Criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

My super smart frenemy Kenan Malik has a new post up, examining the blurry, grey landscape that is the no man’s land between the criticism of Islam and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

I tried tackling this in relation to Sam Harris – who I like but Kenan isn’t such a fan of – some time back, myself.

I find, for example, Murtaza Hussain’s criticisms of Harris misguided, though I’ve not yet formulated a good enough response. Anyway, Kenan’s articles are always incredibly nuanced and thoughtful (compare that to anything Hussain writes about Harris).

I hope you’ll read Kenan since he’s one of the smartest people you’re likely to encounter, whose topics are broad yet consistently insightful. Even The New York Times recognised this recently.


  1. mofa says

    Islamophobia, the term, must not be associated with racism. Islamic leaders and Islamic lobby groups have used this term dishonestly and the media has followed suite. The spokespeople for Islam have striven to ‘jump on the back’ of newly founded European laws protecting citizens from racism. The thing is that Islam is not a race. To be critical of Islam, to be over critical of Islam or to be completely anti-Islam is NOT racism. Muslim leaders want criticism of Islam or disdain of Islam to be viewed as racism and for their to be similar penalties applied, as would be applied to someone being openly racist. They want to shield their religion from criticism. They want to make it easier to justify their anger when they are offended by criticism. The want special protection. They want those who criticise their god and their holy books and their prophet to be perceived as a racists! Islamophobia…its true meaning is ‘the fear of Islam (the religion)’. People who try to ‘spin’ it into something to do with racism are either naive, not putting much thought into what the media are feeding them or the have a political agenda and are deliberately manipulating and exploiting a vulnerable, apathetic, over-politically correct, cultural relativistic West.

  2. khms says

    It’s true that Islamophobia isn’t the same as racism. It’s wrong that it has nothing to do with racism.

    For one, there are people who use hostility to Islam as a proxy, or maybe a dog whistle, for racism, associating Islam with dark-skinned foreigners. Yes, that’s not a realistic description of Islam, but don’t expect irrational people to realize that.

    And second, the two share a way of thinking about other people (as a collection of attributes mostly determined by the label they can stick on them). (They share it with a bunch of other -isms.) That’s probably the most important reason that it’s often the same people who do both.

    The most important difference, I think, is that there’s quite a bit that can legitimately criticized about Islam (as about pretty much every religion), but I don’t know anything you can criticize people for that is strongly enough associated with their “race” to make sense. The groupings that do make sense are, at best, very loosely associated with “race”.

    Still – Islamophobia isn’t legitimate criticism of Islam. It’s illegitimate criticism of Islam.

    For an example with a different religion, compare what the Nazis said about the Jews. There’s certainly legitimate criticism that can be made, but you’d be hard pressed to find any of it in the Nazi rhetoric.

    Oh, and it’s also hard to argue the Nazis weren’t racist. In fact, they were fairly explicit that they were talking about the “Jewish race”. It’s no longer acceptable to frame things like that in modern western culture, but that doesn’t mean that people no longer think that way.

    There are still some pretty disgusting ideas floating around.

  3. Z says

    Here’s a nice blog post on “a religion is not a race”:

    Spherical Bullshit » The [Whatever] on this thread is disgusting

    (It’s not my blog, just someone I know from RationalWiki.)

    If you want to look for examples of “genuine” Islamophobia, look at the American politicians and pundits whinging about “creeping Sharia” and the “halal soup controversy” (which makes me feel dumber even for writing the name). Apparently, in some people’s minds “Reds” has been replaced with “Muslims”. Not to mention the loudmouthed contingent that thinks that the current president of the US is a “Kenian Muslim”.

  4. mofa says

    khms said:
    “It’s true that Islamophobia isn’t the same as racism. It’s wrong that it has nothing to do with racism”.

    It has been the spokespeople for Islam and the dopey media that have allowed a conflation of the two types of people through use of language. Those who are critical of religion and those people who are racists are ‘tarred with the same brush’. When attacked by either group they (Muslim commentators) use the same term to describe their adversaries actions and motives as ‘Islamophobia’. This ‘muddies the waters’ and has the general population thinking that ANY criticism of Islam must be racist based. Islam, like feminism, has employed this tactic for some time now. You make an ‘us versus them’ narrative. With feminism it is feminists versus misogynists (the world is a simple place). With Islam it is Islam versus (racist) Islamophobes. It is time for Islam to grow up and stop being dishonest, but this will not happen, so it is time for religious commentators to be called out in Islam when they engage in dishonest media spin. It is time to start calling racists ‘racist’, not ‘Islamophobes’. And for people like me, who can see the evil in all Abrahamic religion, you can call me what you want, just don’t call me racist or associate me with racism based on my criticism of religion, because that would not be true or honest. I will draw a cartoon of the (so called) prophet and I will describe him as a pedophile for having sex with a 9 year old girl, and I will do this in public and in front of Muslim people. This is not racism. Yes I might offend people…so what, offending people should not and must not be a crime. Offending people in this instance must not be labeled as racist. Freedom of speech is paramount. People who are offended because I think differently to them or disagree with their beliefs need to ‘get over it’. Their god is a big enough boy to defend himself, look after himself without their help.

  5. says

    I will draw a cartoon of the (so called) prophet

    proudly following in the footsteps of a racist, xenophobic rag (assuming you’re ultimatelyreferring to the Jylland Posten) is a poor way to establish you aren’t racist.

    and I will describe him as a pedophile for having sex with a 9 year old girl, and I will do this in public and in front of Muslim people. This is not racism.

    Well, it is if you don’t go out of your way to discuss white people’s pedophilia.

    I’m on break, and on my phone, but, uh, the dude in the OP you “don’t have a response for” is dealing with a known racist and his appropriation of a Muslim to bash others. To call Malala the best thing to come out of Islam in 1000 years strikes me as shortsighted, at best, in addition to appropriation, under the circumstances.