Monday, May 15, 2006

Islamophobia? There's no such thing

There’s something growing at a large pace in Britain these days, it’s the gap between the perceptions of what is happening, and what is actually happening - and this gap is in danger of being fully exploited by our political elites, and the leaders of Muslim organisations.

Nearly every day we are being told that Britain is caught in the grip of an ever-increasing anti-Muslim backlash. Many of the news reports on the subject have sourced their material from Muslim organisations. (1) What is really happening here is that people believe what they want to believe, rather than believing in what happens to be true.

The truth is Muslim leaders have exaggerated the threat of Islamophobia and the anti-Muslim backlash for their own political benefits, in order to strengthen their weak power base on the streets from east London to Bradford and Glasgow. Mainstream politicians are also keen to exploit the myth of Islamophobia, it’s a perfect opportunity for them to jump-up on their high moral horse and get the Muslim vote at the same time. The government aims to sooth the pain Muslims felt when New Labour betrayed them in Iraq by pledging to introduce new laws that will effectively ban religious hate speech. (2)

I’m not suggesting that harassment, ignorance or fear of Muslims and Islam do not exist. The problem is that the level of anti-Muslim abuse is being inflated strictly for narrow political ends. Islamophobia is fast becoming the shaping force behind what you can and can’t say about Islam. So the chance of being able to participate in a free, open and frank debate in the future looks extremely slim.

Islamophobia loses all sense of proportion in other ways, the minute you attach that label to someone. Two years ago, the racist Nick Griffin of the BNP was voted ‘Islamophobe of the Year’ at an award ceremony organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, that's fair enough – but so too was the liberal, anti-racist Polly Toynbee. As far as I’m concerned Toynbee is a secularist who has long campaigned for women’s rights, and is a critic of Islam. How can you compare her with a British neo-fascist? The truth is the IHRC is incapable of distinguishing between the two.

I might normally laugh at such awards were it not for the fact that the IHRC is no small concern. It does consultation work for the UN, and it’s verbally backed by Trevor Phillips and the CRE, and that’s not funny.


(1) Anti-Muslim backlash intensifies. IRR news. 2005

(2) Pledge to wipe out Islamophobia. BBC news. 2001

Illustration: BBC News 2004.


At 4:50 PM, Blogger Matt M said...

The problem is that many left-wing groups look at events in terms of groups as opposed to individuals. During a recent discussion I had, someone insisted that the "duty" of socialists/progressives was to stand with "oppressed groups", so therefore socialists/progressives had to defend "Muslims". A profoundly reactionary view in its use of blanket labels. If all individuals are to be considered of equal worth and due equal rights, then whether they’re Muslim, Christian, Jew or atheist doesn’t come into it. Muslims should be defended from oppression, not because of the group they belong to, but because they’re individuals like everybody else.

(Incidentally, it’s this group-centred analysis that leads to so much anti-Americanism – Bush = American, etc)

Progressives, to be worthy of the label, need to stand against oppression in all its forms. Insisting that people should not be discriminated against because of their religion has to be coupled with criticism of the more reactionary manifestations of those religions. Pointing out the brutality and anti-humanistic nature of state Islam in countries like Iran is a requirement of anyone claiming to promote rights for all at home. Yet pointing out this simple fact opens you up to claims of “imperialism” and “Islamophobia”.

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Courtney Hamilton said...


The day when Polly Toynbee was awarded the 'Islamophobe of the Year', I knew there was something not quite right with the concept. How could it be that someone who has been an anti-racist all their lives can be labelled an 'Islamophobe'?

It could only happen if the definition of 'Islamophobia' was widened to encompass those who are critical of Islam. It was the reason why a jumped-up, Muslim school-girl could take her local education authority, all the way to the highest court in the land - for what? Six inches of hem? The girl's education authority feared being labelled 'Islamophobic', that they let this petulant teenager drag them all the way to the high courts for nothing.

The more 'Islamophobia' is seen to exist, the less you are able to critises Islamic practices and traditions. Indeed, now, as you rightfully point out, it has become extremely difficult to critises Islam, without being labelled a reactionary, racist 'Islamophobe' in the process.

The main problem I have with 'Islamophobia' is the word itself. A phobia, in my dictionary means an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something - in this case Islam. But, no one suffers from such a condition. Indeed, if someone were to be inflicted with such an illness, then it stands to reason, that a reasoned argument would not solve an 'Islamophobes' problems - only a psychiatrist could that - and, this is the whole point about labelling someone an 'Islamophobe', you can't have a rational debate with them.


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