Islamophobia exists


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.

(snip)

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.

(snip)

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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Comments

  1. KG says

    I’m very glad to see an FTB blogger speak out on this issue. I think there is a case for substituting “Muslimophobia” for “Islamophobia”, as it avoids the confusion of a belief system with the people adhering, or thought to adhere to it. I can’t say anything about Maryam Nazamie as I haven’t followed her blog at all, but as far as Ophelia Benson is concerned, she does deny – in the face of clear evidence – the existence of the phenomenon itself, claiming, absurdly, that “xenophobia” covers it. There is, in the UK and much of Europe as well as the USA, Canada and Australia, an active movement specifically driven by hatred and fear of Muslims; that this is difficult to deal with politically for those who want to resist pressures to ring-fence Islam from criticism and mockery, while also defending vulnerable minorities, is no excuse for denying this fact. For the UK, with which I’m most familiar, this report documents the history, rhetoric and actions of its main organisation, the English Defence League – which has, as a matter of fact, included prominent members who are themselves immigrants or children of immigrant parents from the Caribbean and south Asia, as well as Jews and LGBT people – all standard targets of old-style fascist groups, but actively recruited by the EDL, despite the undoubted presence in its leadership and ranks also of neo-Nazis. Its main funder, a businessman called Alan Lake, is particularly on making its recruitment pool as wide as possible.

    It should also be noted that Islamophobia, Muslimophobia, or whatever we call it, is a key part of the political pressure behind the drive for an attack on Iran. We can expect this to intensify over the coming months, and become well-nigh irresistable if a Republican wins the Presidential election.

  2. ACuriousMind says

    Well, I suspect that this is largely a lexical issue. “Islamophobia”, as currently used, is a political phrase, as you pointed out, that is almost exclusively used to silence critics of Islam.
    I think it is unnecessary to label anyone who discriminates against Muslims on the basis of them being Muslims an “Islamophobe”, just as we do not label Christians who won’t employ atheists “Atheophobes”, or someone who thinks all Canadians are stupid douchebags an “Canadophobe”. It’s prejudiced and discriminating behaviour in any of these instances, and it does not (to me, at least) matter much what group is being discriminated against. To make up words like “Islamophobia” always seems to give more weight to prejudice against Muslims than, say, Brazilians. But prejudice and discrimination is always wrong, and I do not see the need for words singling out a particular prejudice against a particular group.

  3. says

    So you think that “homophobe” is a useless phrase then?

    I find this “all discrimination is bad, therefore we should not discriminate with regard to the type of discrimination” argument incredibly shallow. There’s a reason why we focus on anti-gay bullying in schools, there’s a reason why we are concerned with racial profiling of blacks, and there’s a reason why Islamophobia is a thing but “Canadianophobia” isn’t. Yes, Virginia, they are all wrong. But there is not an equality of force behind all types of discrimination – some is so prevalent that it requires special attention.

  4. Sigmund says

    “And if “Islamophobia” isn’t the word to describe it, what is?”

    The words to describe it are: “anti-muslim bigotry”
    There is plenty of anti-muslim bigotry around.
    Why use a less specific phrase like islamophobia which is a catch all that includes anti-muslim bigotry but also includes criticism of religious Islam?
    Anti-muslim bigotry is wrong.
    Criticism of the ideas behind the Islamic religion is not the same thing and should not be seen as wrong.
    The notion that we should be pushing for the term to be used “accurately” is a terrible idea. It is the fact that it is such a broad fluffy term that makes it so useful for those seeking to use it as a weapon to silence criticism of religious teachings.

    What is wrong with using the phrase anti-muslim bigotry?

  5. Dianne says

    “Islamophobia”, as currently used, is a political phrase, as you pointed out, that is almost exclusively used to silence critics of Islam.

    Really? The FBI reports that in the US of the more than 1500 victims of religion based hate crime, over 1/8 were targeted because they were Islamic, more than any other religion except Judaism. I suppose you’d say that the perpetrators were simply criticizing Islam?

    To give a personal anecdote: Until recently, I lived in NYC, very near the WTC. In 2010 the “WTC mosque” bruhaha broke out. The arguments against building the “mosque” (actually a community center with an incidental prayer space) were almost exclusively on the order of “they’re Islamic therefore they’re terrorists”. Never mind that this was a completely different sect from that the WTC terrorists espoused and one that al Qaeda would hardly recognize as Islamic (the Christian equivalent might be unitarians versus fundamentalist protestants), never mind that some supporters were EMTs or other medical personnel who risked themselves in the WTC rescue, that some had been in the towers when they were hit, etc: they were Islamic therefore they were terrorists.

    Any description of prejudice can be used to silence critics. Israel is notorious for screaming “antisemitism” at any criticism of its policies. Al Sharpton has been known to claim racism if anyone disagrees with him. But that doesn’t make antisemitism or racism unreal or “almost exclusively used to silence critics”. If you see an instance of the word “Islamophobic” being used to silence criticism of Islam, by all means point it out. But dismissing the whole concept is, well, just another attempt to silence critics by implying that anyone who states that there is prejudice against Islamic people is trying to stop criticism.

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Ophelia is wrong. Xenophobia is not the same as Islamophobia. Xenophobia is fear or hatred of foreigners. Islamophobia is fear and hatred of Muslims.

    The example of Saad Allami that Ian gives in the OP is not about a foreigner (Allami is a Canadian citizen) but about a Muslim. If a Canadian sales manager with an Anglo-Saxon name like Ian Cromwell had sent that text message nobody would have raised an eyebrow. Allami was arrested because his name is Saad Allami.

  7. Dianne says

    To make up words like “Islamophobia” always seems to give more weight to prejudice against Muslims than, say, Brazilians.

    So you would object to the phrase “anti-Hispanic prejudice*” because it is giving more weight to prejudice against people from Latin America than to people from Canada?

    *Yes, I know Brazil was settled by Portugal not Spain. But the average person in the US-and probably Canada- doesn’t know Brazil from Mexico and would consider anyone from South America to be “Hispanic”.

  8. Stephanie says

    Thank you for this post; it puts into words something I’ve been trying to properly identify and work out in my own mind for a while now and I sincerely appreciate seeing this discussion in this space.

  9. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    But prejudice and discrimination is always wrong, and I do not see the need for words singling out a particular prejudice against a particular group.

