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.