“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.
As someone who considers himself to be on the centre-left of the political spectrum, I am increasingly unnerved by creeping rhetoric on the left that seems to shut down debate, by silencing discussion with fallacy and insult. This isn’t the secular, liberal, discussion based democratic left that I believe in. Challenging authoritarian ideas and concepts – be them political or religious, with critique and satire, with criticism and poking fun – should be considered uncompromisable and absolutely necessary.
To highlight this, I got thinking about a recent online “debate” between Owen Jones and Richard Dawkins. Jones made quite clear in a recently reposted article in the Independent from 2012, that he stands firm on the side of Mehdi Hasan when it comes to what they term “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 curiously hypocritical, and himself guilty of fanning the flames of an undefined “Islamophobia” that he seems so keen to call out at every possible opportunity.
Jones’s hypocrisy takes on two forms; firstly Jones does not react with equal anger at any negative mention of other religions or religious figures. And secondly, he jumps to the unquestioning defence of Mehdi Hasan, despite Hasan’s equally disparaging remarks in the past, aimed at all non-believers. There is a distinct air of hypocrisy about Jones on this, but even more so with Hasan.
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‘? Mehdi Hasan dislikes me as a non-believer, without knowing me, insisting that I must live like an animal, simply for not believing the same myths that he chooses to believe. He is insulting me as a person, not my ideas or my beliefs, just as a person. This is bigotry. As is practically every opening verse to almost every chapter of the Qur’an, that seeks to dehumanise non-believers, and notes we’re only good for eternal punishment in the flames of hell. How is this not bigotry also?
Are we genuinely claiming that Richard Dawkins suggestion of the irrationality of Mehdi Hasan, is 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“? Hasan often argues that tarring all Muslims with the same terrorist brush, is wrong. And in this, he is quite right. And yet, he seems more than happy to suggest that all non-Muslims are a people of no intelligence. We live like animals. Hasan has concluded (and shrouded his conclusion in ‘faith’, as if that makes it acceptable), that I must live like an animal (though it should be noted, that he has since backtracked, and tried – very weakly – to explain his comments. I deal with that in another article). Is this not the exact same form of bigotry that both Jones, and hypocritically, Hasan claim to disapprove so vehemently of? Can you imagine their feigned outrage, if Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins were to say that Muslims were to all be considered animals, unintelligent, and immoral, as a whole? The Guardian would have a heart attack. Owen Jones would spend his day on Twitter telling us how he’s an Atheist but disapproves of such vile bigotry.
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. Owen Jones, again, eerily silent.
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.
When States ban or openly discourage the challenging of one concept – such as the denying of the Holocaust – they are denying the Right of others to listen to dissenting opinions that might challenge us to inquire, and solidify, or modify our own perception of reality. It is almost criminalising the necessity to question. Why do I believe the holocaust happened the way it is consistently documented? I wasn’t there. I’ve heard about it from several sources. Shouldn’t I be given a plethora of ideas since I have no way of fully accepting just one, given that I wasn’t there to experience it first hand. By accepting the banning of unpopular, and offensive views, I am also harming the Right of others to hear a plethora of views and to educate themselves further. I am institutionalising a way of thinking that exists on the left of centre, whilst criminalising those on the fringes for saying words I do not like. This way, I become a slave to convention. I have learnt that this is unacceptable.
The word ‘Islamophobia’ is seeped in hypocrisy and inconsistency. It is a way to discourage free inquiry of ideas. 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“, with people tending to focus more on how ‘offensive’ the cartoon is, than on the vicious and violent threats that it provoked. It is a victim mentality of the most irritating kind.
And yet, there is no balance by which those like Owen Jones pour scorn when certain undesirable features of Islam rear their ugly heads; Hasan’s speech for example. Or the fact that the Qur’an begins most chapters with a vivid description of how we non-believers deserve eternal torture. How is this not considered “Kuffarophobic”?
We can almost be certain of the scorn that would flow forth upon the writers, if a “Book of Islam” musical, were to be made in the mould of “The Book of Mormon”. There is no balance, no logic, just appeasement and a very twisted cultural relativist set of scales leaning dangerously to one side.
The vagueness of the term allows for it to be – oddly – linked to racism. This happened recently when Maajid Nawaz posted a cartoon of the Prophet, and was told he was playing into the hands of the EDL. I’d argue that it is those who demand special treatment for their faith, shielding it from criticism and satire, that not only play into the hands of reactive groups, but actually created the hand of the EDL in the first place. Grouping hostility and blatant racism and hate toward people (like non-believers who live like animals), 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 not just a right, but an absolute necessity to criticise and satirise all ideas and concepts – religious or political – that seek control over the lives of others.
Racism, like sexism, is the institutional perpetuation of social privilege 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. My contention is simple; to push discussion, criticism, satire, ridicule of an authoritarian 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 doubt we would be degraded as bigots, if we were to mock or criticise the doctrines of conservatism. I see no difference. If you find criticism of Islam to be offensive, yet similar criticism of Christianity, or liberalism, or conservatism to be perfectly acceptable… it is you with the problem, not us.
I am quite unaware of what doesn’t constitute “Islamophobia“. Is it okay for example, to suggest that Islam, like Catholicism, is inherently homophobic? In fact, Hasan himself in an article on gay marriage, writes:
“As a Muslim, I struggle with the idea of homosexuality – but I oppose homophobia.”
– Irony at its finest. Homosexuality isn’t an ‘idea’. Islam is an idea. Sexuality is a natural spectrum much like eye colour, or hair colour, or skin colour. Consider a white supremacist saying: “As a white supremacist, I struggle with the idea of being black, but I oppose racism“. Irony.
Is it okay to simply argue that Islam is misogynistic (as I believe it is… as I believe Christianity is)? Is it okay to suggest that a secular UK is no place for horrendously patriarchal Shariah courts? Is it racist to say that punishment for apostasy or blasphemy, is unfathomably wrong? What qualifies as “Islamophobic“? Is it hate, or violence aimed at Muslims 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?
If we are to use the suffix “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? Most chapters of the Qur’an begin with a vivid description of how we as non-believers deserve nothing but torture. Is this not Kuffarophobic? It’s certainly horrifically bigoted.
It is my belief, that the freedom to satirise, mock, criticise, as well as question all authoritarian 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. Indeed, the freedom to criticise authoritarian ideas is essential. 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 authoritarian 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.
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, or removal of rights that we all enjoy is quite obviously anti-Muslim hate, as is any suggestion that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the US or Prime Minister of the UK, this is different from satire/criticism of the concept of Islam) If however, their adherents demand a special dispensation and protection from the treatment that all other ideas are open to, or seek to silence through dismissive and damaging rhetoric, 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 authoritarian 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.