    Among other reasons for using different words, one is that we need to focus on reasons for prejudice in order to fight it. It is not the same if a person is singled out because they are gay or because they are Muslim. If we want to explain to some bigot why they are wrong, we would take different paths depending on what prejudice they hold – against gay people or Muslims. Would you agree with that?

    Because, no matter how much I would like it to be so, simply telling someone that everyone should be treated equally doesn’t work. We have to tackle issues behind those prejudices, things that prompt people to hold them, and those can be very diverse. While “othering” might be the main reason, since it’s quite useful for governments or various other in-groups to encourage it, there are usually layers of beliefs and lies that we have to debunk.

  10. Dianne says

    What is wrong with using the phrase anti-muslim bigotry?

    Nothing except that if you’re confronted with a story like Mr. Allami’s as an example of “Islamophobia” and your first response is “No, no, that’s the wrong phrase. ‘Anti-muslim bigotry’ is the proper term” then you appear rather lacking in ability to empathize with a person who is experiencing prejudice.

  11. says

    Thanx for this.
    If you walk the world with open eyes, you’ll soon become aware of how muslims are being treated differently just for being muslims, not for anything else.
    The media chimes in.
    Every bad deed done by a muslim is done because they are muslims.
    How is it called when a non-muslim, preferrably privileged man shoots his wife who wanted to leave him and the kids?
    A family drama.
    How is it called when a muslim man does it?
    Right, an honour-killing, indicating that this is something all muslims do and condone.
    To add some more annectodata:
    Two colleagues of my husband, both ethnic Germans, German names, went to the USA for fishing.
    When they wanted to board the plane on their way back home, they were strip-searched and almost missed the plane.
    Their crime:
    Simply based on their tastes, they had chosen the Halal-dinner.
    That was not because there was anything else about them that made them suspicious. They were grade one tourists in any other respect, but just doing something that muslims would do got them into trouble.

  12. says

    You’re like the guy who says that “homophobia” is a misnomer because he doesn’t FEAR gay people, he just thinks that they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights that he does. I don’t know if the argument is INTENDED to be silly, but it comes across that way. Why use any word for anything if it can possibly be misinterpreted to mean something else?

    The phrase “anti-Muslim bigotry” does indeed describe the phenomenon. It fails in comparison as a propaganda tool, however, because it cannot lean on our aversion to homophobia – a very successful propaganda phrase (which is, to be clear, not a mark against the word or a suggestion that the phenomenon is not very real). The argument should not be, in my mind, that Islamophobia doesn’t exist, but that quite often the accusations thereof are specious.

  13. ACuriousMind says

    Since you ask, I consider all catchphrases labeling a specific bigotry as a bit problematic. Be it “racist”, “homophobe”, “islamophobe” or any other term indicating a bigoted and hateful treatment of other human beings of a specific group, I cannot help but think that these terms lead some people to simply criticize others by calling them these names without pointing out to them why it is so obviously wrong and detestable to discriminate (which is what, in my opinion, should always be done, and I trust that you will agree here). Furthermore, to craft these labels by appending “phobia” seems, coming from etymology, very weird to me. Sure, some may be hateful bigots because they fear (“phobia” – fear) anything that is not like them, but most of them do not feel fear, but anger and hatred and scorn. Why label them “phobes”, while they are not afraid, but hateful?
    Of course, some kinds of discrimination and bigotry deserve more urgent attention than others. But do these labels and names really help the cause of fighting them? I cannot see how.
    You yourself, by mentioning “anti-gay bullying”, have given a perfect example of how to address specific issues without needlessly making up new words and without implying anything about the fearfulness of the perpetrators. Why should we not stick to such manners of speech?

  14. ACuriousMind says

    I have not dismissed the phenomenon of anti-muslim discrimination, I have questioned the usefulness of labeling it “Islamophobia”.

  15. ACuriousMind says

    No, I would not object to “anti-Hispanic prejudice” because that is a perfectly descriptive term, exactly pointing out what is the issue. But a term like “Hispanophobia” would be unnecessary, and even confusing as to what the actually issue is, as “phobia” and prejudice are not inherently linked to each other in any way.

  16. Dianne says

    But a term like “Hispanophobia” would be unnecessary, and even confusing as to what the actually issue is, as “phobia” and prejudice are not inherently linked to each other in any way.

    As has already been asked, do you object to the term “homophobia” on the same grounds? Would your reaction to hearing about a gay bashing be “don’t use the word ‘homophobia’-there’s no evidence that the perpetrators were afraid”? This seems to me to be diverting the argument from something critical (people are being harassed and in some cases killed because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc) to something unimportant (what word is used to describe the prejudice.)

  17. chigau (違う) says

    Was this the QPP?
    The Quebec Provincial Police have a dismal record when it comes to dealing with not-so-white people.
    (The Ontario PP are no better.)

  18. says

    Ah, so it IS that argument. How tedious.

    I’m assuming that you haven’t been reading this blog for very long, so I will encourage you to go FAQ yourself before you make any more errors about my stance on calling people racist as a personal criticism. I also suggest you read the post you’re commenting on, where I specifically detail why the term -phobia is appropriate in this context.

    I suppose that, by writing this article, I have opened myself up to people who are here to jump up and down on semantics in the place of having an actual argument. That is clearly my mistake, and one that I will be careful not to make again.

  19. Alverant says

    Thanks for this. On news boards I often see islamophobic posts and as someone who believes in freedom of religion I’m torn between correcting them and not wanting to defend a religion I dislike and under other circumstances happily critize. It’s hard to say “Yeah even though it’s a messed up faith, we shouldn’t be paranoid about it and think every muslim is a closet terrorist.” convincingly.

    On a side subject, I would say Mr. Allami showed bad judgement in saying he wanted to “blow away” the competition. It doesn’t justify his treatment, not by a long shot, and I wish him well in his lawsuit. But just as we have Schrondinger’s Rapist, there’s Schrondinger’s Terrorist and this is an unfortunate example of how we have to mind what we say to avoid misunderstandings.

  20. says

    On a side subject, I would say Mr. Allami showed bad judgement in saying he wanted to “blow away” the competition.

    No. Absolutely not. That is an unbelievably dumb thing to say. Your ethnic background does not mean you should be ‘more careful’ when using common phrases.

