Friday, June 24, 2011

Islamophobia is not Racism

I had a friend that I grew up with (actually, I still consider her a friend, although I'm not sure if it's mutual) who I have not heard from since she wrote to me to say she had taken offense at what I wrote on my blog, and one of the things she mentioned was what I have written against Muslims. I wrote back that while I have criticized the ideas and practices of Muslims, I have nothing against them as people.

I never heard back from her so I don't know if she accepted my distinction. It would seem that many journalists also have difficulty getting their minds around this distinction. Consider the following statement from an article that Peter Oborne wrote:
Islamophobia...can be encountered in the best circles: among our most famous novelists, among columnists from The Independent and Guardian newspapers, and in the Church of England. Its appeal is wide-ranging. "I am an Islamophobe, and proud of it," writes Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, then writing for The Independent. "Islamophobia?" The Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle rhetorically asks in the title of a speech, "Count me in." Imagine Liddle declaring: "Anti-Semitism? Count me in", or Toynbee announcing that she was "an anti-semite and proud of it". This just wouldn't happen and for very good reasons. Anti-semitism is recognised as an evil, noxious creed and its adherents barred from mainstream society and respectable organs of opinion. Not so Islamophobia. 
It’s hard to tell what Oborne is actually suggesting, but it sounds like he is saying that ‘Islamophobes’ (which now apparently includes anyone even the least bit critical of Islam) should be “barred from mainstream society”?

Notice what has happened here. Islamophobia, which can include various degrees of antipathy to the ideas and practices of Islam, has been equated with a posture (anti-semitism) which includes various degrees of antipathy to a race. The effect of this subtle sophism is to get us to think of Islam as a race, with the corollary that objections to Islam are at the same level as objections to a race. Being a critic of Islam then turns one into a racist. To be against Islamic ideology is to join the ranks of people who hate blacks, Asians or Jews.
It is unfortunate that these categories are always being conflated, seeing that the ability to criticize other faith-traditions has always been a halmark of a free society. The bottom line is that Islam is not a race any more than Christianity is a race. Islam is a worldview that makes truth-claims about the world which people should feel free to criticize in public debate, just as Christianity is a worldview that makes truth-claims about the world that people should feel free to criticize in public debate. The concept of Islamophobia is putting this freedom in leopard. Do we really want to return to the era of the inquisitions, when people lost the ability to distinguish between the heresy and the heretic?

I can distinguish very well between hating the ideas and practices of Islam and hating the people of Islam. Unfortunately, it seems that some of my readers and former friends can't make the same distinction.

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