“This loathsome term [Islamophobia] is nothing more than a thought-terminating cliche conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.“
-Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, Muslim, Ex-Cleric.
Owen Jones makes quite clear in a reposted article from 2012, in the Independent, that he stands firm on the side of Mehdi Hasan when it comes to what they see as “Islamophobia“. This was reposted after Hasan’s spat with Richard Dawkins on Twitter yesterday. Dawkins wrote:
- An ill-judged, and inflammatory choice of words, no doubt. Interestingly, Dawkins has since made an apology and clarification. But I think Owen Jones is being incredibly hypocritical, and himself flaming the fire of an undefined “Islamophobia” position that he seems so keen to call out at every possible opportunity, by both not reacting with equal anger at any negative mention of other religions or religious figures, and by jumping to the unquestioning defence of Mehdi Hasan, despite Hasan’s similarly disparaging remarks in the past.
Dawkins went on a similar attack against Mitt Romney in the run up to the 2012 US Election, and his Mormonism. Stating:
- And yet, there remained an eery silence from Owen Jones and Mehdi Hasan on this. No cries of “Mormonophobia“. Similarly, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone released “The Book of Mormon“; a mockery of Mormonism, in musical form, Owen Jones registered no disgust. Apparently Mormonism is fair game. Islam though, we must never mention Islam negatively.
- And yet, for all his apparent hatred of bigotry, another eery silence from Jones is brought to us, when we consider statements made (and very weakly defended) by Mehdi Hasan, in the past. For example, in 2009, Hasan gave a speech at the Al Khoei Islamic Centre, in which he quite openly states:
“The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Quran; they are described in the Quran as, quote, “a people of no intelligence”, Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief – people of “no intelligence” – because they’re incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world, about the existence of God.”
In a separate speech, Hasan also said:
“We know that keeping the moral high-ground is key. Once we lose the moral high-ground we are no different from the rest of the non-Muslims; from the rest of those human beings who live their lives as animals, bending any rule to fulfil any desire.”
- Is this not something along the lines of ‘Kuffarophobic‘? Is Richard Dawkins suggestion that Mehdi Hasan is irrational and not to be considered serious, at all different to Hasan referring to anyone who doesn’t fit his narrow view of what is correct, as “incapable of the intellectual effort it takes to shake off blind prejudices“? Non-Muslims are a people of no intelligence. Is this not the exact same form of bigotry that both Jones, and hypocritically, Hasan both claiming to disapprove so vehemently of? Can you imagine their feigned outrage, if Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins were to say that Muslims (not Islam, but Muslims, afterall, Hasan is on the attack against non-believers, as individuals) were to all be considered animals, unintelligent, and immoral, as a whole?
This similar lack of consistency from certain members of a liberal populace can be seen elsewhere. If you go to the UAF (Unite Against Fascism) website and search “Tommy Robinson” the leader of the EDL, you will be greeted with countless articles discussing how terrible and dangerous he and his group are. Which is to be expected, for a group dedicated to the noble cause of eradicating Fascism. But, if you type the name “Anjem Choudhary“, you get no results whatsoever. A wretched little man who openly promotes violence, an enforced Shariah State, refused to condemn 7/7, and marched alongside his group Islam4UK, without any counter protest from the UAF. Choudhary said:
“Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire. Protect your Paradise from being taken away – protect yourself and your family from Christmas”
- How is this not worthy of condemnation and constant attacks from the UAF? How do these sentiments not inflame people like Owen Jones, the same way that one or two Atheist writers do when they speak, in much less inflammatory terms about Islam? Where were the UAF demonstrations against Islam4UK? A search on the UAF site, not just for Anjem Choudary, but for “Islam4uk” similarly brings up no results.
