“‘Islamophobia’ — a semantic swindle of a noun equating criticism of Islam with bigotry against Muslims as people…”
– Jeffrey Taylor (2016)
“And the confusion is the direct result of the words we use, and much of this confusion has been consciously engineered by obscurantists. A word like ‘Islamophobia’ was invented to spread confusion.”
– Sam Harris (2016)
“If you want to induce bias in anybody who might hear a discussion you are having with one with whom you do not agree, or if you seek to corrupt the chances of an opposing point of view having the opportunity of platform in the future when you may not be present to shout it down, there is nothing quite like a label. And preferably not an apt one…
‘Islamophobia’ would be an irrational fear of Islam. Islam being an ideology, a doctrine, and not an ethnic group or race of people, and fear being a state of mind, whether irrational or otherwise, ephemeral or permanent, and not an act of violence or passing of law, Islamophobia is not racism. Racism is racism, and a new word need not be coined, particularly when all it ends up being used as is a tool for the daily conflation of actual racists and hate speech with concerned minds seeking to honestly explore a complex and important topic.”
Islamophobia is a major issue. The word, that is.
Presumably, you would not pleased to be labelled an Islamophobe? You would take it as being as much of an affront as the label racist? But this is not a label dealing in racism; it is not a term helpfully flagging up bigotry; it is not protecting people from racism. Islamophobia is a meme, and for all the benign and zeitgeist-capturing memes around, this one is insidious, clothed in superficial virtue, and intensely virulent.
Xenophobia and racism towards those from Middle-eastern and Islamic north African countries is undeniable. I don’t have a problem with specifying the racism if/when necessary. To say anti-black racism, or anti-white racism etc. rather than simply ‘racism’ makes sense, can conceivably be a useful distinction in conversation. Anti-Jewish racism has a second, synonymous term: anti-Semitism. To say that anti-Muslim racism has Islamophobia as a second, synonymous term in that same way would be incorrect in two senses: firstly, Islam does not, in any context, apply to an ethnic group or race of people, and; secondly, neither does Muslim. Thus neither term, anti-Muslim racism nor Islamophobia, is analogous to anti-Semitism.
Those people attempting to show how non-racist they are by shooting ‘Islamophobe’ first and asking questions never must simply be assuming brown or Middle-eastern or Arab people to be Muslim, and vice versa, which would be an assumption based in racism. I am white, blonde, British, and I could be Muslim. I could have been raised Muslim since birth or recently converted. But I could not be Middle-eastern, brown-skinned, or Arab, or Jewish (though I may convert to Judaism). If the person you are criticising or calling out is showing discrimination due to a person’s skin colour, ethnicity, or country of origin, then call it what it is. And since neither skin colour, ethnicity, nor country of origin could be called ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’, this meme of Islamophobia has absolutely no use, makes no sense, in this context – the very context within which it is flourishing. No use, that is, beyond conscious or subconscious virtue signalling, or an unfortunately effective attempt at covering up for a lack of argument and shielding onlookers to the conversation from good information and ideas.
Having thus thrown out the notion that Islamophobia relates to race or Muslims as people, that leaves Islamophobia as an irrational or extreme fear or aversion to any or all of the religious and/or political doctrine and aims of Islam. For insight on this, introduce yourself, open-mindedly, to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz, voices from within, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray, voices from without, and try to think about this problem free of the chains shackled on us all by fear of being ostracised for “racist” remarks. It is so understandable to be severely hesitant to do this, and it generally comes out of a good place. But it won’t lead to a good place, not for those who identify as Muslim, not for those who don’t, not for anybody.
It hasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t.
Arguably Islamophobia, not the irrational fear of the entire doctrine but the extreme fear and aversion to significant, unavoidable swathes of it, to the realisation of such swathes at the level of home, community, country, and government, militarised and politicised, and to that spreading of being coveted and coerced through verbal threat and blackmail and manifest violence, is defensible, understandable, and appropriate.* Homosexuals might very well be defensibly Islamophobic. Women may be understandably Islamophobic. The West, in the defense of its values, and anywhere else that seeks to share them, of freedom of speech and thought, secularism, freedom of religion, unbiased and secular education, illegality of psychological and physical child abuse, protection of the rights of women and homosexuals, might quite appropriately be Islamophobic. If the word were to take on a useful, more sensible meaning, then it would not be a derogatory term.
If somebody demands that you apologise immediately for mocking and/or criticising Islam, perhaps a sincere but firm “Or else what?” would be more enlightening for those following the fallout than would a response that resembles not a child learning a lesson from somebody whom they respect and feeling genuinely bad that they didn’t know it before, but a child knowing they did absolutely nothing wrong yet knowing, also, with not a subtle twinge of fear, that they do not want to get hit.
“And [Obama & Clinton] both claim that anyone who cares about the words we use here is just engaged in a semantic game, and empty politicking. This really is infuriatingly dishonest. If it matters that you think clearly about a problem, if it matters that you understand what the problem is, then the words you use matter because we think and understand with concepts.”
– Sam Harris (2016)
This isn’t needless pedantry regarding the technical definitions of words – this is one of the most important words of our century so far. Nor is it a claim on the entirety of Islam and its reformability. Nor is it a claim on Muslims as people. Spreading the meme of Islamophobia is to spread confusion and hindrance, and it is ultimately selfish (I didn’t merely title this piece “The Selfish Meme” for wordplay’s sake (the term ‘meme’ was described and coined by Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene)). It is selfish because of the aforementioned virtue signalling, because of the short-sighted ostensibly peace-preserving banishment of ostensibly dangerous discourse. It is the continued use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ that is dangerous. This is not an attack on people doing what they believe is right, but people more deeply intelligent than myself, more deeply versed in Islam than I, have convinced me that the word and its usage must be thoroughly and continually exposed.
All in all, to put it lightly, it is not a useful word. If it’s racism call it racism; if it’s criticism of religious and political ideas, disagree with it if you want, but call it criticism of religious and political ideas. But unless you start calling me and anyone who criticises and/or dislikes Christianity a Christianityophobe**, and all of the logical follow-ons from that regarding other religions or political doctrines, use of Islamophobe and Islamophobia will remain logically inconsistent, unhelpful, dangerous, and regressive.
*Helpful tip for those wishing to misrepresent this essay: take the sentence ending with this asterisk, quote the first two words, do a … , and finish with the final five words.
**I’ve heard people suggest Christianophobe in making the same point, but the equivalent to that would be Muslimophobe, not Islamophobe.