I’ve not waded into the recent back and forth between Glenn Greenwald, Sam Harris and a few others over accusations of Islamophobia. I haven’t had the time to look up different statements used as evidence of Islamophobia on the part of Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins, and without doing that I don’t think I have any basis for taking a position on it one way or the other.
But I do want to respond to an argument I’ve heard many times, the claim that there is no such thing as Islamophobia, that this is merely a means of preventing people from criticizing Islam. To that I say: Bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. My friend Gretchen Koch pretty much nails it:
I also know, for that matter, what real Islamophobia is.
Real Islamophobia is a distortion of reality which makes Muslims inherently lesser by virtue of being Muslim. Real Islamophobia constructs conspiracies of what Muslims believe and do and shrieks about those, rather than things Muslims actually believe and do. Real Islamophobia is “creeping Sharia” in Oklahoma. It’s “Obama is secretly a Muslim.” It’s “Muslims don’t have the same rights as we do because Islam is not a religion; it’s a political agenda– so let’s ban the construction of a Muslim worship center anywhere near Ground Zero.” It’s “We should forbid Muslims from immigrating to our country, because they will take it over and ruin it.” It’s differentiating Muslims from “us” in the first place. It’s rampant in the US and the EU alike, and it’s disgusting. It is bigotry. It is wrong.
And she is right that criticism of Islam is not Islamophobic. There is much there to criticize. But the examples above, all standard rhetoric from the American right, is not mere criticism; rather, it is demonization. Is it, quite literally, Islamophobia, an irrational fear that Muslims are on their way to taking over the United States and/or Europe and imposing Sharia law on all of us.
We can, we should, we must criticize the barbarism of reactionary Islam. The treatment of women, LGBT people, Christians, Jews, atheists and apostates of all kinds by Islamic fundamentalists is disgusting. We also can, should and must make distinctions between different types of Muslims and not paint them all with the same broad brush. Not only is there no contradiction between those things, they are the only way to be coherent and rational rather than tribal and irrational.