A friend of mine recently told me a story about how her husband once asked her if, during her time as a student in London, she had ever suffered Islamophobia. Yes, she said, she did experience Islamophobia a few times, especially when seeing a Muslim woman with a niqab (full face veil) or a Muslim man with a beard on the London Underground. “No,” he answered, laughing, “I meant you. Did you ever experience Islamophobia toward you as a Muslim?”
My friend repeated the story on her Facebook page in light of the debates going on around Islamophobia in the West in the wake of the recent Paris attacks. Of course, it took the form of our usual humor and self-ridicule as Muslims and Arabs, but it also pointed to the heightened atmosphere of fear and suspicion directed towards us in the West—to the extent that we have even begun to doubt ourselves and at times become even more right-wing than the European far right when it comes to condemnation and over-generalizations.
It is true that through her joke my friend sought to highlight that state of schizophrenia we sometimes experience as Muslims living in the West, but I also feel the story brings us to another phenomenon: there are currently children of immigrants in the West who have totally outdone their indigenous counterparts in spreading feelings of hatred and enmity toward Muslims and Arabs.
When it comes to hatred, of course, no one can scale the dizzy heights which the US channel Fox News is able to reach. This right-wing channel had a clear agenda, almost a fully-fledged media campaign, when it came time to apportion the blame for the Paris attacks: the channel promptly held the world’s entire 1.5 billion Muslims responsible. The mantle was then taken up by the channel’s owner, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, on Twitter, where he basically repeated the same sentiment.
You’d be forgiven if you thought this represented the apex of the hatred Fox News has toward Muslims. But the news channel was recently outdone by one of its very own anchors, now one of the rising stars in the Islamophobia league tables. Jeanine Pirro, a former judge and prosecutor, lapped up considerable headline space and column inches last week when at the end of a long anti-Muslim rant on her show—which basically repeated Murdoch and the channel’s sentiments about Muslim responsibility for the Paris attacks—she shouted repeatedly to her audience that the West needed to “kill them all—the radical Muslim terrorists hell-bent on killing us” in order to be free of the threat of terrorism.
But what is truly amazing about this incident is that Jeanine Pirro is herself of Arab origin, being the daughter of immigrants who came to the United States from Lebanon. A few strokes of the keyboard on Google will even allow you to find photographs of her at events honoring Americans of Lebanese origin (with the idea here being that she represents an “American dream”-style success story from the tiny Levantine country).
But Pirro is not alone. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana who repeated a claim made on Fox that there were “no-go zones” for non-Muslims in some British cities—and whom the British press promptly lampooned afterwards—is of Indian origin.
Both Pirro and Jindal, respectively the children of Lebanese and Indian immigrants to the United States, have clearly mastered the art of hateful, chauvinistic rhetoric toward Muslims in particular and immigrants in general. Of course they are not alone here, but the fact that the two Americans who made these comments actually know better than most of their fellow citizens what it is like to be an immigrant in a new land should be something we pause to consider.
The first response to both Pirro and Jindal’s comments came from within the West itself. British Prime Minister David Cameron ridiculed the assertion made by Jindal about some British cities, describing a Fox News pundit who had stated them as “a complete idiot.” As for Fox News itself, it now awaits a lawsuit from none other than the city of Paris, whose mayor announced this week would sue the channel for making similar claims about no-go zones in the French capital. All this has made Fox News and the heavily polarized right-wing position it takes a laughing stock.
Pirro hasn’t escaped the ire either. She too faced heavy criticism and ridicule following her comments, especially after a video of her making them quickly went viral worldwide, spawning along with it, as is usually the case on the Internet, a series of humorous responses, not least among them a video made by the famous British actor and comedian Russell Brand, now one of many strong messages and stances against those spreading Islamophobia in the West today. And despite their recent tragedy the French also made fun of the comments about these supposed no-go zones in Paris. One comedian did a live skit about a Frenchman strolling unwittingly into one of these areas. The man, who is looking for a place to eat, eventually walks up to a restaurant to read the menu posted outside the door . . . only to flee in panic when he sees the words “Kebab” and “Couscous” written on it.