There is no referring to Stone and Parker as bigots, for mocking Mormonism. No Presidential address in which we’re told the musical is “in bad taste” as we were told the cheaply made anti-Islamic film was in bad taste. No referring to Monty Python as bigots for mocking the story of Jesus in ‘The Life of Brian’. Only the Christian Right jumped in to attack “Jerry Springer the Opera” for its display of a grown Jesus in a nappy. The musical won Laurence Olivier Awards. Would the same respect for free expression be accepted, for the portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in a nappy? Given that Danish cartoons result in condemnation not only from Muslims demanding the execution of anyone associated with the publication, but also from liberals in Western countries, along with judicial inquiries, sackings of Ministers who supported the cartoons, and deaths… I’d suggest that a similar musical mocking Islam would not be met with the same respect. It is not just those of us who dislike Islam as a doctrine, who treat the faith differently from other faiths. So to, do those insisting on shouting “Islamophobia!” at every possible opportunity, shielding it from the treatment afforded to other ideas.
And that, in a nutshell is my problem with those who insist on using the term “Islamophobia” against anyone criticising Islam, in any way. It is seeped in hypocrisy and inconsistency. It is a way to tell you not to think for yourself. To accept, without question, that this particular idea is off limits with regard criticism of any form. To suggest otherwise, gets us to the rather peculiar point in which even a cartoon of the Prophet, is “Islamophobic“. And yet, there is no balance by which they pour, not just equal, but any scorn whatsoever when certain undesirable features of Islam rear their ugly heads; as they failed to do with Hasan’s speech; as they would almost certainly pour upon writers, if a “Book of Islam” musical, was produced. Islam suffers from an inability to accept criticism, and reacts viciously whenever forms of criticism considered perfectly legitimate for all other concepts, is aimed in its direction. This inability seems to be rationalised, by non-Muslim apologists, by subtly hinting that any criticism/satire, must be “Islamophobic“.
The vagueness of the term “Islamophobia“, the fact that the use of “phobia” is only used in defence of one particular faith, the flippant way people like Owen Jones, and the horrifically hypocritical Mehdi Hasan throw it around, is, to its users, a huge strength. There is a genuine attempt by apologists, to link any criticism of Islam to racism.
Grouping hostility and blatant racism and hate toward people, in the same category as criticism, satirism toward ideas is dangerous for discussion and for the health of that idea where it exists in a secular framework upon which all ideas are up for the same treatment. It is also quite absurd. It is this joining of race, with a faith, that makes criticism of the faith become synonymous with racism.
Those of us who simply and openly do not like the ideas enshrined by Islamic doctrine, are not in anyway linking it to race. There is no element of race for us. We simply do not like the Qur’an, or the words or deeds of the Prophet, much in the same way we do not like the Bible, or the deeds of Abraham. Racism, like sexism, is hate based on biological differences. There is no doctrine involved. To claim racism, alongside Islam, is like claiming a deep hatred for all people with brown hair, if we learn that most Muslims have brown hair. It is absurd. The reduction of criticism, to racism, leads to a point where any form of criticism is linked almost exclusively to groups like the EDL. Which, is even more dangerous. My contention is simple; to push discussion, criticism, satire, ridicule of an authoritative idea – be it religious or political – out of the public sphere of acceptability, has the opposite effect. It creates a taboo, and it is latched onto by dangerous fanatics like those of the EDL, who undoubtedly do mix their dislike for a faith, with racism and Nationalism.
I am quite unaware of what doesn’t constitute “Islamophobia“. Is it okay for example, to suggest that Islam, like Catholicism, is inherently homophobic? Is it okay to call Islam, misogynistic? Is it okay to suggest that a secular UK is no place for horrendously patriarchal Shariah courts? Is it okay to say that punishment for apostasy or blasphemy, is putrid? What qualifies as “Islamophobic“? Is it hate, or violence aimed at Muslim individuals? Is this not better defined as anti-Muslim hate (which I don’t deny exists)? Or is it distaste for the idea of Islam itself? If we are to alienate criticism of Islam as a concept or as doctrines, is this not a form of positive discrimination that has the opposite effect of what it sets out to do?
