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Islamophobia

December 11, 2013

 I’ve been meaning to write about “Islamophobia” for some time, and never getting round to it, but have finally been prompted to do so by being sent a press release for a new book, The Muslims are Coming! by Arun Kundnani. It’s a critique of how Western governments wage war on the domestic terrorist, because anti-terrorist policies are supposedly rooted in racism, and specifically in Islamophobia.

Although I personally think there’s a great deal of hysteria over terrorism, which kills far fewer people than road accidents (really far, far, far fewer), I don’t intend to review the book. That word islamophobia has put me off. I can just imagine the book’s shifty apologias, its double standards, its cherry-picking of examples, its confirmation biases, its West-blaming reflex. (Even in the press release, there is an example of a particular fallacious form of argument which makes me grit my teeth. I don’t know if this fallacy has a name, so I’m going to call it the Last-Proposition-Wins Fallacy. It takes the form of two propositions, linked by a conjunction, in which the second proposition is taken to be truer, or of greater significance, for no other reason than that it comes last. Here’s the one from the Press Release: “While the possibility of another 9/11-style attack taking place in the US or UK cannot be ruled out, official and popular understandings of terrorism are more a matter of ideological projection and fantasy than of objective assessment.

Sounds plausible at first, doesn’t it? Now let’s try switching them: “While official and popular understandings of terrorism are more a matter of ideological projection and fantasy than of objective assessment, the possibility of another 9/11-style attack taking place in the US or UK cannot be ruled out.”)

Anyway, let me get back to my main point. Why do I object to the word Islamophobia? It’s not because it is a recent, and deliberately political coinage. Homophobia is also a recent and deliberately political coinage and I don’t object to that at all. As a matter of fact racism, sexism, ageism etc are also recent and deliberately political coinages and obviously I don’t object to those.

Well, then, is it because I don’t believe in racism towards Muslims? Obviously not. Many Muslims are on the receiving end of racism. But is the racism because they are Muslims? That is to say, imagine a BNP member who hates his Asian neighbour, believing him to be a Muslim, and then discovers that he’s not a Muslim after all, but a Hindu. Is he likely to stop hating him? Well, he might, but I doubt that.

Here we see a crucial difference between the term islamophobic and the term anti-semitic. An anti-semitic racist hates people they believe to be Jews. But if any particular object of their hatred turns out not to be Jewish after all, their hatred disappears. Anti-semites really do hate Jews just because they are Jews. But Islamophobes, so-called, don’t for the most part hate Muslims because they are Muslims, but because they are (usually) Asian. Islamophobia refers to an irrational hatred, or fear, of people, not a religion. But we already have a word for that. It’s racism.

That’s not to say that one may not dislike or disapprove of certain ideas or values of Islam. Personally I disapprove very strongly of the Islamic doctrines that apostates and blasphemers deserve death; that homosexuality is a sin; that unbelievers go to hell; or that the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man. Does that make me Islamophobic? I don’t think so. My disapproval of those doctrines is not based on an irrational fear or hatred of them, which is what a phobia means. My disapproval is based on sound reasons. Those doctrines offend against liberal principles of equality and freedom, which I am prepared to defend with rational arguments. And it’s the doctrines that I would like to see expire, not the people who hold them.

The trouble is that the word Islamophobia is used as a stick to beat people who have such disagreements with Islamic beliefs. It’s really a smear tactic for closing down debate on these matters. We don’t need this word, and we’re better off without it.

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5 Comments
  1. Chukar permalink

    Brandon:
    First: On your comment above, “I don’t know if this fallacy has a name, so I’m going to call it the Last-Proposition-Wins Fallacy. It takes the form of two propositions, linked by a conjunction, in which the second proposition is taken to be truer, or of greater significance, for no other reason than that it comes last.”

    This *may* be another example, from Los Angeles Times Jun 28, 2016, conservative weekly columnist Jonah Goldberg in “Back to Mencken’s America”: ““Communism, the New Deal, Fascism, Nazism,” Nock wrote in his memoirs, “are merely so-many trade-names for collectivist Statism, like the trade-names for tooth-pastes which are all exactly alike except for the flavouring.” This was an exaggeration, but one can only exaggerate the truth.”

    If one accepts the seemingly true statement that only the truth can be exaggerated (can a lie be exaggerated? Doesn’t it then just become a bigger lie?) then one is led to accept the truth of the initial comment – which *may* be an exaggeration, it certainly looks like one – but which can easily be false in several ways. It’s a sneaky ploy, and strikes me – perhaps erroneously – as a form of “begging the question,” or Petitio Principii.

    Another comment to follow.

  2. Chukar permalink

    Brandon:
    The gist I get from your piece is that islamophobia: is not a “phobia” – not an unreasoned fear of anything; conflates dislike of the religion with racism towards the people who adhere to it, thus making people assume you’re a racist; shifts the blame towards the “islamophobe” and ignores the possibility (or probability) that the religion really is distasteful; never addresses the very real problems presented by various tenets of Islam, e.g. killing apostates, female circumcision, slavery, imposition of sharia law, and so on.

    I have read that the term was invented by a Palestinian organization allied to Muslim Brotherhood specifically for the purposes of deflecting criticism and implying that those who dislike Islam are mentally ill.

  3. Chukar permalink

    An additional comment on a totally different subject:
    You don’t have “SEARCH” enabled on this site, which is one of the features WordPress offers for free. With that, I could search your site for any comments on “unique.”

    In the U.S. one hears and reads many times a day modifications of the word “unique,” “Really unique” and “the most unique” are probably the most egregious and frequent examples. I have not yet seen “unusually unique,” but it can’t be far off. “Unique” seems to have been demoted to a synonym of “unusual,” leaving nothing in its place except the clumsy and formerly unnecessary “one-of-a-kind.” In a sense, “unique” is unique in that it no longer means “unique” yet was not replaced by another word which does.

    Care to comment? Perhaps you already have, but as there is no “search this site” available here, I am unable to locate it. Yours, Chuck

    • Hi Chuck. I have not commented on this misuse of ‘unique’ yet, but may well do so. And I will also try to find out how to enable the SEARCH function!

      Best
      Brandon

      • Chukar permalink

        Brandon: You need not post this comment. It’s FYI only.
        On your WordPress task menu (Dashboard, posts, links, etc.) look for Appearance, then Widgets, then Search (A search form for your site). I have it on our bird-related blog site along the right-hand side. https://smbasblog.wordpress.com/

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