  21. Alverant says

    But don’t people who commit honor killings usually SAY it was an honor killing? And if they say it was an honor killing why is the media at fault for believing him?

  22. Sigmund says

    My first response is to say it seems a clear case of bigotry.
    How is that some sort of failure to empathize with the victim?
    Like I said, “islamophobia” means two things – bigotry, like that suffered by the individual in the anecdote, and also what you or I might see as valid criticism of Islamic religion.
    For example Crommunist himself, by simply stating:
    “the face of Islam we see today is one of repressive fanaticism that stifles human progress”, is guilty of islamophobia – as it is defined by many.
    The fact that both those targeting Mr Allami AND Crommunist can be described as islamophobic is a problem because only one of them is demonstrating anti-muslim bigotry.

  23. Alverant says

    And if you choose NOT to and something bad happened because of it, would you regret that choice?

  24. Dianne says

    As I mentioned in another comment, the term “antisemitism” is sometimes used to mean “critical of Israel”. Does that make antisemitism a not useful description of the prejudice faced by people who are ethnically or religiously Jewish? Just because people can abuse a description of prejudice does not mean that the prejudice does not exist or that the most common word for describing this prejudice is somehow wrong.

  25. Sigmund says

    “You’re like the guy who says that “homophobia” is a misnomer because he doesn’t FEAR gay people, he just thinks that they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights that he does. I don’t know if the argument is INTENDED to be silly, but it comes across that way. ”
    Did you reply to the wrong comment there because I fail to see how you could possibly read your interpretation that into the words I wrote.
    How on earth do you interpret what I said as thinking “that they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights” as me?
    Could you explain it to me because it is honestly the most bizarre reply to a comment that I have ever seen.

  26. Dianne says

    And if you choose NOT to and something bad happened because of it, would you regret that choice?

    See Crommunist’s previous post on blaming the victim.

    It’s a double bind anyway. If Mr. Allami didn’t use words like “blow away” then people would complain that he was dull and talk about how Muslims don’t know how to inspire their employees.

    Why should someone be “Schrodinger’s terrorist” because they are or “appear” Islamic anyway? Most North American terrorists are white, including some really “successful” terrorists like McVeigh. Perhaps we should arrest white people for saying that they’re going to blow away the competition.

  27. Dianne says

    They were grade one tourists in any other respect,

    I hate to say this, particularly since I live in an area that is dependent on tourism for survival, but…this isn’t really the moment to visit the US. There are plenty of other places in the world to fish. TSA will harass just about anyone on any excuse. And immigration/customs is simply appalling, even for citizens. Not to mention various state laws. Perhaps you heard about what happened to the Mercedes executive in Alabama?

  28. Alverant says

    Diane, when did I say anything about blaming him? I said he showed poor judgement but that’s not the same as blame. As for it being a double bind, there are other ways to inspire employees without using metaphorical explosions. If he said, “crush” or “humiliate” it would still inspire his employees.

    And maybe we should be arresting white people for saying they’re going to blow away the competition. It’s literally happened before. Last year I read about how one pizza shop owner burned down a competitor.

  29. says

    I think this is the heart of the matter:

    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.

    First sentence: true; and dangerous, regrettable, worrying, to be resisted. Second sentence: true only with qualifications. Third sentence: ditto.

    The trouble is, Islam does pose dangers, especially to a great many people born into it and unable to leave it. That’s not true of race or sex or transgender etc.

    It’s more like attitudes to racist groups and the like. It’s also different, because Islam of course covers vastly more people and has long historical roots, both of which make it more reasonable and more urgent to assume that many people under the umbrella of “Islam” are much more liberal than their belief system is.

    But still. The belief system itself is not liberal.

    This fact makes life difficult for (at least) Muslim men. That’s bad. But it doesn’t follow that we have to love Islam.

  30. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    “And if “Islamophobia” isn’t the word to describe it, what is?”

    The OP is calling for accuracy in the use of terms. There is a clear example of a phenomenon that is all to common these days and we certainly need a word to describe it so that we can have serious discussions without confusion of what we mean by the terms we use.

    Here is one approach: What if the person discriminated against had been jewish? Would we use the term Judeophobic or anti-Semitic? If a Brazilian was discriminated against for speaking Spanish, would we call that Hispanophobia (if this is the correct word) or anti-Hispanic.

    The term homophobic appears to be quite a special case that does not fit the pattern.

    I can see the political and the linguistic aspects of these pre- and postfixes clashing up against each other.

  31. ACuriousMind says

    No, my reaction to hearing of such an event would certainly not be to start a discussion about semantics and totally ignore the fact that something far worse than a misnomer happened.
    My reaction would be condemning these events, and regretting that after centuries of Enlightenment the world is still a dark place.
    My reaction would be to think about how we can prevent such things, and what are the causes of such behaviour.
    And then my reaction would be to ponder on whether “Islamophobia” is the right term to apply there, or is the right term to use at all.
    To neglect the issue of the word because there is something worse we could worry about is a very strange stance. We can have more than one argument at one time.
    Words matter – although human lives, of course, matter more.
    Yes, there is anti-Muslim hatred, discrimination and violence. Yes, there is a need for pointing these things out, for fighting them, and I will not disagree with anyone’s objections to such practices simply because he/she uses “Islamophobia” to name these detestable actions. But nevertheless, while fully agreeing with the essential content of such utterances, why is it that so many seem to get furious at my statement that I think there are better ways to talk about such things?
    What actual argument is to be had here instead of arguing about semantics? Shall we argue about the existence of anti-muslim, anti-gay, or anti-atheist hatred, prejudice and violence? IS there anything to argue about other than “It is despicable, bigoted, and should be fought in every instance”? What actual argument are you expecting below a post dedicated to the very word “Islamophobia”?
    I fear that either I am misunderstanding you, or you are misunderstanding me.

  32. says

    No. I would place the blame where it rightly belongs – on the racism of others. There is no circumstance under which I would say “well, I guess I share in a bit of the blame here”

  33. Dianne says

    I said he showed poor judgement but that’s not the same as blame.

    This is very much the language people use when they’re “not blaming” rape victims. “Of course, I don’t BLAME you, but you must admit that you showed poor judgement by (wearing revealing clothes, getting drunk, flirting, etc).” Whether Mr. Allami’s comment was in poor taste or not, it does not justify his harassment.

