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Two Trolls Feeding Each Other: The Baleful Relationship between Islamophobia and ‘Jihadism’

0 Comments 🕔11.Aug 2015

This article is part of our feature Je Suis Musulman: European Muslims after Charlie Hebdo.

Young Muslims protest terror attack on Mumbai. Photo credit: Anuradha Sengupta


by Fernando Bravo López, translated by Caroline Haslett

Ahmed Merabet, Mostapha Ourrad, Imad Ibn Ziaten, Shahara Islam, Atique Sharifi, Ihab Slimane, Sanaa ben Salah Imadaquan, Mohamed Itaiben, Mohamed Salman, and Nasima Hameed Simjee. All of these people were either Muslim or from Muslim families, and all of them were killed in Paris, London, Madrid, and New York. Jihadi terrorism has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Muslims to date, and many more are killed each day in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. Those fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria are Muslims. Those fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are Muslims. Muslims confront and die at the hands of jihadi terrorism every day. In 2011, a report by the United States National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) estimated that “in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 percent of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years. Muslim majority countries bore the greatest number of attacks involving 10 or more deaths.” Most of the victims, therefore, were Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Somalis, and Nigerians.[1]

Little seems to have changed since 2011. But despite this, despite the overwhelmingly clear nature of this reality, many Europeans and Americans continue to interpret jihadi acts of terrorism through the prism of ‘Islam versus the West.’ They continue to argue that jihadi terrorism is no more than the ‘most authentic’ manifestation of Islam, that Islam is a ‘religion of terror’ and that Muslims are ‘our enemies,’ that ‘they hate us’ and ‘want to do away with us’: in short, that Muslims are a threat that non-Muslims must defend themselves against at all costs.

And so it is that, in addition to seeing their children, grandchildren, and friends killed in such a despicable manner, the families of Ahmed Merabet, Mohamed Itaiben, Imad Ibn Ziaten, and the thousands of Muslims killed by jihadi terrorism must listen to those who were supposedly meant to help and support them in their struggle and accompany them through their suffering, insult them and their religion instead. Every day they hear and read their religion described as something evil, as a threat to the rest of the world, and that they, the Muslims – indeed, all Muslims, as followers of this ‘vile and ruthless religion’ – must be kept under surveillance, controlled, rejected, and fought. To add insult to injury, the abuse heaped by some Westerners on the victims and their families is portrayed as ‘criticism,’ ‘defense of freedom’ and ‘defense of the West.’

Yet, alienating these people, who shoulder so much of the burden in the fight against jihadi terrorism, is neither just nor wise. Nonetheless, Europe’s most vocal Islamophobes continue to suggest that such individuals are no different from their executioners – that they are just as dangerous. In 2003, Oriana Fallaci, the well-known Italian journalist, put it this way:

As I write in my book, when I call bin Laden the tip of the iceberg and I define the iceberg as a mountain that has not moved for 1,400 years, that for 1,400 years has not changed, that has not emerged from its blindness, freedom and democracy are totally unrelated to the ideological texture of Islam. To the tyranny of theocratic states. So their people refuse them, and even more they want to erase ours.[2]

According to Fallaci, Bin Laden is the “tip of the iceberg,” and the real problem is the unchanging iceberg – that is, Islam itself, or Muslims in their entirety.

Others, meanwhile, claim that if Muslims are not terrorists, if they are peaceful or moderate, then they are “bad Muslims” because they are not familiar with “Islam’s actual teachings on how to deal with unbelievers.”[3] If they were familiar with these teachings, if they were ‘true believers,’ they would be terrorists. The message being conveyed to Muslims all over the world is that if they want to be true believers, they should support terrorism. The terrorists do not say otherwise.

Amazingly, these are the messages being sent out by Western Islamophobes. They are evidently writing for and speaking to a Western audience. They are not trying to address Muslims. But many Muslims – especially those in the West – nonetheless hear what they are saying and read what they are writing, and so receive this message loud and clear. Most of them respond by refuting it: the Islam of the terrorists is not ‘true Islam,’ But others hear the message, see what jihadi preachers say confirmed by Westerners themselves, assume their role as ‘enemies of the West,’ and become ‘good Muslims’ by joining a jihadi group. In other words, Western Islamophobes are doing jihadi terrorism a huge favor.[4]

One of the main aims of jihadi terrorism is to make more Muslims accept its ideology, especially the idea of the ‘West versus Islam’ conflict. Sadly, acting as they do, many Europeans and Americans appear to be bent on proving these jihadi groups right and helping them achieve this aim, since they are beating the same drum. By spreading the notion of an existential conflict between Islam and the West, they are behaving exactly as the terrorists want them to. The greater the number of Westerners who accept this notion and express hatred of Islam and Muslims, the greater the number of Muslims who will find themselves drawn to jihadi arguments. And the greater the number of Muslims who accept jihadi arguments, the greater the number of Westerners who accept the ideas touted by Islamophobes. And so it is that the vicious circle of hatred appears to be bringing us irrevocably closer to the prophesied clash of civilizations, leading us into a conflict with unforeseeable, but doubtless intolerable, consequences.

It is vital to break this vicious circle, and to do so it is necessary to vindicate the role of the ‘traitor.’

