Islamophobia and Criticism of Islam

Islamophobia designates the irrational fear of Islam that drives people to make blanket judgments accusing all Muslims (over a billion people) of harboring the same murderous fantasies that Muslim extremists express and act upon. For most Muslims, Islam is a religion that demands moral behavior from believers who will be answerable to Allah for their actions on judgment day. Islam commands Muslims to care for the sick and the destitute, to organize communities according to principles of justice, to master oneself before one seeks to influence others. Islam does not have a strict hierarchy among its clergy; Islamic teaching comes from largely autonomous leaders in a wide range of communities. To reduce so complex a phenomenon to the “obscurantist rantings of Islamists defies responsible serious scholarship”, to accept a simplistic formula – all Muslims are Jihadis bent on world domination – can inspire both hatred and violence. The issue is one of international importance.

Some Muslims have started to compare the persecution against Muslims to what the Jews endured in the twentieth century. Writer Abid Ullah Jan, decried Western Islamophobia and stated that it was “paving the way for Muslim holocaust… towards mainstream fascism: a time when pogrom of Muslims would not generate any sympathy or reaction in their favour.” Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the 57 Islamic countries, declared the the phenomenon of Islamophobia was on the rise in Europe and urged Western countries to promote tolerance and respect for all religions. He warned about the dangers of Islamophobia: “If we read the trends closely and connect the dots, it is obvious Muslims are being dehumanized. This is painfully reminiscent of the pre-World War II era. That dark chapter of history and pogroms must never be repeated, this time involving Muslims.” Jews more than any group, should be sensitive to accusing other people of what the Nazis accused them: a ruthless people intent on slaughtering and enslaving the German people. To the even-handed observer, neither group should be subject to such slander.

The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its final report “Islamophobia: a challenge to us all” (1997) identifies

EIGHT COMPONENTS OF ISLAMOPHOBIA:

1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.

2) Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.

3) Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.

4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’.

5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.

6) Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.

7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

In recent years there has been a growing trend to challenge those perceived as Islamophobes:

  • The creation of Islamophobia Watch, founded with the “determination not to allow the racist and imperialist ideology of Western Imperialism to gain common currency in its demonisation of Islam.”
  • The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has an annual “Islamophobia Awards“to highlight what they describe as growing anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • Organization of conferences regarding the dangers of Islamophobia and the best ways to fight it. (See, CAIR Conference and UN Conference).

Islamophobia is a common accusation used in PCP circles where, like the accusation of Antisemitism, it is intended to stigmatize the person so designated as having gone far beyond the boundaries of acceptable discourse, along with racism and essentialism. Islamophobia has such currency that at least one academic at a US university felt justified in requiring his students to write a paper on “outright Islamophobes”, including major scholars like Patricia Crone, Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Niall Ferguson, Samuel Huntington. He justifies the assignment by denouncing Islamophobia as a “phenomenon that brings together right-wing Christians and right-wing Zionists.”

Among those accused of suffering from Islamophobia are:

DANIEL PIPES
: Director of the Middle East Forum Pipes has been accused of being an “enemy of Islam,” a racist, contributing to the dehumanization of Muslims. His opponents consider his views dangerous because they open the gate to persecution of Muslims. (see here, here, and here).

ROBERT SPENCER: Director of Jihad Watch he is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).
Islamophobia Watch finds him hard to please, to say the least.

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: A Sufi writer, director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism he blames the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on Wahabism, a puritan Islamic sect that has enormous influence in Saudi Arabia, and through them, throughout the world, The Two Faces of Islam : Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism. Schwartz replies to accusations of Islamophobia.

THE DANGER OF EQUATING CRITICISM WITH ISLAMOPHOBIA

As some feel justified in denouncing Jewish use of the accusation of “anti-Semitism” to deflect legitimate criticism, however, so can Muslims use Islamophobia to deflect serious discussion about dangerous tendencies within Islam. Indeed, some define Islamophobia simply in terms of public image:

One who contributes to a negative public presentation of Islam and/or Muslims; whose political views and/or scholarship shape how Islam is presented today.

