New report shows why we must reject the silencing propaganda term ‘Islamophobia’

by Michael Nugent on August 24, 2016

Demos ImageThe Demos UK Think Tank has produced a well-intentioned report about tweets that express prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith. This could have been a more useful project, if the report had highlighted its findings in a more balanced way, and had not unwittingly used the Islamist propaganda word ‘Islamophobia’ to misdescribe the anti-Muslim prejudice that it was researching.

Instead, the report generates a misleading panic about the extent of even its own flawed definition of ‘Islamophobia’, it fails to highlight that the vast majority of tweets about jihad, terrorism and hijabs do not display anti-Muslim prejudice, and it conflates reasonable and necessary criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim prejudice under the common term ‘Islamophobia’.

In response, Benjamin Jones of the National Secular Society in the UK outlined why the report shows that we should stop using the meaningless and sinister word ‘Islamophobia’. Carl Miller of Demos responded to Benjamin, accepting some of Benjamin’s points and countering others. I welcome’s Carl’s willingness to engage on this. Here are some further criticisms of the report, which I acknowledge was well-intentioned.

Most crucially, Carl from Demos misunderstands the main concern about the use of the word ‘Islamophobia’. He comes closest when he says that: “The crux it comes down to is this. Many of the critics, I think, just don’t like Islamophobia as a concept at all… In my point of view, Islamophobia is real. It exists, it is a problem, it is not a crime, and it’s well worth researching.” That’s nearly right, but it conflates the concept and the description of the concept.

We of course know that anti-Muslim prejudice is real, it exists, it is reprehensible, and it should be researched and challenged. But we reject the use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ to describe that concept, because the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others also use that word as a propaganda tool, in order to silence legitimate criticism of Islam as an ideology, and thereby to buttress the human rights abuses that Islamist regimes impose on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Also, you can more effectively research and challenge anti-Muslim prejudice by describing it (far more clearly, accurately and unambiguously) as ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’, thus avoiding the conflations and harm caused by using the word ‘Islamophobia’. So why not simply do this? Why use a description that you know will cause complications and confusion, when you can use a clear description that you know will not do this?

Contents

1. Summary of my Criticisms of the Demos Report
2. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and ‘Islamophobia’
3. OIC Annual Reports on ‘Islamophobia’
4. The Demos Report’s Definition of ‘Islamophobia’
5. The Demos Report’s Categories of ‘Islamophobia’
6. A More Constructive and Accurate Lead Finding
7. The Runnymede Trust Report on ‘Islamophobia’
8. Other Definitions of ‘Islamophobia’

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1. Summary of my Criticisms of the Demos Report

The report’s definition of ‘Islamophobia’ (“the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith”) is subjective, ad-hoc and flawed. Surely all dislike of Muslims “because of their faith” is prejudicial? And how could you have “legitimate prejudicial dislike”? Then the report’s four categories of ‘Islamophobia’, and the report’s data, do not match its own definition. As usual, the term ‘Islamophobia’ is a moving target of whatever you are having yourself. As usual, when a well-intentioned group like Demos uses the term to mean one thing, other groups will use their report to justify and buttress something entirely different and more sinister.

Of the fifty keywords Demos used to collect “tweets that could be derogatory and anti-Islamic,” four are words commonly used in reasonable discourse, two are derogatory words used by some Muslims to describe non-Muslims, three are names of anti-Islamic political groups, one word is abusive of Islam, eight are examples of anti-Muslim bigotry, and thirty two (almost two thirds) are racist or xenophobic rather than religious abuse.

This leads the report to conflate as ‘Islamophobic’ tweets that are polar opposites to each other. It gives as two examples from 5 July: “Morocco deletes a whole section of the Koran from school curriculum as it’s full of jihad incitement and violence. The Religion of peace”; and “I fucking hate Pakis.” The first tweet here is a reasonable and ethically good analysis of a harmful ideology. The second is reprehensible hate speech against people based on their ethnicity. As Sesame Street used to tell me as a child, one of these things is not like the other.

Even using its own preferred definitions, and its own data of 34,000,000 tweets, the report could have chosen to describe its key finding more constructively as: “Even in politically provocative times, up to 99% of discussion of jihad, terrorism and hijabs on Twitter does not demonstrate prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.” This would have been a significant, and accurate, lead finding. Instead it is relegated to an implication of the Methodology section on page 18 of a 21 page report.

Instead, using the less than 2% of their original data that they concluded were actually ‘Islamophobic’, one of the key findings is melodramatically phrased as: “Islamophobia on Twitter is increasing month on month – with July the highest rate since Demos’ dedicated analysis began in March.” But they are talking about 19 pilot days in March and April, and only three months full analysis, with monthly fluctuations of minus 50% to plus 27%. That’s not enough data to establish any trends, let alone lead with them as a key finding.

Also, the report does not highlight that we are talking about a percentage of a percentage of the overall daily traffic of 500 million tweets, and that we thus risking giving undue prominence to abusive bigots whose conversational repertoire includes ‘camel fucker’, ‘dune nigger’ and ‘sand monkey’. Of course we should highlight this reprehensible behaviour in order to challenge it. But why not also highlight, and indeed lead with, the finding that the vast, vast, vast majority of Twitter discussion of even controversial topics like jihad, terrorism and hijabs does not display anti-Muslim prejudice? As well as being accurate, it would help to dampen down tensions rather than inflame them.

OIC

2. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and ‘Islamophobia’

Independently of the well-meaning attempts of western liberals and academics to use the word ‘Islamophobia’ to challenge prejudice against Muslims as people, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (which represents 57 Islamic states and describes itself as the collective voice of the Muslim world) has been busy planting the seeds of the word ‘Islamophobia’ into international discourse in a way that conflates anti-Muslim prejudice with legitimate criticism of Islam, including for the specific purpose of outlawing what they call defamation of religion.

