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Jan 24 2012

Say more good things about Islam please

Another busy day for the shutters up.

A bunch of Islamist bullies managed to get Salman Rushdie’s video talk to the Jaipur Literary Festival blocked.

A bunch of Islamist bullies and some allies wrote a stupid letter to the Guardian demanding more friendly coverage of Islam in the media.

Let’s take a look at that letter. (Martin Bright has been arguing with Sunny Hundal, who signed the letter, at Twitter for an hour or two. Sunny ended up saying he signs letters he doesn’t agree with, leaving Martin and also Padraig Reidy gobsmacked.)

That letter is a dog’s breakfast.

Over the past decade, a number of academic studies have indicated a worrying and disproportionate trend towards negative, distorted and even fabricated reports in media coverage of the Muslim community. Recent research at Cambridge University concludes that “a wider set of representations of Islam would signify a welcome change to reporting practices. Muslims deserve a better press than they have been given in the past decade.” And according to a recent ComRes poll, one in three people in Britain today believe that the media is responsible for “whipping up a climate of fear of Islam in the UK”.

See what they did there? In just the opening paragraph? They jumped from “the Muslim community” to Islam to Muslims and back to Islam again. So what’s the demand? That all three get friendlier coverage? That Islam itself is somehow owed less in the way of “negative” media coverage?

Yes, probably, but the idea is to make that more difficult to notice by throwing in mentions of Muslims and “the Muslim community” to dilute the mentions of Islam. Treating all three as interchangeable of course leads people to think they are, when in fact they’re not. Talking about “the Muslim community” leads people to think that all Muslims are much of a muchness, all think pretty much alike, all seethe at “negative” coverage of Islam, all demand more Islam-friendly media.

An alternative inquiry is necessary to investigate what many regard as widespread and systematic discriminatory practices in reporting on Muslims and Islam in the British media. Victims – whether prominent or not – of alleged discriminatory media coverage have a right to have their testimonies catalogued and examined thoroughly by credible, independent assessors. Recommendations can then be made to improve ethical standards in the reporting of not solely the Muslim community but of all sections of society.

There it is again - Muslims-and-Islam – treated as essentially the same, and inseparable, and both having rights and both being victims of widespread and systematic discriminatory practices. It’s a fundamentally theocratic idea.

And then, some of the signers…

Dr Muhammad Abdul BariChair, East London Mosque
Dr Omer El-Hamdoon Muslim Association of Britain
Moazzam Begg Cageprisoners
Lindsey German Stop The War Coalition
Robert Pitt Islamophobia Watch

No thanks.

Maryam did a post on this.

Islamophobia is nothing but a political term used to scaremonger people into silence. [And yes I'm looking at you Islamophobia Watch.]

Well I am sorry but no can do.

You cannot attribute human qualities to a belief system or Islam and Islamism in order to rule out and deem racist any opposition or criticism.

Just in case they didn’t know, let me repeat. Criticism, mockery, opposition to and even hatred of a belief Is. Not. Racism.

Nor is it a violation of the rights of people who hold the belief. Holding a belief does not confer a right never to hear the belief disputed or mocked.

33 comments

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  1. 1
    BenSix

    Hrm. In fairness, I think Hundal was saying that he doesn’t agree with the opinions of others he signs letters with, not that he doesn’t agree with the letter itself. It’s a foolish position, though, because so many of the signatories confirm the necessity of critical reportage of the influence of Muslim figures in Britain. (Another I spot is the head of the sinister Islamic Human Rights Commission.) I’d stand alongside someone I found disreputable on certain things – if our free speech had been threatened, say – but not if their presence contradicted my argument! This is sadly common to opponents of supposed Islamophobia. Chris Nineham, another signatory, did an interview a few months back denouncing “prejudices about Muslims [and] Islam”. It was with – I kid you not – the news agency of the Iranian state.

