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May 01 2014

Yes Virginia, There Really Is Islamophobia

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.

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  1. 1
    robertbaden

    Hard line Protestant anti-Catholicism is a real thing, but that doesn’t mean the Catholic church hasn’t been hiding abuse of vulnerable people by its priests for years (centuries?). I being remember suspicious of Mark Twain’s claims of abuse by the CC, but not anymore. Same thing with Islam.

  2. 2
    eric

    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.

    Yes it seems pretty clear that some actions or positions qualify one for the ‘more heinous’ label of a -phobe or bigot. Consider the case of mixed-race marriage: opposing it pretty much qualifies you, regardless of why you oppose it. Same, arguably, with SSM. Same, arguably, with anyone who demands one ethnic or racial group be treated differently in law. Treating a group of people differently by law, when there is no reasonable justification for doing so, is pretty close to being a good definition of bigotry.

    OTOH if you oppose something someone does (like fly a plane into a building), then that does not make you a mixed-race bigot just because they were in a mixed-race marriage. It doesn’t make you an anti-gay bigot if they were gay. And it doesn’t make you a religious bigot if they were muslim.

  3. 3
    Ani J. Sharmin

    Thanks for writing this. Honestly, I don’t like the term “Islamophobia” (don’t like the word “homophobia” much either) but regardless of how I feel about the words themselves, the point is that they’re being used a short-form for “discrimination against [group of people]” and that discrimination does exist. I do think the accusation is over-used and that conservative Muslims use it as a cover to get away with sexism and anti-LGBT discrimination within their religion.

    Whenever I read one of these “Islamophobia is not real” or “Islamophobia is real” articles, they seem like duplicates of each other, and I wish the author would actually have some discussion of situations/events they thought were discriminatory against Muslims vs. situations/events in which they thought the “Islamophobia” was being used incorrectly. (In my view, the articles that pretend Islamophobia doesn’t exist tend to defend even discriminatory criticism of Islam as not being Islamophobic, while the articles which overuse the Islamophobia accusation ignore the rights of women, LGBT people, etc. to never say anything negative about Islam.)

  4. 4
    qwints

    The immediate comparison that leaps to my mind is anti-semitism. It is both true that 1) people are unfairly accused of anti-semitism; and 2) people are actually anti-semitic. In addition, anti-semitic people often use the first fact as a defense.

  5. 5
    Taz

    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 see that claim or anything close to it in Rizvi’s article. For someone who regularly points out other people using strawman arguments, you seem to have erected a rather large one here.

    The immediate comparison that leaps to my mind is anti-semitism.

    A comparison that Rizvi makes himself.

  6. 6
    abb3w

    Some of it seems less “fear” than “contempt”, however, there doesn’t seem to be a parallel root for “-phobia” in English usage, and most people tend blind in that range of nuance.

  7. 7
    fmitchell

    Your position is nuanced and reasonable. Therefore it is confusing. Therefore it is invalid.

    Everyone who does not conform to one extreme position automatically subscribes to the extreme positions the “listener” doesn’t like.

  8. 8
    qwints

    Reading Rizvi’s article, Taz is right. Rizvi never claims that discrimination against Muslims doesn’t exist, but merely points to numerous instances where accusations of that discrimination were used to shut down discussion.

  9. 9
    laurentweppe

    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

    Which shows that Ali Rizvi is an imbecile: since islamophobia nothing but racism trying (and utterly failing) to pass as smart and progressive, it doesn’t matter whether you, personally, are muslim, christian, atheist or whatever: all it takes for the islamophobes to want to crush you under their heel is one great-grandmother who happened to be a Muslim.

    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)

    There’s a lot more of islamophobia in Europe than in the US. Wanna know why? Because on my side of the pond, the number of reactionary clerics and activists is a drop in a bucket of working-class or straight-up pauper Muslims loathed by the upper-class because they are plebeians, and despised by a fraction of the white lower-class because they perceive them as competition for the scraps of wealth the rich are dropping from their tables.

  10. 10
    Chiroptera

    qwints, #8: …but merely points to numerous instances where accusations of that discrimination were used to shut down discussion.

    Which is another thing that isn’t a major problem, at least not in the US. In the US the major political problem is the Christians who scream about persecution and suppression of their freedoms whenever they are criticized.

