The Sly Accusation of Islamophobia

COE SquareI think we’re all making a big mistake in defining “Islamophobia” as “hates Muslims.”

OF COURSE it’s wrong to hate people. But it’s not wrong to have serious reservations about a religion, a philosophy or a culture. It’s not wrong to judge IDEAS, and to find them wanting.

Because there really are inferior cultures and beliefs, cultures that deserve to be hated and stamped out. I grew up in one of them — a racist Southern culture which insisted that skin color should be the decider for acceptability, and which wasn’t above using extreme violence and terroristic threats to make the point.

Islam, in my view, is an inferior culture. For the way it treats its women. For the way it creates a one-way door — you can step into Islam, but you can’t leave it. For the way it brainwashes its people, stifling creativity and innovation. For the way it reacts violently to harmless humor.

Muslims themselves are victims of that culture. Most of them are trapped permanently within it — lacking the freedom to marry whom they want, to wear what they want, to observe or not observe their traditions. Lacking the freedom to LEAVE.
Having reservations about Islam — even hating it — is not the same thing as stomping down on some group of poor, downtrodden people who only want to live and love like everybody else.

And yet we’re being taught, every darned day, that it is. On some level, I’m pretty sure this is deliberate. To the extent that we unquestioningly accept this, I think we’re losing an important argument — allowing our natural compassion to be used against us. In an avid desire not to be seen as haters, we back away from inspecting Islam with open eyes, fairly judging it, and we end up welcoming it in, allowing it to invade our own culture with its lesser ideas and philosophies.

As for myself, I’m actually in favor of accepting — of WELCOMING — the Syrian refugees. Aside from anything else, the United States helped destabilize the Middle East.

But I’m not going to blindly assume that everything they’re bringing over with them is good. If they’re coming here, I expect them to have first allegiance to America, and not to Islam, or to Syria. I expect them to fit in with US, rather than insisting that we have to adapt to THEIR beliefs and traditions, or that they can permanently maintain a separate culture. And yes, I expect them and their children to learn English.

For the rest of us, you wouldn’t buy a horse or a car without the chance to look at it, to judge for yourself whether it was something you wanted to welcome into your life. And you definitely would judge it. Treat Islam — which is not a group of downtrodden, helpless victims but an IDEA, a philosophy, a religion and culture fully equipped to defend itself — with the same clear-eyed honesty.

Finally, it’s not enough to say, as some are, that the extremists in Islam are no different than Christianity’s KKK. When’s the last time the KKK openly rioted and burned and shot people? If the KKK burns down a black church here in the U.S., we have no doubt that the people who do it are criminals and racists who deserve to be caught, prosecuted, and treated harshly. Not one honest Christian would celebrate the burning of a black church. Our extremists are on their own – with no support from moderates.

On the other hand, the Islamic murder of staffers at Charlie Hebdo, the French humor magazine, came in the midst of violent demonstrations all over the Muslim world. People were assaulted and killed, churches and schools were looted and burned, death threats were made. All out in the open – as if the people involved had every right to be doing it – with no white hoods or secrecy in sight. And eventually, a couple of guys walked into the Charlie Hebdo offices and shot 11 people dead. Because of cartoons.

Never let anyone make that comparison. The KKK and Islamic extremists are in no way equivalent. Even if they were, we stopped tolerating the KKK more than 50 years ago. They wear those hoods because even their own neighbors would reject them if they showed their faces.

We should no more tolerate the threats of Islamic extremists than we do violence – or the threat of it – by anybody.

And we should JUDGE Islam for its content, for the acts carried out in its name, and for the effect it has both on the people caught within it and those forced to live with it in the larger world.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Thank you for pointing out what should be the clear distinction between criticizing ideas vs. demonizing people — a distinction that eludes too many, especially on the Left.

    Question: Why do you assume these “refugees” will become permanent residents?

  • MosesZD

    Well said and a very adept analogy. Just like we don’t tolerate the (Conservative Christian) KKK (which went from millions of members a century ago to a few thousand die-hard jerks now) we don’t need to tolerate these Islamic terrorists or refrain from criticizing their behaviors and practices, which includes their adherence to some rather barbaric religious doctrines.

  • Richard Sanderson

    Some Islamists simply use the term “Islamophobe” in an attempt to silence people who have beaten them in a debate. Rather like how some social justice warriors try “misogynist” when they’ve lost.