    Thing is, I agree that much of the media’s coverage of Muslims in Britain has been dishonest and harmful. (Its eerie promotion of Anjem Choudary, for example, or the annual ravings about Winterval.) But let’s have some imagination: the fact that X, Y or Z is misrepresented doesn’t mean an accurate representation need be a positive one. So, for the signatories – the sincere ones, anyway – journalists should be nicer to Muslims. Well, no – they should just be honest.

    (Sorry to have bombarded your combox in the past few days, but B&W has been a splendid hub for comments on these pertinent debates.)

  2. 2
    Ophelia Benson

    No problem, bombard away. And good point about the coverage – treating the MCB as both “moderate” and representative of all British Muslims (I beg your pardon all members of the Muslim community in Britain) has done untold damage.

  3. 3
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    BenSix:

    But let’s have some imagination: the fact that X, Y or Z is misrepresented doesn’t mean an accurate representation need be a positive one. So, for the signatories – the sincere ones, anyway – journalists should be nicer to Muslims. Well, no – they should just be honest.

    QFT. One more example of why “balance journalism” is not a valid way of dealing with reality.

  4. 4
    maureen.brian

    This good sense from the BHA’s email today:-

    Tuesday 24 January
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    The right to offend

    Living in a free society means that we have the right to offend people, and in turn be offended by others. A free society does not ban books, nor does it stop people from voicing their opinions, nor allow people to be blackmailed and intimidated. In a free society we can, and should, challenge each other’s beliefs, through free and open debate, and rely on rational argument and reason rather than threats and censorship.

    One event in particular last week brought the question of blasphemy and censorship to the fore. A talk on ‘Sharia Law and Human Rights’ organised by the Queen Mary Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society, which had to be cancelled after threats of violence interrupted proceedings.

    Free expression, the free exchange of ideas and free debate are hallmarks of an open society; violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise that. No one has the right not to have their most profound beliefs challenged.

    This weekend the BHA, in association with the Centre for Inquiry UK, and Conway Hall, is hosting a day conference in London to explore blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights. Tickets for this increasingly relevant discussion are still available from the BHA website.

    The BHA is supporting One Law for All’s rally in defence of free expression in solidarity with our affiliate society at Queen Mary’s, deploring the threats they received and the chilling effect this has had on the free exchange of views on their campus. Violence and the threat of violence should never be allowed to compromise the principles of our open society.

    We will be working with student groups over the coming months on how Student Unions were approaching issues of free speech and offence in relation to religious and non-religious beliefs with a view to providing guidance to institutions which will encourage the preservation of free expression.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  5. 5
    stonyground

    It is certainly true that the Daily Mail misrepresents and vilifies Muslims on a regular basis. Those who have a problem with this should be aware that when any intelligent and well informed person reads anything from the Daily Mail, their first thought is that it is probably untrue. Such is the Daily Mail’s current reputation.

    The atheist blogsphere, on the other hand, tends to be much more honest. Here stories of Muslims behaving badly cannot be so easily dismissed. If Muslims want a better image they need to clean up their act and earn it.

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    I need to get on the BHA mailing list then.

    Good about solidarity with One Law for All – Maryam pointed out that they omitted mention of OLfA in their statement last week.

  7. 7
    Rosie

    much of the media’s coverage of Muslims in Britain has been dishonest and harmful. (Its eerie promotion of Anjem Choudary, for example, or the annual ravings about Winterval.)

    True – the Daily Telegraph, which should know better, was especially bad at that, but even the BBC rolled him out as a talking head far more often than he deserved. I doubt if the EDL would have got started without all the attention being drawn to his stunts. The fellow’s a master of PR.

    There are some smart people on that list eg Mike Rosen. Surely some of them must see that this is the kind of thing that creates huge resentment among non Muslims – again one minority is demanding special treatment.

    The BBC does not usually headline its pieces “3 Muslim blokes arrested for planning acts of terrorism.” No, it starts – “3 men from Derby arrested for planning acts of terrorism.” You listen to the bulletin and a few lines in you’ll hear they’re called things like Khan and Hussein – in fact it’s quite a surprise if they are not. What does this gruesome list of signatories think they will achieve. Should all such events not be reported?