This goes back to one of the first uses of the phrase, after the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979 and the new Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the country. One of the new regime’s first moves was to announce an edict forcing Iranian women to wear the hijab. Thousands of Muslim women took to the street in protest, but their counter-revolution was quickly crushed. The new regime described these Muslim women as ‘Islamophobic’ for refusing to wear the hijab. Ana Pak is an Iranian secular feminist who grew up during Khomeini’s rule. Having escaped prison in Iran for campaigning against theocracy, she moved to France. In January she told Standpoint magazine:

“I was shocked to find that the French Left was capitulating to the Islamists, and that I was soon labelled as Islamophobic for resisting its doctrine. I have never stopped working against or fighting Islamists, in Iran first of all, and then in France. In Iran I was involved with the Left, but the Left has lost its raison d’être. Now the Left use the same words that the Islamists have used in their own campaign.”

Islamic regimes today continue to enforce their versions of Islam on Muslims who want to resist it. But they do not restrict their desire to control discourse about Islam to their own countries. When Carl Miller of Demos responded to Benjamin Jones of the National Secular Society in the UK, Carl cited the United Nations holding of a conference on ‘Islamophobia’ in 2004. For some context about this development, here is an extract from a statement in June 2005 by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, at a meeting of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers:

“Honourable Ministers, in the face of the intensification of Islamophobia in the West, I have seen it as a duty to launch a campaign against this detestable phenomenon, and we have approached the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva in this connection. We succeeded to have the Committee adopt a resolution prohibiting defamation of religions, in particular Islam, as well as linking it with terrorism. We also took the campaign to the United Nations General Assembly asking it to make efforts in this regard. In the same vein, we went to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and managed to convince it to place the matter in its agenda and admitted that defamation of Islam has become a fundamental challenge in the field of human rights in Europe.”

In the run up to this series of coordinated international interventions, the OIC had defined ‘Islamophobia’ variously as “hostility towards Islam” and as “the irrational and biased hatred of Islam.” This is a very different agenda to that of western liberals and academics, who rightly want to protect Muslims as people from prejudice. The OIC also rightly wants to do this in western countries, but in addition it wants to protect Islam from criticism, and it includes both purposes in its definitions of ‘Islamophobia’.

3. OIC Annual Reports on ‘Islamophobia’

The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation has an ‘Islamophobia Observatory’ which publishes an ‘Annual Report on Islamophobia’. The Reports mostly focus on cases of prejudice against Muslims, including criminal assaults against Muslims which have the added factor of making other Muslims fear that they might be next. But the OIC’s ‘Annual Reports on Islamophobia’ also complain about criticism of Islam, and they have as one of their subheadings: “Intolerance against Islam and its Sacred Symbols”.

The most recent 2015 OIC Report says that: “Islamophobia can be defined as a contemporary form of racism and xenophobia motivated by unfounded fear, mistrust and hatred of Muslims and Islam. Islamophobia is also manifested through intolerance, discrimination and adverse political, media and even academic public discourse.” The previous 2014 OIC Report elaborated on its role as reporting on both “anti-Muslim sentiments and intolerance against Islam.” It said that part of the role of ‘Islamophobic’ campaigns is to marginalise Muslims, and part of it is “to defame Islam through distortions and misrepresentation of Islamic values and teachings.”

With regard to criticism of Islam as opposed to Muslims, the 2015 OIC Report complained about the following: A United States Chief Justice said that “Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures who created us”. Bill Maher and Sam Harris argued on a talk show that liberal ideologies like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, marriage equality, and gender equity, were incompatible with Islam. New York buses and subways allowed an advert on their fleets that islamic Jew hatred is in the Quran. Plans were announced in Texas to hold a cartoon contest to draw Mohammed.

The 2015 OIC Report also complained that a book featuring cartoons of Muhammad had gone on sale in Japan. Pastor James McConnell told his congregation in Northern Ireland that the Islamic faith is Satanic and a doctrine spawned in hell. Canon Eric Woods in England wrote an article complaining about halal abattoirs. Four Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka had made disparaging remarks about the Quran. Czech President Milos Zeman said that Islamic ideology rather than individual groups of fundamentalists was behind violent actions.

The 2014 OIC Report highlighted two complaints of blasphemy against musicians. Firstly, Muslims around the world had posted an online petition to YouTube to successfully remove a ‘blasphemous’ video by pop singer Katie Perry in which a ‘God’ pendant was seen being burned. Secondly, a South Korean girl band 2NE1 had angered Muslims around the world by using a verse from the Quran as lyrics on an album track. After the complaints, both the video and the song lyrics were deleted. The complaints about blasphemy had succeeded in silencing two pop songs.

The 2014 OIC Report also complained that an Ohio school district had agreed to change its curriculum after a legal complaint that it was violating the the constitutional requirement to be neutral in religion, by forcing children to memorise the five pillars of Islam in world history class. It described as an ‘Islamophobe’ a French journalist who had argued that a poster that suggested that Muslims were ‘the nation’ went against France’s inclusive, secular republic. It praised Brandeis University for withdrawing a plan to give Ayan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree, because of her “record of anti-Islam statements.”

The 2014 OIC Report also gave as examples of ‘Islamophobia’ such secular projects as the emergence of laws in the United States prohibiting courts from recognising foreign laws, which would include Sharia; some European countries banning halal slaughter, including Poland and Denmark, on the basis that religion had no precedence over animal welfare; and a proposed Quebec Charter of Values, which would have established a duty of religious neutrality for all state personnel.

Remember that all of these are examples of ‘Islamophobia’ from the two most recent ‘Annual Reports on Islamophobia’, published by the OIC’s ‘Islamophobia Observatory’, which reports on both “anti-Muslim sentiments and intolerance against Islam” on behalf of the 57 Islamic states in the OIC. For anyone who doesn’t quite get the message, the ‘Observatory on Islamophobia’ says of freedom of expression that:

“The OIC has repeatedly expressed its commitment to freedom of opinion and expression, exercise of which is fundamental to the realisation of the right to freedom of religion. Freedom of expression must be exercised with responsibility and discretion. Freedom of expression, therefore, cannot be used as a pretext for inciting hatred, or insulting the deeply held beliefs of any community.” (2014 OIC Annual Report on Islamophobia)

“Like all other rights, the right of freedom of expression is not absolute and that cannot be exploited to infringe on the rights of others or to incite violence and hatred to endanger human lives by engaging in blatant insult, denigration and mockery of the deep seated religious beliefs and symbols and personalities sacred to religions and their followers.” (2012 OIC Annual Report on Islamophobia)

Note again the conflation of very different ideas: inciting violence and hatred is not the same thing as insulting or mocking religious beliefs and symbols. In 2008 the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe constitutional advisory body, published an important report on the balance between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The report advised that the purpose of any restriction on freedom of expression must be to protect individuals, rather than to protect belief systems from criticism.

