Criticism of Islam ≠ racism

Maryam on sharia and “Islamophobia”:

When people tell me that they don’t know enough about Sharia law to oppose it – though we hear about its abominations day in and day out – I think what they really mean to say is that it is not their place to oppose it.

In its very essence the reason for this – for the conviction that it is not one’s place to act – is a false belief that to do so would be tantamount to racism. And I do think this is why we don’t see the outrage that barbarism of this kind deserves and demands.

Now, if you are fighting Islamism or Sharia law in Iran, Egypt or Afghanistan the debate is not framed around racism and Islamophobia. I remember being on a panel discussion in Sweden with a famous Syrian atheist, Sadiq al-Azm and when the Swedes called his criticism of Islam racist, he said I’ve been arrested, imprisoned and called many things but never this. This accusation of racism is specific to the debate in North America, or Europe or Australia.

If you criticise Islam or Islamism in Iran, you’re not labelled a racist, you are accused of enmity against god, corruption, blasphemy, heresy and apostasy. So the accusation of racism and Islamophobia is specific to the debate taking place in the west.

Just to give you an example, when the Saudi government arrests 23 year old Hamza Kashgari for tweeting about Mohammad, it doesn’t accuse him of racism; it accuses him of blasphemy – an accusation punishable by death. The same government though will accuse critics of Saudi policy abroad as Islamophobic.

What I’m trying to say is that Islamists and their apologists have coined the term Islamophobia, – a political term to scaremonger people into silence – by deeming it racist to criticise anything related to Islam.

And boy is it working.



  1. says

    Maryam has been one of my heroes (should I say heroines?) for a number of years. I find I agree with her about 99% of the time, but the things I most admire in her are her courage and forthright honesty.

  2. says

    Same here. She was a hero of mine before the NSS named her Secularist of the Year. I published many articles of hers at old B&W. She’s a force!

  3. emily isalwaysright says

    I totally agree with this, but the complicating factor is nthat many nationalists (of whom Anders Brevik is an extreme example) ARE Islamophobic. There needs to be a distinction between those criticisms of Islam that are xenophobic-nationalist, and those that are reasonable.

  4. Upright Ape says

    I am a harsh critic of Islam. But the recent posts of Sam Harris have convinced me that a form of islamophobia akin to racism does exist.

  5. MatthewL says

    Re: Brevik

    Xenophobic, racist, terrorist, mass murderer. These seem sufficient. Islamophobic doesn’t really add anything. If he actually is phobic about Islam it’s not necessarily irrational. It’s the rest of the stuff that’s evil.

  6. MatthewL says

    @Upright Ape #4

    Why not just call it bigotry and/or racism? I don’t see what the term islamophobia adds to the conversation aside from providing cover for questionable to loathsome practices.

  7. says

    I think words like “Islamophobia” seriously muddy the waters.

    Firstly I don’t think you will find many people who are seriously anti-Islam if by that you mean they oppose the right of adult humans to have certain specific beliefs. Maybe there are a few crackpots who think like this but they are politically speaking irrelevant.

    Secondly,what happens in practice is that organisation like the EDL will exploit quite genuine examples of abuse by members of Islamic extremist organisations and use them as an excuse to attack “Muslim” communities in Birmingham or Balsall Heath. This ignores the fact that the primary victims of the Islamist extremists are members of these communities. On the other hand there are so-called leftist antifascist organisations who seem to be under the delusion that the way to defend these communities from such attack is to support the agenda of the Islamists. The communities themselves then find themselves from attack from both within and from without.

    I don’t think Anders Brevik is an extreme example of anything. I think he is insane, but insane does not mean stupid. In his case I think he is quite able to manipulate political predjucies and anxieties to his advantage.

  8. says

    I very much agree with Bernard’s analysis – eg that one shouldn’t simply defend Islamists because one doesn’t like the methods of the EDL – anti-Muslim bigotry is a term which covers most genuine problems.

  9. Brigadista says

    This is a nonsense and, as you say, designed to stifle all criticism by tarring it with the brush of extremism and intolerance. By the same token, anyone arguing against Rome’s refusal to ordain women priests could be accused of being Christianophobic. Absurd.