  8. 8
    ewanmacdonald

    The sad reality is that these shaming, silencing tactics are working. And increasingly the only voices who feel able to speak out, on any side of the debate, are extreme ones, or the let’s-all-be-moderate-and-ignore-reality ones.

  9. 9
    ewanmacdonald

    (Present company sincerely and belatedly excepted! I’m talking about the ‘mainstream media’ here. Either it’s self-censorship or the same array of talking heads.)

  10. 10
    thewordofme

    Islam is a insidious and deadly religion. With a ridiculous and phony display of hurt feelings and its continual protestations that it is a “religion of peace”, it none-the-less-manages to kill anyone who tries to leave it or anyone who bad mouths it, and does its best to discourage free speech by intimidation and murder.

    Muslims who claim to NOT be extremists stand by in silent witness to their violent brothers killing and dismantling and quashing of freedom wherever they go. They tell the “BIG LIE”….We are peaceful and then turn around and kill those who oppose them in any way.

    Moderate Islam seems to be only for show in those countries where they are a minority. In countries where they predominate their real evil face shows.

    Islam needs to be contained and not allowed to mix with civilized people.

  11. 11
    BenSix

    Rosie -

    Surely some of them must see that this is the kind of thing that creates huge resentment among non Muslims – again one minority is demanding special treatment.

    They’ve convinced themselves that our society is more hostile to minorities than it is. (In my opinion, of course.) For example, on the site of this “Alternative Leveson Inquiry” thing an academic – who I remember proudly stating, on Twitter, that being a “radical teacher” she won’t give her students both sides of a story – says that we’re witnessing “what can only be seen as a campaign of vilification against Muslims in this country and indeed globally“. Really? I’ll grant that lots of the media’s coverage is bad but a “campaign of vilification”?

    It sounds weird but I think I see why it’s tempting to adopt as a premise. (To some extent, I guess I shared it.) First, because the government – in their and my view – has been treating Muslims dreadfully since 9/11. Abroad. What with Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and all the other rotten features of the “War on Terror” lots of followers of Allah have been getting a rough deal from Britain and the States. So, I think they might see hostile treatment of Muslims at home as indivisible from hostile treatment of Muslims abroad; supposed “Islamophobia” as an extension of the “War on Terror”. Chris Nineham, in the interview I linked to above, says exactly that: that it’s “war propaganda”.

    But, again, I think that’s indicative of a failure of imagination. It ascribes a more coherent agenda to the state than it – in my opinion – holds. Ever since Bush’s famous “Islam is peace” platitudes the U.S. and U.K. have been rotten to some Muslims and welcoming to others. Can anyone sincerely argue that the British government is anti-Muslim? They’ve allowed tens of thousands of them through the borders; they’re allowed to have their own schools; they’re allowed to dress as they please. (More than they’re allowed to do in France, which, to more than a measure of controversy, refused to go along with the whole “War on Terror” thing.)

    The second factor that’s significant – I think – is that they’re suspicious of all attempts to draw conclusions from supposed group characteristics. For two reasons. First, they’d like to see a world where all people are equal. But I’m not sure that egalitarianism is just an ambition for them – or, at least, some of them – but something they’ve decided is a fact of life. Strip away the badges, burqas, headbands, hoodies, miniskirts and scapulars and I think they’re inclined to feel we’re similarly minded. What’s encouraged this view is that our society has, of course, got a lengthy record of perpetuating dreadful things on the basis of fraudulent understandings of group characteristics. So, women were subordinate, in part, because of an irrational perception of genders; “blacks” because of a noxious perception of race. I suspect these facts make them impulsively hostile to analyses on the basis of group characteristics.

    Look at the way “discrimination” has become a pejorative term. Nothing wrong with reasonable discrimination – if we avoided discriminating we’d put 79-year-old, arthritic Bob Smith up front for Manchester United. But on any issue where someone’s considering people as members of groups, with distinctions between them, all “discrimination” is seen as disreputable. Because the idea of meaningful distinctions between groups of people has been rejected as a whole. Again I’d say this represents a failure of imagination. One need only look at international or local polls to see that people – not all people, but enough people for it to be of consequence – part ways according to their faith and cultural heritage.

