The meaning of 'racism'

Racism refers only to racial issues, not to views on immigration, culture, religion, ideology, law enforcement, or military strategy.

My talks at university campuses sometimes occasion protests featuring leftists and Islamists who call me names. A favorite of theirs is "racist." This year, for example, a "Stand up to Racism Rally" anticipated my talk at the Rochester Institute of Techno logy. I was accused of racism against Muslim immigrants at Dartmouth College, and pamphlets at the University of Toronto charged me with "anti-Muslim racism." Anti-Muslim racism? That oxymoron puzzled me. Islam being a religion with followers of every r ace and pigmentation, where might race enter the picture? Dictionaries agree that racism concerns race, not religion: • American Heritage: "The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superio r to others. Discrimination or prejudice based on race." • Merriam-Webster: "A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Racial prejudice o r discrimination." • Oxford: "The belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race. Discrimination against or antagonism towards other races." Even the notorious United Nations anti-racism conference at Durban in 2001 i mplicitly used this same definition when it rejected "any doctrine of racial superiority, along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of so-called distinct human races." Thus understood, the term racist cannot be ascribed to me, a s I neither believe that race defines capabilities nor that certain races have greater capabilities than others. Also, my writings and talks never touch on issues of race. Does that mean the word racist merely serves leftists and Islamists as a n a ll-purpose pejorative, a magical insult that discredits without regard to accuracy? No, the evolution of this word is more complex than that. RACISM IS now increasingly used to mean something far beyond its dictionary definition. The director of th e inf luential London-based Institute of Race Relations (IRR), A. Sivanandan, has been pushing the concept of a "new racism" which concerns immigration, not race: It is a racism that is not just directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonia l ter ritories, but at the newer categories of the displaced, the dispossessed and the uprooted who are beating at western Europe's doors, the Europe that helped to displace them in the first place. It is a racism, that is, that cannot be colour-coded, directed as it is at poor whites as well, and is therefore passed off as xenophobia, a "natural" fear of strangers. An official paper from Australia goes in a different direction, that of "cultural racism": In the modern era the underlying assumption of "racism" is a belief that differences in the culture, values, and/or practices of some ethnic/religious groups are "too different" and are likely to threaten "community values" and social cohesion. Once racism is un-moored from racial characteristics, i t is a small step to apply it to Muslims. Indeed, Liz Fekete of IRR discovers "anti-Muslim racism" in the legislation, policing, and counter-terrorist measures deriving from the "war on terror" (her quote marks). She also sees the French banning of the hi j ab in public schools, for example, as a case of "anti-Muslim racism." Others at IRR allege that "Muslims and those who look like Muslims are the principal targets of a new racism." Likewise, the Reverend Calvin Butts, III, of the Abyssinian Baptist Chu rc h of N ew York, opined recently at a United Nations conference on Islamophobia: "whether Muslims like it or not, Muslims are labeled people of color in the racist US … they won't label you by calling you a nigger, but they'll call you a terrorist." For Butts, counterterrorism amounts to racism. When US Rep. Tom Tancredo raised the idea of bombing Islamic holy sites as a form of deterrence, a Nation of Islam leader in Denver, Gerald Muhammad, deemed his comments racist. Note the evolution: as belief in racial differences and racial superiority wanes in polite society, some parties expand the meaning of racism to condemn political decisions such as worrying about too much immigration (even of poor whites), preferring one's own culture, fearing radical Is lam, and implementing effective counterterrorist measures. This attempt to delegitimize political differences must be rejected. Racism refers only to racial issues, not to views on immigration, culture, religion, ideology, law enforcement, or militar y st rategy. The writer is the Philadelphia-based director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures.›dhs