And could the manipulative use of the term “phobia” also be prescribed to be people like Hasan? To religious people in general? To have a phobia, is to display an irrational fear of something. I certainly don’t fear individual Muslims, nor Islam in general. I don’t like Islam, and I certainly fear how certain Muslims interpret their text and the words of their Prophet, far more so than other religions. But if we are to use the word “Phobia” to refer to criticism or mockery also, then we can also call out many religious doctrines and their adherents for being Feminismophobic Democracyophobic, Americanophobic, Westophobic?
As I have previously noted:
“It is my belief, that the freedom to satirise, mock, criticise, as well as question all authoritative ideas, including all religions that themselves are openly critical of how those outside the faith live their lives, is the cornerstone of a progressive, and reasonable society. These ideas include the freedom to satirise and criticise and question deeply held political ideals, including my own. We must not allow religions to be free from satire, nor criticism, simply because it is cloaked in ‘faith’. To close them to criticism/satirism by using State controls and violence, means that the idea becomes taboo, humanity cannot progress the idea, and it gives the idea an authority above what it is reasonably justified in having, over the lives of not just its followers, but those who don’t wish to adhere to its principles. This is dangerous.”
- I stand by this.
To highlight my point, that criticism is often skewed to make it appear racist, and to link criticism to the far-right, regardless of the form the criticism takes… often manipulating the form, to suit the far-right framework, I point to writer Murtaza Hussain. Hussain writing for Al Jazeera, seeks to link criticism of Islam, from Sam Harris, to the far right, and white supremacy. He starts his piece by referring to white supremacists of old, and their ‘scientific’ justifications, before launching into an attack that can only be described as the biggest straw man I’ve ever seen:
“Indeed, the most illustrative demonstration of the new brand of scientific racism must be said to come from the popular author and neuroscientist Sam Harris.”
- Here, Harris is linked with the white supremacists of the past. And what is the justification for this? Well:
“Harris has publicly stated his support for torture, pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, and the security profiling of not just Muslims themselves, but in his own words “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”.
- This is simply not true. In a piece to clarify his remarks on torture, which are routinely taken completely out of context, Harris wrote:
“It is important to point out that my argument for the restricted use of torture does not make travesties like Abu Ghraib look any less sadistic or stupid. I considered our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical. I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders to occur in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Indeed, I consider much of what occurred under Bush and Cheney—the routine abuse of ordinary prisoners, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” etc.—to be a terrible stain upon the conscience of our nation.”
- It is also wrong to link Harris’ view on profiling, with racism. Whilst I disagree with Harris on the use of profiling, I do not consider his views to be based on race, and do consider them to be worthy of further intellectual discussion. Harris says:
“When I speak of profiling ‘Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,’ I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, traveling companions, behavior in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.”
- This is not racism. I disagree with Harris, but I think he makes a salient point that is worthy of debate. As a male, I pay more for my car insurance because the insurance companies are under the impression that I am more likely to make a claim, based solely on me being a male. This is gender profiling. Similarly, Harris is speaking of profiling a certain group, based on their faith, based on his assertion that that faith is more dangerous than others. It is not racist, it is “religionist” perhaps. It is certainly advocating reduction in the rights of one specific group, compared to others, which is why I disagree with him. But he’s not being racist. If a significant amount of Christians began calling for the West to be destroyed, hated America, and had a history of suicide attacks, I would suggest Harris might call for those seen reading Bibles, or wearing crucifixes to be profiled also. Absolutely nothing to do with racism.
But Hussain continues with the manipulations:
“Harris has also written in the past his belief that the “Muslim world” itself lacks the characteristic of honesty, and Muslims as a people “do not have a clue about what constitutes civil society”.”
- Both of those claims, are entirely false. On the ‘honesty’ claim, Harris actually said:
“Who will reform Islam if moderate Muslims refuse to speak honestly about the very doctrines in need of reform?”
