|After many years of a negative portrayal, bias Against Islam and Muslims is deeply rooted in Western minds and it will be very difficult to eliminate it, Spanish journalist Yusuf Fernandez says.
Fernandez, who is the secretary of the Muslim Federation of Spain and an editor of Al Manar Spanish website, made the remarks last week in an interview with the Tehran Times.
He stated that the neo-fascism and far-right bigotry are increasing throughout Europe as much as fascism and Nazism did in the 1930s and this is one of the reasons why Islamophobia is now rapidly spreading in Europe and has become a major concern for the Muslim minorities in the European countries.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Muslims are subject to prejudice and discrimination in the Western societies, even though they have always contributed to the progress and growth of these societies. As a spokesman of an Islamic organization in a European country, what are your views regarding the rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. and Europe? And how is it possible to confront and eliminate it?
A: The Islamophobia is a real problem in the Western societies, not only for Muslims but for the whole society because it is a hatred phenomenon, which is harmful for all people. Today, many politicians attack Islam and Muslims just to gain votes and in some countries girls are banned to wear headscarves at high schools or work places. Opening a mosque is also becoming more and more difficult in some countries.
Muslims need to work seriously against Islamophobia through media work and in courts although sometimes it is difficult because many Muslim communities lack the resources to do so.
In order to fight against Islamophobia, Muslims should look for allies, especially human right organizations, which are supporting Muslim victims with information campaigns and legal procedures.
Q: What’s your assessment of the Western media’s portrayal of the Muslims? Is it possible to present a realistic image of Islam and the Muslims to the Western citizens and acquaint them with the hidden realities of Islam?
A: Generally speaking, the image of Muslims in Western media is very negative and poor. When Western journalists speak about any issue, they are supposed to know the issue they are writing about. But this rule is broken when they write about Islam. They can then make claims that have nothing to do with the reality of Islam and Muslims. Muslims are presented as fanatics, terrorists or backwards people. Muslim women are presented as ignorant or submissive. These so-called “experts” ignore that Islam gave many rights to the women much before the Western societies did.
I think that the Muslims should invest in media and try to give a correct vision of Islam and Muslims through meetings and conferences but I think that the results of this work will not be immediate. After many years of a negative portrayal, some bias and stereotypes are deeply rooted in Western minds and it will be very difficult to eliminate them. The media work must also be very professional and have high quality. Sometimes, you find Muslim magazines with poor design and even mistakes and this is counterproductive because instead of fighting against the stereotypes, it strengthens them.
Q: Many attempts have been made to create differences between the followers of different Islamic sects. What do you think is the motive behind this propaganda?
A: Today, we can see a bid to create a deep sectarian conflict within the Muslim world. Most media speak about the clashes between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, Allawites and Sunnis in Syria and so on. This is clearly a strategy to weaken and control the Muslim world. The worst thing is that lots of Muslims, including renowned scholars, are falling into this trap. Many Arab media and personalities that supported the Tunisian or Egyptian revolutions are also backing Al Khalifa’s oppressive regime in Bahrain and blame Shias or Iran for the situation there. Don’t the Bahraini people deserve the same rights as Egyptians or Tunisians to be free?
I think this strategy seeks to isolate Iran or the Lebanese resistance from Sunni Muslims and make Muslims forget that their enemy is not the adherents to other schools of the Muslim thought, but Western neo-colonialism, the Zionist regime and those governments in the Muslim world that favor the U.S. and Zionist interests.
I want to add that the main engine of this strategy to divide the Muslim world is extremist Wahhabi groups, which are being sponsored by the Saudi regime to spread hatred against Shia Muslims. In this sense, the Saudi regime is doing the West’s dirty work.
Q: There are extremists in Europe who are staunchly opposed to multiculturalism in the continent and are not afraid of physically removing whoever they deem threatening their ideology for a consolidated Europe free of immigrants and Muslims. The most prominent example was Anders Breivik who massacred 77 people simply because they had voiced support for the people of Palestine in a demonstration. What was your reaction to the Norway 2011 attacks when you first heard about it? Is such an ideology spreading throughout Europe?
A: The neo-fascism and far-right bigotry is spreading throughout Europe as much as Fascism and Nazism did in the 1930s. There are several reasons explaining this phenomenon. Firstly, Europe is going through a very serious economic and social crisis. Instead of analyzing the causes of this crisis, these parties use demagogy to blame immigrants or minorities. It is easier than to blame the real culprits: an unfair economic system that is not working anymore and the heads of banks and corporations whose greed and ineptitude have led Europe to its worst crisis in many decades.
Some people in Europe, who are suffering from this crisis, are receptive to this kind of messages and they become a “granary of votes” for the extremist parties.
The second reason is Islamophobia. These parties are promoting anti-Muslim hatred in order to gain electoral support. Some circles in Europe are using the debate about the European identity to try to present Islam as a foreign religion and denigrate multiculturalism.
