in Europe by documenting research detailing that Muslims are discriminated against on the job market, that they are often on the receiving end of hate crimes and furthermore, there seems to be a rising negative attitude of a large number amongst Europeans toward Islam and Muslims. Additionally, Malm informs his readers that significantly, such an attitude seems to have infected the political class in Europe. In 2007, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported that following a meeting in Paris, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy complained to the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt that there were too many Muslims in Europe. Suffice to say, Reinfeldt criticised Sarkozy for his complaint.
A couple of months after the publication of Malm’s articles, I made my annual summer family trip to Bosnia where our stay coincided with the anniversary of the Muslim genocide in Srebrenica on the 11th of July. On this day and the following two days of 1995, some 8000 Muslims were massacred by Serb forces aided by Russian and Greek volunteer fighters in a UN safe area that was supposed to be protected by Dutch peacekeepers. The footage showing the peacekeepers having drinks with Mladić just before they handed the Muslim population to him is shown every year on Bosnian television around the time of the anniversary, along with recordings of Serb politicians delivering the speeches that paved the way for the slaughter.
There was something eerily familiar about those speeches. Karadžić, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, spoke of how it was impossible to peacefully co-exist with Muslims, whilst General Mladić warned of the increasing Muslim population of Europe (much like Sarkozy’s complaint to the Swedish Prime Minister). He projected that Europeans would one day voice their gratitude to the Serbian soldiers for their efforts in reducing the number of Muslims on the continent. Indeed, the people who were killed on that fateful 11th of July might be able to provide an answer to those who question the true notion of Islamophobia. On a personal note, my father was placed in an internment camp reserved for Muslims, where he had to perform slave labour in between rounds of torture – this is what Islamophobic rhetoric can lead to.
Whilst Sweden has proven to be a safe haven for many Bosnian Muslims from the genocide taking place on their soil, the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden and other European countries is something that makes Bosnian Muslims, including myself, particularly uncomfortable as it creates a sense of deja-vu. This is another issue that Malm addresses in his book as he discusses the provocative anti-Muslim campaign advert by a political party which, according to recent polls, is the third largest in Sweden.
I cannot help but question what the reaction would have been had the political party in question chosen to depict Jews in this fashion. This is, of course, an obvious thought experiment to conduct. However, the fascinating thing about many of the intellectuals and media commentators who deny the existence of Islamophobia, or at least try to downplay it, is that they acknowledge anti- Semitism and rightly condemn it, yet they cannot see the obvious parallels between these bigotries. The oft-cited argument is that anti-Semitism is different from Islamophobia, in that Jews are a single race, as opposed to Muslims who apparently aren’t. Thus, someone who criticises Jews is being a racist, but a person who maligns Muslims is merely exercising their liberal values. However, as Malm points out in his book, the premise of this line of argument is problematic. Jews aren’t a single race, as is clearly illustrated by the Jews of Ethiopian and South Indian descent.
The problem with having to distinguish criticism of Islam from genuine bigotry isn’t unique to the issue of Islamophobia, as a similar conundrum needs to be tackled with anti-Semitism. However, the fact that it may be hard to discriminate between these things doesn’t mean that Islamophobia or anti-Semitism don’t exist at all. So how do we distinguish between legitimate critique and bigotry against Islam? Someone who fundamentally disagrees with the Islamic shari’ah doesn’t become an Islamophobe, but someone who spreads inaccuracies about it, and makes up stories on how Muslims are planning to enforce it on Europeans in order to conjure hatred is considered one. As Malm points out, the Muslims in the West who want shari’ah haven’t demanded that it rule the country in which they live; rather, they have asked that they be allowed to apply it on themselves, much like English Jews can take certain cases to a beth din – a rabbinical court of judgment. The non-Muslim who feels that English law is superior, simply because shari’ah law is an alien concept isn’t considered an Islamophobe, but the non-Muslim who spreads the falsehood that shari’ah is taking over Europe and that Muslims are actively propagating its implementation on non-Muslims is undoubtedly an Islamophobe. In other words, when deliberate inaccuracies and fearmongering creep into the picture, the fine line between critique and hatred is crossed.
However, let us consider giving the benefit of the doubt. Those who hold a grudge against Islam do so only because they consider Islam to be backward, and they wish to see Muslims adopting secular liberalism. The question that needs to be asked here is this – if the Muslims were to adopt these values in their entirety such that the only thing to distinguish a Muslim would be their ancestry, would this solve the problem of Islamophobia? Judging based on history itself, the answer is that it probably would not. If the Muslims assimilated en masse, there would most certainly be accusations of dissimulation. It would be similar to Catholic Spain, where in spite of the Conversos adopting the beliefs and values of the rest of society, they remained under suspicion and were distrusted owing to their Jewish background and thus ethnic purity became important as a result.
How can I possibly claim to know that this would happen? Because it already has. The Bosnian Muslims assimilated such that they were almost indistinguishable from their Serbian neighbours. Circumcision was sometimes the only way for the Serbian soldiers to identify a Muslim. In spite of this, or because of it, the biologist Biljana Plavšić, who became the president of the Serb Republic in Bosnia, made this ‘Hitler-esque’ statement about Muslims:
“It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation it simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking, which is rooted in their genes. And through the centuries, the genes degraded further.”
 People like Anjem Choudary, who enjoy zero credibility in the Muslim community, are the exception to this rule.
 Shatzmiller, Maya (2002). Islam and Bosnia: Conflict Resolution and Foreign Policy in Multi-Ethnic States. McGill-Queen’s University Press. p. 58.