In both Islamophobia and jihadism, the ‘traitor’ takes pride of place in the discourse of a Western world besieged by the danger of Islamization and an Islam besieged by the danger of Westernization. Anyone who disagrees with their postulates is a traitor, a threat to the achievement of the desired goal, namely the defeat of evil and the final liberation of the ‘true believers.’ If jihadi terrorism mainly attacks Muslims, it is hardly surprising that Islamophobia devotes as much energy to attacking ‘Western traitors’ – Islamophiles – as to attacking Islam and Muslims. Indeed, the Islamist-leftist conspiracy theory is a recurring subject in today’s Islamophobic discourse. Again, it should come as no surprise that the most important terrorist attack with fatalities perpetrated on Islamophobic grounds did not target Muslims but rather members of the Norwegian Labour Party, branded by the terrorist Anders Breivik as traitors, people who would bring about the ‘Islamization’ of Europe.[5]


“Ils ont volé ma religion” –  “They have stolen my religion.” Rally in Strasbourg, January 2015. Photo credit: Ji-Elle


Islamophobia, then, builds on a narrative that is very similar to the narrative constructed by jihadism – which is in fact common to all forms of ethnic or religious radicalism. Decadence, betrayal, struggle, and redemption are at the heart of this narrative, ultimately bringing us back to the sin-punishment-redemption model of the Bible. As far as Islamophobes are concerned, ‘we’ have sinned. Seduced by anti-Christian and anti-Western intellectuals and philosophers – liberals and leftists – we have abandoned our real values and our real identity, hence the degenerate and decadent state in which we live. A terrible punishment has befallen us as a result: Islamization, which occupies the same place in the Islamophobic narrative as Judaization in the anti-Semitic narrative.[6]

Thus, proponents of Islamophobia portray Europe and the West as teetering on the edge of the abyss, threatened with death by the enemy. The Islamophobic narrative kicks off with an unquestioned axiom, a premise not always expressed but one that gives direction to the entire discourse: Islam is ‘our vital enemy.’ According to this narrative, Islam is not only a mistaken, absurd, irrational, and immoral doctrine, but that it is also anti-Christian, anti-European, and anti-Western. They must therefore eradicate the unbelievers, either through conversion – by force if necessary – by reducing them to slavery, or by killing them. The logical conclusion of the Islamophobic discourse, then, is that as long as Muslims are Muslims, they are a threat, and the more loyal they are to their religion, the more dangerous they are. Moreover, to ensure that our societies are fully aware of this reality, we must combat those who question and repudiate it and who, furthermore, propagate another vision altogether. These traitors, these Islamophiles who endorse Islamization, they too must be fought.[7]

Broadly speaking, the jihadi narrative is identical. The only difference is the identity of the aggressor and his victims, and the identity of the traitor. From the jihadi standpoint, it is the West that wants to do away with Islam and appropriate the lands of Islam. It is the West that considers itself destined to dominate the world, that wants Muslims to lose their faith, that wants to Christianize and Westernize them. It is Islam that is teetering on the brink of the abyss, threatened by the danger of Westernization. A great many Muslims are in cahoots with the West in this regard, Muslims who are not really true Muslims but rather apostates and traitors. It is therefore almost just as important to do away with the Muslim traitor as it is to do away with the Western enemy.[8]

Clearly then, both narratives have boundless potential for generating hatred and triggering an unsolvable conflict. For this reason, it is equally important to dismantle both one and the other insofar as they feed on each other.[9] Both regard the other as justifying their raison d’être. Islamophobia sees Islam in jihadi terrorism, Islam as it ‘really is.’ Jihadism sees the West in Islamophobia, the West as it ‘really is.’ The aggressions perpetrated by one side are the evidence used by the other to legitimize itself. Everything else, anything that detracts from this preconceived scheme, is ignored or dumped into the common bag of betrayal. But in reality, these ‘traitors’ – these Muslims who are victims of terrorism, these Muslims who are combating terrorism and jihadi ideology, and these Western victims of Islamophobia, these Westerners combating it – these people should serve as a constant reminder that there is no conflict between the West and Islam; that this conflict only exists in the minds of Islamophobes and jihadis, and that we must do everything in our power to prevent it from materializing.


Fernando Bravo López is an independent researcher, author of In a strange house: Ideological foundations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (in Spanish), Barcelona: Ed. Bellaterra, 2012.


This article is part of our feature Je Suis Musulman: European Muslims after Charlie Hebdo.

[1] “The National Counterterrorism Center Report on Terrorism 2011,” p. 14, available at: <>.

[2] Oriana Fallaci, “The Rage, the Pride and the Doubt,” The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2003, <>.

[3] Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2005), 43–44.

[4] This does not, of course, mean that Islamophobia is the only reason that drives some Muslims toward radicalization and jihadi terrorism.

[5] Authors such as Bat Ye’or, Oriana Fallaci, and others have vigorously defended the theory of the existence of a great conspiracy designed to bring about the Islamization of Europe. On this subject, see Matt Carr, “You Are Now Entering Eurabia,” Race & Class 8, no. 1 (2006): 1–22; and, on its importance in relation to the massacre perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Oslo, see Sindre Bangstad, Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia (London: Zed Books, 2014).

[6] On the concept of Judaization in German anti-Semitism, see Steven E. Aschheim, “The Jew Within: The Myth of ‘Judaization’ in Germany,” in Culture and Catastrophe: German and Jewish Confrontations with National Socialism and Other Crises (New York: New York University Press, 1996): 45–68.

[7] On the construction of the Islamophobic discourse, see Fernando Bravo López, In a Strange House: Ideological Foundations of Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (in Spanish) (Barcelona: Ed. Bellaterra, 2012).

[8] On the jihadi ideology see Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), and Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (London: IB Tauris, 2002).

[9] See Tahir Abbas, “The Symbiotic Relationship between Islamophobia and radicalisation,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 5, no. 3 (2012): 345–58.

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