When any criticism or negative presentation of Islam becomes identified with Islamophobia, when any scholar who does not play the role of apologist can be so dismissed no matter how substantial his or her research, then the label has shifted from an important designation (and legitimate accusation) to a weapon of propaganda designed to smear opponents. In such cases, Islamophobia becomes a particularly powerful form of demopathic discourse, insisting that any criticism of Islam is a form of demonizing hate language.

The problem arises when we look more closely at the data. The two cases, however they may share this similarity in being both the objects of vilification, differ in most ways. The Jews were a minority in German (and other European) countries, with an understandably passive public discourse, and an extraordinary commitment to public law, as witnessed by their own passive obedience in assembling for deportation. Despite this public profile of Jews in their culture, Germans were taken over by a ruthless ruler who had plans for world conquest and genocide, and appealed to them by accusing the Jews of everything he planned to do. In other words, Hitler’s image of the Jew was the fevered projection of his own mad desires.

Muslims today represent over a billion people – possibly the most numerous religion on earth. They largely do not have societies, and certainly not polities, ruled by law. By the standards of civil society, male violence has few restraints (honor-killings, vendetta, assassination). Muslims of many ethnic and denominational groups have, shouting “Allah is great!” blown themselves up in the midst of tens, hundreds and thousands of civilians, hoping to kill as many as possible. Muslims openly make calls for world conquest, violent attacks on civilians – Muslim and non-Muslim – glorified as holy martyrdom; and a virulent discourse of world conquest and slaughter; and consider any Muslim who denies that terrorism in a part of Islam as a Kafir (unbeliever). Muslim and Arabic public discourse – media, circles of power – abound in conspiratorial thinking and action in which the “other” – especially the “Jew” – is, by definition, demonized.

Insofar as Islam is genuinely a religion of peace and tolerance for non-observant Muslims and non-Muslim neighbors, then sweeping generalizations about its ruthless imperial tendencies is indeed a form of Islamophobia. To the degree that Islam has yet to grapple with its own theocratic and imperialist elements (dar al Harb, which accounts for Islam’s bloody borders), to the degree that it has not yet developed a formal and powerful theological challenge to the Jihadi ideologies that drove an earlier, warrior culture to make war with the infidel, then fear and criticism of Islam by both non-Muslims and Muslims represents not paranoia but realistic concern. Nor need one express such concerns by demonizing.

In order to explore where legitimate criticism crosses the boundary into demonizing hate speech, we must establish a fair approach that applies the same rules to everyone and enables us to register evidence soberly. Thus we cannot merely say, “even-handedly,” that any criticism of Islam or Judaism is hate speech and constitutes either Islamophobia or Judeophobia, regardless of how Muslims and Jews behave. Otherwise, demopaths can demand that no one criticize them, even as they engage in the worst kind of hate-speech and violence.

THE PROBLEM WITH ISLAM

According to the PCP, Islam is a religion of peace. Violent Muslims, especially suicide terrorists, represent a “hi-jacking” of the religion, a deviation and distortion of the “true message” of Islam. Proponents of this perspective, including scholars like John Esposito and popularizers like Karen Armstrong, have dominated progressive public discourse for several decades. Even the President’s remarks in the aftermath of 9-11 reflected this public consensus.

The situation seems more than ironic. The US President, a man who had not even read the Quran in translation, tells the Muslims and the rest of the world what their religion is really about? In the meantime, radical Muslims, fully conversant with the contents of the Quran openly disagree and declare Islam a religion of war and conquest, and moderate Muslims noting Islamist use of violence in silencing criticism, bewail the role of Western intellectuals, who, alone, continue to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