  10. Siverly says

    Some might find these titles of interest in respect to ‘Islamaphobia’, racism and multiculturalism:

    From Fatwa To Jihad, by Kenan Malik
    Freedom Of Expression Is No Offence, edited by Lisa Appignanesi
    Sharia Law In Britain from One Law For All campaign, essays and blogs by Maryam Namazie and Anne Marie Waters
    Multiculturalism- Some Inconvenient Truths, by Rumy Hasan

  11. says

    As somebody once said — it isn’t a phobia if you have a good reason not to like something.

    I have read the Qur’an, and found no shortage of good reasons therein to dislike Islam.

    (@ Bernard Hurley, #7: Balsall Heath is in Birmingham. B12, last I checked.)

  12. says

    Ah sorry BecomingJulie, I meant to say Bradford or Balsall Heath. These being two places I was involved in various anti-racist projects in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

  13. Dave says

    Let’s try to think about this in comparative terms, shall we? You could be against Stalinism in the 1930s because you didn’t like the idea of starving millions of peasants to death and having hundreds of thousands of innocent people shot on trumped-up charges; or you could be against Stalinism because you were a f*ckin’ Nazi.

    Being against Stalinism if you weren’t a Nazi didn’t make you a f*ckin’ Nazi, any more than being against Stalinism stopped Nazis being f*ckin’ Nazis, even if the Nazis used the same points about the dead peasants and the show-trials to voice their f*ckin’ Nazi opposition to Stalinism as the non-Nazis did.

    But plenty of people who weren’t against Stalinism would accuse you of being a f*ckin’ Nazi for being against it, mostly because they had their heads up their arses, worshipping the idea of the “necessary murder”, etc.

    And this, children, is where we are today, ceteris paribus, as they say.

  14. says

    Ha. Yes. I’ve had that thought many times. It’s probably no coincidence that in my 20s I had a somewhat obsessive interest in anti-Stalinism from the left.

  15. Dave says

    And where would leftist thought be without “It is no coincidence that…”? 😉

  16. says

    I still think “Islamophobia” accurately describes the phenomenon of people in the west fearing an imminent Muslim takeover. It’s entirely reasonable to fear Muslim fundamentalist regimes, or militant Islamist organizations, especially if you live in any of the countries where they operate. But that doesn’t make it reasonable to think that Muslim immigrants are in any position to overthrow our constitutions and impose anything resembling Sharia on any western nation anytime soon, even if they wanted to. Which most of them don’t.

    To run with Dave’s Stalinism analogy, yes, it was reasonable to fear Stalinism, especially if you were living in Russia or Eastern Europe at the time. That didn’t make McCarthyism and the Red Scare in the US anythong other than unreasonable paranoia.

    So “Islamophobia” seems like reasonable word to me to describe this unreasonable fear. If you know of a better word to describe it, I’m willing to consider it. However, I don’t see any way to prevent that word to be turned against us as well, as soon as we voice legitimate criticism against Islam. After all, that’s what we are already seeing with words like “bigoted”, “racist” or “xenophobic”.

  17. says

    Deen, I think for a meaning that narrow it’s just necessary to spell it out. I don’t see any particular need for a one-word label for every possible political idea or fear. I don’t think “Islamophobia” is the right word for it because it’s not what most people who use it mean by it, so using it that way would only confuse.

    This reminds me of a lunch hour once when I was working for the Parks Department. Someone mused aloud that Inuits (or someone) have no word for “blue sky.” Neither do we, I pointed out. We all rolled around laughing for awhile.

  18. says

    Well, I disagree that this definition is narrow, considering how widespread the phenomenon is. We see entire political parties all over Europe who’s platform can be summed up as “OMG the Muslims are coming”, and they get many, many votes.

    I agree that many people who use “Islamophobia” to label others don’t make a distinction between reasonable criticism of Islam and unreasonable fear of Islam. But that is not a feature of the word itself, it’s a result of people wanting to hide from criticism.

    I mean, it’s quite possible you’re right, and the word is irreparably tainted, and we probably don’t need a single word anyway to describe this irrational fear of a Muslim takeover of the west. But as long as anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry exists (and I sure hope nobody here is going to argue that it doesn’t), there will be Muslims trying to lump fair criticism of Islam into that category, no matter what word or phrase you use to describe it. Trying to convince people that “Islamophobia” isn’t a real thing, or isn’t the correct term, or whatever, isn’t going to change anything.

    To me, the only thing we can do, and should do, is to say “That over there is unreasonable fear of Islam, call them ‘Islamophobes’/bigots/prejudiced/whatever’ all you want. What we are saying here is fair criticism that you need to address, and here’s why.”

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