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A New Book By Hichem Karoui


The stigmatisation of Islam and Muslims in the West is a pressing issue that demands our attention. It is disheartening to witness acts such as the Quran burning, which not only disrespect the holy book followed by nearly two billion people but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes about Muslims. The intentional desecration of religious texts fuels hatred and animosity and further alienates Muslim communities, creating a dangerous divide between individuals of different faiths. Additionally, the portrayal and caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in Western media have fuelled this stigmatisation fire. These depictions are often offensive and derogatory, painting an inaccurate picture of a religion that promotes peace and tolerance. Such actions not only insult the deeply held beliefs of Muslims but also contribute to the narrative that Islam is inherently violent or incompatible with Western values. This prejudice against Muslims is unjustified and denies individuals their right to practice their faith without fear of persecution or discrimination.

Another aspect of stigmatisation faced by Muslims in the West revolves around women who choose to wear hijab as an expression of their religious beliefs. The hijab has unfortunately become a symbol of oppression for many who do not understand its significance within Islamic culture. Women who don this traditional headscarf are often labelled submissive or oppressed simply because they choose to exercise their religious freedom. In a Muslim-majority society, this is unimaginable. Such stigmatisation undermines women’s autonomy while disregarding their agency in making personal choices regarding their bodies and identities. Many Muslim-majority nations have expressed their outrage. People can express themselves as long as they do not violate the law. But the problem consists either in the absence of a law punishing the desecration of religious beliefs or its non-enforcement when Islam is involved, which reveals double standards.

Muslims do not seek the impossible but rather justice and tolerance. Western politicians have been able to safeguard Jewish and LGBT people by enacting laws that punish provocateurs. They should be able to respond favourably to their Muslim residents who want to be treated similarly to other minorities. Moreover, there is little doubt that burning the Quran or drawing derogatory depictions of the Prophet Muhammad will incite violence and hate. Those who accept and defend such offences as « free expression » act unethically in the eyes of millions of Muslims worldwide and recently even to the UN Human Rights, which voted for protecting religious beliefs in a famous resolution that unfortunately was rejected by the US and its Western allies.

Western far-right organisations, some of whom have representatives in the US Congress and the EU parliament, use the infamous theories of “Great Replacement” and “Identity Threat” to attack Islam, Muslims, and migrants. Nothing is more deceptive than these lies that propagate Islamophobia and Xenophobia. Social scientists will agree with me that the main characteristics of “Identity threat” include the following, all of which apply to Muslim minorities in the West:

  • Stereotyping: Negative stereotypes about a specific social group can cause members of that group to feel devalued or stigmatised, leading to an identity crisis.
  • Discrimination: Experiencing discrimination based on one’s social identity, such as race, gender, or religion, can lead to identity threat because individuals may believe their group is being treated unfairly or marginalised.
  • Underrepresentation: When a social group is underrepresented in specific contexts, such as the workplace or the media, members of that group may face identity threats as a result of a lack of visibility and acknowledgement of their group’s contributions and value.
  •  Devaluation of group competence: When a social group’s perceived competence is undervalued, members of that group may face identity threats because they believe their group’s abilities and achievements are not being acknowledged or respected.
  • Questioning of group morality:  When a social group’s moral behaviour is questioned, members of that group may feel threatened, even though they are not directly accountable for the group’s activities.

How can Western nations with non-Muslim majorities, hyper-visible, hyper-represented, and hyper-empowered, experience an identity threat? With such deplorable arguments, they are fighting Islam and Muslims from inside the democratic system! The present research contributes to the debate. Instead of engaging in behaviours that generate hostility and division among communities, we aim to take these provocations seriously and promote dialogue, tolerance, interfaith conversation and understanding.

