The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims

By Khaled A. Beydoun

March/April 2023

Islamophobia is a global phenomenon. This phrase may be widely known, and yet even among Muslims the dimensions and depth of what is unfolding against them globally is not well understood. 

While the UN declared March 15th the “Global Day to Combat Islamophobia” — a momentous feat for the transnational human rights organization — much more still has to be done, particularly with regard to public education. 

I wrote “The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims” (University of California Press, March 2023) to delve deep into the unseen stories and unheard corners of global Islamophobia.

Taking on a phenomenon that is rapidly expanding on an international scale is no easy task. Particularly when Islamophobia’s contours and character are dramatically distinct across different nations. 

While Islamophobia is global, it’s by no means monolithic. For example, we see it being enforced via hijab bans across France and in Quebec; concentration camps in Xinjiang that confine Uyghur and ethnic Muslims; and the rise of Hindutva supremacy in India that strips citizenship from Muslims, drives the bulldozing of their mosques and homes and fuels the mob violence that leaves their families vulnerable. 

“The New Crusades” consolidates these distinct faces into a cogent whole, providing readers with a clear portrayal of the real-time struggles of Muslim populations across countries, continents and cultures. Beyond its ambitious scope, its legal and political analysis, not to mention its daring engagement of issues neglected within the popular sphere, what separates this book from others is its focus on the voices of real people and victims, along with first-hand accounts of Islamophobia’s crises and catastrophes, flashpoint incidents and definite events. 

Muna, a Rohingya Muslim woman now living as a refugee in Illinois, shared with me that “Our village was destroyed in days.” I spoke to Muna, who survived the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar that left 1 million of her countrymen and -women displaced and then scattered across the globe — far from home and further away from their families.

Such accounts were hardly rare and came to color the book’s complexion. During the process of completing my book, I crossed paths with people I had known before through study, research and distant interviews. One of them was Jelilova, a Uyghur woman who survived the concentration camps and dedicated her life to telling her story … a story I wrote about in the book:

“I was arrested on 22 May 2017. The statement says that I’m a terrorist,” Jelilova recollected. Immediately after her arrest, she was taken to a concentration camp, where she learned that more than 1 million of her people were detained inside China’s network of 1,200 prison camps. The inner sanctums of these camps were theaters of mass discipline and ghastly punishment that, for Jelilova, began with the removal of her hijab. Prison guards cackled as they replaced it with a freshly shaven head. After that initial “dignity taking,” Jelilova was escorted into a cell where she met other women arrested on terror charges. Virtually all of them were Uyghur, and all of them were Muslim.

Those words were imprinted in my head and then written down in my book long before I even met Jelilova. Her story, in great part, inspired me to make a Uyghur Muslima the face of “The New Crusades.” Fittingly, the young Uyghur girl who graces the book’s cover is named Muslima, a refugee now living in Istanbul among a thriving Uyghur diaspora

It was humbling to meet Jelilova in person at the International Uyghur World Conference in Brussels during October 2022, where we posed for a photo and shared gratitude. Memorializing her story, as well as those of tens of other Uyghur survivors and victims, shapes the spirit of “The New Crusades.”

Their voices and stories, which I had the privilege of putting onto paper, distinguishes this book and makes it a landmark testament about a global experience that is more mosaic than monolith. However, what stitches together the stories of the Uyghur with the Rohingya, the French with the Palestinian, and the myriad of Muslims targeted is their faith, Islam, and their unrelenting faith in the face of tyrannical state violence and vitriolic societal rage. 

They are victims of Islamophobia because they are Muslims, and the War on Terror — made in America and exported globally — has left a target on their chests and a hole in their heart. But after each conversation and meeting, every page I wrote and every chapter I finished, what I learned is that their faith remained whole. Even when criminalized and under attack, they continued to fight.

And this fight is why I write and why I wrote “The New Crusades.” It is not only an imperative read for Muslims in the U.S. and beyond, but for anybody — regardless of faith or lack thereof — committed to understanding the inhumanity unfolding before our eyes even as we continue to ignore and forget the faces of those affected by it.

The UN’s formal acknowledgment of a global Islamophobia Day is a momentous symbolic moment for the fight against Islamophobia; however, it is only one step in a much larger movement that we must lead. 

Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and the Berkman Center at Harvard. He is the author of “The New Crusades: Islamophobia and the Global War on Muslims” (University of California Press, 2023). You can find him on his socials at @khaledbeydoun.

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