    All of which is why – I think – some people overstate the phenomenon of “Islamophobia”, and why, to them, it’s not about “special treatment” but more balanced treatment.

    ‘Cor. That rambled on a bit.

  12. 12
    BenSix

    thewordofme -

    They tell the “BIG LIE”…Moderate Islam seems to be only for show in those countries where they are a minority.

    That is unpleasant rhetoric. The implication seems to be that hundreds of thousands of Muslims in this country are deliberately hiding their extreme impulses ’til the moment’s right for them to pounce. The logical conclusion of such a situation would be that Muslims qua Muslims are hostile and conspiratorial. That’s the notion that inspires people who do things like setting fire to Mosques and imagining that they’ve struck a blow for freedom.

    Well, it isn’t true. Muslims who would like to live under a theocratic state are, in fact, quite open about it – that’s why we have depressing polls like the Telegraph‘s that someone mentioned in another thread. Yes, there are some clerics and commentators who adjust their rhetoric depending on who’s listening but the average Islamic programmer, shopkeeper or taxi driver just wants to get on with programming, shopkeeping and taxi driving. A lot of them hold unpleasant views, yes, and it’s important to ensure those views are marginalised but, still, it doesn’t mean they’re malevolent. They’re not enemy agents.

    Others are, in fact, of a similar temperament to yer average Englishman. I don’t know if a moderate Islam is realisable – if “moderate” means “Church of Englandesque” – but moderate Muslims? Sure.

  13. 13
    Walton

    Of course the letter is simplistic, and I agree with some of Ophelia’s criticisms; it is, indeed, a very bad idea to conflate “Islam”, “Muslims” and “the Muslim community” as though these were all the same thing, and as though they were a homogeneous group with uniform values and ideals. They’re not, and it’s dangerous to assume that anyone or any group speaks for all Muslims.

    But it’s bizarre to call everyone on that list – which includes plenty of serious, respected human rights activists and anti-war activists – “a bunch of Islamist bullies and some allies”. (And although Moazzam Begg might be called an Islamist, he is also someone who was detained extrajudicially and tortured by the American government at Bagram and Guantánamo.)

    Islam should not be immune from criticism; but it’s also true that the right-wing press in Britain (the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express and so forth) use Muslims, among other minorities, as a bogeyman to stir up fears of immigration.

    I don’t think this letter is aimed at, or intended to suppress, the reasonable and measured criticisms of Islam that people like Ophelia or Maryam Namazie make on their blogs. In the end, it isn’t humanist blogs that are shaping public opinion on Islam among the non-Muslim majority in Britain; it’s the mainstream media, which, in the case of the print media, is dominated by the extreme right-wing xenophobic editorial line favoured by the Murdoch and Rothermere empire, with circulations in the millions. When we talk about anti-Muslim sentiments in the media, we don’t mean “any criticism of Islam”; we mean, specifically, the type of rabid, dishonest anti-Muslim scaremongering that we see from the right-wing press and from far-right politicians.

    =====

    Muslims who claim to NOT be extremists stand by in silent witness to their violent brothers killing and dismantling and quashing of freedom wherever they go. They tell the “BIG LIE”….We are peaceful and then turn around and kill those who oppose them in any way.

    Moderate Islam seems to be only for show in those countries where they are a minority. In countries where they predominate their real evil face shows.

    Islam needs to be contained and not allowed to mix with civilized people.

    Oh look, a bigot.

    Not only is this post utterly dishonest and filled with thinly-veiled bigotry, it’s extremely frightening. This is exactly the kind of hateful rhetoric which is used by figures like Geert Wilders, the English Defence League, Pat Condell and so on to push an agenda of opposing Muslim immigration.

