The recent publication of anti-Islam cartoons in Europe had negative impact, not much on Islam as a world religion still attracting truth seekers every day but on Muslims specially on Muslim minorities.
To live as a minority in any country, at any time in history, poses many challenges; to live as a Muslim minority today in a Western country poses even more challenges.
I believe that contemporary Muslim youth living in Western nations, including Canada, are facing a long list of challenges that directly threaten their future well-being.
What makes the situation of these young people even more dangerous is the fact that, unlike their immigrant parents, they have no other country to turn to if the going gets tough.
Why is this so? The answer lies in how the West has responded to the dramatic tragedies of terrorist attacks in the nearly half-decade following September 11, 2001. Many nations have chosen to discard their traditional values respecting human rights, religious tolerance and political pluralism.
Last year, for example, a leading British university banned students from wearing Islamic headscarves and hooded tops. Imperial College London arbitrarily ruled that "hoodies" and "veils" which obscure the face pose a threat in the wake of the London July bombings. Furthermore, all students at the university — which has a large Muslim population — have been told they must carry photo identity cards and be subject to security checks to ensure that their faces match their pictures.
The Imperial College code stipulates: "Clothing that obscures an individual’s face is not allowed on any of the college’s campuses. Staff and students should refrain from wearing clothing which obscures the face, such as a full or half veil, or hooded tops or scarves worn across the face."
The code was introduced following a government order that all universities must clamp down on "student extremists" after the July terror attacks.
British media reported (without mentioning a source) that Imperial College had been named in a study as one of 31 universities that had allegedly harbored terrorists. The study also said "the institution provided a base for extreme Islamic organizations."
Many groups in the West who hate Islam and Muslims consider such measures not only justified, but as too little, too late. One can’t help wondering, however, if these groups are advocating for the common good or advancing their own selfish agendas?
Two main streams can be identified here — those who hate Islam and Muslims for political reasons, including strong pro-Israel supporters; and those who hate Islam and Muslims for religious reasons, including conservative Christian missionary organizations focused on the business of converting Muslims.
In this highly charged atmosphere, can security be achieved without compromising minority human rights? …and without treating minorities as guilty-by-association? Fortunately, the answer is a definite Yes to both questions, but only if there is enough political will behind it. A multi-dimensional solution is not only desirable, but a must, in order to achieve social peace for everyone.
Last December, racial violence erupted in Sydney, Australia. Police there said white supremacists and neo-Nazis were among those involved. There were calls by local residents to beat-up the "Lebs and Wogs" — racial slurs for people of Lebanese and Middle Eastern origin. In the mainly Muslim suburb of Lakemba, Muslim youth blocked roads near the local mosque, believing an attack was imminent. As a result, more than 30 people were injured and 16 arrested in some of the worst racial violence in Australian history.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard condemned the violence and called for ethnic tolerance. But he dismissed any suggestion that his government’s recent warnings about the possibility of attacks by "home-grown Muslim [terrorists]" had fuelled the rampage.
"It is impossible to know how individuals react, but everything this government’s said about home-grown terrorism has been totally justified," he asserted, in an apparent reference to the arrests of 18 Muslim men a month earlier on terrorism charges.
But that is not the way to solve these problems; all it does is further exacerbate the increasing trends of racial profiling, religious intolerance, Islamaphobia, and social unrest. Meanwhile, groups within Australia’s Western-modeled society who should be speaking up for the common good and for achieving security with rights, have kept a thundering silence.
The outcome is that Australian Muslim youth are paying a high price for the combined evils of prejudice and apathy; they are paying economically, socially, psychologically and spiritually. These challenges are overwhelming and can only be faced with the help of fair-minded people in every Western country where Muslims are a minority.
I am optimistic that there are plenty of these fair-minded people waiting to emerge and stand up for the good of the whole human family — if only Western Muslims would reach out to them.