The Florida-based Pastor Terry Jones gained international attention when he planned to burn a Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2010. His outlandish promotion of the proposed act resulted in violent scenes across the Middle East. Pastor Jones recently wished to outdo himself, when attempting to transport 2,998 copies of the Quran to a nearby park for a public burning. His sole aim was to awaken a subtle and underlying Islamophobic sentiment in the US.

It is easy to demonise US-based figures such as Pastor Jones and Pamela Geller (the co- founder of the pressure group SIOA ‘Stop Islamization of America’). Demonising such figures allows members of the British public to gain a temporary sense of respite. The activity of such Islamophobic characters in arguably the world’s oldest functional democracy puts us at ease; it suggests that our involuntary exposure to the bigotry of groups like the EDL is not exclusive.

Awareness of such individuals and groups from across the Atlantic can serve a further purpose. Indeed, as is the case in other areas of social and political debate, the British population can adopt the role of the passive assistant; that of  the dental nurse. Globalisation and universalism constantly carry positive connotations. However, the former is by no means a process which fails to result in by-products such as Islamophobia. The nation-state must consequently correct the very process which has resulted in its decline.

Claims that Islamophobia is on the rise in the US parallel similar observations in the UK.  CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations) has recently noted that in 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments “designed to vilify Islamic religious practices” were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states, including Michigan, and Congress.’ [1]It also states that ‘During that period, 51 “anti-mosque acts” were recorded’.[2]

These acts alone could be based on a poll conducted by BBC Radio 1’s flagship news programme ‘Newsbeat’. Of the 1,000 young people surveyed 28% said Britain ‘would be better off with fewer Muslims’, while 44% said Muslims ‘did not share the same values as the rest of the population’ . [3]

The fact that the ‘Newsbeat’ poll found that Islamophobia (if not in its complete guise) has increased amongst young people is a particularly startling discovery. Given the stereotypical perception of young people as more liberally minded, and  governmental gestures such as the ‘go home’ illegal immigration van campaign,  Islamophobia  appears to be a  cross-generational phenomenon. It is a global trend that is creeping, pervasive and in the sub-conscious.

This characterisation of Islamophobia as cross-generational can apply to its experience in the US. Isolated yet recurring incidents such as that of 20-year-old Hani Khan point to this reality. Khan, a then stockroom worker for Abercrombie and Fitch (whose target market is described as those between the ages of 18 and 22), claimed she was ‘illegally fired’ [4]after ‘refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf while on the job’. [5] Leading fashion retailers, such as Abercrombie and Fitch, are thus failing to fuse multicultural practises and traditions with its monolithic image of young people.

In fact, Khan captured (albeit indirectly) Britain’s relationship with Islamophobia, when she was quoted as saying ‘Growing up in this country where the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, I felt let down’. [6] If freedom of religion is an enshrined yet faltering principle in the US, what hope do Muslims in the rest of the western world have of upholding their personal religious beliefs? This doubt is reinforced by the recent attempt by Birmingham Metropolitan College to ban the wearing of ‘religious veils’ for ‘security reasons’[7]

A fine balance has to be struck between maintaining public security on the one hand, and the right to religious freedom on the other. What a debate of this nature should not turn into is a rehashing of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis.

Unfortunately, it is without doubt that horrific attacks such as  the Kenyan Westgate Mall Massacre will only intensify and heighten the terms of debate. The attempt to prevent this apparent inevitability has to start locally and nationally; in British towns and cities. It has to reject the false global perception of terrorism as a product of a single and standardised religion.

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