It said people must be able to criticise religious ideas, even harshly and unreasonably, and even if it hurts other people’s religious feelings, as long as they do not advocate hatred against an individual or groups. It said that democratic societies must not become hostage to the excessive sensitivities of certain individuals, and that freedom of expression must not indiscriminately retreat when facing violent reactions. Instead, the level of tolerance of these individuals and of anyone who would feel offended by the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression should be raised.

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4. The Demos Report’s Definition of ‘Islamophobia’

The definition that the Demos Report uses for ‘Islamophobia’ seems more restrictive than that used by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. However, the Demos definition remains flawed. It says that: “An Islamophobic expression was defined as the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.” But as mentioned earlier, surely all dislike of Muslims “because of their faith” is prejudicial? And how could you have “legitimate prejudicial dislike”?

The Demos Report then describes four main qualitative categories of ‘Islamophobia’ based on this definition:

  1. ‘Islam is the enemy’: The idea that it is a fundamental injunction of Islam for all of its followers to be engaged in a violent struggle against non-Muslims and the West;
  2. The conflation of Muslim populations with sexual violence and a proclivity towards rape;
  3. Especially in the wake of terrorist attacks, the apportioning of blame for the attack not on the terrorists themselves, or on Islamist militancy, but on the Muslim population generally;
  4. General abuse, and the general use of anti-Islamic slurs and derogatory descriptions of Muslims.

There are three problems with this definition, and its use in the report.

One, the report’s definition is subjective and ad-hoc, as indeed are all uses of the term ‘Islamophobia’. It does not match with other definitions of ‘Islamophobia’, including those used by sources that the report’s authors cite in defending the report, or those used by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation who also use the term to silence legitimate criticism of Islam. As usual, the term ‘Islamophobia’ is a moving target of whatever you are having yourself. As usual, when a well-intentioned group like Demos uses the term to mean one thing, other groups will use their report to justify and buttress something entirely different and more sinister.

Two, the report’s four main qualitative categories of ‘Islamophobia’ do not match the report’s definition of ‘Islamophobia’. Indeed, under one category, members of ISIS would be categorised as ‘Islamophobic’. Also, the data that the report uses does not match the definition, insofar as can be ascertained from the report. Of the fifty keywords used to collect “tweets that could be derogatory and anti-Islamic,” four are words commonly used in reasonable discourse, two are derogatory words used by some Muslims to describe non-Muslims, three are names of anti-Islamic political groups, one word is abusive of Islam, eight are examples of anti-Muslim bigotry, and thirty two (almost two thirds) are racist or xenophobic rather than religious abuse.

Three, the report’s definition does not appear until the Methodology section on page 16 of a 21-page report. The body of the report instead casually interchanges three very different terms: “anti-Islamic activity” (whatever that might be), “anti-Islamic expressions” (which may be both reasonable and ethically necessary, depending on their context) and “anti-Islamic hatred” (which on the face of it is hatred of the ideology of Islam as opposed to dislike of Muslims because of their faith). The report then collectively describes these three very different phenomena as ‘Islamophobia’. So, even within the same report, the term ‘Islamophobia’ is a moving target of whatever you are having yourself.

5. The Demos Report’s Categories of ‘Islamophobia’

If we look in more detail at the report’s four main qualitative categories of ‘Islamophobia’, they do not match even the report’s own definition of ‘Islamophobia’, which is “the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.”

Category One is: “Islam is the enemy: The idea that it is a fundamental injunction of Islam for all of its followers to be engaged in a violent struggle against non-Muslims and the West.” But believing this does not equate to “the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith”. Indeed, some Muslims believe this injunction precisely because of their faith, to the extent that they dedicate their lives to carrying it out. Based on this category, this report would conclude that ISIS members are ‘Islamophobic’ and that they dislike Muslims because of their faith.

One of the key things about Islam is that there is no official authority to interpret the verses in the Quran that seem to convey this injunction. So if you deny that this is a fundamental injunction of Islam for all of its followers, you are not only saying that non-Muslims who believe this are mistaken, but also that Muslims who believe this are mistaken. Given that even the influential Sunni Al-Azhar University in Cairo has refused to declare ISIS as apostates, who would make this judgment call? Islamic theologians? Western academics?

I’ll take Categories Two and Three together, as they are related. Category Two is: “The conflation of Muslim populations with sexual violence and a proclivity towards rape.” Category Three is: “Especially in the wake of terrorist attacks, the apportioning of blame for the attack not on the terrorists themselves, or on Islamist militancy, but on the Muslim population generally.”

These are indeed problems, but the problem is one of anti-Muslim prejudice based on perceptions of criminal behaviour and support for terrorism, rather than the report’s definition, which is “because of their faith.” There is a major irony here, in that the report correctly identifies the harm of conflating two different things in this context, but the report itself conflates Islam and Muslims, and criticism of Islam and prejudice against Muslims, throughout the document.

These two categories also touch on one of the most important arguments against legitimising the word ‘Islamophobia.’ In order to protect human and civil rights, and in order to bring about a more fair and just society, it is necessary that we can openly discuss criminal behaviour and support for terrorism, without prejudice against anyone, based on applying reason to evidence. The word ‘Islamophobia’ is typically used to shut down such necessary discussion, by conflating attempts to reasonably discuss these problems with prejudice against Muslims.

Finally, Category Four is: “General abuse, and the general use of anti-Islamic slurs and derogatory descriptions of Muslims.” Again, this conflates two very different things, in the traditional way that the word ‘Islamophobia’ does, by implying that ‘anti-Islamic slurs’ are on a par with ‘derogatory descriptions of Muslims.’ Islam is an ideological belief system, and it is perfectly legitimate to criticise, ridicule and insult its tenets. Muslims are people, and they should be treated with respect and protected from harm. However, if some people respond disproportionately to insults about their beliefs, then the problem is with their response, not with the insults.

