The Problem With “Islamophobia” | Zak Barlow & Sarah McAsey

Islamophobia is an interesting word: a scary word, for reasons that I hope to highlight in the following paragraphs, but an interesting one, nonetheless.

So before I go any further in my critique of “Islamophobia” as a linguistic tool, I must first answer the question: What is islamophobia?

Breaking the word down: “Islam-” is a set of ideas (i.e. conceptual, not physical) and “-phobia” is an irrational fear (not a prejudice, ignorance or intolerance). Taking this word as a sum of its parts, it truly means “an irrational fear of the Islamic ideology”, like, for example, “arachnophobia” being the irrational fear of arachnids (spiders). Furthermore, the irrational part – the connotation from “-phobia” – is also misleading: yes, there are sections of Islam, like many other religions, that are scary/dangerous to modern liberal society. For example, the subjugation of women, death for LGBT individuals, religion enshrined in law – as THE law, death to apostates, and calls to arms against unbelievers. A fear (although, admittedly not a phobia) of Sharia law, therefore, is perfectly rational for a gay person, or a woman, or a non-(or “wrong”)-believer. Unfortunately, these genuine concerns are seldom addressed in the West for fear of being branded a “racist” or an “Islamophobe”, for, in western society, Islamophobia is commonly and incorrectly defined as “the prejudice against/hatred towards Muslims”.

These two definitions confuse two separate things: fear of certain ideas, and hatred of a people. Two distinctly different concepts – the former, critical thought of a set of ideas; the latter, bigotry.  People ≠ Ideas and Hatred ≠ Fear.

Islamophobia, therefore, is an intentionally clumsy word, not clearly defined, and constructed with little to no regard for the English language. It has no useful working definition (other than to shut down dissent) – and, finally, it is made redundant by the pre-existing word “bigotry” (an intolerance towards those with different opinions/beliefs to one’s own). “Anti-Muslim bigotry”, would be a much cleaner phrase to use, as it leaves no grey areas. As an analogy, the word antisemitism is clearly defined as “anti-Jew bigotry”, it does not attempt to conflate the Jewish faith with the Jewish people. If you criticise the teachings of the Torah, you are not an anti-Semite in the same way that if you criticise the teachings of the Hadith or the Surah, you are not an “anti-Muslim bigot”.

Unfortunately, in the current political climate, political opportunists are manipulating the strong repulsion to being called a bigot (in the West) by suggesting that criticism of certain subjects, ideas, is bigoted (i.e. Islam). To these people, I say the following:

  • Actual bigots towards Muslims have no interest in discussion, no interest in having their views changed, and no interest in modernising (reforming) Islam to be more compatible with the West (something that, for example, Christianity has done on multiple occasions throughout history). 
  • Valid criticism of a religion, is not intolerant, it is not bigoted. Unfortunately, it has now been spun as such. 

Islamophobia is used as a blanket statement for those who hate Islam and Muslims, are fearful of Islam and Muslims, criticise Islam, and those that wish to see Islam reformed.
Even apostates (people whom are at risk of death at the hands of former friends and family) are labelled as bigoted “Islamophobes” – the same umbrella term as used on actual bigots.
This collectivisation of many different people, conflating valid criticisms of the doctrine with bigotry towards Muslims, is an intellectually dishonest, and utterly ridiculous, intentional blurring of lines.

We in the UK, rightly so, take no issue with calling out a systemic problem of historic sexual abuse carried out by Catholic priests – and that it is a problem that goes to the height of the Holy See. So why do we have a problem when it is Islam and Muslims? Take the Rochdale Muslim grooming gang: if it was called for what it was, and had the council and police acted as they should have, hundreds of girls would have been prevented from being sexually assaulted. The council, and police, did not want to be (wrongly) labelled racist. Had they acted on the first tip offs they got, and immediately arrested the men responsible (regardless of the men’s faith), far fewer girls would have been abused. Criticising the doctrine of Islam is not racist, nor is criticising someone who happens to be Muslim, nor even is anti-Muslim bigotry. Neither Islam nor its followers are a race. The term “Muslim” refers to those who adhere to the teachings of Islam – not a racial group. However, the greatest social sin in the West is to be racist – Islamists know this, and wilfully blur the lines between people, ideas and terminologies such that critics may be shut down without addressing their points.

We, as a society, need to be intellectually honest and intellectually curious, and just because a conversation has become “taboo” doesn’t mean that it is not worth having, nor wrong. In this case, not challenging the status quo is going to have severe repercussions.

Good intentions are not enough. Calling everyone who has concerns about Islam a bigot or an Islamophobe, and trying to defend or elevate every Muslim (in a way that you would not any other human being), only creates more division.  Unfortunately, the virtue signalling of “peaceful Muslims” (i.e. people who have the common decency not to incite terror or violence) in the media only worsens the situation. Placing people on a pedestal simply increases divide and places a veil/barrier over addressing real concerns relating to Islam. On this note, by placing restriction on open discourse on the topic of Islam, and Islamic reform, you are forcing the conversation underground – where disenfranchised, frightened members of the public may end up lashing out (as we have sadly seen, recently). The media’s no true Scotsman logical fallacy of “No true Muslim” is moot, and straw man arguments from apologists, not addressing the issues, only causes more division and pain for citizens from all walks for life. Censorship of this conversation isn’t protecting peaceful Muslims, it is endangering them. If people cannot use their words to challenge things that are causing them pain, misery and death it will lead to sectarian violence when people have had enough of impotent Western governments doing nothing (against the spread of extremism/Wahhabism).

What is the solution? Well, we need to empower true reformers in the Muslim world to change Islam for the better – men like Imam Tawhidi, whom honestly calls out and condemns the violent and repugnant parts of scripture, and those that preach them. He is a man whom takes the verses in historical context, and, given that there is no need to spread a fledgling religion by the sword anymore, rejects the Hadith as unnecessary in the modern world. Women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an apostate and victim of FGM, need to be honestly listened to, and their views and concerns taken seriously on the religion they left.

Just as there was a renaissance of Christianity in Europe, where religious fundamentalism was toned down, Imam Tahwidi, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and other would-be reformers hope a similar occurrence happens for Islam, in the West, and the wider world. Islam needs its own “enlightenment”. Criticism of dogma is not bad – it is necessary to defend the rights of the individual.

Some people wrestle with hard truths. Do not misrepresent those that do with contempt and hostility – if you do, you will find that you yourself are the bigot. The conflation of ideas and people is a very dangerous thing, people have rights, ideas (and ideologies) do not. I’ll end this essay with one of my favourite quotes: "If someone has a flawed or horrible argument, let them air it out, so the world can know how stupid they are"- Philip DeFranco.

By Zak Barlow & Sarah McAsey
The Problem With “Islamophobia” | Zak Barlow & Sarah McAsey The Problem With “Islamophobia” | Zak Barlow & Sarah McAsey Reviewed by Student Voices on 15:18 Rating: 5

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