- Here he is referring to the apparent infallibility of the word of the Qur’an. Christian texts are open to all sorts of historical and literary criticism, that is substantially lacking from Quranic studies. Harris is right. He in no way is suggesting that Muslims are dishonest; ironically, a deeply dishonest charge from Hussain.
On the point of Harris claiming that Muslims as a people do not have a clue about what constitutes civil society; On the face of the quote Hussain presented, it seems like Harris genuinely claimed that Muslims are both dishonest, and uncivilised. As we have seen, he did not claim that Muslims are dishonest… and similarly, he did not claim that Muslims are uncivilised. His actual statement was:
“68% of British Muslims think that their neighbors who insult Islam should be arrested and prosecuted. 78% think that the Danish cartoonists should be brought to justice. These people do not have a clue about what constitutes a civil society.”
- Is anyone willing to argue with this point? I completely agree. If religious people think somebody should be punished for insulting their religion…. then no, they do not have a clue about what constitutes a civil society.
Hussain goes on, this time, not just manipulating, but outright lying:
Indeed he argues in his book that the only suitable form of government for Muslim people is “benign dictatorship”..
- This is not how it is made to sound. Harris does not say that Muslim people can only live under benign dictatorship. This is the passage in question:
It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. Whether such societies have to be democratic is not at all clear. Zakaria has persuasively argued that the transition from tyranny to liberalism is unlikely to be accomplished by plebiscite. It seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap. But benignity is the key and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both.” While this may seem an exceedingly arrogant doctrine to espouse, it appears we have no alternatives. We cannot wait for weapons of mass destruction to dribble out of the former Soviet Union-to pick only one horrible possibility-and into the hands of fanatics.
We should, I think, look upon modern despotisms as hostage crises. Kim Jong Il has thirty million hostages. Saddam Hussein had twenty-five million. The clerics in Iran have seventy million more. It does not matter that many hostages have been so brainwashed that they will fight their would-be liberators to the death.
- He is speaking specifically of those living under tyrannical rule, and the historical processes necessary to become free and democratic, which might include a benign dictatorship as a sort of transition phase. He specifically mentions North Korea. He does not suggest that the only suitable government for Muslims is a benign dictatorship, as Hussain said.
As you can see, the context of the quotes is entirely different to how the article for Al Jazeera presented it.
It is all in an attempt to paint ‘New Atheists’ and any criticism they might have of Islam, as inherently racist, or “Islamophobic”. This is dishonest, manipulative, and very dangerous.
The openness by which ideas are debated, satirised, and critiqued, is the most important way in which their adherents are taken seriously, become integrated, and viewed equally to all others. This is different entirely to discrimination (demanding deportation of Muslims, is quite obviously anti-Muslim hate, as is any suggestion that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the US…. it is not, however, to be considered ‘Islamophobic‘ alongside anyone criticising or poking fun at Islam) If however, their adherents demand a special dispensation and protection from the treatment that all other ideas are open too, or seek to silence, then inevitably, they are treated suspiciously.
It is absolutely right for all to be free to question and to criticise and ridicule the idea of Islam; as it is right for all to be free to criticise and ridicule every faith and every idea, especially if that idea is authoritative outside of the private life of the individual believer. This includes criticism and ridicule of Atheism, includes evolution, includes Conservative, includes Liberalism, includes Christianity, includes Mormonism, includes Communism, includes Capitalism. Islam is not, and should not be shut off from that, nor should it in any way, be linked to race from either the far right, or the far left. It is an idea. It deserves to be treated like every other idea. Those who shout “Islamophobia” at any hint of a dislike for Islam, lose all credibility the moment they do not apply the same criteria to the satire and mockery of other ideas, or when they seemingly refuse, or make excuses for people like Mehdi Hasan and his repugnant comments on non-believers.
You are not suffering from a phobia, nor are you under any obligation to unquestioningly respect any idea or feel silenced from criticising or satirising any idea, including religious.