However, two thirds of the abusive words that the report uses are racist or xenophobic rather than religious. Most of it is simply outrageous abuse such as ‘camel fucker’, ‘dune nigger’ and ‘sand monkey’. It is frankly ridiculous to include these words on the same list as ‘jihad’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘hijab’. With regard to the word ‘Paki’, a footnote acknowledges that: “whilst this word refers to an ethnic rather than religious group, it was found that it was often used interchangeably to refer to Muslim communities.”

But on what basis do the authors conclude that this is religious prejudice expressed as ethnic prejudice? Might it not be racism directed at people who happen to share a religion, rather than religious bigotry directed at people who happen to share an ethnicity? Or a mix of the two, along with other issues such as immigration? We know Pakistani immigrants faced overt racism in Britain long before Islamism became a global issue, and that people of various religions were all labelled ‘Pakis’. That bigots use words interchangeabely does not determine the cause and effect of their bigotry. The report cannot simply make the assumption that this prejudice is targeted at people “because of their faith”.

6. A More Constructive and Accurate Lead Finding

Even using its own preferred definitions, and its own data of 34,000,000 tweets, the report could have chosen to describe its key finding more constructively as: “Even in politically provocative times, up to 99% of discussion of jihad, terrorism and hijabs on Twitter does not demonstrate prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.” This would have been a significant, and accurate, lead finding. Instead it is relegated to an implication of the Methodology section on page 18 of a 21 page report.

The annex contains the fifty keywords used to collect Tweets analysed throughout the report. They are described as “Words/Hashtags used to collect Tweets that could be derogatory and anti-Islamic.” Of the fifty words:

  • 4 are words commonly used in reasonable discourse: Jihad, Jihadi, Terrorist, Hijab.
  • 2 are derogatory words used by some Muslims to describe non-Muslims: Kuffar, Kaffir.
  • 3 are names of anti-Islamic political groups: Pegida, EDL and BNP.
  • 1 word is abusive of Islam: Pisslam.
  • 8 are examples of anti-Muslim bigotry: Fuck Muslims, Muslim Paedos, Muslim Pigs, Muslim Scum, Muslim Terrorists, Muzzie, Muzzies, Muzrats.
  • 32 are terms of racist or xenophobic abuse: Sand Flea, Camel Fucker, Carpet Pilot, Clitless, Derka Derka, Diaper-Head, Diaper Head, Dune Coon, Dune Nigger, Durka Durka, Jig-Abdul, Q-Tip Head, Rab, Racoon, Rag-Head, Rug Pilot, Rug-Rider, Sand Monkey, Sand Moolie, Sand Nigger, Sand Rat, Slurpee Nigger, Towel-Head, Paki, Pakis, Raghead, Ragheads, Towel Head, White Genocide, Rapefugee, Rapeugee and Mudshark.

Using these words, the researchers initially collected over 34,000,000 tweets. They then used various classifiers to weed out tweets that were not “derogatory and anti-Islamic”, and ended up with a much smaller subset of 657,650 that were “derogatory and anti-Islamic”.

This means that, of the 34,000,000 tweets that they initially tagged as being potentially “derogatory and anti-Islamic”, less than 2%, or one in fifty, turned out to be actually “derogatory and anti-Islamic”, and even that is using the flawed definitions that the report uses.

If we assume that the vast majority of tweets using disgusting abusive terms ended up being categorised as actually “derogatory and anti-Islamic”, then the percentage of tweets using the ordinary words ‘jihad’, ‘jihadi’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘hijab’, that ended up not being classified as “derogatory and anti-Islamic” could be closer to 1%. I assume that the report’s authors still have the data available to calculate these nuances.

Runnymede

7. The Runnymede Trust Report on ‘Islamophobia’

Carl of Demos, when responding to Benjamin of the National Secular Society, says that the Demos research was guided by distinctions about ‘Islamophobia’ made in the Runnymede Report in the mid 1990s. I have written before about the Runnymede Trust Report, and how its its analysis of the underlying issues was also flawed. I suggested then, partly on the basis of that report, that the word ‘Islamophobia’ should be replaced with the term ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’.

The Runnymede Report used two different definitions of ‘Islamophobia’. The first was “a useful shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam – and therefore, to fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” The second definition was “The term Islamophobia refers to unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs.” These are extraordinarily flexible definitions.

The Runnymede Report then asked how can one tell the difference between legitimate criticism and disagreement on the one hand, and ‘Islamophobia’, or unfounded prejudice and hostility, on the other? To answer this, it draws a distinction between ‘closed’ views of Islam on the one hand, and ‘open’ views on the other hand. It said that phobic dread of Islam is the recurring characteristic of ‘closed’ views, and that legitimate disagreement and criticism, as well as appreciation and respect, are aspects of ‘open’ views.

It drew eight distinctions between closed and open views of Islam, but only four are about Islam, and the other four are about Muslims. These are:

  1. Whether Islam is seen as monolithic and static, or as diverse and dynamic.
  2. Whether Islam is seen as other and separate, or as similar and interdependent.
  3. Whether Islam is seen as inferior, or as different but equal.
  4. Whether Islam is seen as an aggressive enemy, or as a cooperative partner.
  5. Whether Muslims are seen as manipulative, or as sincere.
  6. Whether Muslim criticisms of the West are rejected, or debated.
  7. Whether discriminatory behaviour against Muslims is defended, or opposed.
  8. Whether anti-Muslim discourse is seen as natural, or as problematic.

For example, Runnymede’s first distinction was between “Closed views: Islam seen as a single monolithic block, static and unresponsive to new realities.” and “Open views: Islam seen as diverse and progressive, with internal differences, debates and development.”

But reasonable people should not apply either the ‘closed’ view or the ‘open’ view to Islam as a whole. Islam is not a single monolithic block, and it is diverse with internal differences. However, the supposedly ‘open’ view says that Islam is progressive. Actually, the very diversity of Islam includes progressive, neutral and regressive elements. Parts of Islam are open to debate, and parts are static and unresponsive to new realities. That is the essence of not being monolithic. You cannot argue that islam is not monolithic, and also argue that it is monolithically progressive.

