‘Seen as less human’: Why has Islamophobia surged amid Israel’s Gaza war?

Published on 22 Dec 2023

In this piece published by Al Jazeera on December 21, 2023, journalist Indlieb Farazi Saber interviewed Bridge Initiative Director, Dr. John L. Esposito, who talked about Islamophobia in light of Israel’s war in Gaza and how Western media has played a key role in promoting anti-Muslim tropes that result in the dehumanization of billions of Muslims around the globe.

Here, in conversation with Al Jazeera, John L Esposito, author of more than 50 books – including Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (2011) – explains what Islamophobia is, and how Israel’s war on Gaza has led to an explosion in incidents.

Esposito is also a distinguished university professor of Religion and International Affairs, and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, in the US.

Al Jazeera: We have textbook definitions of what Islamophobia is, but what can it look like in daily life?

John Esposito: Islamophobic attacks can be anything from abusive language used against someone who looks visibly Muslim – like a woman wearing a hijab; or it could be more covert, like not hiring a fully qualified professional based on their perceived Muslimness. In the current climate, since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October, there have been growing incidents where people have had their employment terminated for showing their support for a free Palestine.

Islamophobia can of course escalate, in the killing of individuals like the young boy in Illinois, and as we’ve seen it violently play out in attacks on communities and mosques, like the [2019] mosque attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. That’s just one example; there are so many more.

Al Jazeera: You’ve mentioned the media. What role does it play? 

John Esposito: I’d say it’s hugely responsible for the rise in Islamophobia.

The media has always cared about headlines. There’s a famous line that I often quote, “If it bleeds, it leads”, and news organisations’ focusing reporting on “terrorist” attacks has been exploited by far-right political and religious leaders and media commentators who are quick to speak out about Islam and Muslims, without checks or balances.

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