Dr Hichem Karoui



Foreword. 3

Contents. 5

Executive Summary. 6

I- Introducing the Problem: Freedom of Expression or Hate Speech?. 14

II- Historical Perspective. 31

III- Cultural Perspective. 51

IV- Socio-Political Perspective. 69

V- Legal and International Perspective on Incitement to Hatred. 95

VI- Epilogue: Lessons and Recommendations. 125

Bibliography. 144

About the Author. 169

Executive Summary


Chapter I: Introducing the Problem


Mainly Topics

The chapter starts by providing an overview of the study’s contributions and primary purpose. The study examines the ongoing discourse about actions such as the burning of the Quran and comparable acts of provocation in Western societies. Specifically, it explores the question of whether these actions should be classified as “freedom of expression” or as forms of “hate speech” and “incitement to religious hatred.” The potential ramifications of this classification extend to both Western nations and the global Muslim community.


The objective is to ascertain an equilibrium between the tenets of Freedom of expression and the imperative to maintain the religious identity of a substantial number of individuals, drawing upon John Stuart Mill’s framework of Freedom and the Harm Principle. For this, we explored the issue’s historical, cultural, socio-political, and legal-international aspects. While studying these different aspects or perspectives, we highlighted the steadfastness of Muslims in their adherence to their beliefs and sensitivity, regardless of external pressures. We discussed the existence of hate speech laws in Western countries that protect individuals and groups from defamation or insult based on various characteristics. However, we noted the lack of explicit laws protecting religious beliefs and symbols – particularly Islam – from defamation and insult. We also examined the connection between anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes, which have led to increased tensions and divisions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Practical Implications of the Research:

– The research highlighted the need for a balanced approach between freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs, particularly in Western countries where hate speech laws exist but may not explicitly protect religious beliefs and symbols from defamation and insult.

– It emphasised the potential consequences of acts like the burning of the Quran, which can stigmatise Muslims and lead to outrage and violence.

– To address it objectively, the researcher called for a deeper understanding of the issue’s historical, cultural, socio-political, and legal-international aspects.

– The study raises awareness about the impact of anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes, which can create tensions and divisions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

– It highlights the need to safeguard the rights and well-being of individuals while considering the protection of specific religious beliefs and practices (i.e., Islam), as seen in the case of Judaism.

– It encourages further research and discussion on balancing respect for religious beliefs with the right to freedom of expression.

Methods used in this research:

– The researcher used an interdisciplinary approach to address the issue, although the theoretical background is deeply rooted in sociology.

–  The methods employed include literature review, analysis of historical, cultural, socio-political, and legal-international aspects, and examination of existing studies on the relationship between anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes.

– The research thus involves a qualitative approach, as it addresses the debate surrounding acts like the burning of the Quran and their classification as “freedom of expression” or “hate speech” based on the potential consequences for Western nations and Muslims worldwide.

– The researcher also resorted to a comparative analysis of hate speech laws in different Western countries and their implications for religious beliefs and symbols, helped by data from open sources like Pew Research Center and similar databases.

– Overall, the research aimed to comprehensively analyse the topic, drawing on various sources and perspectives to understand the issue at hand objectively.

Chapter II: Historical Perspectives

Mainly Topics

– Provided a historical perspective on the expansion of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe, highlighting the role of military conquests and trade in the rapid growth of the Islamic empire.

– Examined the complex interactions between Islam and Europe, focusing on the Umayyad Caliphate’s penetration into Europe and the Battle of Tours in 732 CE, where the Frankish forces halted the Umayyad’s advancement.

– Explored the impact of The Battle of Tours on the Frankish Kingdom under Charles Martel, shaping the future of Europe.

– Addressed the issue of Islamophobia and its interrelationship with radicalisation, providing a comprehensive analysis of case studies, research data, and scholarly literature.

– Offered insights into the influence of trade routes on cultural exchanges and religious transformations, including the spread of Islam from Arabia to Southeast Asia.

Practical Implications

– Understanding the historical expansion of Islam and its interactions with Europe can provide insights into the complex dynamics between the two regions, helping to foster better cultural understanding and dialogue.

– The analysis of the Battle of Tours and its significance in shaping the future of Europe can shed light on historical conflicts between Christians and Muslims, informing discussions on religious tensions and their impact on contemporary society.

– The examination of Islamophobia and its interrelationship with radicalisation can contribute to efforts in combating discrimination and promoting social cohesion by raising awareness about the historical realities and dispelling irrational fears.