  34. Matt Penfold says

    Diane, when did I say anything about blaming him?

    In your previous posts. You did not actually explicitly say you blamed him, but given you thought it important to point out you thought his choice of words was poor, it is pretty clear that you in fact blame, in part at least, for what happened to him.

    Now I expect you will come and deny that was your intent, but here is a little test that will show you are either lying to us, or more likely to yourself, when you do so. Imagine a woman has been the subject of a vicious attack which we were discussing here when someone came in and point out that it was a poor choice for her to wear a mini-skirt and skimpy top. Do you think that person could get away with claiming they were not blaming the victim ? I would hope not, and if you can see why that person cannot claim they are not blaming the victim hopefully you can see why you cannot either.

  35. says

    Absolutely, and whenever someone mislabels accurate criticism of Islam with irrational fear, I hasten to show them the multitude of ways in which they are mistaken. The Shafia case (which I will comment on a bit tomorrow) is a perfect example of that. There are truly Islamophobic statements being made by various commentators, and others that are perfectly correct and defensible critiques of Islam. Learning to separate those two is the job of a skeptic.

  36. says

    Guh. Yes, let’s latch on to that one piece and throw out the substance of the argument, shall we?

    Your argument is that we shouldn’t use (this specific word) because it fails to meet some set of criteria that you’ve designed. I am saying that this argument parallels people who say that “homophobia” is a nonsense word because he or she doesn’t specifically fear gay people. It’s a derail that completely misses the point of the discussion.

  37. walton says

    I very much agree with this post. For the far right in Europe today – the likes of Geert Wilders, Nick Griffin, the “English Defence League”, and so on – Islam and Muslims have become convenient bogeymen to justify a racist anti-immigration agenda. Scaremongering about “Eurabia” and the “Islamification of Europe”, and stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists and jihadis, are favourite rhetorical positions of the xenophobic right. It gives them a superficially-plausible rhetorical cover, since they can claim that their opposition is to Islamic culture and religion, not to any particular race or ethnicity; but the real agenda is to promote a xenophobic fear of outsiders, to restrict immigration, and to deprive Muslims of civil rights. Sadly, some popular atheist speakers, like the odious Pat Condell and even Sam Harris, tend to encourage these kinds of sentiments.

    Does this mean we shouldn’t criticize Islamic fundamentalism or religiously-motivated bigotry? Of course it doesn’t. People should be speaking out for the rights of Muslim women, Muslim LGBT people, and others whose voices are marginalized within Muslim communities – which means, first and foremost, listening to the voices of those people and supporting them. (People like Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, say.) But that isn’t what the xenophobic right care about; they don’t give a crap about human rights. Rather, their agenda is to end immigration and keep Muslims out of Europe – something which will be extremely harmful to the human rights of Muslim refugees fleeing Islamist theocratic regimes, for instance, a group who already suffer horrifically as a result of Western countries’ restrictive immigration policies.

  38. Sigmund says

    The comparison with antisemitism is an interesting case.
    “Antisemitism” is generally considered to mean anti-jewish bigotry. A criticism of jewish religious teachings (for instance to state that the God of the old testament seems to be a horrible monster, or that the punishments of Leviticus are barbaric) would almost never be included as an example of antisemitism. OK, perhaps some people would include criticism of jewish religious teachings as being “antisemitic”, but this is far from the accepted use of the term.
    On the other hand criticism of the same sort of teachings from Islam are certainly accepted as examples of islamophobia.
    It’s a double standard of which we should be aware.

  39. says

    I think you are failing to distinguish some important terms here. “Islamic” in this context refers to the theological bent of a political organization. “Islamist” refers to a particular theopolitical doctrine of spreading Islam to the whole world, with the goal of having the whole world live according to some interpretation of Shariah. Those two things are different.

    Also, this post makes no reference to the xenophobic right wing in any way, which makes me wonder if you actually read the post or just skimmed through.

  40. says

    Which is, I hope, the substance of this post. There is an important difference between holding up Islam to special scrutiny (legitimate) and then holding up Muslims to special scrutiny (not). Those who use the same word to describe both things are wrong, but I dare say that those who use that as an excuse to say that “Islamophobia isn’t real” are wrong too.

  41. Sigmund says

    No, that’s not what I’m saying.
    What I am saying is that the term has two meanings.
    I have the same problem with the term “spirituality”.
    It’s the fact that it has two conflicting meanings that gives the term its propaganda value – you can silence criticism of a religion by labeling someone islamophobic.

  42. says

    But I still think “Islamophobia” is the wrong word, and ridiculous. Until there are words like “Catholicismophobia” and “Mormonismophobia” in common use I’m not going to agree that “Islamophobia” is a useful word.

  43. says

    You can silence criticism of an ethnic group’s practices by calling it ‘racism’ too. Many people conflate Islamophobia with racism. Does that mean that I should start shopping around for new words because some people are lazy?

  44. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ Crommunist

    But presumably “homophobia” is a thing you’re okay with?

    Here is a fairly simple way to look at it. There is no rational way to fear a homosexual person as opposed to any other person. Any fear (which may find expression as hatred) in this regard is therefore irrational and may fall under the definition of a phobia.

    With fear of a religion (whatever religion) there is much more to it. There are very real, rational reasons to fear religious people.(Far to often child abuse and misogyny expressly and intrinsically part of their religious beliefs.)

    Where there is confusion produced in using the suffix “-phobia” in the latter case, this does not occur in the former.

  45. ischemgeek says

    I’m reminded of this story. Particularly of the responses in the comment thread, which were variations on “I’m white and I got pulled out of line for screening that one time so it totally wasn’t because she’s brown and wears the hijab!”, “that’s what you get for flying while Muslim,” and “suck it up!”

    Fact is that people who are Muslim face discrimination based on their religion. And people I know who aren’t Muslim but look Arabic face discrimination because they’re often taken for Muslims, too (case in point: two kids of Indian and Egyptian decent I knew in school were beaten up regularly and called “terrorist” and “raghead” after 9/11 – even though they’re not Muslim and not extremists… but they’ve got brown skin and black hair).

    In a parallel to Ian’s “shuffling feet” post, a coworker of mine who is a Muslim woman from the Middle East (I don’t say where to protect her privacy) once told me that when her family travels, they make sure to only speak in English and keep their cell phones off, so they don’t make anyone nervous.

