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Maher Arar Headshot

Freedom of Speech or Islamophobia?

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When Mohamed, the prophet of Islam, was depicted in a caricature as promoting violence, Muslims around the world reacted with anger and outrage. Western media invoked freedom of speech to justify the printing of this degrading caricature.

Pastor Terry Jones has called on his followers to make 9/11 the "International Burn A Koran Day". Muslims are already expressing anger at this initiative. Will western media invoke freedom of speech again to justify this hate-promoting initiative?

Since 9/11, Islamophobia, i.e. the prejudice against Islam or Muslims, has been on the rise. What are the roots of this alarming phenomenon? Well I think there are many of them but it all boils down to ignorance.

What has been adding fuel to the fire is the almost daily front-page headlines where terms such as "Islamic Terrorism" and "Islamic Fundamentalism" have been used to describe terrorist activities undertaken by some Muslims. Whether it is done out of ignorance or hatred the use of these terms has left the average reader with the twisted notion that Islam promotes violence and orders its followers to use it against innocent civilians. It is true that some Muslims misinterpret some of the verses in the Koran which refer to "fighting the enemy". Nevertheless we have to remember that they are only a tiny minority.

We can't judge all Muslims based on the actions of few. If we were to accept this simplistic way of thinking we would have to admit that Muslims have the right to accuse all Americans of being murderers for the crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan against innocent civilians, not to mention the illegal invasion of these Muslim countries. Whether the U.S. army deliberately or not targeted civilians is irrelevant for the families of the victims and for the general Muslim population.

If you are still not convinced that Islamophobia is on the rise you should only read about the recent controversy surrounding the construction of a Muslim community center near New York's Ground Zero. The main argument goes like this: how can we, Americans, allow a mosque to be built near Ground Zero, a place that was attacked by Muslim terrorists. Even Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, weighed in on the issue by asking peaceful Muslims to "refudiate" (warning: you will not find this word in any English dictionary) the construction of the "mosque". Has the Land of the Free become less tolerant than Lebanon where a Synagogue was allowed to be rebuilt in Beirut's Ground Zero, a city that was heavily bombarded by Israel, the US closest ally in the region?

Unfortunately, this new trend of Islamophobia is becoming mainstream. It is fostering an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Worst of all it is nurturing extremism on both sides of the spectrum. The Muslim world can also perceive this as part of a bigger war on Islam. Let us instead try to foster an environment of mutual respect and mutual understanding where we respect each other regardless of our religious affiliations.

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