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Post Column: Islamophobia stems from fear of outsiders

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, just 58 percent of Americans would vote for a Muslim presidential candidate nominated by their political party. By contrast, 94 percent of respondents said they would vote for their party’s candidate if that candidate were Catholic.

Whether you care to admit it or not, there is more prejudice against Muslims today than there was before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But throughout history, the West’s fear of Islam has been fed by xenophobia — the fear of foreigners. From the Crusades to the modern French government banning “religious symbols” (like head scarves) in public schools, Europeans and North Americans were and certainly still are afraid of losing their culture and religion to Muslim influence.

A much older example of this began 560 years ago this week — on April 2, 1453 — when a young Turkish sultan, Mehmed II, began an invasion of Constantinople.

A year earlier, Mehmed had built a citadel on the European side of Constantinople. Meanwhile, he assured the Christians that he wouldn’t invade the city, causing many Christians to continue to have confidence in their possessions.

Nevertheless he invaded, and the Turkish siege was a success. Many Europeans thought Constantinople should return to Western hands. Some of this zeal was a remnant of the spirit of the Crusades, but the Renaissance humanism movement believed there was much to be learned from Constantinople’s cultural heritage.

Today, the West harbors many of the same sentiments. While the United States has a population that is less than 1 percent Muslim, Islam is much more prominent in Europe.

For example, Geert Wilders leads a major Dutch political party with a platform that includes banning the Quran and taxing head scarves. Swiss mosques can no longer have minarets, and with shrinking birthrates among natives, Europe’s otherwise tolerant population feels threatened by the largely working-class immigrant populations.

On both continents, we tend to treat Islam as a monolith. If anything, it links a diverse group of otherwise-differing cultures. After all, the most populous country with a Muslim majority isn’t even in the Middle East — it’s Indonesia.

So in a time when same-sex marriage is in the headlines, we all need to remember that every perspective is valid. I’m not saying that marriage equality needs to be ignored; I’m saying that in order to be truly tolerant human beings, we must realize that religion is just as poor a reason to discriminate as sexual orientation is.

You’re either religious or non-religious. It’s not too different than being gay, straight, bisexual or transgender. Although sexual orientation is determined in much a different manner than a person’s faith (which is largely impacted by upbringing), neither factor is likely to change. We might as well learn to see past the differences.

Moriah Krawec is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. How can people help prevent religious discrimination? Email Moriah at mk141811@ohiou.edu.

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