Islamophobia and Christophobia: Just 'nonsense medical conditions'?

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Robert Tilbrook, founder of the English Democrats party, and Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan foundation discuss whether people in the West are right to express some fear of Muslims in particular situations.

In the US, two Muslim women were removed from a plane because a flight attendant didn't like the way they were looking at her, according to witnesses. According to the airline, the women were filming inflight procedures, and were therefore reported to the security officials.

Back in December, a British man was blocked from boarding a flight to Los Angeles, to take his children on a trip to Disneyland. Although, US authorities denied his religion had anything to do with the incident.

RT: What do you think of the way those people had been treated given that they were not found guilty of any wrongdoing? 

Robert Tilbrook: I don’t know about the individual cases. Although, I did hear as far as the last example was concerned where the gentleman’s family was excluded from flying to America. At that time it happened because one his relatives had been accessing some Islamist website, and so some sort of connection there that the American authorities thought… 

RT: None of the women were found guilty of any wrongdoing. The women were taken off the plane by security officials in a very public way. Could such situations be handled better? 

RTb: … I think if any of us came under suspicion on an airplane or any transport situation, it wouldn’t be at all unusual for us to be treated in that kind of way. Until we had cleared ourselves, we would be treated as being under suspicion and perhaps escorted off [the plane]. I think if people were thinking they were up to no good, than I could why the authorities might behave in that kind of way. 

RT: Europe and the US are on high alert after last year's Paris and San Bernardino attacks. Isn't it right that people should be reporting anything they find suspicious? 

MS: None of those individuals who were marched off the plane like criminals and humiliated in front of so many people were found guilty of anything. There may have been suspicion about something, but they were totally innocent. And this is the point. We have a situation now – both in the US, the UK and across Europe - where there is guilt by association. Not a due process, but guilt by association. You read something, or somehow you travel somewhere and you become a legitimate person to be accused of being involved in terrorism. The vast majority of Muslims around the world appall terrorism, we are disgusted by it. But to suggest that just because two innocent women are sitting on a plane filming themselves… that they are somehow ISIS supporters or encouraging terrorism – it is just frankly absurd. 

What the police and the authorities have to go back to is a campaign against terrorism based on evidence, not on prejudice. Far too often we have had these issues come up in the media, and it is blatantly clear that there is no evidence of involvement in terrorism. That damages relations and it damages confidence within the Muslim community. 

RT: Do you agree, Robin, that Muslims are being unfairly labeled as terrorists and there are prejudices against them? 

RTb: The fact of the matter is, although, that it is fair to say that most Muslims are not involved in any of these incidences, the trouble is that there are far too many that are involved. It is not at all unnatural that people have started to get very concerned whenever they see behavior that seems to be slightly suspicious – people react to it. I don’t think it is completely odd… 

MS: That is why I have issue with this: “slight suspicion.” Let’s base it on facts, let’s base it on evidence. One of the things that we did just after September 11 up until recently is to have excellent relationships between the police and the security services and members of the Muslim community. And that was based very much about building confidence, building positive relationship. 

What has happened so recently is that the atmosphere in which we live, the environment of Islamophobia and rising anti-Muslim sentiment. Why there is Donald Trump is doing that in the US; why there are the English Democrats doing it here in England along with the BNP [British National Party] … these far-right groups who perpetuate an environment of Islamophobia and discrimination. We’ve got to reject that division, because in the end terrorists want to divide communities. We must not allow them to succeed. 

RTb: Islamophobia is one of those nonsense terms that people come out with trying to pretend that it is some sort of a medical issue, some sort of phobia… What about ‘Christophobia?’ After all, in large parts of the Muslim world it is the Christians that are being attacked and in many cases murdered…

RT: Mohammed, can you understand the suspicion and sometimes the fear that the people of the UK have towards Muslims, considering the fact that there are a lot of Islamic extremist groups like Islamic State recruiting people now? 

MS: I am absolutely disgusted and terrified by DAESH/ISIS/ISIL. I am disgusted that so many innocent people are being killed. The vast majority of victims of ISIS atrocities are other Muslims that are being killed in Syria; the Christians are being killed, Yazidis are being killed… The problem the English Democrats have, the problem the far-right have is they perpetuate the narrative that somehow Muslims are a problem because of the terrorism. I object to that terrorism. I find that disgusting. I find the Christians who are being killed in the Middle East abhorrent and an affront to my faith of Islam… But that doesn’t matter to the far right because they have this narrative that says ‘Muslims are trying to take over the world, trying to take over Europe and we’ve got to protect our Christian heritage…’  

RT: Is there is a mistake being made by the UK public that they are afraid of the wrong people? According to a lot research done by British intelligence, there is no such thing as a ‘template UK terrorist’ and you can’t identify them by their religion. There was also a comment said that the terrorists come from poor backgrounds. Is there a misconception here? 

RTb: No, they do come from poor backgrounds. After, all, Osama bin Laden was one of the richest men in the world. Many of the leaders of Islamism are extremely well-educated and traveled and well off people. It is not a question of poverty; it is a question of ideology. The trouble is that they are fundamentalist Muslims... I don’t accept this word ‘Islamophobia.’ I think ‘Islamophobia’ is just an attempt to try and create some sort of medicalized view of what people are thinking. When you talk about a ‘phobia’ you are talking about a medical condition. That is not what is going on here at all. People are reacting to the fact that there a lot of Islamists out there causing mayhem.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.