If you’ve ever debated against or argued with a modern Feminist, in the real world or online, you’re probably familiar with the concept of that one magical word which can be used to shout down criticism or turn a conversation away from the subject at hand.
“Misogyny!!” You’ll hear them shout, and from that point on it’s an uphill struggle to keep the conversation on track. One simple word which is intended to demonstrate that your argument or criticism of their ideology constitutes bigotry. If you’re in a public place or forum you’ll generally find that the Feminist horde will quickly follow suit and you’ll find, more often than not, that you’re suddenly having to spend the remainder of your time explaining to them why you’re not a bigot instead of dealing with the issue you had hoped to discuss.
Having one of these words on your side is a useful trick to have up your sleeve, and often one which certain ideas or movements are very much aware of and spend plenty of time cultivating by claiming that this particular form of ‘bigotry’ is rife in society as a whole, that way, when they need it, it’s at their disposal as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card. The implication here is clear of course and this is the question I have for today:
Is Islamophobia simply a tool to shout down criticism?
Naturally at this point, many people will be horrified at the mere suggestion, while many others will be nodding their approval, such a divisive ideology Islam is. Before we start though, let’s take a quick look at what, exactly, a phobia is, so that we might define the term “Islamophobia” for ourselves.
Wikipedia defines it thusly: “In clinical psychology, a phobia is a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.”
In both of the above definitions we can see that at least a part of what makes a fear a phobia, is the element of irrationality. We know that we shouldn’t fear the dentist, for example, and yet, millions of us live with this phobia world wide.
We must always be free to criticize religions as ideas in the same way that those who subscribe to these ideas are able to promote them.
Should we fear Islam?
It’s widely recognised that some fears can be healthy, If we didn’t fear certain dangers such as wild animals for example, then our life expectancy would likely be rather short. So the question becomes whether or not a fear of Islam would be considered a healthy fear or whether it might, in fact, be an actual phobia.
In the current climate, through the media every day we are confronted with what has sadly become the public face of Islam to the general public. We see extremists slaughtering innocents in the name of their prophet, often for such non-crimes as ‘Blasphemy‘ or simply being of a different faith, and these days our view is much more far reaching thanks to the internet. We also hear regularly of the Islamic countries around the globe implementing laws and handing out extreme punishments for yet more of these non-crimes which include homosexuality, Apostasy, blogging about secularism and even being gang raped!
Of course, most of us understand all too well that the countries which perpetrate these injustices are not acting solely in the interests of Islam or any other religion, power corrupts and fear is a powerful tool which many governments and regimes are all too keen to exploit. We also realise that, as with any faith or movement, extremists do not necessarily represent the majority of followers or adherents, in the case of Islam, it is clear that most Muslims would not wish harm on their fellow man, however, it’s difficult not to have a healthy fear of a religion which can prove fatal to those who question, lampoon or criticize it, regardless of what the true intentions of the faith may be.
How can we stop Islamophobia?
I recently watched a YouTube video from Russell Brand‘s ‘The Trews’ series (which he considers to be the ‘true news’) with the title above: How can we stop Islamophobia, while the actual video didn’t contain many of Brand’s thoughts on this matter, the title was used as click-bait and worked for me at least. The idea that people believe Islamophobia to be some kind of epidemic which must be dealt with, while simultaneously shrugging off (or in Brand’s case, often blaming the West for) the atrocities being committed in the name of Islam doesn’t sit well with me. Of course we must ensure that the media is not demonising the name of all Muslims, the vast majority of whom have done no wrong and many of whom have done much of great benefit to society, but at the same time we cannot continue to make excuses for those who do so much evil in the name of Islam.
The solution isn’t simple and real progress cannot be made without a concerted effort, but without change the extremists, the oppressive regimes and the bigots who tar all Muslims with the same brush will continue to clash, will continue to fuel hatred between each other and eventually, will create a rift that might never be healed.
Reform is what Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for in her much publicised new book, on the part of Islam and, while I’m not totally against the idea of a reform, I feel that a positive solution needs to consider both sides of the equation. We cannot try to change the fundamentals of a religion which has been established for thousands of years but if enough of the people of influence within the religion can come together, condemn the atrocities which have been committed in its name and lay out a full and honest account of the true meanings of the teachings within the Qur’an and the real values of Islam, if they and perhaps even some of the most influential modern day secular speakers and thinkers can also come together and speak regularly and clearly about the good that millions of Muslims do daily, if the media can set aside its obsession with the dramatic and help to perpetuate the love, kindness and genuine wish for peace from a religion which prides itself on this premise, then perhaps millions of potential Jihadists and millions of ill-informed bigots can be reached before it’s too late.
In closing then, my personal opinion is that the word Islamophobia is, at best, being misused. There are people who are skeptical and even concerned or scared by the ideas of Islam and the Shariah but this doesn’t seem irrational or misplaced in most instances and much of the time in conversation, Islamophobia is simply being defined as any criticism of the religion which can only be a negative thing as it is always important to be able to discuss ideas. There are also people who are simply bigoted against Islam, sometimes, admittedly, for racially motivated reasons because, while Islam is not a race, the majority of people associate the religion with race. These people are not Islamophobic though, they do not have an irrational and debilitating fear of Islam which they simply cannot help as the term in question might suggest, they are simply hateful and should be viewed as such.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments below. Unless you suffer from…..Atheistophobia! 🙂