  46. says

    Since it apparently slipped past you on the first reading:

    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?

  47. ischemgeek says

    Saying that you don’t blame him but he showed bad judgement is like a parent saying that they’re not pissed off at their kid for throwing a house party but the kid showed bad judgement. It’s transparently false.

  48. walton says

    I think you are failing to distinguish some important terms here. “Islamic” in this context refers to the theological bent of a political organization. “Islamist” refers to a particular theopolitical doctrine of spreading Islam to the whole world, with the goal of having the whole world live according to some interpretation of Shariah. Those two things are different.

    I know that. I didn’t say they weren’t distinct, and I’m not sure how you got that from anything I said.

    Also, this post makes no reference to the xenophobic right wing in any way, which makes me wonder if you actually read the post or just skimmed through.

    I know it doesn’t. And yes, I did read the post. But the xenophobic far right is relevant to your post, whether you think so or not, because this…

    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.

    …is happening because of the phenomenon I described: Islam has become a bogeyman used by the xenophobic right wing to advocate authoritarian policies, and the irrational paranoid backlash to which you’re referring is happening largely because of that. I think it’s important to take this into account. When atheists like Condell or Harris go on anti-Muslim rants, they are, in effect, lending rhetorical support to those who are pushing a xenophobic agenda.

    And seriously, it would be nice if you’d be a bit less rude and condescending, especially to people who turn up agreeing with you. FFS.

  49. Dunc says

    Until there are words like “Catholicismophobia” and “Mormonismophobia” in common use I’m not going to agree that “Islamophobia” is a useful word.

    Well, “anti-Catholicism” is a pretty common term. Lord knows I’ve been accused of it often enough… And it is regularly used both to describe legitimate criticism of Catholic doctrine (and subsequent attempts to interfere in the legislative process) and the legacy of sectarian discrimination and inter-communal violence we still have lingering over here from the days of the Reformation and the Wars of The Three Kingdoms. You literally cannot criticise some Bishop’s attempt to legislate prejudice without somebody implying that you want to start burning Catholics again… Yet it’s a perfectly useful term when used properly.

    As far as I can see, you’re basically just complaining about a lack of etymological rigour and uniformity in the English language, specifically as applied to neologisms relating to religious discrimination. That’s never going to be a particularly successful argument, because the English language is a mess.

    So, I guess the question then becomes: why does this particular bit of etymological untidiness in what is probably the world’s most notoriously untidy and irregular language bother you so much?

    Arguing about whether the term should be “Islamophobia”, “anti-Islamicism”, “anti-Muslim bigotry” or whatever is both stupid and pointless, because usage is what matters. You know all those dorks who bring dictionaries to arguments? You don’t really want to be one of them, do you?

    Neologisms are often chosen for ease of pronunciation – “Catholicismophobia” fails miserably on that score. Plus, “anti-Catholicism” has been in common use since long before the “-phobia” style of neologism became fashionable.

  50. Matt Penfold says

    In the context of the UK there is a need take care when criticising Islam since the far-right use Islam as code for people with origins in the Indian Sub-Continent. A large majority of Muslims in the UK have origins in the Sub-Continent, and the far-right, seeing it become less acceptable to refer directly to race have taken to using code words which everyone knows refer to race, but the likes of the BNP and EDL think are more acceptable.

  51. says

    Furthermore, to craft these labels by appending “phobia” seems, coming from etymology, very weird to me. Sure, some may be hateful bigots because they fear (“phobia” – fear) anything that is not like them, but most of them do not feel fear, but anger and hatred and scorn. Why label them “phobes”, while they are not afraid, but hateful?

    Perhaps you just don’t understand the suffix as well as you think you do. I remember words like Francophobe, Germanophobe, etc., be slung about specifically to describe those people who felt an aversion to people of French descent, German descent, etc. No more frear was implied than is typically associated with hate generally (but how often do we hate something we do not also fear on some level, or fear something we do not dislike)?

  52. Bruce Gorton says

    Most of us arguing here come from a place of privilege. We do not have the unique pressures as those on the Islamic apostate.

    So far as I have seen, such apostates oppose the use of the term for much the same reasons as those supplied by Ophelia Benson, that the term casts too broad a net and is in fact used to silence critics of Islam.

    None of us really have an analogous concept within the religions we deconverted from.

    So how about we seek the input of someone with that experience?

  53. says

    You mean like Maryam Namazie, who is specifically name-checked at the beginning of this piece? She and Ophelia share more or less the same view.

  54. Bruce Gorton says

    As do most, if not all, Islamic apostates I have read. A lot of the criticsm seems to stem from the fact that in using the term for bigots, we marginalise critics who end up with the exact same term attached to them.

    And this gets quite thoroughly ignored.

  55. Enkidum says

    I think it’s correct to say that islamophobia is parallel to homophobia – an irrational hatred of a certain group. At the risk of bringing the semantics back in, though, I really do dislike the use of “phobia” in this context – what homophobes and islamophobes do is precisely the opposite of what agoraphobes and claustrophobes do in the presence of the thing they’re “afraid” of.

    But aside from etymological concerns, I can’t see how anyone can object to the substance of this post. There are legitimate reasons to criticize and even to fear Islam. There are also total lunatics like Pam Geller. We need a way to refer to them.

  56. says

    The problem is not with the word, however, nor is it with the concept. The problem is with people using the word inappropriately to silence critics, and an audience failing (often intentionally, in the spirit of arch-liberal ‘tolerance’) to skeptically parse the meaning. I do not think dumping the phrase is the answer – I think fighting back against those who misuse it is.

  57. says

    I really wasn’t trying to come across as rude. I was confused by your use of the term “Islamist regime” so I wanted to make sure we were clear on concepts. I also get hit regularly with people who show up to a post and write something tangentially related to the topic because they have an axe to grind. Most of those are copy-paste jobs based on Google alerts. You’re not one of those, and I apologize for implying that you were.

  58. Ace of Sevens says

    I’m not sure that’s accurate. Ophelia seems to objecting to the term (engaging in rather selective linguistic nitpicking). Maryam seems to object to the whole concept. See her scathing treatment of the ACLU’s role in getting Okalahoma’s Sharia ban overturned, for instance.

