It is not easy being a Muslim in the West today. The year 2014, which roughly corresponds to 1436 in the Islamic calendar, will go down as an especially difficult time. Two sets of political developments have contributed to this state of affairs: the rise and expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the crushing of the Arab Spring revolutions.
The rise of ISIS has unleashed a tidal wave of Islamophobia not seen since 11 September 2001. The seizure of large parts of Iraq and Syria by this notorious militant movement, replete with the beheadings of foreign hostages, the enslavement and rape of women from minority communities, the mass execution of prisoners – all in the name of Islam, and with the apparent approbation of tens of thousands of Muslims who have flocked to the Middle East to help build a new Caliphate – has reinforced the worst Western stereotypes and prejudices about Islam and Muslims. The anti-Muslims floodgates have burst open. This time, however, the intellectual attacks are not only coming from the traditional centres of Islamophobia on the political right, but anti-Muslim bigotry has gone mainstream and is now being parroted by prominent voices on the liberal left. The one event that best captures this phenomenon was the recent debate between the comedian Bill Maher and the actor Ben Affleck.
Bill Maher has a long history of Muslim bigotry. On a previous episode of his widely watched show, Real Time with Bill Maher, he expressed alarm that the most popular name for babies in Britain was Muhammad. ‘Am I a racist to feel alarmed by that?’ Maher asked. ‘Because I am [alarmed]. And it’s not because of the race, it’s because of the religion. I don’t have to apologise, do I, for not wanting the Western world to be taken over by Islam in 300 years?’