  • Scooter

    An interesting post. I would recommend an excellent book, “What Every Christian Needs To Know About The Qur’an”, by Dr. James R. White. Relying on the media and politicians to tell us what Muslims believe isn’t going to cut it. People need to be better informed, whether the goal is to understand global politics or to talk to a Muslim neighbor across the street.

    • Hank Fox

      I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on it, but I’m of two minds about the suggestion. One of the perpetually annoying things you hear as an atheist is that you need to read the entire Bible before criticizing Christianity. That’s not something I agree with, first because the thing is both boring and disturbing, second because any “out” atheist gets to experience some of the negatives of Christianity on a daily basis.

      The current discussion about Islam seems to arise from a distinctly Christian viewpoint, with one of the points being made that Islam and Christianity — and thus Muslims and Christians — have a great deal in common.

      Speaking as an atheist, that argument stumbles badly in making Islam more palatable. The resulting picture is something like “More of the same, only worse.”

      Christianity had its Enlightenment, and is today a tamer, less dangerous version of what it once was. There’s plenty of stuff people — including Christians themselves — just won’t put up with today.

      Islam has yet to have that Enlightenment. I suspect it’s going through it now, exposed as it has become to the larger world, which is providing backpressure against Islam’s extremities.

      Still, in many parts of the world, Islam is at once a government, a culture and a religion, and it controls the lives of the people within it like nothing else in the world today. I doubt many Christians can imagine the situation. To pose it as “just another religion” is facile as hell, it seems to me.

      I continue to disagree with the leaping eagerness of so many among us to just sweep it into our embrace.

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        I would argue that, despite the willingness of some of its more moderate followers, Islam is constitutionally incapable of undergoing an Enlightenment or reform.

        As you note, Islam is often found playing the multiple roles of religion, culture and government. This is not by accident. Michael Nugent has argued persuasively that Islam “is not even a religion. It is an integrated ideology that combines religion, politics, judicial elements and social governance”, one “imposed by force.”

        To downplay Islam’s violent nature by observing that ‘well, bad things have been done in the name of Christianity, too’ is to ignore that, unlike Christianity, Islam expressly calls for such bad, violent things to be done in its name. To see this, we need only compare Mark 16:15-16

        “… Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”

        with Quran 8:12

        “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

        Christian edict: persuade with words; those who fail to believe will suffer in the afterlife.

        Moslem edict: compel with the sword; those who fail to believe will be murdered & mutilated right here & now.

        • Hank Fox

          Huh. Good points.

          I’ve argued in the past that the Bible is the “constitution” of Christianity, and that Christians have the choice of either believing EVERY God-given word of it — and taking it at least as seriously as we take, say, the Second Amendment — or of accepting that it’s “just some book.”

          Most Christians today, however much they protest that the Bible is the holiest of holies, actually ignore large parts of it.

          Muslims have the same choice before them to enter into the Islamic Enlightenment. But … you make an interesting case that this will be a damned sight more difficult.

  • MNb

    “But it’s not wrong to have serious reservations about a religion, a philosophy or a culture.”
    That’s actually an argument for defining islamophobia as “hates muslims”. Having such serious reservations about islam then is not enough to call someone an islamophobe.
    I simply recognize that there are people who foster hatred and/or irrational fear of muslims. I will keep on calling such people islamophobes.
    Nothing in your post contains such hatred and/or irrational fear, hence you’re not an islamophobe.
    It’s not hard at all.

    • Hank Fox

      Yes, but …

      Within the current definition of “Islamophobia,” you can’t criticize Islam itself without being labeled a hater of Muslims. The general public — including the news media — can’t seem to see that these are two VERY different things.

      • MNb

        I’m in a comfortable position. If someone is so foolish to tell me that I’m an islamphobe because I criticize islam I tell them that my female counterpart is a practicing muslima. But even otherwise I simply don’t care. If others are unwilling to use a coherent definition it doesn’t mean that I have to adapt. It only means I have to do some explanation now and then.

        “including the news media”
        I don’t know which news media you consume, but the ones I follow don’t do that. Now if I tell you that I’m a Dutchman living in Suriname your reaction is “duh” of course – except that in The Netherlands islamophobia (as defined above) is at least as virulent as in the USA. I get told more often that I’m a muslim hugger.
        Anyhow there are enough Americans who at one hand reject islam for all kind of reasons and at the other hand are willing to defned the civil rights of muslims. If enough of you use the definition I gave or something similar the problem you outlines becomes a non-problem.

        Fun fact: I’m more radical than you, because I would vote for Bernie Sanders, who should be even more radical to my taste. From my point of view Clinton is right wing (and yes, I vote mostly for radical women).