It is one thing to call oneself a religion of peace, another to act on those principles. The most disturbing aspect of Islam at the moment, is the reluctance of Islamic leaders has to denounce Islamic terrorism. In July of 2005, international representatives from Muslim nations opposed a UN attempt to condemn violence in the name of religion. These appointed, and supposedly qualified Muslim representative’s, then, saw the international condemnation of all religious violence as a specific and unacceptable attack on Islam. Since the London bombings, a distinct shift to a more accommodating Islamic position at least in public declarations has occurred, but it is not clear how much that shift is a response to a fear of retaliation.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this fundamental problem with Islam and civil society right now is the Muslim attitude towards those they label apostates (Muslims who leave the religion). Islamic law holds that apostates deserve death. Right now, the people who qualify as apostates, and are therefore deserving of death, are Muslims who criticize Islam or call attention to problems and the need to reform. The standard response from the Islamic world to the voice of moderate Muslim dissent is outrage and death threats which effectively silence those voices. On the other hand, Muslims who engage in suicide terrorism, those people who according to the PCP are ‘high-jacking’ and ‘perverting’ Islam, do not qualify as apostates according to prominent and vocal Muslim theologians. Again, since the London bombings, there has been some movement towards condemning terrorism, although critics have questioned the value and sincerity of the fatwa.

The situation has a recipe for mafia-style protection rackets and a culture of homerta (silence) where violence and its threat control public discourse. Muslims themselves represent the first and most common target of this violence, from the silenced reformers to the terrorism of Jihadis who consider the vast majority of Muslims as infidels who have regressed to the period of ignorance preceding the Prophet’s revelations (Jahaliyya). The terrible tales of Iraq, Darfur, Algeria, etc.!, in which Muslim terrorists kill Muslim civilians, support the JP’s perception of this violence as that of a fanatic religious war, the most daunting of enemies. One of the terrible truths with which those who will only swallow the PCP blue pill refuse to grapple, is that the first and worst victim of Jihadi Islamism is Muslims who do not join the movement, perhaps that very Islam which really is a religion of peace. In that sense, these forces represent enemies of all those people, Muslims, monotheists, polytheists, agnostics and atheists, who want to live in fruitful and peaceful relations with their neighbors.

We are dupes when we wrongly identify demopaths as “moderates” and ignore genuine moderates. Tariq Ramadan presents himself as a moderate, and has been compared with Niebuhr and Tillich by enthusiastic scholars of religion, as a high-level advisor to the English government may please the PCP desire to silence “knee-jerk elements in the right-wing press and their prejudices,” but if Tariq Ramadan is not a moderate, if his discourse, more closely examined, represents a “modern” reframing of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, then the consequences of such trust may prove most dangerous. Were Ramadan a demopath aiming at a Muslim takeover of Europe, he would use his position to eliminate the hot-heads who give away the game, and empower a whole generation of Muslim communities prepared to wait for a more opportune time, when the demographics improve.

How to tell a demopath in this crowded field of noisy claimants to tell us about Islam? In this case, where Islam stands out right now for the intensity of its demonizing public discourse, the Geiger counter for detecting demopaths is quite simple: What do they say and do about the hate speech that comes out of Islam, especially its Judeophobia? If they deny it, minimize it, make excuses, denounce it with empty formulas… if they engage in it when speaking to the choir… if, when pressed, they resort to accusations of Islamophobia and partisan bias against their critics… then the odds are, you’re either dealing with a demopath or an aggressive dupe. For those committed to civil society’s values, to let such demopaths slide is to hold Muslims in moral contempt by failing to apply the simplest of the rules of fairness. Why? For fear that they will not meet even those expectations? In any case, it condemns Muslims to a continued existence as the victims of systematic cultural and religious violence. Nothing illustrates these dynamics better than the Danish cartoon incident — Islamic hyper-sensitivity to criticism, demopathic comparisons of these cartoons with Holocaust denial, the “Muslim street” rioting, Western fears and intimidation, and the effective extension of Sharia law to non-Muslim areas.

The solution lies not in war, nor in demonizing, but in honest discourse, in supporting friends and challenging enemies; in making true friends and having the right enemies. So far, Islamophobia — the irrational fear of Islam — seems far more a term for demopaths to manipulate than a genuine identifier of a paranoid position.

