Peace Means Renouncing Islamophobia


The principles of non-violence are little known and desperately needed. Here’s a simple take-away lesson. One major characteristic of violence, verbal as well as physical, is that it tends to escalate.  It is most easily reversed at the beginning and becomes progressively more difficult to stop as it spirals into more intense violence. Those who study the effects of intervention in violent situations have found that when others object or actively intervene, their efforts tend to slow or stop the violence.  Dr. Ervin Staub, who survived under Nazi rule, reports in The Roots of Evil, that the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Nazis in Germany began their campaigns of genocide with small persecutions which citizens allowed to continue.  He reports that action by “bystanders” (those who are not victim or perpetrator) empowers the victim and diminishes the power of the aggressor. But ignoring the suffering of others allows the violence to escalate.

We’ve seen this principle in action more recently. Hate talk spread unchecked across all forms of media played a major part in creating the horrific ethnic violence in Serbia, in Rwanda, and in the Congo. Yes, there were reasoned objections but they weren’t loud enough or frequent enough to turn the tide.

Hate talk and repressive policies put into place sounds familiar. Today Muslim headscarves are banned in France, the construction of minarets are banned in Switzerland, Muslim travelers are profiled, and pundits advance the cause of prejudice unchecked. And now, the recent horrific acts of violence by Anders Breivik, an anti-Muslim terrorist.

How do we, the bystanders, intervene?

Be informed. Get your news from widely acclaimed Al Jazeera. Read Islamophobia by Chris Hedges and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan.

Step beyond a limiting cultural framework. If you have no Muslim friends, seek to make them in your community.

Take action when newscasters and pundits utter anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact the network with your objections. Also let the sponsors of the show know you’ll boycott their products if these violations continue.

Take action when politicians use anti-Islamic rhetoric. Contact them to explain you’ll be voting them out of office.

Actively object if you hear anti-Islamic rhetoric in a personal conversation. Silence is generally taken for agreement.

Actively object if you witness prejudice against any Muslim person. This means intervening in your school or workplace as well as in public. Here are some tactics for non-violent intervention.

What other ways can we de-escalate Islamophobia?

8 thoughts on “Peace Means Renouncing Islamophobia

  1. Great post! I converted to Islam when I was 21 and immediately I felt like enemy nr 1. I had extra checks on airports, once security didn’t want to let me through unless I took off my scarf, and people looked suspiciously at me wherever I went. It felt so surreal: before no-one paid attention to me, now everyone does. But even before I knew anything about islam, I didn’t like any anti-Islamic comments. The problem is that in our society racism is so insidious, and not only against muslims, but here in UK also against African or Asian people, anyone who is different. And I never fell for the thetoric of ‘terrorist threat’. There is always threat where people want to see it: in Jews, blacks or any other group. And socially-condoned violence: war in Iraq, Afghanistan, racist attacks in Europe etc, go on unquestioned.


    • Your comment about insidious racism against those who are different reminds me of a point I forgot to mention about the bystander effect. I’ve noticed it’s most powerful when the intervening bystander is someone similar to the oppressor (gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc). That way the oppressor, whether a bully or a government, is more likely (perhaps unconsciously) to identify and agree with that bystander. On the other hand, when a bystander (person or group) similar to the oppressed intervenes, sometimes that very intervention is used as an excuse for further oppression. That doesn’t mean any of us shouldn’t intervene. It means that those of us who are not oppressed have that many more reasons to do so.

      A question for you Marta. If I were standing next to you while you were being treated with suspicion or worse, what would you want me to do?


  2. I had 6 Muslim women in one class a few years back, and learned from them about Ramadan. I decided to fast with them because of the oppression Muslims are going through. I did it for 3 years, but stopped after that because I wasn’t able to tell enough people about it to make it feel worthwhile, and I felt very isolated.

    During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. (This month moves each year, since it’s based on a lunar calendar.) Ramadan actually starts soon; this year it begins on August 1st. Maybe some of your readers would be interested in doing a mini-fast, not eating during daylight for just the first week of Ramadan. (I think it would be too hard for me this year. I’ll be at camp, and then traveling.)

    The first year I did Ramadan, I remember many students being very impressed. It’s a powerful statement of solidarity.

    I’m glad I just looked it up. Now I’ll know to expect any Muslim students to be quieter than usual for the first two weeks of class (we start on August 15).


  3. Amen! Such a timely post. How much different our world would be if we looked upon one another with kindness. Let it begin with me.


  4. I try to be a “black hole” for the many bigoted “forwards” that I receive in my e-mails. I never forward these. Use your “delete” key !


  5. Pingback: Peace Means Renouncing Islamophobia |

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