“Islamophobia”: an absurd term

PhobiasBy LSS member Jay Marshall

Islam: A monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur’an and considered by many of its adherents to be the verbatim word of Allah; it is also comprised of prophetic traditions (or Hadith) of Muhammad (c. 570–8 June 632 CE), considered by most Muslims to be the last prophet of God.

Phobia: An extremely irrational fear or dislike of something.

I lay out these definitions for my reader so that they may understand the surrounding context of what I will now attempt to articulate.

The term Islamophobia is one which has really shaken up society, from both a free speech perspective and also in terms of many people’s attitudes to racial and religious discrimination.

Islamophobia is a term which has sought, perhaps, to describe people who are hateful towards Muslims as people yet it has unfortunately come to describe those who are merely critical of the Islamic faith, or who openly refuse to adopt Islamic principles. It has also sought parity with the term anti-Semitism.

The questions I would ask my kind reader are as follows: Is Islamophobia a useful term? Is Islamophobia comparable to anti-Semitism? Is it racist to criticise Islam?

An inaccurate word

Have you ever heard of Christianophobia, or Hindiphobia, or Atheistophobia?

Of course you haven’t. Based on the definitions I have given above, I would have thought it quite obvious that we therefore need to ask ourselves if the term Islamophobia is really necessary at all.

Not only as an atheist, but also as a critic of all religions, it is fair to say I am fairly critical of Islam, and that I have personally concluded that as a way of living Islam is rather awful. Does this make me “Islamophobic”?

I have friends who are Muslims, I take my shoes off when entering a mosque, and I have certainly never stopped any Muslim from practising their faith. And although I take major exception to the acts of extremism carried out by some of Islam’s followers, such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, it would be very stupid of me to judge all Muslims on the basis of its extremists, or even just on the basis of some Muslims whose opinions might differ from my own. Does this still make me “Islamophobic”? I should think not.

Why? Because a phobia is a fear or dislike based on irrationality. My dislike of Islam, as a set of ideas, comes from the rational decisions and judgments I have made after understanding Islam itself, and this dislike of mine is not groundless or illusory.

Islamophobia is not equivalent to the term anti-Semitism, which is distinctly about hatred and persecution of the Jewish community as a racial or religious group – not about dislike of Judaism as a set of ideas.

There may well be a social issue of ‘anti-Muslim’ sentiment and behaviour as there is clearly a social stigma in some quarters towards Muslims as a people, exploited by groups like the English Defence League and Britain First. But the undeniable existence of anti-Muslim sentiment and behaviour still does not give the term Islamophobia any credibility.

An unnecessary word

One of the most toxic absurdities this word has produced is that it has conflated criticism of a religion with racism, and this conflation has been made especially by far-left political groups.

One of the freedoms of a democratic society is the freedom of speech and expression, which most certainly includes the freedom to criticise religion. That some people may find this criticism offensive or insulting is an irrelevance.

However, because freedom of speech is subject to certain legitimate restrictions (such as defamation and incitement of violence), what is important is that we are clear as to what religion and race are.

This might seem like a very obvious difference, but the unfortunate conflation of race and religion has made it clear that this distinction must be emphasised.

Putting it simply, religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, usually by means of a God(s), whereas race is a social concept based on physical characteristics of groups of people, usually by their skin colour or their nationality. So the obvious difference between the two is that one is a choice and the other is not. And if I have to specify which one is the choice and which one is not, stop reading my article, stop licking windows, and return to school…please.

When we invoke the term Islamophobia we imply a taboo hatred not just towards Muslims but towards the religion of Islam itself, and this gives Islam pseudo-immunity from criticism. But in seeking to protect Muslims from social stigma and discrimination (even though shutting down criticism of Islam is primarily to the severe detriment of Muslims themselves), we also need to protect our own right to criticise ideas, including religion, which like all ideas must be open to criticism and scrutiny if we are to live in anything resembling a functioning democracy. If this stupid word Islamophobia is accepted, it automatically closes the door to critical thinking towards Islam as a religion.

A dangerous word

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris the world was united in solidarity with the victims. However, there were certain people who would not stand in solidarity with the victims because of the term Islamophobia.

Alongside the slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ were other groups arguing ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’. Although no-one can deny these counter protesters the right to say this, we can hold them to account. What they said was, in my opinion, highly contestable. For there are groups of people, both political and religious, who have said that Charlie Hebdo deserved the attacks or that free speech should stop at religion. The only solidarity such groups profess seems to be with the attackers.

It is partly thanks to the term Islamophobia that so many people have found themselves on the wrong side of such a crucial yet straightforward moral issue as the murder of cartoonists for drawing cartoons. Consequently, people are running scared from people who physically attack those who criticise religion. If this example is to be followed, does it now mean that everyone’s religious belief is subject to the same immunity? I should hope that never happens. The freedoms of inquiry, philosophy and expression demand the ability to critique religion – all religions.

If there is something we need to change or to reconsider, it is this abhorrent term Islamophobia. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be in solidarity with Muslims who are being victimised by extremist groups; of course we should. It just means that their religion – Islam – should not receive the same protection we rightly afford to its followers. It means that Islam must not be immune from criticism. It is not racist to challenge a set of ideas.

So let’s remove this word Islamophobia from our vocabularies and if need be, replace it with something which is far more suitable to democracy, such as ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’.

But I’ll give the last word to a tweeter called Andrew Cummins (@VodkaNinja), who defined Islamophobia rather succinctly in the following terms:

“Islamophobia: A word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.”

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS

Image credit above: Phobics Society

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