  59. Carax says

    “…become well-nigh irresistable if a Republican wins the Presidential election.”

    America is already at “war” with Iran in covert and extrovert ways – and all under a Democratic president.

  60. Carax says

    What about people who have contempt, without fear, for religions like Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism? This would hardly be classified as a phobia. It just so happens many secularists feel the same contempt for Islam as they do Christianity and are ridiculously labeled Islamophobes. It’s more like Islamonausea. All religions are historical frauds established to politicize religious figures for political control. It’s time to look at the bigger picture.

  61. davroslives says

    I’m uncertain as to where to come down on this issue. Fear/hatred of Muslims based entirely on their religion exists, absolutely. I know OB doesn’t deny this, though I’m not familier with Maryam’s writing. And, really, I do think that Islamophobia is an entirely accurate way to put it.

    I think perhaps the main reason that many oppose the word is that it is sometimes used to blanket-reject any criticism of the religion, much the way that some use “anti-semitism” to reject any criticism of Israel. But that doesn’t mean that those words aren’t useful. I often run into this issue with some other terms, where the pedantic and etymological bit of my brain runs into my “this is the way the world works” bit.

    So, I guess I side with Crommunist here, but I also reserve the right to intensely dislike the tenets of the religion (and of all religions, for that matter)

  62. DR says

    I object to the dismissal of islamophobia because too many people are willing to give Christianity a pass while giving Islam the boot. I see no intrinsic difference between Islam and Christianity: both are equally invalid, both are equally militant in their admission of no competitors (actually, historically Islam has been more tolerant of other faiths than Christianity; it’s only very recently that the roles have been reversed).

    And both are guilty of condoning acts of violence and terrorism in their “defense”.

    The only differences that matter are geo-political. Islam is currently concentrated mostly in areas which are under-developed, while Christianity is concentrated in areas which are fully modern. But modernity came in the West at the expense of Christianity, not because of it, and it came with much shedding of blood and treasure. Can you really expect modernity to come to the East without the same?

    So yes, I will call anyone who makes a special case of what is just the common violence of any Faith an Islamophobe if their ire is especially focussed on that Faith. There is no “singular” faith; they are either all singularly evil, or they are all equally evil. It doesn’t really matter to those who die because of them.

    To anyone who doubts that Christianity is as evil as Islam: see Uganda, Oklahoma City, The Atlanta Olympic bombings and the countless firebombings of clinics and killing of medical doctors. To anyone who thinks Islam is worse than, say, Hinduism, I’d say to look at the massacres of muslims in India (repaid in full by the massacres of Hindus, of course).

    The evil is in Faith, not in which particular whiff of Faith one ascribes to.

  63. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    There is a difference between dislike or even hatred of a religion and dislike or hatred towards a generic practitioner of that religion. I thoroughly dislike the Catholic hierarchy’s insistence that the prestige and dignity of the Catholic Church is more important than the welfare of children. But I do not accuse the Catholics I know of being child rapists.

  64. P Smith says

    Without intending to stir the pot again, wouldn’t people agree that some uses of “______phobia” are nothing more than attempts to justify bigotry, not fearful and conditional reflexes? Claims of “homophobia” often seems as invalid as “gay panic defense”.

    “______phobia” sounds a lot like “the war on terror”. One cannot declare war on a tactic. Can one really be fearful of people who are not doing anything? (First to mind are Juan Williams talking about airplanes and the idiot who said he’d “cross the street to avoid black men”.)

    I can understand phobia in people who *have* had trauma (e.g. rape victims who distrust people, people growing up scared of an animal that frightened them in childhood) but not in people who have no such experience.

    .

  65. witless chum says

    I think the case of the Lowes home improvement chain pulling their ads from the TLC network show All-American Muslim. I only watched a few episodes, but its basic point of view seemed to be something like “Americans think faith is a good thing, we deserve to get that sorta societal approval, just like Christians and Jews!”

    The show featured a bunch of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan (Muslims and Arabs (a lot of whom are Christians who call themselves Chaldeans) have been moving to the Detroit area a lot over the last 20-30 years) going about their lives in engaging in staged debates and arguments about what it meant to be Muslim, etc.

    The show was sorta pushing Islam as normal in the same way the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting pushes Christianity-motivated having lots of children as normal.

    I’m sure there was measured criticism, that the show was bad because it was normalizing things like women wearing headscarfs and other generally sexist Muslim beliefs. But what came through loudest was a bunch of Christians from Florida who were upset that a show featuring Muslims got put on TV and threatening to boycott Lowes. And Lowes pulled their ads, which is why I was buying a new light switch at a True Value Hardware affiliate last weekend.

  66. Dianne says

    women wearing headscarfs and other generally sexist Muslim beliefs

    While I agree that requiring women but not men to wear head scarves is sexist, I’m not sure how it’s all that different from requiring women but not men to wear shirts.

  67. says

    There is a sign near the beach down the hill from my house that says something like “upper body nudity in public places is legal in the entire province of British Columbia for both men and women.” Very few women exploit the opportunity to let loose in that fashion, outside of Wreck Beach (which is a nudist beach about 6-7 km west of me).

  68. Dianne says

    Good. In NYC restrictions on clothing must also be applied equally to men and women, i.e. if women are required to wear a shirt men must also be. I had to remind people of this several times when my kid was a baby and several people nearly had vapors and required the fainting couch because they got a brief glimpse of my breast as the baby ate.

    Few women here exercise their right all that often, though “no pants day” on the subway is very much a co-ed event.

    I can’t imagine that that many men exercise their right to go shirtless anywhere in BC besides Vancouver either. Isn’t it rather cold for that sort of behavior there?

  69. Dianne says

    Er, I meant good that men and women have equal rights, not good that few women take advantage of their rights.

  70. says

    Isn’t it rather cold for that sort of behavior there?

    In the WINTER, maybe. Even then, it only drops down to around the mid-20s (Farenheit) in the coldest parts of winter in Vancouver. In Victoria it’s not even that cold. When the sun’s out in the summer, if we get a good patch of heat, it can go up to the low 90s easily. The Okanagan (where I grew up) get crazy hot in the summer.