    And it’s nothing to do with human rights. If the right-wing Muslim-haters cared about the human rights of Muslim women, Muslim LGBT people or others oppressed by theocratic Muslim states, they’d be supporting open immigration, in order to provide sanctuary to refugees from those régimes. But they don’t. They only care about “containing” Islam and keeping it out of “their” countries, because they are just old-fashioned xenophobes for whom Islam is the convenient bogeyman du jour.

    Seriously, Ophelia. You need to be calling this out, actively. If you’re going to devote the great majority of your posts to criticism of Islam, you really should be taking extra steps to distance yourself from people like this, or like steve oberski on this thread. Otherwise you’re in real danger of inadvertently giving rhetorical ammunition to the xenophobic far right, who are enormously more powerful and far more dangerous in Western countries than Islamists are.

    ====

    Can anyone sincerely argue that the British government is anti-Muslim? They’ve allowed tens of thousands of them through the borders; they’re allowed to have their own schools; they’re allowed to dress as they please.

    I take issue with this framing. For a start, being “allowed” to migrate across borders should be a right, not a privilege; immigration restrictions are a racist and discriminatory concept. And Britain has extremely harsh and brutal immigration restrictions; everyone reading this should read up on Yarl’s Wood, for a start, and on the appalling, racist treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers by the UK Border Agency and its hired contractors. (These don’t exclusively affect Muslims, so it doesn’t directly bear on the main issue, but I think it’s important not to buy into the nationalist assumption that “border control” is a good thing.) For another, if the British government were to implement immigration restrictions that specifically discriminated against Muslims on the basis of religion, it would be in breach of a whole host of treaty obligations (it would be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights, for a start, and in domestic law under the Human Rights Act 1998); the same would arise if any other European democracy tried to do so.

    That said, I agree with you entirely that the British government has been better when it comes to religious freedom than some other European governments. But I don’t think this is the point of the letter. The argument is not that the British government actively persecutes Muslims or inhibits their religious freedom; it’s that there is a sizeable contingent of the right-wing press and the public who hold rabid anti-Muslim views. And this gets translated into terrible policies in practice, such as anti-immigration laws and punitive deportation.

  14. 14
    Walton

    Oh look, a bigot.

    Not only is this post utterly dishonest and filled with thinly-veiled bigotry, it’s extremely frightening.

    (I should make clear, in case it wasn’t obvious, that this and the subsequent paragraph refer to thewordofme’s post at #10. I certainly wasn’t calling either Ophelia or BenSix bigots.)

  15. 15
    BenSix

    walton -

    But it’s bizarre to call everyone on that list – which includes plenty of serious, respected human rights activists and anti-war activists – “a bunch of Islamist bullies and some allies”.

    Good point. I’d meant to say that. I think the project is wrongheaded, and some of its signatories are dubious people, but I’m sure it’s well-meaning. The phrasing here makes it sound like a conspiracy.

    I think it’s important not to buy into the nationalist assumption that “border control” is a good thing.

    I wouldn’t say border controls are a “good thing”. I think they’re sad things. Unpleasant things. And, yet, necessary things. (This is not the place to have that argument but I wouldn’t like silence to be interpreted as agreement.)

    But I don’t think this is the point of the letter.

    No. But I was riffing on the assumptions behind it.

  16. 16
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @ thewordofme:

    Islam is a insidious and deadly religion.

    So, if it’s such a bad thing, we have to make it illegal, right? Oops, too bad the laws of the country guarantee freedom of religion! Oh, we’ll just have to become a dictatorship first, then! And while we are at it, we’ll ban Roman Catholicism because of all the child abuse. And Pentecotist Christianity because of the witch-hunting. And Orthodox Jews because of their extreme misogyny. And the science-denying Evangelical Christianity. And Hinduism, because of honour killings and general misogyny, and violence against other religions. And so on.

    Thank you for volunteering to be our glorious Religion Purification Enforcer! We so much need a thought police and correct behaviour militia.

