While it has a contested etymology, the term “Islamophobia” gained popular usage following the landmark 1997 report Islamophobia: a challenge for us all by the Runnymede Trust.
As is so often the case there remains no consensual definition for the term. (Though, it sometimes feels as though ‘Islamophobia’ is held to a higher definitional standard, with those who decry its use – usually claiming it is not a phobia – rarely raising similar concerns over the use of terms such as ‘homophobia’.)
In 2005, the Council of Europe offered the following definition of Islamophobia:
“[Islamophobia is the] fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights”.
It is worth adding a section of the 2016 definition offered by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA): “Islamophobia operates by constructing a static ‘Muslim’ identity, which is attributed in negative terms and generalized for all Muslims.”
While everyone included in this report has engaged in Islamophobia of one type or another not every group or person is a ‘counter-jihadist’. Counter-jihadism is a specific type of anti-Muslim prejudice.
Counter-jihadism is a broad alliance of organisations and individuals which believe that Western civilisation is under attack from Islam. Some are more extreme than others but all generally agree that Islam is a supremacist religion and many see little difference between violent jihadists and ordinary Muslims who live their lives peacefully.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with opposing jihadism or even criticising Islam, the term ‘counter-jihadist’ is one coined by anti-Muslim activists and describes a specific type of conspiratorial anti-Muslim prejudice.
Most counter-jihadists believe that secular, liberal society is aiding Islam through mass immigration into Europe and policies of multiculturalism, which they believe squash any criticism of Islam. This conspiratorial notion of conscious and planned invasion is one of the key ideas that marks counter-jihadism out from more general anti-Muslim sentiment.
Often activists articulate cultural nationalist ideas that spurn the narrow nationalism of the traditional far right in favour of continent-wide, or more specifically occident-wide, brotherhood.
A mythical, usually Christian, Western culture and identity is said to be facing extinction at the hands of Islamic invasion. It is for this reason that counter-jihadists have often adopted imagery associated with the Crusades. Counter-jihad street demonstrations, such as those organised by the English Defence League (EDL) in the UK, have often been replete with cross-emblazoned shields and images of armour-clad knights.
The white supremacist Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, quoted from St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s In Praise of the New Knighthood in Latin in his infamous manifesto, A European Declaration of Independence. The idea of a civilisational clash between the Christian West and the Muslim East is also the reason that one of the most important counter-jihad blogs, Gates of Vienna, takes its name from the 1529 Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent.
Broadly speaking, counter-jihadists believe there is a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. While ideas around the nature, inevitability and desirability of this clash vary greatly among activists many see some sort of conflict as inevitable, with a few, including some of the most prominent counter-jihad bloggers and activists, believing that this is both necessary and desirable. At its most extreme fringes, some argue that it will only be through civil war that new leaders will emerge and do what is required – expel Muslims from Europe and the West.