However, these parties also have a limited appeal because many people in Europe still remember the awful consequences of the Nazi ideology. When these extremists see that their message is ignored then they can resort to violence as Breivik did in Norway. Actually, Breivik’s massacre served to remind people the threat of this far-right ideology and I think their action meant a severe blow to the adherents to this ideology.
Q: Does Zionism pose a serious threat to the whole Islamic world or is it simply an obstacle to the realization of Palestinian nation’s self-determination and statehood? Why don’t the Arab states in the Middle East take serious steps to tackle the issue of Palestine and put an end to the Israeli occupation and aggression? Why are the Arab leaders so nonchalant and indifferent?
A: Many people forget that the Israeli flag has two blue lines representing the Nile and Eufrates. The original Zionist goal was to control all the land between Iraq and Egypt. It is noteworthy to point out that Zionism was a colonialist project. However, the colonization of Palestine started at a time when the Western colonialism was in decline, so due to this fact and the Arab and Palestinian resistance, Zionists were not able to control the Middle East as they wanted. Now, Israel has a serious problem that they will not able to solve: the Palestinian population both in whole Palestine and in the 1967-occupied territories is growing faster than the Jewish population. Therefore, it will become increasingly difficult for Israel to keep the control over these territories. Although pro-Israeli lobbies in the U.S. and other Western countries control a large part of the political elites and media, they cannot hide the apartheid system that the Zionist regime has developed in the occupied territories and Israel will probably become more isolated in the world.
Most Arab regimes have not been interested in Palestine before and now. Their support for the Palestinian cause is merely rhetorical. This has led to many Arabs to think that their governments should focus on developing their own countries because they are too weak to tackle the issue of Palestine nowadays.
However, I think that both things are compatible. Arab countries can focus on their own challenges but at the same time they can offer their support for Palestinians and the best way to do so is let the Western countries supporting Israel know that they will pay a high political and economic price if they stick to this policy.
Q: What’s your analysis of the role of Iran in unifying the Islamic nations? It seems that Iran is the only Muslim country which has not dissociated from the Islamic values and has always been after solidifying and strengthening the bonds between Muslim countries. What’s your take on that?
A: Iran can help unify the Muslim world. There is no doubt about that. Iran can develop its ties with the countries where pro-Western dictatorships have been recently overthrown. At the same time, Iran needs to look for means to overcome the anti-Shia and anti-Iran propaganda campaign that Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. are carrying out in order to undermine Iran’s links with the Muslim world.
Q: What will the future of Israeli-Palestinian conflict look like? Will Israel move toward annihilation and self-destruction or will it succeed in surviving as a political entity? Will the international community come to the help of Palestinian people or it will get away with their suffering with complicity and connivance?
A: I think that the so-called peace process is dead now. Israel, however, is in an increasingly bad situation. As I said before, the demography is playing against Israel. Palestinians have more children than Israelis and this is an important factor.
Israelis have three choices. The first is unlikely: to let the Palestinians create a state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, this would reduce the amount of land that they control and the demographic problem would still exist because in the 1948-occupied territories, a 20 percent of the population is Arab. The second choice is the status quo: a permanent occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, this is becoming more and more unsustainable due to international rejection and condemnation.
The third choice is to annex the West Bank and East Jerusalem but, apart from the international rejection to such a measure, Israel would become a bi-national state where Palestinians would become a majority soon. Probably, they would like the third solution but creating some isolated Bantustans, formally autonomous or independent, to concentrate the Palestinian population within them but Palestinians would never accept that.
I think that Palestinians do not expect the support of the international community because they know that the latter is greatly influenced by the United States where a large part of the political class is under the control of the pro-Israeli lobby. Palestinians receive support from many organizations and people from all over the world but I think the success of their cause will be a result of their own fight.
Q: And finally, what’s your prediction for the prospect of Iran’s position in the region? Will the United States and its allies, spearheaded by Israel, finally bring Iran to its knees with their sanctions and media propaganda or Iran can affirm its role as a regional superpower in the Middle East regardless of the political and economic pressures of the West?
A: I think that Iran will have to suffer economic problems because of the Israel-sponsored sanctions. Some will be more painful. Others will be less. However, Iran has some advantages. Firstly, Iran has huge oil and gas resources and the world needs more energy. Therefore, any energy embargo is doomed to failure.
Secondly, Iran has a prominent strategic position. Thirdly, Russia and China will not reduce their economic relations with Iran because they know that they are the following ones in Washington’s list. In fact, the sanctions against Iran and the cover war against Syria also seek to weaken Russia and China’s role in the Middle East. China needs resources-rich countries on which it can rely and which will not cut off their supplies to China if the U.S. ask them to do so. Iran is one of the few ones so Beijing should be interested in supporting Iran and its economy.
Moreover, Iranian people love their country and its independence. They are used to sanctions and know to circumvent them.
At the same time, Iran should expand its political and cultural presence in the world in order to counteract hostile actions and propaganda.
However, Iran should avoid taking a rigid position in the nuclear issue. It should coordinate its position with China and Russia and work with them to reach an agreement, which would bring important benefits for everyone, including Iran itself. This agreement would also help Iran obtain more easily a widely-recognized status of regional superpower.