    Oh, wait, that’s an idea coming from theocracy, that, banning ideas and cults you don’t like? Oh, the dilemma! *snark*

    With a ridiculous and phony display of hurt feelings and its continual protestations that it is a “religion of peace”,

    What, the label one religious group claims for itself is not always the truth and only the truth? I’m shocked, shocked! Who knows, next time you’ll discover that there’s exaggeration in advertising!

    it none-the-less-manages to kill anyone who tries to leave it or anyone who bad mouths it, and does its best to discourage free speech by intimidation and murder.

    Manages to kill or intimidate? Then how come there are ex-Muslims? You’ll have to tell that to Maryam Namazie, then. And to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And Ibn Warraq. And Taslima Nasreen. And many, many others who’ll be pleased to learn that they don’t exist.

  17. 17
    Walton

    I wouldn’t say border controls are a “good thing”. I think they’re sad things. Unpleasant things. And, yet, necessary things. (This is not the place to have that argument but I wouldn’t like silence to be interpreted as agreement.)

    I won’t expand here, because you’re right that it would be a thread derail, but I have explained here on my own blog, and here on Maryam Namazie’s, for instance, why I believe that immigration restrictions are indefensible and unnecessary, and come at a catastrophic human cost. (Immigration law and policy is my main field of study and activism, and I’ve worked with refugees and asylum-seekers, so I know quite a bit about this field and have reasons to care about it.)

  18. 18
    Lyanna

    I agree with Ophelia Benson, but only partially. I don’t think one can completely separate media treatment of Islam from media treatment of Muslims, though one can’t completely merge the two either.

    If Islam is a horrible hateful belief system, and Muslims are people who believe in Islam, then aren’t Muslims all horrible hateful people by logical implication?

    Well…yes. The reason why Muslims aren’t horrible hateful people is because Islam has many versions, not all of which are horrible.

    Making the most horrible version of Islam seem like it’s the most representative has concrete implications for Muslims, and is anti-Muslim bigotry—unless there is strong evidence that most of those who identify as “Muslim” actually practice the most horrible version of Islam. Which there isn’t.

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    It’s not quite that simple, Lyanna. I wish it were, but it’s not. You say there are several versions, but then you confine what you say to just one “most horrible version.” There are aspects of even less horrible versions that are in tension with various liberal or egalitarian or secular principles. It’s not fair to assume that all Muslims believe the worst possible, of course, but it’s probably not accurate to assume most believe a completely benign version.

    That applies to all religions – but some are worse than others.

  20. 20
    Lyanna

    I’m not sure where you get that I’m “confining” what I say to the most horrible version. Referring to that version was meant to provide an example, the point of which is to illustrate that tarring Islam in a certain way (whether that way is super-horrible or just somewhat horrible) inevitably reflects on Muslims as well. This is why there does need to be more accurate, representative portrayals of Islam or else anti-Muslim bigotry will rise.

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    I meant “you confine what you say” at the end. In the last para you address just the most horrible version, not all the intermediate versions.

    You’re right that “tarring Islam” in a certain way reflects on Muslims…but what if Islam actually should be “tarred” or rather criticized where it’s harmful? What if it just is the cae that even more accurate, representative portrayals of Islam show that it conveys some bad harmful ideas?

  22. 22
    Lyanna

    I addressed the most horrible version, yes, because focusing on that is where criticisms of Islam are most likely to shade into anti-Muslim bigotry. Focusing on the intermediate versions may do so as well, if those intermediate versions are not representative, or if they are not accurately portrayed. Whichever version you want to look at, my point is that (1) a Muslim/Islam dichotomy is just not possible to maintain, and (2) false negative representations about Islam hurt Muslims. Both of which I made clear in my first comment.

    Truthful negative representations about Islam can hurt Muslims, too. But I have no quarrel with those, since they are truthful.

    I do have a quarrel with false or misleading statements about minority religions that make it easy to demonize a minority group.

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    Well of course you do; don’t we all. That’s almost a tautology. Who says “I approve of false or misleading statements about minority religions that make it easy to demonize a minority group”?

    But how do you tell them apart? How do you know which statements about Islam are false and which are not, apart from ones that are just obviously overgeneralized?

