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Islamophobia? Muslimophobia? Anti-Muslim Bigotry? A discussion between Ex-Muslims on appropriate neologisms

Me and some of my ex-Muslim community during the Women in Secularism con in DC this past weekend. Credit to Bruce F Press Photography: http://www.brucefpressphotography.com/

Me and some of my ex-Muslim community during the Women in Secularism con in DC this past weekend. Credit to Bruce F Press Photography: http://www.brucefpressphotography.com/

Have you ever had the desire for a sneak-peak into ex-Muslim groups to see what we commonly talk about together?

During the last day or so, community members at the Ex-Muslims of North America have been having a discussion regarding the terminology we ought to use to differentiate between undue discrimination against Muslims and reasoned critique of Islam. The idea is that the term ‘Islamophobia’ has become a catch-all phrase used to silence legitimate critique of an ideology in addition to condemning bigotry towards Muslims, and the two concepts need to be differentiated, perhaps deserving their own neologisms.

For the sake of attribution, here are the members who took part in the conversation. Some identities obscured for safety reasons:

  • Abdullah, EXMNA member.
  • Farid Sheikh, EXMNA member. You can find him on Twitter here.
  • Jnt, EXMNA member.
  • Kiran Opal, EXMNA co-founder. You can find her on Twitter here.
  •  Luke Clark, EXMNA member. You can find his blog here.
  • Muhammad Syed, EXMNA co-founder. You can find him on Twitter here, you can email him here.
  • Teslabear, the verified meetup organizer for EXMNA Chicago
  • Me.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. I’m not sure we reached any conclusions, but there were a lot of very intelligent and thoughtful points made that I think merit sharing with the larger atheist/skeptic community and whoever else is interested in the matter. The conversation really gives a sense of just how complex this situation is. I think an ever-recurring question among skeptics and humanists who care about social justice is ‘How can we critique Islam without enabling discrimination towards Muslims?’ This is a very relevant subtopic within that larger conversation.

I would like to note that our community largely operates under the assumption that bigotry towards Muslims is a real and prevalent form of discrimination that we want to condemn. This is not the space for denial of that fact; go elsewhere if that is your objection. I am not obligated to host such comments.

Muhammad asked the original question:

Guys I had a question
We’ve been pushing back against the term Islamophobia
I’ve been using Muslimophobia , over the weekend Marwa was using the term anti-Muslim bigotry, we’ve also used plain old xenophobia.

One issue is that its actually more targeted towards certain perceptions of Muslim, those wearing the hijab or the swarthy bearded dude etc

Any ideas on a catch phrase or word that would encapsulate the concept?

Abdullah :

Why should it only be limited to a certain type of Muslim or look? We’re all affected by it, even ex-Muslims.

Me:

I do like using the term anti-Muslim bigotry because it clearly delineates those attitudes as bigoted, setting them apart from the reasoned critique we try to engage in.

I also think, as Abdullah indicated, that the racism is much less discriminant and more insidious than just extremist stereotypes. I think a mild affiliation is enough. Remember the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab slurs directed at the non-Muslim non-Arab Miss America strutting around in a bikini, because she’s brown? Soraya Chemaly was telling us too that she gets read as from a Muslim background purely because of her name, despite it being a Lebanese Christian family name. One of my friends with the family name Nasrallah, gets stopped in airports regularly because of her last name, despite Nasrallah being a common Christian name in the Levant too. I’m sure there are myriads of other examples.

At this point an anonymous member asks why we don’t refer to it as just xenophobia, because those who are bigoted against people who are or appear to be Muslim are also bigoted towards other minorities and races, so xenophobic would be a more accurate term.

Me:

But why would we want to use a catch-all term such as xenophobia for that sort of racism when we’re talking about it in the context of critiquing Islam? Yes, anti-Muslim bigots are often more broadly xenophobes too, among other things, but we’re specifically trying to address their anti-Muslim attitudes as contrasted with our own discourse.

Teslabear:

I think it’s strange that Ex-Muslims have to come up with terms to separate ourselves from those that are bigoted or xenophobic, in general. I think creating a new term for it is useful for our circles, but it might not be helpful in the long run to create more divisions in terminology.

The gist of the issue seems to remain that if one critiques Muslim behavior or beliefs (Islam, then), one is considered a bigot or racist, which makes absolutely no sense. The issue that really needs to be resolved is that people need to stop equating Muslims with a race. Plenty of Muslims are born into or convert from varied racial backgrounds. Another issue that underlies the problem is that people think religion is somehow absolved of critical analysis, and that one should “respect” religions by not saying anything negative. Da Fuq?

We shouldn’t cater to people being fearful of being called racist/bigots when we are clearly not while criticizing a religious belief.