The same pattern of analysis applies to all of these eight Runnymede distinctions. They are supposed to enable us to distinguish between legitimate criticism and disagreement on the one hand, and ‘Islamophobia’, or unfounded prejudice and hostility, on the other. But the ambiguities and conflations of Islam and Muslims make it impossible for the distinctions to carry out that task.

As Carl of Demos accepts, the Runnymede Report itself accepted that the word ‘Islamophobia’ is not ideal, for the very same reasons that I am arguing here, yet it still decided to endorse it ahead of the clear, unambiguous, alternative description of ‘Anti-Muslim prejudice.’ It would be far easier to build a broad coalition of people with very different views of Islam as a religion and/or ideology, but who would actively support a campaign to oppose anti-Muslim prejudice.

8. Other Definitions of ‘Islamophobia’

Carl of Demos, when responding to Benjamin of the National Secular Society, says of the definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that:

“I accept that many may not like the definition it has. That doesn’t mean, however, that the definition that people don’t like can’t be robustly researched. Nor is it a kook, fringe term. The United Nations held a Conference on confronting Islamophobia, it is used by third sector organisations around the world, and it is of widespread use within peer reviewed scholarship, including the study of Islamophobia online”

But the problem is not that we do not like “the definition that it has.” The problem is that has no agreed definition, and that people simply make up an ad-hoc definition to suit their purposes and use that. Meanwhile the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation encourages the spread of the word, to further entrench their already influential conflation of anti-Muslim prejudice and criticism of Islam. To support this analysis, let’s look at the seven online examples that Carl links to.

Islamophobia on the Internet: The growth of online hate targeting Muslims. This document, by the Australian Online Hate Prevention Institute, defines Islamophobia in its title as ‘online hate targeting Muslims’. It acknowledges that, while some of the hate shown in the report is specifically aimed at Muslims, in some cases it could more accurately be described as racism.

Islamophobia and Twitter: A Typology of Online Hate Against Muslims on Social Media. This article describes Muslim women being targeted for wearing the headscarf and mosques being attacked as ‘street level Islamophobia.’

Cyber-Islamophobia? The case of WikiIslam.This article “focuses on how the Internet can be used in spreading and publishing anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim opinions.”

Defining and Researching Islamophobia. This article says that ‘Islamophobia’ is an emerging comparative concept in the social sciences, and that there is no widely accepted definition of the term.

What Is Islamophobia and How Much Is There? This article by Erik Bleich, author of the above article, acknowledges there is no widely accepted definition of Islamophobia that permits systematic comparative and causal analysis, and suggests that “indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims” might be a usable definition.

Addressing Religious Discrimination and Islamophobia: Muslims and Liberal Democracies. This article identifies ‘Islamophobia’ as a specific form of religious discrimination and hatred of ‘the other’ located in the rise of late 20th century ‘politics of identity’ emerging from the impact of ‘globalisation.’

Global Islamophobia: Muslims and Moral Panic in the West. The foreword to this book does not define ‘Islamophobia’, but says that it manifests in various forms, most notably as resistance to immigration and asylum seeking, based on the politics of fear.

What these seven examples have in common is precisely that they do not share any agreed definition of ‘Islamophobia’. Instead they collectively provide further evidence that the word ‘Islamophobia’ is a moving target of whatever you are having yourself. Also, none of them share the definition used by the Demos report, which is “the illegitimate and prejudicial dislike of Muslims because of their faith.” Demos citing these various unilateral definitions by others strengthens, not weakens, the argument against Demos using the word ‘Islamophobia.’

Most significantly, they do not share the definitions or agenda of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 Islamic states and describes itself as the collective voice of the Muslim world. The OIC ‘Islamophobia’ agenda conflates anti-Muslim prejudice with criticism of Islam, for the specific purpose of outlawing what they call defamation of religion, and the OIC promotes this internationally including through the ‘Annual Reports on Islamophobia’ published by its ‘Islamophobia Observatory.’

Finally, Carl of Demos thinks that our concern about the word is that it is a “a kook, fringe term.” Actually my concern is that it might move beyond being “a kook, fringe term” into being a widely but extremely lazily used term, without any agreed rational definition, and that this will increase its influence as a tool to silence criticism of the harm caused by Islam. Yet none of this needs to happen if people like the good people at Demos were to instead challenge the harm caused by anti-Muslim prejudice by using the clear, unambiguous and obvious term of ‘anti-Muslim prejudice’.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Coel August 24, 2016 at 8:25 pm

An excellent article, as usual, Michael. May I add one thing about Carl Miller’s blog article defending the Demos report. He says that it is “really important” to distinguish “Islamophobic expression from a legitimate criticism of Islam”. He then says that characteristics of the Islamophobic expression include:

“Seeing Islam as a monolith. This is the view that Islam is undifferentiated and static; the use of sweeping generalisations that ignore the tensions, disagreements, debates and profound differences that exist within community (or rather group of communities).”

While that’s a reasonable point, the Demos article was about Twitter, where one is limited to 140 characters. To fit a tweet you almost *have* to simplify and use broad categories; you simply cannot include the caveats and nuances that one can do in a longer piece. Thus, by Demos’s methods, nearly any criticism of Islam on Twitter would almost inevitably qualify as “Islamophobic” under their definitions.

2 Ronnie Murphy August 25, 2016 at 7:11 am

The presentation of the Dmos study on the BBC News programme that Victoria Derbyshire has 2 hours a week day was pretty lame. It starts out by presenting this as UK problem, but the example tweets that Carl Miller provides include those from the USA – not only the geolocation but also the trump bias is in the author’s account are clues. It also makes out this is a really big deal, but ends the show effectively saying it isn’t, by virtue of the relatively few tweets there actually are, in proportion to Twitter use only. And Ajmal Masoor is very clear in his use of Islamophobia and the distancing of Islam from the bad guys:

https://ronmurp.net/2016/08/23/bbc-victoria-derbyshire-sloppy-islamophobia-journalism/

There are more flaws to the Demos study. As far as I can tell it takes no account of the author of the tweet, or the context in which the tweet is made, or the fact that many tweets come from single trolling authors. Look at the number of times and ways Carl Miller, Catrin Nye, Victoria Derbyshire, Ruqaiya Haris tweet about the programme. Then consider how abusive internet trolls work. This study, even without the ‘Islamophobia’ error, is going to pick up a lot of noise. It will also show, around the ‘spike’ events, like Nice, that there is indeed more noise, not any growth in the anti-Muslim sentiment: how many hateful bigots can you see in this totally dark room; and now, if the all turn on their torches?

