“If I criticize a religion, I am neither racist nor xenophobic.
Because religion is neither a race, nor a nation. Do not allow yourselves to be manipulated.”
Words are not always impartial. The words chosen to express an idea may greatly influence how that idea is understood or what direction a debate takes. Some expressions are downright misleading, even harmful.
Such is the case with the neologism “Islamophobia.” The precise origin of this word is uncertain, but at any rate several authors, including bloggers on this site, agree that it should be avoided completely, because its purpose is to stifle necessary criticism of Islam. Specifically, the term “Islamophobia” raises the following problems:
- It is regularly used to indicate a prejudice against Muslims, but the word itself is based on the root Islam which is a religion, an idea, an ideology. Thus, confusion is created between believers and beliefs. However, it is absolutely essential to make a clear distinction between human beings on the one hand and, on the other hand, the ideas that those people may express.
- The suffix “phobia” generally implies an irrational fear. However, to fear Islam is not necessarily irrational. On the contrary, to fear fundamentalist and radical trends within Islam is not only reasonable, it is indeed necessary. Not to do so would be simply imprudent.
- The word “Islamophobia” is often used in the context of denouncing so-called “racism,” as if the two terms were intimately related. In fact, this is completely false because Islam is not a race. A hostile attitude towards Islam—whether we consider that attitude to be rational or not—is not synonymous with hostility towards a group of human beings (see 1. above), and even less so if that group is a race.
- Finally, the term “Islamophobia” is related to the term “blasphemy” which is also a harmful concept having a similar function of undercutting necessary criticism of religious dogma. The right to criticize ideas is an essential aspect of freedom of expression and democracy.
Listen to the words of the late Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier) Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racistes or Letter to Islamophobia scammers who facilitate racists, an essay completed only two days before his assassination, along with that of his colleagues from Charlie Hebdo, by Islamist extremists in January 2015:
The ultimate goal of those who denounce Islamophobia is to put anti-Semitism and criticism of those who adhere to Islam on an equal footing. For them, to mock an Islamist terrorist would be equivalent to alleging that Jews are inferior and harmful beings. […] There is no relation between racism or anti-Semitism on the one hand and criticism of religious extremists on the other. But the inventors of Islamophobia will not be stopped; they are intransigent in their insistence on interpreting Islamophobia as a sort of anti-Muslim racism equivalent to anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish racism.
English translation D.R.
The philosopher François Doyon, in an article entitled To condemn Islamophobia is to enable racists, Huffington Post, 2015-10-06, makes the following observation about a certain left-wing tendency:
The left identifies the fear of Islam with the fear of Arab immigrants, thus confusing criticism of Islam with racism. This amounts to an interpretation of racism that is far too broad. To be accused of racism for having criticized Islam is a form of intimidation based on confusing the cultural with the genetic. […]
The left has invented a concept of racism that is so far-reaching that to be racist has become commonplace, almost banal. But to trivialize racism is to encourage it. To say that the Muslim religion may not be criticized along with others because it is the religion of the oppressed is as ridiculous and unacceptable as saying that Judaism is the religion of thieves and bankers.
English translation D.R.
In Quebec, the left-wing tendency we are talking about is best represented by Québec Solidaire whose spokesperson Françoise David got the National Assembly in Quebec City to adopt a motion condemning “Islamophobia” on 1st October 2015. Unfortunately, Ms. David succeeded in obtaining the unanimous support of Assembly members, even though the other political parties initially wanted the contentious word to be removed in order to give the motion a more universal tone. They apparently caved in to guilt-based blackmail commonly used by fans of the “Islamophobia” concept who use accusations of racism to intimidate anyone who tries to disagree with them.
The motion and Ms. David’s action in pushing it were sharply and justifiably condemned by the Alliance for Secularism, by the Association québécoise des Nord-Africains pour la laïcité (AQNAL or Quebec Association of North Africans for Secularism), by the humourist Nabila Ben Youssef, by author and secular activist Djemila Benhabib, by François Doyon and by many others.
There are nevertheless some people who criticize Islam honestly—and courageously—and who voluntarily call themselves “Islamophobes.” However I consider this to be an unwise choice because of the strong connotation of irrationality that the expression carries. If there is one context in which the term might be appropriate, that would have to be as a description of the prejudice of a religious believer against a competing religion. According to Charb,
[…] it can happen that believers themselves have a phobia for other religions. After all, they have been taught that their religion is the world’s best—no, not the best, but the only one which is True! […] So there is nothing surprising about a Catholic being Islamophobic or a Muslim being Cathophobic, because that is precisely what their religious leaders require of them.
English translation D.R.
But even in such a case the word “Islamophobia” is unnecessary, because the simple expression “religious bigotry” is quite adequate to describe it.
Thus, setting aside the two exceptions just discussed, we can say that anyone who uses the term “Islamophobia” as if it were a legitimate concept, as an accusation to denigrate others, is either an Islamofascist or a dupe of Islamofascists.
Whoever denounces “Islamophobia” cannot in all honesty claim “Je suis Charlie” because the word excuses and legitimizes repression of parodies of Islam. One cannot honestly pretend to condemn the massacre while simultaneously implying that the victims somehow “had it coming.” To denounce “islamophobia” is to legitimize the repression of blasphemy against Islam, to oppose freedom of expression, in particular the freedom to criticize the tenets of Islam.
To understand the damage that can be done by this paranoid attitude towards criticism of Islam, it is enough to read Draft Bill 59, whose ostensible purpose is to “to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence,” and the action plan against “radicalization,” both of which the government of Quebec published on the same day in June 2015. The draft bill was denounced by almost all interested parties—except for fundamentalist Muslim groups—as a threat to freedom of expression. The action plan mentions “Islamophobia” repeatedly and refers several times to prejudice against Muslims, but it fails to recognize what everyone knows: that Islamists are the principal cause of such prejudice. Fortunately the government has promised to reformulate the bill, but the new version is not yet available for study.
During the recent federal election campaign and the controversy around wearing the niqab, I observed another manifestation of this mania for censoring necessary criticism of religion: an individual ostensibly in favour of secularism denounced so-called “religious hatred.” This expression has the same function as the term “Islamophobia” except that it does not specify a particular religion. To denounce “religious hatred” resembles a condemnation of “blasphemy” against religion in general; it is equivalent to opposing freedom of expression, in particular the freedom to criticize religious dogma.
Such language is reminiscent of the efforts of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation or OIC to have the United Nations condemn so-called “defamation of religion,” a measure which, if completely successful, would be tantamount to an international anti-blasphemy law.
“Islamophobia,” “religious hatred,” and “defamation of religion”: three treacherous expressions which reveal a poor understanding of secularism, three expressions which betray freedom of conscience and indicate—whether intentionally or not—implicit disapproval of “blasphemy.”