Me:

It’s not just for us. It’s a problem that exists with anybody whatsoever whose critique can be brushed aside using the Islamophobia accusation. Whether or not it’s unfortunate that this need is there, it’s still there and practical considerations say we address it. Whether it’s fair or not that we’re lumped in with the bigots, we need to address that circumstance by creating and *grounding* the distinction in *mainstream discourse* until it is normalized. There needs to be a better term that creates a distinction between bigoted and reasoned claims or arguments. The concepts within a term [ie, Islamophobia] already used to silence us and people like us need to be separated. The only way we normalize changes to problematic discourse is by creating distinctions, using them, and trying to spread them further. Which is why unified terminology is important; so we’re not all talking about it with different terms. Soon our work is going to be elevated to mainstream secular blogs. We’re also working on getting into mainstream media venues beyond the purely secular.

And I have to disagree that bigotry towards Muslim behavior is not racism. Let’s not forget that lumping ethnicities and cultural practices together because of a pre-conception tied to Islam is racist. Racism lies in generalizations about PoC, and conflation is one of the worst forms of generalization. Racism is almost never a direct discussion of something on explicitly racial grounds. Most racist attitudes are at the surface level not towards explicit races. Racist attitudes about single moms, rap music, food stamps, hoodies, football mascots abound. None of those are races per se. Racist discussions of them are reducible to generalized beliefs regarding the customs and communities of those who engage/partake in them. Anti-Muslim bigotry is very, very much about race. Even discussion of white converts involves concepts of theft and seduction by brown people taking over white values. We do no one favors by hiding behind the ‘Islam is not a race ‘ card as if that was relevant in whether it is or can be discussed in racist ways. Least of all ourselves, because the racism that allows others to assume that we adopt Muslim sentiments or beliefs because of our ethnicities and despite our actions and words is the same racism that Muslims suffer from.

Luke:

Because the anti Muslim sentiment is just window dressing for the bigotry and hatred against those deemed “foreign”; the specific anti-Islam rhetoric is nothing but window dressing. The same people hate brown folks from other parts of the world for the same reason while giving a different bullshit reason for doing so.

I’d be down with calling it racism, too. I just think xenophobia gets around the Islam is not a race card.

Me:

I mean, yes. And I don’t really need to point out that the problem with equating Muslims to a race is that it’s RACIST. And it is prevalent. Brown people and Muslims are often uniformly reduced to stereotypes about Arabs. People don’t fucking know that South Asia and MENA are two completely different geographical areas. Racism of that sort is already there and we need to both condemn it, reclaim our stake in its detriment, and set ourselves apart from it.

Abdullah:

Islam is not Muslims. Islam is not a race; that doesn’t mean Muslims are not a racialized group.

Kiran:

Some Hindus and Sikhs have gotten attacked/harassed by white supremacists (esp. right after 9/11) who thought they were also Muslim (or ‘Paki’ which is a derogatory term in the UK for anyone brownish).

On the other hand, some Hindus (i.e. brown people) also *hate* Muslims (esp. the brown ones) with a passion.

So, this is a very complex issue.

I do think people presume that anyone who is Muslim thinks a certain way, especially if they are wearing hijab and especially if they’re wearing a niqab, a thobe, a salafi-style or long unkempt beard etc. This presumption includes things that even some of us may consider when we first see e.g. a Muslim man in a thobe and a 6 inch beard walking with 2 women in niqabs and 6 children behind him. Does that mean anyone deemed Muslim should be treated as less than anyone deemed non-Muslim in civic matters? No. I don’t think they should. BUT, the fact is, that when *I* see a scene like what I just described above, I DO judge the people involved. I DO think that they are living in a way that is oppressive to women, that is supremacist, that is abusive to LGBTQ people, to religious minorities.

I think similarly when I see e.g. a Hassidic Jewish family, or a group of obvious Mormons walking around.

Does that mean I am Islamophobic, Hassidophobic, Mormonophobic?

I do think that this matter should be made to be *more* complex. We can not simplify this with just finding one right term, unfortunately. I don’t think one word or phrase can do justice to the matter.

I personally use ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ and plain old bigotry/xenophobia when referring to the particular brand of hostility that *anyone presumed to be Muslim* faces at the hands of those who think all “Muslims” are alike or that “once a Muslim always a Muslim” (the latter type of prejudice is what we as Ex-Muslims also face).

Muhammad:

That’s exactly the point I was trying to capture, post 9/11 a sikh man was killed b/c he was ‘perceived’ to be Muslim. Generally speaking yes *it is a complex issue* but for something to get mainstream traction it has to be more sound-bitey, one can then expand on it and highlight how complex the entire issue is.

For example in conversations with a few secularists (including on podcasts) I’ve told them to not use the word Islamophobia but to sub it with Muslimophobia. Even though i’m not convinced that is the right phrase to use.