I would also question the use of ‘Method52′ – not because I doubt that the algorithms do what they are supposed to do, but that they might not be well suited to this type of study, where many of those tweeting do not have English as their first language, or may be very poor at expressing themselves. The Demos report claims this is ‘Natural Language Processing’, but there’s little natural language like about Twitter. How often do you read a tweet and totally mistake the meaning, often for the opposite of what the author intended. And yet here we have a research groups whose agenda is to find bad stuff on twitter. Given the example tweets provided by Miller I have little confidence in the training or checking of the data. So, you pick some tweets, making the mistakes about the meaning of many tweets we’ve already seen; then you feed the main data in; then you check some results to see if they agree with your idea of ‘Islamophobia’?

More here: https://ronmurp.net/2016/08/23/carl-miller-of-demos-still-misfires-on-islamophobia/

It might be worth noting, in a wider context, that Method52 is also being used by the Metropolitan Police to identify hate crime:

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/32519

http://www.met.police.uk/foi/pdfs/who_we_are_and_what_we_do/corporate/isa_hate_crime_research_project_personal_data.pdf

I don’t know enough about Method52 to assess how appropriate it is in any given scenario, given the influence ‘trainers’ have over its results. A lot more questions need to be asked. If the Demos study is anything to go by I’m not hopeful.

This is really important, because the way these studies are put together, if genuinely flawed, and the way they are reported on, by programmes like Victoria Derbyshire’s (and then echoed with even less detail in main stream news, and jumped on by lazy press), then they will be even more divisive than the ‘Islamophobia’ they are supposed to be identifying. Islamists will make more mileage from them, Muslims will feel victimised, and critics of Islam will be more misrepresented, and the public, seeing the obvious connections between Islam and ISIS will turn to the right.

3 Jan Steen August 25, 2016 at 8:18 am

Category Three is: “Especially in the wake of terrorist attacks, the apportioning of blame for the attack not on the terrorists themselves, or on Islamist militancy, but on the Muslim population generally.”

This is the usual dishonesty that we see from the regressives all the time. In the vast majority of cases, the actual response to yet another terrorist rampage is more like the apportioning of blame for the attack not only on the terrorists themselves, but also on the religion that is seen as the principal source of inspiration for the terrorists. People still tend to blame the ideas, not the people who were brainwashed into believing these ideas.

The regressives, like these crypto-Marxist Demos people, consistently refuse to take on the ideology responsible for the terrorist atrocities, namely Islam. That makes them terrorist apologists, unwittingly or not.

By failing to distinguish between the religion and its adherents the regressives will at least have to receive part of the blame when innocent Muslims will be targeted after yet another terrorist attack. Those who cry ‘Islamophobia’ all the time are playing with fire. They have no idea of the huge resentment they are creating. It is always a bad idea to stifle legitimate criticism.

4 Shatterface August 25, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Maybe Demos should do a study on ‘hate speech’ targeted at the mentally ill because every time the media says ‘this is nothing to do with Islam’ they pin it on mental health instead.

Until recently automatically associating violence with mental illness was taboo (mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators) but now the media is happy to throw the mentally ill under the bus every time someone hacks up a stranger while screaming ‘Allāhu akbar!’

5 Richard Marcus August 26, 2016 at 1:38 am

Re: “Islamophobia” definition and usage
This is a great example of why we need rationality in natural language usage through computerized reference to established word meanings and usages. I am working on an Internet of Words.

6 Michael Nugent August 26, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Coel and Ronnie, I agree about the difficulty in conveying nuance on Twitter, the author and context, and the first language of the author.

Jan, I think one problem is that some people seem to make distinctions between some things, and conflations of other things, on an ad-hoc basis.

Shatterface, yes, that is another problem. Also, some media will sometimes describe people as ‘Asian’ when they really should be conveying something more specific.

Richard, I would be interested in reading more about what you are referring to.

7 Dalal August 29, 2016 at 1:46 am

I wonder whether you have done a similar analysis regarding the use of the term Antisemitic, as I see exactly the same argument emerging. There is no agreement about the definition of Antisemitic, it is also used to silence criticism of Israel . It conflates religion with race, ethnicity and language..
At the end of the day, Islamophobia tries to point out that there is specific hostility to Islam and Muslims at this time in our history that is more profound and complex than your everyday racism and prejudice. It needs to be researched and interrogated beyond tweets. That’s obvious.

8 hughmanist August 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm

I agree with Dalal’s remarks on the parallels between Islamophobia and Antisemitism. Changing the names would make no difference to the facts. Nor is there any linguistic justification for suggesting a change.

It wouldn’t help in the least to substitute Judaeophobia for Antisemitism. Or to attempt a Canute-like operation to replace Islamophobia with another word or words.

It’s imperceptive to say that you can’t have racism if there are, in reality, no races. Racists aren’t dealing in reality. Islamophobes concoct a malicious mixture of fact and fiction, which they use as a pretext for verbal or physical attacks on adherents of Islam.

Of course, Islam is morally retrograde nonsense. Of course, the concept of jihad, even if distorted, inspires those culturally Muslim to commit acts of terrorism. Of course, religions are socially divisive.

However, Islamophobes must not be allowed to infiltrate the ranks of those whose hostility to Islam is rational in order to satisfy their appetite for persecuting others or serve ulterior motives for gaining dominance over ‘lesser breeds’.

9 Michael Nugent August 29, 2016 at 8:08 pm

Dalal, I agree, the word “anti-semitic” is also unhelpful. Better words would be “anti-Muslim prejudice” and “anti-Jewish prejudice”, or in extreme cases “anti-Muslim bigotry” and “anti-Jewish bigotry”.

10 Michael Nugent August 29, 2016 at 8:14 pm

Hughmanist, of course changing the words would make no difference to the facts. What it would do is make the words match the facts more accurately.