  71. says

    Crommunist: Fair enough. Thanks for the apology, and I’m sorry too if I was needlessly hostile. I am used to arguing this subject frequently, and, in particular, talking about the close relationship between anti-Muslim rhetoric and the racist far right; so it’s probably true that I went off on a tangent that wasn’t directly related to your original post, although I agree with everything you said in the OP. (I’m particularly interested in issues of immigrants’ rights and refugee rights, so I tend to look at things from that perspective; unfortunately, I’m used to seeing the xenophobic right promoting paranoid fears about Islam as a pretext for supporting destructive anti-immigration laws.)

  72. says

    Easy for me to forget that while this is (mostly) an intellectual exercise for me, I’m often talking about real-life issues for people. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  73. dianne says

    Well I think the word “homophobia” is a bit of a malapropism but it doesn’t matter much. “Islamophobia” isn’t parallel.

    Why not?

  74. dianne says

    For whatever it may add to this discussion: US Muslims not much of a threat according to this article. So maybe the “rational fear” people keep talking about isn’t all that rational after all.

    At least in the US. Nothing in the article on Canadian Islamic terrorists.

  75. Bruce Gorton says

    Ja, but that is the problem – the use of it in the manner I am describing is not actually inaccurate, and is widely accepted.

    The term was designed to try and equate someone calling the Koran a manual of hate, with someone calling for the violent expulsion of Muslims.

    Which brings in unique and not entirely fair pressures on Islamic apostates to be sensitive, in ways we would not demand in Christian apostates.

  76. theophontes, Hexanitroisowurtzitanverwendendes_Bärtierchen says

    @ Crommunist

    Since it apparently slipped past you on the first reading: ….So why wouldn’t it be accurate to call this a case of irrational bigotry motivated solely by religious affiliation?

    I’m not sure this is addressed to my comment here, * but will try and add my perspective:

    Religion is a bit of a stick insect, in that it likes to camouflage its agenda and thus score a free ride at every turn. Obfuscation is the name of the game. Religious bigotry and bigotry based on religion are very real things and things we certainly do not wish to encourage. In criticising the first instance, we are readily accused of the second. In reality we are solidly against both forms.

    The problem is that the two concepts are conflated, willfully conflated by the religious, so that the bigotry inherent in religion can slip through with a free pass. For this reason it is good to define carefully what it is we are attacking. All the more so if there are legitimate reasons to be fearful of religions and their acolytes. (
    To put this in perspective: I cannot imagine that there can even be a “ligitimate criticism” of homosexuality.)

    {* Sorry, but the whole nested commenting does not work for me (and many others). It is really much better to let things just flow along as per the example of TET on PZ’s blog. (Just my tuppence worth.)}

    @ Dunc

    … the English language is a mess.

    Sadly this is something that needs to be addressed. Perhaps this whole discussion would be easier if we were all standing about the Agora in the time of Pericles… ;)

    However, there is no reason we cannot use terms clearly and effectively even if our enemies don’t. As example I present you with the scientific term “theory”. The religious often trot out “…but evolution is only a theory” and think that settles it. Let us not fall into that kind of trap. We must actually know what we mean amongst each other. Let others conflate.

  77. Pen says

    I’m glad you wrote this. I have been quite uncomfortable with some of the recent discussions about London. This is a country in which atheists can expect their views to be taken pretty much for granted, and completely accepted. I regret to say that in the sixth form we ganged up on the lone Christian and made her feel bad. Whereas Muslims are a small minority, currently threatened by international affairs and national so-called security measures. I never did figure out where Maryam and Ophelia actually live, but it would be nice if American commentors realised that atheists are the ones who have privilege in the UK. This means that not everything that seems OK to the underprivileged atheist minority in the US is OK there.

  78. says

    Well, they don’t believe the guy who says he killed his 3yo in self-defense either.
    If a member of the majority kills their relatives (mostly it’s the (ex) partner killing his wife and children, the media treat the case with sympathy. How could it have happened that such a nice guy did something like that?
    The cases are looked at as individual occurences although they occur about every week
    The same crime, commited for the same reasons by a muslim is treated as a prime-example of why muslims aren’t really civilised people.

  79. Sigmund says

    “atheists are the ones who have privilege in the UK”
    How exactly are atheists privileged in the UK?
    Is it the fact that the UK reserves seats in the house of Lords for atheists and not, say, religious representatives?
    Or is it the fact that religious people rather than atheists are legally excluded from being the head of state?
    Oh wait..
    I think you are mixing up the term privilege with the simple fact that outright hostility and bigotry against atheists has declined in the UK.
    Ask yourself how privileged are apostates of Islam in the UK (if you need some input on that try asking Maryam Namazie who is a UK based atheist)

  80. says

    Oh, to point to another piece of evidence, some years ago one of the conservative leaders in Germany, Bosbach from the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) proposed that people who convert to Islam would have to be registered in an anti-terror file.
    hey would become suspects simply for making use of their right to choose their religion.
    This was especially targeted at ethnic Germans who “betrayed” christianity.
    Or take the shitstorm that happened after the German president Wulff (infamous now for other things) made the simple statement that Islam is part of Germany. With some 4 million muslims, that seems to be a simple statement of fact, an acknowledgement that we’re a multi-religious country, but it became an outrage without meassure.

  81. witless chum says

    The part of the show I watched included various debates between women who wear headscarves (no burqa-wearers) and those who didn’t.
    The official explantion is apparently that Islam calls for both men and women to be modest. But I feel comfortable calling it a sexist practice because it just so happens that the being modest ends up being more of an inconvenience on women than men. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

    Presumably, many Muslim women would tell me how I’m wrong if they had the good taste to hang out in the Crommunist comment section.

  82. says

    Right; here’s a “privileged” secular-minded person of Muslim background for you.

    http://theopinionista.com/2012/02/03/shrinking-secular-spaces-in-the-uk/

    The double whammy of disadvantage one faces for being a secular minded individual from a Muslim community living in the UK is really quite astounding. It’s bad enough that I have to battle with tiresome conservative values within my own immediate community, then on top of that, I have to contend with the whims of UK public policy makers who are more eager to have tea with fundamentalists than with secular minded individuals such as myself.

    Let’s call her “Islamophobic,” shall we?

  83. Dianne says

    Let’s call her “Islamophobic,” shall we?

    Has anyone, besides, apparently, you, done so?