Luke:

Muslimphobia is a neologism coined on a neologism, inelegant, and non-euphonious. If it is necessary to explicitly delineate anti-Muslim sentiments and actions, as opposed to subsuming them within the terms racism or xenophobia, I think it is better to go with Marwa’s ‘anti-Muslim bigotry.’ That also has the virtue of including Hindu hatred and persecution of Muslims (which is less racist than it is castist, though there are certainly elements of xenophobia in it).

Farid:

I have to agree with Teslabear. Bigotry is bigotry is bigotry. I don’t see how a new term will be helpful – of course I can be convinced if there is a good argument for it.

I like the term xenophobia, and it doesn’t separate us from other groups fighting bigotry/xenophobia – strength in numbers. Plus if we are against xenophobia then we are against all xenophobia not just against us, that kind of goes against the meaning of xenophobia.

This is a complex issue which will have to be explained in detail when we talk about it, doesn’t matter what term we use. My suggestion is to use a term that doesn’t pigeonhole us into the “Muslim/Islam” box. We have to appeal to more people.

Me:

I guess I honestly don’t understand the resistance to using a term specific to the bigotry we’re discussing. Nobody uses just ‘bigotry’ to talk about racism, transphobia, biphobia, ableism, or fatphobia, for instance. The same reason we don’t just say ‘humanism’ for particularly feminist issues, and object to those who would have us do so. I write about this shit a lot and a non-specific term simply will not capture the thrust of the problem. I don’t think we’re pigeon-holing ourselves or limiting our audience by acknowledging the specificity of the bigotry we face and/or are accused of. How else can we talk about it? How do we avoid generalizations ourselves otherwise? I don’t think it’s sufficient to explain the dynamics of what’s going on without highlighting exactly what kind of bigotry it is. I mean, even in this thread there have been insinuations that bigotry against Muslims isn’t about race; without using terms about racism and race-specific terms, for instance, how would one build an argument challenging that? Without acknowledging the Muslim focus of bigotry and the ways it manifests, how do we build arguments around it? At least, I haven’t been able to in my writing. Maybe those of you who write about this stuff too have been able to find a way, but I haven’t.

And yes, we are against all forms of xenophobia, but if our discourse is focused on Islam and atheism and intersectionality in between then we are not in fact addressing worldwide xenophobia. Nor should we. Just because someone has a blog about cats doesn’t mean they don’t like dogs and dogs aren’t important to them; it only means that dogs have marginal space in their blog. Any sensible person would see that.

Luke:

Anti-Muslim bigotry sounds better to me than Muslimphobia.

Muhammad:

One of my main concerns with anti-Muslim bigotry or Muslimophobia is it’s playing into the racialization, I understand that the bigotry comes from a place where Muslims are regarded as a monolith by racists but on the flip side Islamists are trying to erase that diversity as well. As always we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

Me:

Yeah, I see how that’s a stickler– which is why I say anti-Muslim bigotry rather than just anti-Muslim racism cuz it is in fact broader than that. It is a difficult subject for sure. But if what we’re hoping to do is replace the term Islamophobia with a more accurate term, should it not be specific enough so that it cannot be distorted to condemn critique of Islam by virtue of its specificity?

I don’t know. There will always be problems with however we choose to look at it.

JnT:

Muslimphobia denotes fear more than anything. And while I believe all bigotry and racism are fear-based, the word lacks the intensity of the hatred AND fear of what they know little to nothing about.

Luke:

I don’t think that ‘Anti-Muslim bigotry’ unduly racializes things. It’s elastic enough to cover Hindu persecution of Muslims and the persecution of the ‘white’ Muslims of Eastern Europe, for example, while still not pretending that the origins of much if not most anti-Muslim sentiment IS racial prejudice.

The discussion sort of died down at that point. But there you have it, a peek into the sorts of discussions we’re interested in having, the ways in which we interact with and relate to each other. Thoughts? Weigh-ins?

-Marwa

PS: Oh hey! I was on the Godless Family Webcast yesterday alongside Heina Dadabhoy to talk about Islam. My technology situation isn’t so great so unfortunately my camera cut out a lot, but the discussions we had were great. Check it out!

Related posts:

The Racism of the White Wolf Who Cried Islamophobia

How Can We Discuss Islam in Better Ways?

4 Mistakes You Make When You Talk About Islam

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  1. […] That’s a tall order. A very helpful contribution to this discussion is over at the spectacular ex-Muslim blog Between A Veil and a Dark Place, where members of the Ex-Muslims of North Americarecently discussed what terminology we should promote in place of “Islamophobia”, when discussing irrational hatred, stereotyping, demonization, systemic violence, and crimes against people of Muslim heritage or even just perceived Muslim heritage. The post is “Islamophobia? Muslimophobia? Anti-Muslim Bigotry? A discussion between Ex-Muslims on appropri…. […]

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