A phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. It may be hard for the afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists. In recent years, a specific phobia has gripped Western societies – Islamophobia.
Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source:
An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.
Islamophobia existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade. The Runnymede Trust in the U.K., for example, identified eight components of Islamophobia in a 1997 report, and then produced a follow-up report in 2004 after 9/11 and the initial years of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The second report found the aftermath of the terrorist attacks had made life more difficult for British Muslims.
In a 2011 meeting, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, as well as the League of Arab States, a key partner, identified Islamophobia as an important area of concern. Gallup developed a specific set of analyses, based on measurement of public opinions of majority and minority groups in multiple countries, to guide policymakers in their efforts to address the global issue of Islamophobia.
Research shows that the U.S. identified more than 160 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators in the decade since 9/11, just a percentage of the thousands of acts of violence that occur in the United States each year. It is from this overall collection of violence that “an efficient system of government prosecution and media coverage brings Muslim-American terrorism suspects to national attention, creating the impression – perhaps unintentionally – that Muslim-American terrorism is more prevalent than it really is.” Never mind that since 9/11, the Muslim-American community has helped security and law enforcement officials prevent nearly two of every five al Qaeda terrorist plots threatening the United States and that tips from the Muslim-American community are the largest single source of initial information to authorities about these few plots.
Islamophobia affects more than a small fringe group of Muslims. Through various research vehicles and global polling efforts, Gallup has collected a wealth of data detailing public opinion about various aspects of respect, treatment, and tolerance relative to Muslims worldwide. This brief serves as a snapshot of opinion and thought displayed by people from multiple countries, regions, and communities – findings that chronicle perceptions associated with Islamophobia globally.
Respect and Fair Treatment
Globally, many Muslims report not feeling respected by those in the West. Significant percentages of several Western countries share this sentiment, saying that the West does not respect Muslim societies. Specifically, 52% of Americans and 48% of Canadians say the West does not respect Muslim societies. Smaller percentages of Italian, French, German, and British respondents agree.