  24. 24
    Ophelia Benson

    Or to put it another way…

    You cite your first comment. In it you said “The reason why Muslims aren’t horrible hateful people is because Islam has many versions, not all of which are horrible.”

    I’m not sure that’s true. I think the reason is because many Muslims are selective about their Islam. That’s not really a different version of Islam, it’s an Islam carefully watered down because much of it is so bad. The same applies to the bible, of course.

    But the trouble with selectiveness is that it’s so unstable. The next generation can just decide that selectiveness is doing it wrong, and being a Bad Muslim (or Christian). And whaddya know, that’s just what’s happening in a lot of places.

  25. 25
    Lyanna

    I’m not a scholar of Islam, but from what I’ve seen from Muslims I know, there are indeed different versions, not just “selectiveness.” Shia vs. Sunni vs. Sufi, and then the regional and cultural subdivisions among those, do amount to different versions that generally stay pretty consistent from family to family and generation to generation. In my observation, anyway. My Shia colleague of Iranian descent practices a different version of Islam, based on a whole different textual and historical approach, than my Black Muslim feminist friend from college, who in turn has a different approach from the Indian-American Sunnis who live in my building. The differences aren’t just about which verses they choose to ignore, but about their general philosophy of interpretation.

    As for how do you know what is false and what isn’t: that’s a problem for any type of bigotry. Is it a bigoted stereotype or just an unfortunate fact to say that women are innately dumber than men at science, or that black people are more likely to be criminals than white people, or that gay men are likely to be suicidal? I don’t think “how do you tell true from false” is either unique or damning to the notion of “Islamophobia.” It’s a question that applies to all prejudices (or so-called prejudices), and yet, we manage to say that those prejudices still exist.

    Are you arguing that it’s trickier to tell true from false with regard to religion than it is with regard to sex, race or sexuality? If so, I don’t agree. Either most Muslims have male-dominated marriages or they don’t; either most Muslims forbid their daughters to date or they don’t; either most Muslims believe that secular societies should cater to their beliefs about portrayals of the prophet Muhammad or they don’t. These are empirically measurable statements, aren’t they?

  26. 26
    Lyanna

    In case I haven’t been clear, my point is that nothing you’ve brought up makes me think Islamophobia should not be considered a category of prejudice, or that false statements about beliefs generally can’t be a type of bigotry. I saw your original post as leaning in that direction, particularly in light of other posts criticizing the term “Islamophobia.”

    Religious privilege leads many to dismiss factual criticisms of religion as mere bigotry. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t such a thing as bigotry against Islam. I don’t think Islam’s critics should have a problem with the term “Islamophobia” itself (as opposed to its overuse and dilution). “Phobia” is used to indicate irrational fear or hatred, not just any criticism or disagreement.

  27. 27
    Ophelia Benson

    “These are empirically measurable statements, aren’t they?”

    Yes of course, but that doesn’t cash out as knowing the answers in any particular case in real life. Knowing the stats doesn’t translate to knowing the particulars.

    One of the problems with the word “Islamophobia” is that it implies that any criticism of Islam is bigotry; another is that it’s used to do exactly that – precisely as the LSE Student Union is doing. Another is that religionists of all stripes like to treat any criticism of their particular religion as unreasonable and bigoted and an attack on their liberties and rights. Another is that it’s exclusive to Islam.

  28. 28
    Lyanna

    Of course knowing the stats doesn’t translate to knowing the particulars of a case, but it can support or contradict a generalization. I thought it was generalizations about Muslims and Islam that this letter was complaining about? If we’re talking about particular cases, general trends become much less relevant. Judging individuals based on what you think are general trends about their kind is the definition of prejudice after all. Pre-judging.

    I don’t think any of those, except the last, are problems with the word “Islamophobia” per se. I think they’re problems with the concept of bigotry against members of a particular religion. Do you think the problems would be less if we said “anti-Muslim bigotry” instead? Why?

