Meet 'Islamophobia'

What exactly constitutes an 'undue fear of Islam.'

October 26, 2005 20:57
muslim woman 88

muslim woman 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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An Islamist group named Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks to bring the world under Islamic law and advocates suicide attacks against Israelis. Facing proscription in Britain, it opened a clandestine front operation at British universities called "Stop Islamophobia," the Sunday Times has revealed. Stop what, you ask? Coined in Britain a decade ago, the neologism Islamophobia was launched in 1996 by a self-proclaimed "Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia." The word literally means "undue fear of Islam" but it is used to mean "prejudice against Muslims" and joins over 500 other phobias spanning virtually every aspect of life. The term has achieved a degree of linguistic and political acceptance, to the point that the secretary-general of the UN presided over a December 2004 conference titled "Confronting Islamophobia," and in May a Council of Europe summit condemned "Islamophobia." The term presents several problems, however. First, what exactly constitutes an "undue fear of Islam" when Muslims acting in the name of Islam today make up the premier source of worldwide aggression, both verbal and physical, against non-Muslims and Muslims alike? What, one wonders, is the proper amount of fear? Second, while prejudice against Muslims certainly exists, "Islamophobia" deceptively conflates two distinct phenomena: fear of Islam and fear of radical Islam. I personally experience this problem: despite writing again and again against radical Islam the ideology, not Islam the religion, I have been made the runner-up for a mock "Islamophobia Award" in Britain, deemed America's "leading Islamophobe," and even called an "Islamophobe Incarnate." (What I really am is an "Islamism-ophobe.") THIRD, PROMOTERS of the "Islamophobia" concept habitually exaggerate the problem: • Law enforcement: British Muslims are said to suffer from persistent police discrimination but an actual review of the statistics by Kenan Malik makes mincemeat of this "Islamophobia myth." • Cultural: Muslims "are faced with an extreme flow of anti-Islamic literature that preaches hatred against Islam," claims the president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Virginia, Taha Jabir al-Alwani, "novels, movies, books and researches. Just among the best selling novels alone there are almost 1000 novels of this type." One thousand bestsellers vilify Islam? Hardly. In fact, barely a handful do so (for example, The Haj, by Leon Uris). • Linguistic: A professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, falsely reported (in his keynote speech at a UN event, "Confronting Islamophobia," reports Alexander Joffe) attempts to hide the Arabic origins of English words such as adobe - which derives in fact from ancient Egyptian, not from Arabic. • Historical: The term anti-Semitism was originally used against Arabs living in Spain, Nasr also stated in his speech, and was not directed at Jews until after World War II. Nonsense: anti-Semitism dates back only to 1879, when it was coined by Wilhelm Marr, and has always referred specifically to hatred of Jews. Fourth, Hizb ut-Tahrir's manipulation of "Stop Islamophobia" betrays the fraudulence of this word. As the Sunday Times article explains, "Ostensibly the campaign's goal is to fight anti-Muslim prejudice in the wake of the London bombings," but it quotes Anthony Glees of London's Brunel University to the effect that the real agenda is to spread anti-Semitic, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh, anti-homosexual, and anti-female attitudes, as well as foment resentment of Western influence. Finally, calling moderate Muslims (such as Irshad Manji) Islamophobes betrays this term's aggressiveness. As Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph, moderate Muslims, "frightened of what the Islamists are turning their faith into," are the ones who most fear Islam. (Think of Algeria, Darfur, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.) "They cannot find the courage and the words to get to grips with the huge problem that confronts Islam in the modern world." Accusations of Islamophobia, Malik adds, are intended "to silence critics of Islam, or even Muslims fighting for reform of their communities." Another British Muslim, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, discerns an even more ambitious goal: "All too often Islamophobia is used to blackmail society." Muslims should dispense with this discredited term and instead engage in some earnest introspection. Rather than blame the potential victim for fearing his would-be executioner, they would do better to ponder how Islamists have transformed their faith into an ideology celebrating murder (Al-Qaida: "You love life, we love death") and develop strategies to redeem their religion by combating this morbid totalitarianism. The writer, based in Philadelphia, is director of the Middle East Forum.

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