8 Responses to Islamophobia and Criticism of Islam

  1. Ren says:

    If the time comes for wide-scale killing, it would be best to kill all of the terrorists and combatants first, then re-examine the situation. It may then be necessary to kill the intellectual, religious, and financial supporters of terrorism and jihad, if they attempt to re-establish the jihad. If necessary, eliminate these, then re-examine the situation. At that point it should not be necessary to kill any more muslims. If, however, disposing of the heart of the irrational muslim jihad has induced more muslims to attempt to re-make the jihad, it may be necessary to begin the cycle again, and repeat until there are no more jihadis. No one knows how many of the original muslims would remain after the last cycle of necessary killing.

  2. Lawrence Barnes says:

    Trenchant commentary indeed. Unfortunately any genuine response to it would have to be five times as long. But very briefly, here are reactions that are not to be misunderstood as disagreement:

    1. The monolithic nature of Muslim societies everywhere is a myth the refutation of which leads to no useful conclusion.

    2. Every nation (or tribe, society or faction) at war is to some extent divided against itself. For the West, the question is not so much how to take advantage of that, but whether the overall Muslim response to Islamist plots will be supportive. In other words, when the cops arrest a couple of dangerous criminals, will the village take hostages and surround itself with a wall of women and children willing to die rather than allow the police into the village?

    3. For the most part, Muslims the world over have a tendency to keep their heads down. So is it always where totalitarian or brutally authoritarian governments (or powerful sects, criminal gangs or other violent factions) intimidate the populace. “Moderation” is a very hard word to define under such circumstances.

    4. A thought experiment: Let us ask each and every Muslim in the world which parts of the Koran he ignores as not the word of God transmitted to Islam’s founder, and let us verify that all the answers we get are truthful. What results should we expect?

    5. Given the dilemma of either supporting Islamist murderers or supporting Western soldiers trying to kill those criminals, which choice will the overwhelming majority of Muslims everywhere make?

    6. How will the continued existence of Jews affect complex Muslim societies, both Arab and non-Arab, as Muslims everywhere find themselves under pressure to take sides in the cultural-religious-political-military conflicts that make Islam’s borders bloody? Can there ever be toleration and peace, as long as any Jews are living outside literal dhimmitude?

    7. Can we possibly discuss Islamophobia without careful reference to the preposterous claims found in the Koran? See point 4. Is Islamophobia not in part a recognition of the power of faith to corrupt the human spirit by destroying reason itself?

    That’s enough. Hugh subject…huge problems. I hope I do not take refuge in simplicities when I say simply that I am terrified by a death cult I cannot think of as a decent religion. Does that make me an Islamophobe? If you say so, then I shall not argue — but I might want to help you define your terms a bit. A phobia is “an extreme or irrational fear.” So let us do all we can to cleave to facts and reason; shall we, for example, hasten to put stigmatic lexical labels on those who dread the next phase in a war that began one thousand four hundred years ago, and has never ceased? How sensible is it to accuse the sentry of hypocritical bigotry when he alerts us that an alien tribe is attacking?

  3. [...] ts the Jihadi death cult. It appears in neo-con journals, and constitutes hate-speech and Islamophobia. But it is not hate speech to reveal the presence o [...]

  4. caliibre says:

    Islamophobia Questions – if the answers are YES and the ‘phobia’ will go away!

    Will Muslims confirm that the expressed desire of some of the faithful for a worldwide caliphate is to be purged from their teachings (and their websites) and will Muslim leaders publicly renounce all those that support this worldview?

    Will Moslems actively seek to broaden their junior schools’ curriculum and ensure that only students, that have reached the age of reason, attend institutions that are dedicated exclusively to studying the Qur’an?

    Will Muslims actively and constantly rebuke, loudly and publicly, those that undertake violent jihad and denounce the concept as being defunct and belonging to another time (much as the Christians have done with their revolting concepts of the crusades)?

    Will Muslims actively return to the now practically abandoned practice of broad spectrum “ijtihad” and as a world religion start a process of enlightenment in a similar way the Christians did with their period of reformation?

    Will Muslim scholars and clerics actively endorse a program of democratization and work conscientiously and consistently seek to remove dictatorial governments?

    Will Muslims walk away from the concept of a theocratic state and acknowledge that civil law must always out way sharia law?

    Will Muslims do something positive toward the radical elements within their own ranks by purging Mosques of radical clerics an hold them legally accountable for those that act on their instructions?