  11. 11
    abear

    Yes there is islamophobia. And yes there are islamists and pseudo-intellectual halfwits that call justifiable criticism of Islam islamophobia.
    btw, What happened to Chris Rodda? Did those awful MRA bullies chase her off or was it the toxic self-righteous Social Justice dingbats?

  12. 12
    Ed Brayton

    Taz wrote:

    I don’t see that claim or anything close to it in Rizvi’s article. For someone who regularly points out other people using strawman arguments, you seem to have erected a rather large one here.

    I don’t think so. He offers this quote from Sam Harris, which he says “should be read by everyone.”

    There is no such thing as ‘Islamophobia.’ This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.”

    If this is not Ali’s position, I will gladly retract my interpretation. And no, counter to someone above, he certainly is not an “imbecile.” He’s a guy who has seen far too much Islamic barbarism up close, which I think colors his perceptions. Nothing in this post is intended to be an attack on Ali Rizvi at all, I’m just trying to offer what I believe to be a more nuanced and accurate take on the issue.

  13. 13
    Taz

    Another part of that same quote from Harris:

    Needless to say, there are people who hate Arabs, Somalis, and other immigrants from predominantly Muslim societies for racist reasons.

    and Rizvi in that article also states:

    In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism.

    His examples all involve the misuse of the charge of Islamaphobia to stifle relevant criticism. Claiming that he is denying the existence of any prejudice against Muslims is going to far, I think.

  14. 14
    Taz

    “too far”, I meant.

  15. 15
    augustpamplona

    Quoting the article:

    The fear of being called Islamophobic once led many prominent Westerners to abandon their own values when they abandoned Salman Rushdie. It led Yale to publish a book about the Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy, but without the cartoons. It led Comedy Central to censor the show South Park on more than one occasion for fear of offending Muslims, even though the show irreverently lambastes virtually every other religion on a regular basis, unhindered.

    I think there’s a good chance that the last two examples may not have anything to do with fear of being called Islamophobic. Fear of offending Muslims, yes; but not fear that such offense will lead to being called “Islamophobic”. More likely, it has more to do with not wanting to make themselves the target of some violent nutcase who thinks they are defending their religion (perhaps even backed up by some Imam’s Fatwa to make it, in some sense, “official”). It can’t be reasonably denied that that had to be a consideration in the case of the book about the infamous cartoons given the history of that affair.

    You might say that these instances of self-censorship were an expression of actual Islamophobia; not in the sense of hating Islam but in the sense of actually fearing what Islam can bring forth. The Onion makes the point well with this cartoon(note: NSFW).

    On a related note, Pen Gillette has flat out said in some interview that they would never address Islam on P&T’s Bullshit because they are afraid. He also talks about it in a YouTube Pennpoint.

  16. 16
    Ace of Sevens

    @abear: Neither. She was chased off by yahoos who thought she wasn’t anti-religious enough, same as Libby Anne.

  17. 17
    Area Man

    Rizvi never claims that discrimination against Muslims doesn’t exist, but merely points to numerous instances where accusations of that discrimination were used to shut down discussion.

    Yeah, but his examples are piffle and misleading at that. Katy Perry removing a one-second scene from a video is an absolute dumbshit example of “shutting down discussion”, and if he’s reduced to using that, he’s got a lame case. More importantly, it’s not even in the same universe as using the legal system to prevent people from building a house of worship, or calling for their systematic deportation, or declaring that they lack 1st amendment rights, and so on. None of the people he complains about having been victimized were subjected to any actual legal discrimination. It’s all a big whine about the language police.

    And in the Hirsi Ali case, he didn’t bother sharing the words she said that stirred controversy. Because frankly, it’s a little hard not to call them Islamophobic:

    Reason: [...] Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

    Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

    Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

    Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

    Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

    Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

    Reason: Militarily?

    Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

    http://reason.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-trouble-is-the-west/singlepage

    Declaring all Muslims as enemies to be crushed is, I think, one of those occasions when label “Islamophobia” is perfectly valid.

    Keep in mind that the “persecution” she suffered at the hands of Brandeis was merely that they rescinded an honorary degree they were going to give her, which I don’t think she had a preexisting right to anyway. Also, they say that she has the right to speak there anytime — it’s hard to square that with “shutting down discussion”.

