Blog 109: British Secularists Reject “Islamophobia” Definition

David Rand


The British National Secular Society (NSS), along with several public figures, has signed an open letter addressed to the Home Secretary Sajid Javid expressing concern about a definition of so-called “Islamophobia” proposed by an all-party parliamentary group (APPG). The proposed definition, already endorsed by several British, Scottish and Welsh political parties and by the mayor of London, declares that:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

(Website dedicated to this definition)

The open letter argues that the definition is “unfit for purpose” and could seriously threaten both freedom of speech and counter-extremism efforts. Fortunately the UK government recently rejected the definition, as did Lancashire County Council subsequently. However, the issue is not off the table and the APPG may eventually propose another definition.

The open letter’s criticisms of the “Islamophobia” definition cover several essential points:

  • The definition is “vague and expansive,” does not fully consider “its negative consequences for freedom of expression, and academic or journalistic freedom” and will “inhibit free speech about matters of fundamental importance.”
  • It will “aggravate community tensions,” thus “fuelling the very bigotry against Muslims which it is designed to prevent.”
  • It will “effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism.”
  • It will be “employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.”
  • It will hamper reporting of abusive practices which will be “far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic.”
  • The definition’s “conflation of race and religion” will stifle legitimate criticism of Islam.

Finally, the letter illustrates these concerns with numerous examples of how the term “Islamophobia” has already caused serious problems which would only increase if the proposed definition were accepted:

“The accusation of Islamophobia has already been used against those opposing religious and gender segregation in education, the hijab, halal slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare, LGBT rights campaigners opposing Muslim views on homosexuality, ex-Muslims and feminists opposing Islamic views and practices relating to women, as well as those concerned about the issue of grooming gangs. It has been used against journalists who investigate Islamism, Muslims working in counter-extremism, schools and Ofsted [Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills] for resisting conservative religious pressure and enforcing gender equality.” […]

“If this definition is adopted the government will likely turn to self-appointed ‘representatives of the community’ to define ‘Muslimness’. This is clearly open to abuse. The APPG already entirely overlooked Muslims who are often considered to be ‘insufficiently Muslim’ by other Muslims, moderates, liberals, reformers and the Ahmadiyyah, who often suffer persecution and violence at the hands of other Muslims.”

Thus, the open letter signed by the NSS puts forth solid arguments against the “Islamophobia” definition, arguments which are more than enough to justify rejection of that definition. Nevertheless, I find certain aspects of the letter somewhat timid, in particular:

  • The letter implies that, although the proposed definition may be unsatisfactory, another might be acceptable. On the contrary, the term “Islamophobia” is fundamentally flawed and any use of it as an accusation is unacceptable.
  • The letter expresses the fear that the term could be used as a “backdoor blasphemy law” as if that would be a negative side effect. On the contrary, the very purpose of the expression, its raison d’être, is to stifle criticism of the religion islam. To put it bluntly, “Islamophobia” is the blasphemy of the XXIst century. This is not a side effect; rather it is the primary goal.
  • The letter categorically states that “The undersigned unequivocally, unreservedly and emphatically condemn acts of violence against Muslims, and recognise the urgent need to deal with anti-Muslim hatred.” This declaration is not only unnecessary; it is inappropriate. The primary purpose of accusations of “Islamophobia” is not to reduce anti-Muslim violence, although many well-intentioned dupes of political Islam may think that to be the case. Rather, Islamists use such accusations to stifle criticism of the religion which they have weaponized for their purposes. They have no interest in reducing anti-Muslim hatred or violence; on the contrary, the very opposite is true. Such hatred and violence serve their purposes very well. As the letter itself states, the expression actually fuels anti-Muslim sentiment. The goal of reducing tension would be best served by completely rejecting the expression and avoiding its use entirely.

Furthermore, from a secular perspective, it is inappropriate for a government to make any official pronouncement about a religion, other than to declare its autonomy and independence from all religions. The fact that the British government would even consider a possible declaration about Islam or about any other religion is an indicator of just how non-secular the British political system is. The same observation applies to the Canadian system; one only has to consider the infamous Motion M-103.

To summarize, accusations of “Islamophobia” are always unacceptable because the word simply means an irrational fear of the religion Islam. But to fear any religion, especially a monotheism such as Islam, Christianity or Judaism, is eminently justifiable because any religion which seeks political influence is dangerous, and the monotheisms in particular are extremely dangerous. I can think of only two uses of the term “Islamophobia” which might potentially be legitimate, and even in those two cases it should be rejected:

  1. One might use the term to self-describe, as in “I am an Islamophobe because to fear Islam is justified.” But this usage is dubious because the suffix “-phobe” implies irrationality. A much more appropriate term would be “critic of Islam.”
  2. One might use the term as a synonym for religious bigotry born of religious competition, such as when a bigotted Christian claims that Islam is an inferior religion or perhaps not even a religion at all. However, given the current political situation in some Muslim-majority countries where persecution of Christians by Muslims has, by some reports, reached near-genocidal levels, and at any rate greatly exceeds anti-Muslim prejudice in traditionally Christian countries, can we really blame Christians for fearing Islam? Is not such fear simply due diligence, a rational response to a dangerous situation?

In conclusion, the word “Islamophobia” should be rejected in general. When used as an accusation, its purpose is to promote political Islam by stifling any and all criticism of Islam. It serves no other purpose. On the contrary, by suppressing necessary discussion, its use increases any unresolved antipathy towards Muslims in the general population, with a subsequent risk of an increase in anti-Muslim violence. The British National Secular Society, despite its somewhat hesitant approach to this issue, has understood and communicated the essential elements of this important observation.

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