– The chapter’s exploration of the impact of trade routes on cultural exchanges and religious transformations can inform discussions on globalisation and the interconnectedness of societies, highlighting the historical role of trade in shaping religious landscapes.

– The analysis of incidents targeting religious institutions and the debate on Islamophobia, hate speech, and freedom of expression can inform policies and initiatives aimed at promoting religious tolerance, protecting religious minorities, and addressing the challenges of multicultural societies.

Data Used in the Chapter

The chapter used a combination of historical accounts, scholarly research, and contemporary incidents to analyse the subject matter comprehensively. It provides a comprehensive analysis of the historical aspects of Islam’s interactions with Europe, the impact of religious conflicts, and the influence of secularism on the relationship between religion and politics.

– The chapter draws on historical accounts and scholarly research to provide insights into the expansion of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe, including the role of military conquests and trade in this process.

– It analyses historical events such as the Battle of Tours in 732 CE, documented in medieval history and hagiographical accounts.

– The chapter also references contemporary incidents targeting religious sites and explores the relationship between modern Islamic revival and religious violence in the late-20th-century context.

– Additionally, the paper discusses the impact of the theological upheavals of the 16th century and the advent of secularism in the West, drawing on historical and theological analyses.

– The analysis of incidents such as the burning of the Quran and the publication of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad is based on recent events and debates surrounding Islamophobia, hate speech, and freedom of expression.

Chapter III : Cultural Perspectives

Main Topics:

The Chapter refers to a systematic review and content analysis of 56 research articles retrieved from databases, focusing on Islamophobia studies carried out in the UK and the US. It primarily relies on the analysis and discussion of concepts, perspectives, and cultural aspects related to religion, state, criticism, values, and cultural relativism.

– The governance of Muslim societies has undergone transformations, while the state is subject to examination, criticism, and reevaluation, Muslims distinguish between religion and state, with religion being exempt from criticism and external influence.

– The Chapter highlights the historical and cultural contributions of Islam to Western intellectual traditions, including scientific advancements, philosophical discourses, art forms, and literature.

– It introduces the concept of cultural relativism, which allows for objectively examining and comparing different cultures while acknowledging their distinct qualities.

– Cultural differences shape attitudes towards free expression and hate speech, promoting dialogue, cooperation, tolerance, respect, and peaceful coexistence.

– Every culture has unique strengths, weaknesses, complexities, and contributions to humanity.

Practical Implications

– Understanding the Muslim distinction between Islam as a transcendental religion and the state, even when it claims to defend it, can help promote dialogue and cooperation across societies.

– Western principles may not have universal applicability and should not be imposed on Muslims. Recognising cultural differences and values is vital for peaceful coexistence.

– – Anthropologists strive for cultural relativism, understanding and appreciating different cultures on their own terms, avoiding ethnocentrism. This approach promotes tolerance and respect.

Chapter IV: Socio-Political Perspective

Main Topics

– The Chapter investigates the factors contributing to hostility towards Islam and Muslims in Western nations, focusing on the socio-political elements.

– It highlights the demographic expansion of the Muslim population as one factor associated with this hostility.

– The paper discusses the existence of far-right organisations mobilising Christian fanatics in the United States and Europe, who have significant influence and can shape legislation.

– It points out the inconsistency in Western leaders’ response to Muslim calls for legal protection against racism, hate speech, and incitement to hatred on religious grounds.

– The Chapter also mentions hate speech laws in Belgium, Poland, and Germany as examples of legal protection against hate speech and incitement to religious hatred.

– It highlights the impact of anti-Muslim hostility on support for ISIS on Twitter, as shown in a study analysing online activity and offline data on far-right political parties.

– The paper emphasises the need to distinguish between individuals with radical ideologies and those who engage in harmful and antisocial conduct, considering contextual elements and underlying determinants.

Practical Implications:

– Understanding the socio-political factors contributing to hostility towards Islam and Muslims in Western nations can help policymakers and researchers develop strategies to address and mitigate this issue.

– Recognising the demographic expansion of the Muslim population as a factor can inform discussions on immigration policies and integration efforts, ensuring the fair treatment and inclusion of Muslim communities.