  18. 18
    kraut

    “Declaring all Muslims as enemies to be crushed”

    Accommodationist atheists spouting their usual lies.

    Where does she say Muslims have to be crushed? Are you incapable to differentiate between the religion – which she advocates to be crushed, because of the violence this religion inspires (the same as the idea of fascism has to be crushed, because it is like Islam an odious idea not worth survival).

    I despise the catholic version of christianity and want it to be crushed – that does mean according to your enlightened analysis that I want to crush catholics as well? You must be a fucking mind reader, if you can say that about me and Hirsi and her stance towards fucking Islam, not muslims.

    Acccording to the oxford dictionary Islamophobia is the fear of Islam and the fear of Muslims. I have no fear of muslims if they participate in society as citizens, but despise the religion as I despise any religion and have no problem advocating crushing those that participate in violence to further their irrational beliefs.

  19. 19
    eric

    Area Man @17:

    Declaring all Muslims as enemies to be crushed is, I think, one of those occasions when label “Islamophobia” is perfectly valid.

    Then that makes America as a nation in the late 30s and early 40s Japanophobes and Germanophobes. Have you ever READ any of the jingoistic proclamations associated with WWII? They make Hirsi Ali’s quotes look tame. Here’s one:

    “We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and overwhelming force on the other.”
    General George C. Marshall

    Got that? The US will be recognized worldwide as an overwhelming force. Ali is just talking about policing Islamic countries. She’s actually less jingoistic than Marshall was. Does that make Marshall a bigot? How about this one:

    “The heroism of our own troops…was matched by that of the armed forces of the nations that fought by our side…they absorbed the blows… and they shared to the full in the ultimate destruction of the enemy.” President Harry S Truman

    Ultimate destruction is good! Its so good, we have to remember to credit our allies with helping us achieve it, so they can share in the glory! Kill the cattle and sow the fields with salt, right? Hirsi Ali is proposing nothing to that extent.

    I am not trying to call WWII propaganda bigoted. It was pretty well justified. My point is, very clearly you can violently oppose someone you see as an existential enemy without necessarily treating them unfairly or being bigoted against them.

  20. 20
    Area Man

    Where does she say Muslims have to be crushed?

    In the words that she spoke.

    Are you incapable to differentiate between the religion – which she advocates to be crushed, because of the violence this religion inspires….

    I’m perfectly capable. She doesn’t appear to make that distinction. The Reason interviewer gave her every chance to make that distinction and even tried to lead her into doing it, and she conspicuously refused. She just went on about “there is no middle ground in wars” and “crushing your enemies”. She doubled-down at every juncture.

    I have no fear of muslims if they participate in society as citizens…

    She does. Among other things, she doesn’t think Muslims should be allowed to operate schools and that the Constitution is wrong in affording them that and other basic civil liberties. (You’d need to actually read the interview to know this.) Maybe you don’t have a problem with that. I do. So too did the Reason interviewer, and I don’t think Reason can be fairly accused of being an Islamist rag.

    And I’m pretty sure Muslims have a problem with it too, and they have every right to use their free speech to object to her speech, however much of an act of persecution Rizvi thinks that is.

  21. 21
    Area Man

    Then that makes America as a nation in the late 30s and early 40s Japanophobes and Germanophobes.

    Uh, yeah, that’s precisely what we were. War propaganda was designed to whip up hatred of the enemy and dehumanize them. And in the case of the Japanese, this was accomplished through blatant racism. That’s how you get people to consent to mass murder of civilians.

    My point is, very clearly you can violently oppose someone you see as an existential enemy without necessarily treating them unfairly or being bigoted against them.

    Are you seriously arguing that we did not treat the Japanese unfairly or were bigoted against them? Seriously?

  22. 22
    kraut

    “In the words that she spoke”

    apparently you prefer lying to actually reading and understanding. She did not say crush muslims, she said crush islam.
    I approve and think you are lying for whatever. Maybe a silent admirer of religion who has never got really over the emotional attachment.

    I am getting sick with what here is considered atheism. I have been one for fifty years, and this shilling for accommodation grates my nerves,. Luckily i have no emotional attachment to what is considered “gnu” atheist and bid farewell to what is considered atheism and skepticism here – a weak kneed falling over to: fuck the christians but bow to Islamists. Fuck you all.