I’m not suggesting that you can’t have racism if there are, in reality, no races. I’m saying that the social construct of races is a construct about distinctions in biology, not distinctions in beliefs or ideology.

One irony of your position is that when you say “of course, Islam is morally retrograde nonsense,” that would make you an ‘Islamophobe’ by the definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that you are defending.

11 hughmanist August 30, 2016 at 12:41 am

Hello Michael,

I think you are seriously wrong to suggest that ‘prejudice’ and ‘bigotry’ are clear and uncontroversial. Arguments about these terms are just as heated , confused and confusing as those about whether or not something is Antisemitic or Islamophobic. In fact, they are the same arguments.

Islam is not only an ‘ideology’. It’s also rituals, customs and the people who practise them, just as Christianity is. For the purposes of discussion you can separate the Koran from those who accept its message. However, malicious ‘interpretations’ of the Koran are the stock-in-trade of anti-Muslim hate sites. ‘Experts’ of this sort speak with such confidence, you’d imagine they had doctorates in theology from Al Azhar University.

I take the secularist position that, within the law, people have a right to express their belief in ‘morally retrograde nonsense’. This is a defence of the right to free speech. I cannot see that campaigning to suppress the use of Antisemitism and Islamophobia in favour of ‘prejudice’ and ‘bigotry’ as being of any help.

Perhaps, we need to consider the definition of ‘race’. I thought we had agreed that dividing humans into races was pseudo-scientific. We had taken the position, I thought, that the markers for groups targeted by racists were socio-cultural. Cultural would, of course, include religion. I don’t think it’s compulsory to throw a bit of pseudo-biology into the mix.

12 Michael Nugent August 30, 2016 at 4:54 am

Hugh, I will return to your other points. First, I want to hear your opinion on a point that I made in my last comment.

You say “of course, Islam is morally retrograde nonsense.” That would make you an ‘Islamophobe’ by the definition(s) of ‘Islamophobia’ that you are defending.

Are you happy to be labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ because you say this?

13 DS August 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm

I am not sure really what the purpose of this article is? is it a question of semantics? Is your intention Michael to waterdown the experiences of millions of Muslims around the world who feel currenlty under siege because of their religion? Are you trying to justify the attacks against their religion because of the actions by ISIS? Is it because you are an extremist atheist that you find fault in everyone or anyone who subscribes to a religion? I am trying to understand the underlying agenda of your article. As I dont buy the argument that the word Islamophobe or the concept of Islamophobia is silencing anyone who wants to criticise, defame, denigrade, vilify or demonise Muslims. It is happening everyday, everywhere and those who are doing it could not care less about being labelled Islamophobes. Do you really give a toss about what people call you?

14 Michael Nugent August 31, 2016 at 12:19 am

DS, no it is not a question of semantics. It is a question of undermining the strategy of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (not ISIS, but ‘legitimate’ Islamic states), who use the word ‘Islamophobia’ as a propaganda term, to silence criticism of islam as an ideology, by conflating it with anti-Muslim prejudice, and thus buttressing the vicious human rights abuses that they perpetrate on Muslims and non-Muslims alike under Islamic regimes.

That would also enable us to collectively campaign against anti-Muslim prejudice in western countries, by accurately calling it ‘anti-Muslim prejudice,’ and removing the conflict and confusion that arises from calling it ‘Islamophobia’.

15 hughmanist August 31, 2016 at 12:52 am

Michael,
It’s not the words but their use that is at issue.

16 Michael Nugent August 31, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I’ve written follow-up article here

What does the word ‘Islamophobia’ mean? Whatever you are having yourself
http://www.michaelnugent.com/2016/08/30/what-does-islamophobia-mean/

17 Michael Nugent August 31, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Hugh, I think the word ‘Islamophobia’ itself is a problem. It was coined because of its propaganda potential, not as a description of something.

It causes people to start from the word, then try to attach definitions to it, instead of starting by observing reality, then trying to accurately describe those observations of reality.

But again, Hugh, can I ask you, and this is not a rhetorical question, are you happy to be labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ because you say that Islam is morally retrograde nonsense?

18 hughmanist August 31, 2016 at 1:59 pm

“It was coined because of its propaganda potential, not as a description of something.” (Michael Nugent)

That’s a highly imaginative piece of etymology. If you had done any research on the subject, you need have gone no further than Wikipedia for evidence of the facts.

“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word means “Intense dislike or fear of Islam, esp. as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims” and is attested in English as early as 1923.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamophobia

19 hughmanist August 31, 2016 at 2:31 pm

“this is not a rhetorical question”

Then, if I may say so, it’s a very silly one. As atheists , we consider religious beliefs to be intellectual nonsense and morally retrograde, but what we consider fair comment and justifiable mockery will be considered blasphemy by the pious. In Pakistan, this could result in arrest, imprisonment and being sentenced to being hung by the neck until dead.

In a society, where free speech is permitted, each side can argue its case and, optimistically speaking, the position which is more rational and in accordance with the facts will prevaiL That is the point of secularism. A pre-emptive strike by religionists, or those with a political agenda using religion as a weapon, to evade or prevent rational discussion, obviously would not be welcomed by a secular humanist.

20 Michael Nugent August 31, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Hugh, I’ll take your second comment first. I agree with everything you say there, apart from your suggestion that my question is silly.

So, taking into account that I agree with your analysis of religion, blasphemy, secularism and freedom of expression, can you please address the question that I asked you:

Are you happy to be labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ (not by me, but by others) because you say that Islam is morally retrograde nonsense?

Edit: I apologise. Having re-read your final sentence, I now think that you are saying that you would not be happy to be labeled an ‘Islamophobe’ because you say that Islam is morally retrograde nonsense.

If so, who gets to determine what is ‘Islamophobic’ or not? The person making the allegation, or the person being accused?

And what is the difference between your sentence

“A pre-emptive strike by religionists, or those with a political agenda using religion as a weapon, to evade or prevent rational discussion, obviously would not be welcomed by a secular humanist.”

and what I am arguing, which is that Islamists, and others with a political agenda, use the word ‘Islamophobia’ to silence criticism of Islam and the human rights abuses inflicted by Islamic regimes?