– Hostility towards Islam and Muslims in Western nations is influenced by socio-political factors, including the demographic expansion of the Muslim population and the influence of far-right organisations mobilising Christian fanatics.

– Western leaders often respond inconsistently to Muslim calls for legal protection against racism, hate speech, and incitement to hatred on religious grounds, relying on values like “free expression” or “blasphemy freedom.” This raises questions about the consistency of Western behaviour in this matter.

– Hate speech laws exist in countries like Belgium, Poland, and Germany, aiming to protect individuals and groups from discrimination, incitement to hatred, and violence based on race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality.

– The Chapter argues that if secular democracy protects minorities like gays, Jews, and transgender people, enabling Muslims to protect their faith and related practices should be a fundamental principle of democracy.

– The findings suggest the importance of promoting a secular democracy that protects the rights and practices of all religious minorities, including Muslims, as a fundamental principle of democracy.

Chapter V: Legal and International Perspective on

Incitement to Hatred

Main Topics

– The Chapter highlights the need for national laws, policies, and law enforcement frameworks to address and prevent acts and advocacy of religious hatred that incite discrimination, hostility, or violence. It calls for immediate steps to ensure accountability and requests an update on the drivers, root causes, and human rights impacts of religious hatred.

– It discusses hate speech legislation in various countries, including Belgium, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Hungary, which protect groups based on characteristics such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, handicap, or gender. It provides examples of fines and imprisonment for breaking hate speech laws in Belgium and Poland.

– The Chapter explores the harm principle, essential in discussions about curbing hate speech targeting Islam. It emphasises the importance of balancing freedom of speech with religious sensitivity and avoiding harm to others.

– The paper also discusses the impact of acts of sacrilege against the Quran on interfaith relations, political implications, and potential terrorist threats against Western countries.

Practical Implications

– The Chapter highlights the importance of enforcing hate speech laws and imposing fines or imprisonment for individuals guilty of specific conduct motivated by racism or xenophobia.

– It calls for coordination with Muslim-majority nations and reviewing criticised stances on unrestrained freedom of speech to maintain friendly relations and prevent incidents like the desecration of the Quran from escalating into violence and asymmetric war.

– It underscores the role of international bodies like the UN Alliance of Civilisations and the International Criminal Court in promoting religious tolerance globally, investigating hate speech related to religion-based conflicts, and sending a powerful message that inciting violence or spreading hate speech against any particular religion will not be tolerated internationally.

VI: Epilogue

 Lessons and Recommendations

Main topics and Practical implications

– The chapter highlights the importance of maintaining an open society that values diverse viewpoints and encourages peaceful negotiations to resolve conflicts. It emphasises the need to refrain from ridiculing religions and using violence to resolve conflicts.

The Chapter discusses the alignment of religion with reason and the potential consequences of misinterpretations of religious texts. It references Maxime Rodinson’s argument that the Quran accords a prominent place to reason.

– Science is required for human growth, and scientists are not here to form a conspiracy against religions. People can accept or reject scientific results based on their perceptions of plausible reality.

– Secularism aims to establish a neutral environment that fosters amicable coexistence among those with diverse religious affiliations and those without religious beliefs. It does not enforce atheism but upholds equitable regard for all religious and non-religious viewpoints within a society.

– Governments face the challenge of striking the right balance between protecting freedom of expression and preserving religious sensitivities. This balance ensures a respectful society that values diversity while allowing open discussions and criticism.

– Allowing radicals to dominate governments or pass laws that serve their ideas undermines the basis of an open society and democracy. It is vital to keep radicals out of government to preserve individual freedom, rationality, and a critical approach towards tradition.

– Ridiculing religions can lead to condemnation by influential religious leaders and result in protests turning into riots at the hands of extremists. Extremists from both sides are interconnected and use crowds’ emotions.

–  Western leaders should avoid cultural narcissism and ethnocentrism when discussing extremism, which should not be primarily connected with Islam.

– Governments in Muslim-majority countries should control the issuance of Fatwas on Islamic websites to prevent harm from the misinterpretation of holy scriptures.

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