  23. 23
    Area Man

    apparently you prefer lying to actually reading and understanding.

    No, I’m the one reading and understanding, you’re the one denying.

    She did not say crush muslims, she said crush islam.

    She was specifically asked if she thinks we should “crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot” — and she would not have been asked this if she didn’t already imply it — and her immediate answer was “I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

    If you think this means she made a distinction between the religion and the people who follow it (if so, her answer would have been “no”), you are nuts. To claim there is no middle ground is to claim no mercy.

    I approve and think you are lying for whatever. Maybe a silent admirer of religion who has never got really over the emotional attachment.

    Not that it matters, but I have never had an emotional attachment to or admiration for any religion. The fact that you would jump to this conclusion demonstrates what a bigoted ass you are.

    Luckily i have no emotional attachment to what is considered “gnu” atheist and bid farewell to what is considered atheism and skepticism here…

    Buh-bye.

  24. 24
    timgueguen

    Why do I think kraut will be back in short order?

  25. 25
    laurentweppe

    She does. Among other things, she doesn’t think Muslims should be allowed to operate schools and that the Constitution is wrong in affording them that and other basic civil liberties. (You’d need to actually read the interview to know this.) Maybe you don’t have a problem with that

    The problem is more simple: Hirsi Ali was hailed in the beginning of her career as a courageous woman who stood against religious fundamentalism, leading a lot of people to develop a political crush for her.
    Once it became apparent that , despite her personal history, she was little more than a dutch Ann Coulter, willing to say and write the most heinous things so long as she got a fat check for it, well, some people had invested too much in erecting a pedestal for her.

  26. 26
    Ed Brayton

    Upon a second reading, Taz was right. I missed a very important sentence in Ali’s piece that clearly shows that he does not deny the existence of Islamophobia entirely. I’ll be posting an apology to him separately.

  27. 27
    lancifer

    Ed,

    It is a strength not a weakness to admit ones errors.

  28. 28
    lancifer

    Speaking of admitting errors, the word “ones” in the above post should be “one’s”.

  29. 29
    atheist

    @kraut – May 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm (UTC -4)

    Where does she say Muslims have to be crushed? Are you incapable to differentiate between the religion – which she advocates to be crushed, because of the violence this religion inspires (the same as the idea of fascism has to be crushed, because it is like Islam an odious idea not worth survival).

    I despise the catholic version of christianity and want it to be crushed – that does mean according to your enlightened analysis that I want to crush catholics as well? You must be a fucking mind reader, if you can say that about me and Hirsi and her stance towards fucking Islam, not muslims.

    Kraut, you’re arguing in a frustrating manner that I see atheists using sometimes. You’re using logic but your premises are from some fantasy world. Perfect logic won’t help you if your premises are bad.

    You argue that people’s religion should be considered separate from the people themselves. I agree with that up to a point. But when you are talking about having a “war” on a religion, and arguing that “this religion must be crushed”, common sense should tell you that this is no longer about separating the believers from their beliefs and considering them in a theoretical manner.

    Like it or not such statements that “this religion must be crushed” don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist in a context. And this western context has real dangers, like popular movements against Muslim immigrants, and also well-connected people who sincerely want to start wars. I still support your right to freely discuss and criticize religion, but there is a point where “criticism” shades into demagoguery.

    Obviously extremist Islam is a real problem, and Islam itself (like Catholicism) is not immune to criticism, nor should it be. I think you need to realize that this is not just a theoretical argument about philosophy, though, and realize that your *right* to say certain things does not make them good things to say.

  30. 30
    dingojack

    I’m a little uncomfortable with Ali Rizvi’s statement:
    “In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism.”
    A people?

    Are Justin Bieber fans ‘a people’? What about painters, stamp collectors or taxidermy fans, all members of their respective ‘peoples’? Are homosexuals ‘a people’? How about Christians, Epicures or Marxists, are they ‘a people’ too?
    What exactly constitutes ‘a people’?

    Dingo

  1. 31
    Atheism Plus Blogs · Satan Says: Islamophobia is Real

    […] to live with in the USA. (Articles against the use of the term here and here, in favor here and here.) And I’m certain there are others who are undecided about this issue. I can understand the […]

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