One of the most insidious forms of falsely-fomented fear is Islamophobia.1
Islamophobia is social anxiety caused by mostly distant events and voices. While 9/11 was a traumatic event for Americans and people worldwide, most of us have never had any personal involvement with any violence done in the name of Islam. But we are hard-wired for fear – for our ancestors, the snap of a twig might be danger from a rival clan or a predator. Fear that was good is now exploited. Politicians benefit by whipping up false fears and then put themselves forward as the savior. There has been a long list of these false threats – communists, Japanese, African Americans, hippies – all have been used to foment fear. Have you heard some of this lately?
In the case of Islamophobia, we have fear mongers on both sides. Not just from some politicians, but from radical extremists who purport to be acting as Muslims – they fuel their causes with Islamophobia. They exploit our fear of death with their propaganda to get otherwise sensible people to abandon reason and compassion. But most importantly, they need you to fear them in order to justify their violence.
Jihadists can only justify their actions within a Qur’anic context IF we are aggressors – if they are defenders. A restrained response – less aggressive – blunts their argument, so they have more and more resorted to extreme acts and extreme rhetoric to justify their actions. Islamophobia makes it easier for them to “sell” their brand of violence. Otherwise, they have to take advantage of people who are ignorant of the Qur’an, or are hungry for belonging, or hungry for “liberation” from whatever oppression they experience, or somehow tricked into thinking they are engaging in jihad instead of irjaf.
If we see past the whipped-up false fears, if we can open our hearts to love, there is a path out of fear. The antidote to fear is love. We must respond lovingly. We must see that there is a bit of every other human in all of us, that we are all children of God, or stardust or whatever, we are all in this together.