21 years ago in July 1995, Serbian forces captured Srebrenica, a Bosnian town crowded with refugees of the Bosnian War designated as a ‘safe area’ by the international community, and proceeded to execute over 8000 ethnic Muslim Bosniaks. In the subsequent two decades, the Srebrenica massacre has become a contentious point of reason by different groups for political gains. With the rise of hate crimes as a response to Brexit, the growth of right-wing populist parties in Austria, France and Poland, and the intensification of terror attacks in Europe, the rationalization of the populist Islamaphobia within Europe sounds eerily familiar to that for the Srebrenica massacre.
Islamophobia had been surging in Serbia ever since 1987, when Slobodan Milosevic rose to power within Yugoslavia on the back of escalating Serb nationalism. In contrast of the ethnic identity control which banned any ethnic identity from becoming dominant in order to prevent a homogenous national identity control during the 27-year reign of President Josip Tito, Milosevic amplified the Serb nationalist sentiment. This Serb ethnic nationalism grew out of the increased ethnic tensions within the country and a growing internal resistance against non-ethnic Serbs within the republic. He rallied and amplified the nationalist views of the disenfranchised Serbians ‘lost in their own home’, who called these Muslim refugees and immigrants a threat to their identity and security.
Change the nouns of the above paragraph and it does not sound too different from today. Donald Trump has become the presumptive United States Republican Presidential nominee after invigorating the anti-establishment, ‘patriotic’ populist response to the ever globalized world. The main demographic of Trump supporters are the disenfranchised Americans who feel that their home is no longer theirs, pushing for a conservation of their identity and the increased movement of immigrants is a security threat. Those who voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum, were on average, older, less educated and made less than those who voted remain. Some are, by definition, the ‘disenfranchised of the globalized world’. Much of the more extremist rhetoric in both the UK and the United States used immigration as the pivot point, arguing that Muslim refugees from the Middle East are incompatible with Western life. The far right feeds this divide because it is perceived as a threat to the western identity and the security threat posed violent extremism.
This is simply not true. Like in Srebrenica where Muslims were targeted based purely on their religion, Muslims around the world are being marginalized for their belief and the actions of a select few who have perverted Islam for their own political gain. The Islamic faith is an individual, personal relationship with God and that can be interpreted in so many different ways, which must be emphasised and celebrated. For leading Islamic theologians, the current dominant interpretation of Islam has lost all its beauty, disconnected from its intellectual heritage and split from ethics. They emphasise the need to promote a pluralistic Islam, for instance through counter extremism campaigns like the muslim-led #MyIslam. By promoting the different voices within Islam, these campaigns help offer guidance and understanding, which will make people see for themselves that Islam is compatible with their identity. Islam as a religion is not a security threat, but the perversion of Islam by extremists, or Islamists, for political gains is. Evidently, 21 years on from Screbenica, as islamophobia seems ever more embedded in our societies and extremist Islamist narratives are staining the name of god left right and center, we need more than ever a pluralistic Islam to destroy extremist interpretations and refute claims that Islam is incompatible with western identity. The Quilliam led #MyIslam campaign is a good place to start.
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