    Will Muslims publicly rebuke governments and organisations that fund violent Islamic movements in foreign lands, such as the one that has existed in Thailand for some years?

    Will Islamic religious leaders publicly denounce brutal regimes that are involved in ethnic cleansing such as Somalia and Sudan and volunteer armed forces to United Nations missions involved in attempts to install democratic governments in failed states?

    Will Muslims, through a process ijtihad suppress and deny the sura and hadith that are highly offensive to non-Muslims by insisting that their followers acknowledge and accept that they refer to specific historical times and events that no longer exist and therefore render them void?

    Will Muslims allow those that wish to leave the faith to do so without retribution?

    caliibre

  5. Ian says:

    Will Americans confirm that the expressed desire of some of the faithful for a worldwide Christian government and / or pro-Christian end of the world is to be purged from their teachings (and their websites) and will American leaders publicly renounce all those that support this worldview?

    Will Israel actively seek to broaden their schools’ curriculum to teach about the Nakba and Israel’s part in it?

    Will non-Muslims actively and constantly rebuke, loudly and publicly, those that undertake violence against Muslims and Muslim countries with their tanks, cluster bombs, smart bombs, cruise missiles, 155mm artillery etc?

    Will non-Muslims give Muslims the chance to achieve their desires without interference and restrictions that lead them to think that only God can help them?

    Will non-Muslims allow Muslims to vote for who they want to without punishment if they elect the ‘wrong’ president or ‘wrong’ party – where wrong is always defined by non-Muslims?

    Will non-Muslims allow Muslims to dictate how non-Muslims write their laws or run their religions?

    Will non-Muslims allow Muslims freedom of speach? Freedom of thought? Freedom of religion? Or will we continue to tell them how to think, speak and run their lives?

    Will non-Muslims do something positive toward the radical elements within their own ranks by purging their governments of those who sent their armed forces to attack Muslim countries?

    Will non-Muslims publicly rebuke governments and organisations that fund violent non-Muslim movements in foreign lands, such as those in Israel and its occupied territories?

    Will non-Muslim religious leaders publicly denounce brutal regimes that are involved in ethnic cleansing such as the slow motion ethnic cleansing of the West Bank by Israel? Will Western countries volunteer armed forces for a United Nations mission in Sudan or Palestine?

    Will non-Muslim countries tolerate Muslim military bases or occupying armies on their soil?

    Will non-Muslims stop doing things that Muslims find highly offensive?

    Will those who live in glass houses stop throwing stones?

    The completely rational idea that we know better about everything and that “the other” (defined by different gender or lower social class or different religion or different physical appearance) can’t be trusted to participate in politics or run their lives right, is an old and distructive concept and alive and well in many people’s view of Muslims. And to be fair many Muslims are also guilty of these prejudices. The other person’s faults don’t excuse our own, but we should be careful we are not blind to own faults before behaving holier-than-thou.

    Before we assume that Muslims are more violent than non-Muslims we should compare the actions of Muslims and non-Muslims over a reasonable time period (say 100 years) and of course take into account that non-Muslims out number Muslims by about 5 to 1. Taking into account governments killing their own people (especially Chinese Communist, Soviet, Nazi German), combatant and civilians kill in wars (especially WW I and II), civil wars, revolutions, genocide, ethnic cleansing etc, ecconomic sanctions (eg. half a million dead in Iraq), actions by non-government forces (though they are usually dwarfed by goverment actions) and not to forget those events that don’t get as much media coverage as others. The numbers themselves would suggest that non-Muslims are more violent than Muslims. Some might argue that you shouldn’t lump all non-Muslims together, but that is to open a whole other can of worms about whether this is a comparison of religions or race or wealth.

  6. hala says:

    Is there any justification for this irrational fear ? my only question if there is any irrational fear is not to generalize it over the whole world

  7. […] [18] Jihadi death cult. It appears in [19] neo-con journals, and constitutes hate-speech and [20] Islamophobia. But it is not hate speech to reveal the presence of hate-speech, especially when the speakers also […]

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