Blog 084: Conflating Race & Religion Shows Incompetence

David Rand

2017-06-14 (Minor corrections 2021-05-08)

Recently, Islamist terrorism has wrecked havoc in several countries. Maryam Namazie, British secular activist and ex-Muslim of Iranian origin, notes 21 attacks just in the first week of June. According to the site TheReligionofPeace, Islamist terror attacks in the last 30 days number almost two hundred, of which only a small fraction occurred in Western countries, with many more victims in Muslim-majority countries. Islamist extremism is extreme only from a rational point of view, because Islamism follows the precepts written explicitly in the quran which invites believers to kill non-believers.

The recent attack on London Bridge is the third to occur in England since March. Commenting on this, British Prime Minister Theresa May did something which many politicians do not dare: she explicitly identified the enemy who perpetrated the attack, i.e. the “ideology of Islamist extremism.” For his part, Justin Trudeau simply declared that the incident was “senseless”—which is in fact false, because it did indeed have a sense, i.e. a motivation: political Islam.

For such is the privilege of this political-religious ideology, this variant of fundamentalist Islam which we call Islamism, that it enjoys preferential treatment from many people who claim to be on the left—i.e. that part of left which has come to be known as the regressive or multiculturalist left—to the point that it has become taboo to name Islamism explicitly for fear of offending Muslims. This privilege is completely unjustified. Who would accuse me of “Christianophobia,” of having insulted all Christians, if I declared that the vice-president of the United States is a fundamentalist Christian and a proponent of political Christianity?

…a strategy which aims to defame and silence its critics: false accusations of racism based on a habit of confusing race and religion.

This Islamophilic Left is a veritable nuisance because it prevents healthy debate about the place of religion in society. To explain the origins of this political tendency would be beyond the scope of this short blog. Instead, I wish to focus one of its main strategies, a strategy which aims to defame and silence its critics: false accusations of racism based on a habit of confusing race and religion.

We saw an example recently during a convention of the small left-wing party Québec Solidaire during which the hijab-wearing activist Dalila Awada accused the competing Parti Québécois of racism because of the PQ’s promotion of secularism.

But an even more striking example of this can be seen in a declaration, published on 25th March 2017 and signed by several associations and individuals, entitled Lutte contre le racisme: des paroles aux actes (The Struggle Against Racism: from Words to Action). One paragraph in particular illustrates the problem:

“Although races do not exist in the biological sense of the term, we can agree that there exists a social construct which racializes citizens. There exists a social system whose result is that a person is disadvantaged in society by his or her skin colour, religion or origin. This system, which produces or reproduces inequalities among citizens on the basis of their racialization, is called systemic racism.”

English translation: D.R.

This paragraph, which is followed by a call for the establishment of a public commission on systemic racism, shows ignorance of the concept of race and a complete misunderstanding of the necessary distinction between race and religion.

Scientists tend to be reticent to use the word “race” when speaking of human beings, no doubt because of how the term has been abused politically, the most spectacular examples being the Nazis and slavery in the American south. Nevertheless, the notion of race is used in biology. It is a taxonomic classification within a subspecies. Races are groups with fuzzy boundaries. The differences among human races are tiny compared to what they have in common. Racism is the exaggeration of these differences or, especially, the theory that some groups are “superior” or “inferior” to others.

The authors of the declaration give a definition of “systemic racism” which conflates three criteria—skin colour, religious affiliation and origin—of which only the first is an indicator of race. In particular, a religion is not a race. While race is an innate characteristic, encoded genetically, religious affiliation is an acquired attribute, like a political opinion, which can change from one day to the next. But no-one can change his or her genetic inheritance. To conflate the two is nonsense.

The only way to avoid this distinction would be to throw freedom of conscience out the window and return to the tribal origins of religion. Initially Christianity, for example, took root among Jews, while Islam was practiced by Arabs. But these two religions are both very proselytizing and have pretentions of being universal, their goal being to recruit and convert as many people as possible, regardless of race or ethnicity. And that is what they have in fact done. Consequently, anyone who accepts the principle of freedom of conscience must necessarily abandon the historical, tribal link between racial or ethnic group and religious affiliation, that is, between tribe and religion.

Thus, having emptied the concept of race of any meaning, the declaration re-invents race by associating it with religious affiliation in order to “racialize” believers so that their belief becomes an essential characteristic which must be accepted as immutable and unquestionable. As a result, religion becomes inviolable and immune to criticism. Furthermore, given the declaration’s use of the term “Islamophobia”—that imaginary racism—this immunity is granted first and foremost to one religion in particular.

They conflate race and religion, a confusion which implies a lack of recognition for freedom of conscience (including freedom of religion and freedom from religion) and a return to the religious tribalism of Antiquity.

The authors and signatories of the declaration claim to be fighting racism. But clearly they fail to understand what race is, and even less what racism is. They conflate race and religion, a confusion which implies a lack of recognition for freedom of conscience (including freedom of religion and freedom from religion) and a return to the religious tribalism of Antiquity. The authors of the declaration reveal themselves to be incompetent (or dishonest, or both) in matters relating to both race and religion. The signatories thus endorse this incompetence.

Their position is in no way helpful in facing the serious challenges which religious violence, racism (real racism) and social inequalities represent. On the contrary, they seriously harm such efforts by spreading total confusion, perhaps willingly. This position is typical of the discourse of the regressive left which accuses its adversaries of conflating extremists with ordinary Muslims, while this same pseudo-left promotes the conflation of race with religion, to the detriment of human freedom.

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