So I am lucky to share the FTB platform with two titans of free thought: Ophelia Benson and Maryam Namazie. I was fans of both of these women long before I ever even dreamed about being counted among their colleagues. And because of the level of fearspect I have for both of them, I am really quite hesitant to disagree with them, so I haven’t so far.
What I am talking about is their seeming denial of the existence of Islamophobia:
That’s what the term is there for – to protect Islam – from prejudice, not Muslims. Given the havoc Islamism (and its banner, Islam) are wreaking worldwide, a criticism is not just a right but a historical task and duty.
Yes but even though there is such a thing as stupid blanket hatred of a meaningless collective noun called “Muslims,” it still shouldn’t be called “Islamophobia.”
In all fairness, and to hopefully safeguard against accusations that I am straw-manning their argument, I think they object to the word ‘Islamophobia’ on more or less the same grounds that I object to the term ‘reverse racism‘. It is a political phrase, built on a foundation of false equivalence and poor argument. It is used almost exclusively to describe any criticism, no matter how valid, of Islam as a religion, or the activities of extremist Muslim groups (or the complicit silence of moderate Muslim groups in the face of extremism). By throwing up accusations of intolerance every time someone makes disparaging comments about a particular religion, you create a smokescreen to deflect attention from real problems. It is a trap to bait arch-liberals, who refuse to distinguish between criticism and bigotry, into attacking secular arguments for reasons of misdirection rather than actual flaw.
If the argument started and ended there, then I strongly suspect that Ophelia, Maryam and I would be all pulling in the same direction. However, I cannot join them on their blanket dismissal of the word Islamophobia, or their statements that seem to indicate belief that the word is purely fiction, created as an obfuscatory countermeasure by Islamists to discredit anyone who criticizes Islam. The fact is that there is irrational fear and hatred directed toward Muslims because they are Muslims, and not for any other reason. To wit:
A casual text message to work colleagues encouraging them to ”blow away” the competition at a trade show allegedly plunged a Muslim man into a terrorism probe. Telecommunications sales manager Saad Allami says the innocent message, aimed at pumping up his staff, has had devastating consequences on his life.
The Quebec man says he was arrested by provincial police while picking up his seven-year-old son at school. A team of police officers stormed into his home, telling his wife she was married to a terrorist. And his work colleagues were detained for hours at the U.S. border because of their connection to him. Those are the allegations Mr. Allami makes in a lawsuit filed last month.
Mr. Allami, who was 40 when he was arrested, says he has no links to terrorist organizations or the Islamic movement and that police acted without any evidence or research. He has never been charged in the affair. A search of Quebec’s courthouse database finds no other references to him, either. However, Mr. Allami says he hasn’t been able to get a certificate of good conduct, which he would need in order to get a job working in finance.
Police had in Laval, Que., where he applied for the certificate, found terrorism accusations and public mischief on his file, even though his public file shows no signs of the allegations.
Now people would be understandably and justifiably incensed if this was the story of an American person who was arrested and interrogated on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant, and whose life and livelihood was thrown into chaos because of the unfounded accusation. I don’t think any of us would have difficulty labeling this as racism, even through the haze of the predictable defense that this was about “illegals” rather than bigotry. So why wouldn’t it be accurate to call this a case of irrational bigotry motivated solely by religious affiliation? And if “Islamophobia” isn’t the word to describe it, what is?
I don’t think anyone could confuse me with someone who is pro-Islam. As much as I find all religions repugnant, the face of Islam we see today is one of repressive fanaticism that stifles human progress. To be sure, there are plenty of examples of fanaticism in Christianity as well, to say nothing of Hindu and Buddhist repression happening in India and other parts of Asia. Whether it is due to anti-Muslim bias and the collision of Islam and secularism in Europe, or a reflection of the true excess of Islamic regimes, the news consistently carries stories of Muslim-dominated countries carrying out horrible acts with the excuses of Qur’anic license on their lips. I will not relent or shrink from criticizing this inhuman (or perhaps all-too-human) display of authoritarianism with claimed divine mandate.
That being said, there is a backlash against Muslims that is not based on their beliefs per se, but about our attitude about the danger that Muslims (and Islam) pose to the world. This attitude is not informed by evidence, but fueled by paranoia and misinformation. It qualifies, by every comparative standard that I can think of, as just as worthy of criticism as racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, take your pick. To claim that it doesn’t, or that the term “Islamophobia” is a phrase borne of shifty-eyed political convenience, does not seem reasonable to me. While I recognize the fact that the phrase is misapplied, it does not follow that the word should receive scorn. Were that the case, then those who decry anti-racists for using the word “racism” to mean anything other than overt, ‘classic’ racism would be right to do so.
Now it is entirely possible that I have misrepresented Maryam and Ophelia’s arguments. If that is the case then I will certainly accept any rebuke they may send my way. However, for my part I think the argument should be that we should be pushing for the word ‘Islamophobia’ to be used accurately, rather than disqualifying from use altogether.
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