Ali Rizvi, who I believe was raised Muslim and is now an atheist, has an article in the Huffington Post denying that there is such a thing as Islamophobia. I don’t think he makes the case. He does make the case that the term is sometimes misapplied, however, as in this example from the beginning of the article:
As of this writing, the National September 11 Memorial Museum still hasn’t caved in. But the pressure is building, and it feels very familiar.
The problem is a seven-minute film being shown at the soon-to-open museum calledThe Rise of Al Qaeda. Narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, it uses words like “Islamist,” “Islamic,” and “jihad” in reference to the 9/11 hijackers and their motives.
Some Muslim groups, and others like the Interfaith Center of New York, want the film edited to remove those terms. They don’t want the public to think that Islamism or jihad had anything to do with Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks, because that could foster “Islamophobia.” We’ve so been down this road before.
As a brown-skinned person with a Muslim name, I can get away with a lot more than you’d think. I can publicly parade my wife or daughters around in head-to-toe burqas and be excused out of “respect” for my culture and/or religion, thanks to theracism of lowered expectations. I can re-define “racism” as something non-whites can never harbor against whites, and cite colonialism and imperialism as justification for my prejudice.
And in an increasingly effective move that’s fast become something of an epidemic, I can shame you into silence for criticizing my ideas simply by calling you bigoted or Islamophobic.
I would agree that any push to remove reference to Islam and jihad from a film about 9/11 is a terrible idea and is endorsing a lie. There is no question that at least one form of Islamic ideology was a huge motivating factor in that horrifying attack. But does this make the case that Islamophobia does not exist? I don’t think it does. There are unjustified accusations of Islamophobia, just as there are unjustified accusations of homophobia, racism, sexism and any other form of prejudice I can think of, but that does not mean there isn’t real racism, sexism, homophobia or, most importantly for our purposes, Islamophobia.
If you do a search for the term Islamophobia on my blog you will find dozens of examples of it in this country (the reality may be different in Europe, where there is a much bigger problem with reactionary Muslims than we have here). When people like Pam Geller, Frank Gaffney, and Robert Spencer spend all their time and energy trying to violate the rights of Muslims in the United States from even being able to build mosques, I think calling that Islamophobic is entirely accurate.
For example, they’ve battled for years in court in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to prevent a Muslim group that has been part of that community for decades from replacing their old mosque, which is too small for their current numbers, with a new one. The group is in compliance with every local and state law and their plan has been approved, but a group of — yes — Islamophobes — have been fighting tooth and nail to prevent it, losing in court several times but still persisting. They spin lurid tales of the horrible threat they believe those Muslims pose to their community despite the fact that they have been there for decades without an incident. That is genuine Islamophobia in action.
When you’ve got Spencer’s organization putting out a ridiculously fraudulent “study” that claims that America is experiencing “creeping Sharia” in the courts when virtually every example they cite shows the exact opposite — courts refusing to impose Islamic law in divorce or custody cases — I can’t call that anything but Islamophobia. It’s an attempt to make people afraid of America being taken over by Muslims who will impose Sharia law, which is such a ridiculous idea that I worry more about a Martian invasion. If anyone can propose a remotely plausible pathway to such a future, I’ll gladly reconsider that statement. Good luck.
When you’ve got people like Bryan Fischer claiming that Muslims are not covered by the First Amendment and do not have religious freedom in this country, and people like Gaffney seriously arguing that Islam is not a religion at all, what else would you call it if not Islamophobia? When you’ve got a whole bunch of fake “ex-terrorists” running around telling fantastic tales of Muslim invasions, how is that not Islamophobic? When you’ve got people like Geller, who thinks that every Muslim is a jihadist out to behead everyone, I can’t think of a more accurate term.
This is not a simple either/or. Yes, reactionary Islam is an extraordinarily dangerous force in the world today and as atheists and humanists we must oppose it loudly and passionately. But at the same time, if we are to be rational in our understanding of reality, we must also recognize that there is also such a thing as Islamophobia, especially in the United States, and we must oppose those attempts to dehumanize and demonize all Muslims just as strongly. And, I might add, we should also condemn false and exaggerated accusations of Islamophobia. There is no contradiction between those three stances. All are justified by the evidence.