  84. KG says

    That may be so; but it’s very different from a full-scale invasion, as at least two of the Repubs (Romney and Santorum) say they would be prepared to launch. Three of the four (those two plus Gingrich) openly advocate terrorist attacks – “taking out” Iranian nuclear scientists as Gingrich puts it. This is one of the small number of issues on which Paul has something sane to say, but since he’s no more likely to be the candidate than Donald Trump (or indeed, Donald Duck), he’s irrelevant, and the choice will be between Obama and one of the other three – almost certainly Romney, despite the latest caucus results.

  85. KG says

    “Well I think the word “homophobia” is a bit of a malapropism but it doesn’t matter much. “Islamophobia” isn’t parallel.”

    And yet you were happy enough to claim (absurdly, in the light of the evidence) that anti-Muslim rhetoric and movements were in fact adequately described as “xenophobic”, and you also suggested, much more reasonably, that “Muslimophobic” would be better than “Islamophobic”. But fundamentally, all this debate about terminology is a distraction from the reality of specifically anti-Muslim prejudice, just as the silly objections to “antisemitic” on the grounds that “Arabs are Semites too”, or “homophobic” on the grounds that the person expressing homophobic views isn’t scared, are ways of distracting attention from real problems.

  86. KG says

    This appeared initially in the worng place – not sure if it was my fault, or the threading system, but if the former, sorry.

    “Well I think the word “homophobia” is a bit of a malapropism but it doesn’t matter much. “Islamophobia” isn’t parallel.” – Ophelia Benson

    And yet you were happy enough to claim on your blog (absurdly, in the light of the evidence) that anti-Muslim rhetoric and movements were in fact adequately described as “xenophobic”, and you also suggested, much more reasonably, that “Muslimophobic” would be better than “Islamophobic”. But fundamentally, all this debate about terminology is a distraction from the reality of specifically anti-Muslim prejudice, just as the silly objections to “antisemitic” on the grounds that “Arabs are Semites too”, or “homophobic” on the grounds that the person expressing homophobic views isn’t scared, are ways of distracting attention from real problems.

  87. KG says

    No, no-one else has, at least here, but Ophelia likes to imply that only those who agree with her on this issue can possibly have any concern for Muslim apostates.

  88. Khantron, the alien that only loves says

    If anti-Muslim bigotry were the preferred nomenclature, it would be misused in the exact way that Islamaphobia is misused today. For example there is no word for Catholicophobia, it is instead anti-Catholic bigotry, but that doesn’t stop someone like Phil Donahue from labeling any criticism of Catholicism as anti-Catholic bigotry.

    It would be unnecessary to change the word Islamaphobia. People misuse the word, yes, but people are always going to misuse words.

  89. Pen says

    Possibly, being a secular minded member of the Muslim community is not very similar to being a secular minded white Brit. I’m sure being a minority within a minority sucks. Also both of these minorities are entitled to live out and speak about their beliefs unmolested. Still, anyone with any contact with Britain must know that no such situation prevails between Christians, ex-Christians and nth-generation atheists who make up 94% of the population.

  90. Pen says

    The British Head of State is the Queen, no? Do you really think she gets to chuck her weight around, Christian or not? I am pretty sure the House of Lords has harboured a number of atheists, but they also don’t get to do much unless they’re certain they have the approval of a large section of the public (as now?). Britain has any number of archaic institutions. Love them or loathe them, they don’t work they way you seem to think they do. As for the C of E, if it wasn’t propped up by people with an interest in the British heritage it would cease to exist.

  91. Sigmund says

    Well I am willing to listen to any actual evidence you have to back up your claim that atheists are privileged. I just don’t think the one thing you’ve offered so far – your own experience as a schoolyard bully – particularly counts.

  92. says

    Good post, very nicely laid out argument.

    I did want to add something to the discussion, mostly in response to the people think that “Islamophobia” isn’t really a phobia: personally I use “Islamophobia” to specifically refer to the irrational fear of an imminent Muslim takeover of Western European societies or the US.

    There is little doubt that this is a real phenomenon in society today. This is the supposed threat that many right-wingers and populists are fear-mongering about, after all, as Walton already mentioned.

    It’s also an actual phobia, as in an irrational fear (so no need to get into a semantic discussion about “phobia” here). It’s easy to see why: There’s no way that Muslims are going to be enough of a majority in these countries any time soon to change their constitutions. Besides, even among Muslims, a majority prefers a secular state over an Islamic theocracy anyway (in fact, many are here because they had to flee such a theocracy in the first place).

    I think the word “Islamophobia” describes this phenomenon well, better than mere “anti-Muslim bigotry” would. Personally, I prefer the former also because it puts the focus of the discussion on the object of fear, where you can reason about why there is no reason to fear it at this time, while the latter makes it about personal motives like bigotry.

    Of course, this use of “Islamophobia” doesn’t cover cases like the one Crommunist mentioned here, where people are treated as terror suspects simply for being Muslim (or having an Arab-sounding name). I’m inclined to agree with some commenters who have suggested that such cases may be more accurately described as anti-Mulsim prejudice than as Islamophobia. But I clearly don’t think that this concession renders the word “Islamophobia” useless.

    Maybe it’s too late to “take back the word” (which I take to be one of the main points that Ophelia Benson and Maryam Namazie are trying to make – please correct me if I’m wrong), as I suppose I could be accused of trying here. I’m definitely not under any delusion that I (or secularists in general) could somehow dictate how “Islamophobe” ought to be used. But as long as there is unjustified fear-mongering about Muslims, and assuming we want to talk about it and do something about it, we need a term to describe it. And whatever that term is, we should expect people to abuse it so they can hide their beliefs from valid criticism – just like we should expect bigots in turn to hijack our “valid criticism” defenses. I think, in the end, all we can do is point out when we think criticism is justified or not, and when we think accusations of fear-mongering or bigotry are justified or not.

  93. KG says

    You have an excellent point there! In the UK, Muslims constitute about 4% of the population, yet raving about the imposition of shariah on the country or parts of it is common. This is distinct from objections to the civil courts allowing some civil cases to be arbitrated by Shariah courts if both sides agree, as has been the case for many years without objection for the Beth Din courts of Orthodox Jews. I share these objections, because in both cases, women are severely disadvantaged, and may be pressured into agreeing to such arbitration, but it’s not an issue that affects most people.

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