    The last–the exclusivity to Islam–is a unique feature of “Islamophobia,” yes. I think that probably is the result of “Islam” being one of the few names of a religion that doesn’t sound too clunky affixed to “phobia.” (Hinduismophobia, Christianityophobia, Judaismophobia…don’t exactly trip off the tongue).

    I’m not sure that this exclusivity is a problem exactly. Do you think Islam is more susceptible to be excused, or sheltered from criticism, than other religions, because of the common use of word “Islamophobia,” which has no equivalent for other religions? My own first guess is to say not (just think of the Catholic Church complaining of “anti-Catholic bigotry” and being coddled for it).

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    What gave you the idea that “it was generalizations about Muslims and Islam that this letter was complaining about”? The letter doesn’t use the word. The letter was complaining about “negative, distorted and even fabricated reports in media coverage of the Muslim community.” That could mean anything or everything or nothing. It’s a generalization itself.

    You’re reading it the way the authors want you to read it – at face value, uncritically, sympathetically.

    The letter doesn’t spell out what it considers “negative” or “distorted” – and it also doesn’t explain why “negative” reports are somehow illegitimate.

    Yes I think the problems would be less if we said “anti-Muslim bigotry” instead, because then at least the issue would be people instead of a religion.

    I think the word “Islamophobia” gets used in the way the LSE SU is using it right now, literally at this moment.

  30. 30
    Lyanna

    No, it doesn’t use the word “generalization.” But it is complaining about “media coverage of the Muslim community.” The “community” usually means Muslims in general, and not individual Muslims or incidents involving individual Muslims. So, yes, I thought and still think it was generalizations.

    I don’t see anything to support the idea that using the term “Islamophobia” actually affects the discussion at all. Discussions of bigotry against a powerful religious group that wants to force its illiberal ideas on the general population always seem to follow the same pattern.

  31. 31
    Ophelia Benson

    No, actually it’s mixing all the categories, as I said in the post (and as is perfectly obvious in the letter itself) -

    …a worrying and disproportionate trend towards negative, distorted and even fabricated reports in media coverage of the Muslim community. Recent research at Cambridge University concludes that “a wider set of representations of Islam would signify a welcome change to reporting practices. Muslims deserve a better press…

    And “the Muslim community” is a stupid bullying term in itself, as are similar formulations about other “communities.”

    Ironically, media coverage that talks about “the Muslim community” is usually not “negative”; such coverage calls it that precisely in order to be “positive.”

    Your last para just seems willful, given current events.

  32. 32
    Lyanna

    How so? I’m a former Catholic so I’ve paid a lot more attention to Catholicism’s special privileges than Islam’s, but even with Rushdie and this LSE fiasco, it doesn’t seem to me that Islam gets more special treatment than Catholicism worldwide, or evangelical Protestantism in America.

    Your description of the term “community” as inherently positive seems off-base to me. It’s always minorities who have “communities,” not majorities, and talking about a minority “community” is often a precursor to lecturing them. “The black community” needs to get its act together about marriage and the family. The “gay community” needs to stop flaunting itself and provoking people.

    There’s nothing in the letter that doesn’t look to me like it’s talking about generalizations about “Muslims” as a group. You say you think I’m reading it “uncritically,” but I think you’re reading it hypercritically and through a distorted lens.

  33. 33
    Ophelia Benson

    True, about “community” – but the word is supposed to take some of the sting off the lecture. It feels racist to say “blacks need to ___” but saying the community needs to makes it sound more cuddly. You’re right that sometimes it’s used to sugarcoat a lecture or a nasty generalization, but it’s also used to sugarcoat the kind of claims in the letter.

    Part of the reason I’m reading the letter hypercritically (if I am) is because of some of the signers. They’re not nice egalitarian liberals. That makes the letter as suspect as if it came from the Vatican or Bill Donohue.

  1. 34
    Religions are totalitarian. If we cannot criticise religion, we cannot be free. « Choice in Dying

    [...] series of posts on the problem of free speech: Everybody to get from street, Spot the Agenda, Say more good things about Islam please, It has come to our attention that you are wicked, and several others. P.Z. Myers, over at [...]

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