20 March 2015

Islamophobia versus criticism of Islam

Harry J. Bentham

It is easy to conflate Islamophobia and legitimate criticism of Islam. But there's a big difference.

This post is motivated by my awareness that perhaps many people are critical of Islam itself, but that they see the term Islamophobia as an insult being hurled against them unfairly when they only meant to criticize a religious doctrine. If it is true, then the anatomy of Islamophobia itself deserves more attention before the word is used again.

It is not a secret that I am, in fact, an atheist. That fact has usually been of no importance, and didn't need to be stated. It's not a big part of what I am. I just don't practice a religion, as I never have. Religion is curious to me, as it was when I studied it at degree level in university, but my interest doesn't go beyond that particular neutral and scholarly fascination with it. I also wrote my dissertation on jihadist terrorism, and received a first class grade for it.

Since I studied terrorism, I have increasingly come to the realization that the real existential threat doesn't come from it at all, but from our own reactions to it, in particular in the domains of culture and religion. And that may be the very intention of those who practice terrorism. They desperately want the state to target the wrong people when it reacts to their violence - for that will cripple the state's legitimacy and recruit more people to the violent cause to dismantle the state itself.

Islamophobia and criticism of Islam: the difference

Here's the difference between Islamophobia and legitimate criticism of Islam. Criticism of Islam is expressed in stating that Islam is wrong. Islamophobia is the statement that Muslims are wrong. Further, that they should be systematically persecuted and murdered. One is intellectual, the other is hateful. One is open to criticizing everything - Islam included - while the other is obsessed with targeting a specific social group.

It is a factual observation that Islamophobia is a murderous idea, that it has killed people, and that every Islamophobe is a murderer. They are not murderers because they have killed anyone with their own hands, as terrorists have done, but because their agenda of hate has helped to manufacture excuses for states to wage war and assassination against a people. That hate has led to the deaths of countless children, in the so-called war on terror. He who passes over the corpses of children to achieve a political aim is worse than any of the people he is going after, even to "keep us safe".

The war on terror was never motivated by a factual analysis of a flaw in Islamic teaching, or because governments were of the view that Muslims are mistaken on some theological point, but because someone wanted to kill people. People. This, we must not forget. The fact they were Muslim makes their deaths no less tragic than if they were of any other faith.

And if Islamophobia sought to criticize Islam, whence cometh their theses against Islam? Where are the intellectual battles being fought by Islamophobia against the errors of Islam? In what lecture theaters are academics explaining where Islam is wrong, and how to non-violently correct its errors in the mind before one goes out to shoot these people or make drone strikes against them? Instead, all that we find are lobbyists, who know very little about Islam but a lot about making war against Islam.

Islamophobia isn't just a threat to Muslims. It is a threat to your very life.

It seeks to set us all at each other's throats. It not only preaches that followers of Islam should be killed, but that innocent bystanders who defend them or consort with them should be killed. It appeals to a fantasy, a fairy-tale about the so-called west as a righteous and pure civilization, in order to scorn another culture and portray it as subhuman.

As an intellectual I don't accept the supernatural claims of Islam, even if I admire its ability to make peace and enrich a community. But Islam is not, as Sam Harris once claimed, "the motherlode of bad ideas".

The motherlode of bad ideas is Islamophobia, and with it the war on terror. These are the Hitlerite impulses that we must kill people because of their community background, that we must treat them all as suspects and accuse them of sheltering extremists simply because of their faith. Such persecution goes against everything history has proven to be correct and enduring, and represents a graver threat to civilized life than the extremism of the violent self-declared Islamic groups that include most notably the so-called Islamic State (Daesh).

Hate has no place anywhere, under any pretext. When we reflect on the industrial-scale killings of the Holocaust and pronounce, never again, we say thus not for our own safety but for the good. We will never again allow ourselves to become monsters, to threaten the lives of infants because of claims about so-called national security. If they command us to do such evil, then we must prefer instead to seek out our own fascists and attack them instead.

Never again was an absolute, and cannot be dismissed simply because it is convenient to hate again. If evil prevails when good men do nothing, national security is worthless and people should stay true only to their own conscience.

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