21 Michael Nugent August 31, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Hugh, I’m familiar with the, unsurprisingly contested, etymology of the word “Islamophobia.’ I’ll try to write an article about it when I get time. Fernando Bravo Lopez has located usage before the usually cited early examples. But the contemporary usage is different to those earlier examples.

Its contemporary use began in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah, when the new Islamic regime imposed an obligation on Muslim women to wear the veil. When thousands of women protested in the streets against this, they were labelled ‘Islamophobic’ as part of the strategy to crush their rebellion.

There are then various competing arguments about its usage in the west during the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the Runnymede Report in 1997. It’s clear from the Runnymede report that they are using it for political purposes, as they acknowledge the problems with the word yet chose to use it anyway. As I said, I’ll try to write an article about it when I get time.

22 hughmanist August 31, 2016 at 4:33 pm

“contemporary use began in Iran”

That would be rather surprising since Iran is not an English-speaking country. We’re getting into deep linguistic waters here.

However, the word appears in English, long before the shenanigans in Iran.

The contemporary use is defined by the Oxford English dictionary.
“According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word means “Intense dislike or fear of Islam, esp. as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims” and is attested in English as early as 1923.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamophobia

23 Richard Marcus September 7, 2016 at 5:33 am

Michael, I’m glad you and your blogees basically agree on the need to make the use of words, such as Islamophobia, be restrained so as to make the meanings clear, and to reduce the likelihood that misinterpretations by readers/listeners may occur. (Especially, where there is an attempt to use the vagaries of language to twist the truth.)

One source of the problem is that meaning is highly variable over users and time. This is exemplified by hughmanist being “rather surprised” that you found the “contemporary use” of “Islamophobia”, that you object to, began in revolutionary Iran in relatively recent times although the word was already established as early as its definition in the 1923 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. But two features off language, perhaps combined, make this unsurprising: 1- a difference between you and him (and the world at large) over the current or past meanings of the words “Islamophobia”, “contemporary” and “surprising” and 2- the relatively (maybe surprisingly :) rapid change of these meanings as time goes by.

In my retirement I am working on a scheme I tentatively call the “Web of Words” by which AI-like computer techniques can be used to derive and maintain the meanings of words, phrases, and larger text, both for established dictionaries and encyclopedia, as well as individual humans and computer bots, so as to make more precise these meanings, as well as likenesses and differences in such meanings, in individual texts. I hope to have tentative plans for such a web worked out so as to augment the ideas of other AI schemes (while I still have the brains to understand :).

24 Melvin September 7, 2016 at 7:48 am

Mohammed and his leadership elites founded Islam not only as a another “religion” but also as a conquering force whose geopolitical goal is to implement totalitarian political institutions demanding total obedience and submission from infidels and members of the umma alike. It is no quirk that many Muslims aspire to memorize the Q’uaran, an ambition to empty the autonomous mind and fill it with the literal word of God in Arabic purging all other impure “foreign” thoughts.

Politicized and militarized since inception, Islam has arisen from declining backwaters to become the neo-facism of our times. ISIS has conquered territory with an impressive army, proclaimed the ambition for a worldwide caliphate under sharia law, subjected infidels and heretics under occupation to mass executions and horrific extra-judicial killings. Traditionally, Muslims were largely prohibited from living in infidel lands under non-Islamic communal authority, governance or law.

“Islamophobia” is a term which ignores the history and the traditional teachings of Islam (total submission) and the totalitarian forms of government and law mandated by the divine will of Allah conveyed in the words of the Q’uaran. Understandably millions of believers have evolved into “moderates” who fall somewhere on the continuum from reluctant repudiation to welcome embrace of secular democracy. But the “phobia” or fear must always remain vigilant in the back of western minds. Sadly, distrust is inevitable. The face of the progressive practicing Muslim may flinch and scowl at the video of the beheading as he renounces the machete-wielding bastard; but we imagine in the slightly upturned corners of his lips, the unspoken sentiment; “He is a bastard but he is our bastard!

25 hughmanist September 8, 2016 at 1:33 am

“AI-like computer techniques can be used to derive and maintain the meanings of words, phrases, and larger text, both for established dictionaries and encyclopedia “(Richard Marcus)

Hello Richard,
What are you proposing? A rival to the Oxford English Dictionary? This is a big task for one person. They’ve been working on the OED for 150 years and the 1989 edition appeared in 20 volumes with 21,728 pages in total. Of course, nowadays it’s all computerised. Their website says they have a budget of £34 million to fund their work on the latest edition. Aren’t you being overambitious?

26 hughmanist September 8, 2016 at 1:48 am

“But the “phobia” or fear must always remain vigilant in the back of western minds. Sadly, distrust is inevitable.” Melvin

Hello Melvin,

How do you recognize a Muslim when you see one? If it’s somebody coming out of a mosque or a woman in Islamic gear, it’s easy enough. Even if you believe somebody is Muslim, would you ‘distrust’ a doctor, dentist, lawyer, professor, airline pilot, cabin attendant, waiter, taxi-driver, colleague, the entire population of Egypt (not all Muslim in fact) for that reason?

27 melvin September 11, 2016 at 2:08 am

Hi, Hughmanist: “How do you recognize a Muslim when you see one?”

We agree that we’ve moved beyond the reductionist proposition that all Muslims look alike, all Muslims think alike, all Muslims act like terrorists, etc. Millions have become secularized along a spectrum from indifference, nominal affiliation passing through some stage of private devotion to affirm a humanist principle manifest in a Supreme Being who “loves” diverse humanity inclusively. Millions have accepted western values, lifestyles and institutions; democracy, the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.

On the other hand, Islam remains for hundreds of millions a fiercely confessional monotheism whose “God” commands absolute obedience and total submission to divine authority over every aspect of life. There is no separation between mosque and state; no civil law juxtaposed to Holy Law or Sharia based on the Holy word of God delivered verbatim through the angel Gabriel to Mohamed onto the pages of the Quran.

We must recognize such Muslims based on what they tell us about their cherished beliefs regarding homosexuality, the oppression of women, apostasy and blasphemy. We must take them seriously when they put such a belief system into practice whether in England or Saudi Arabia. Islamophobia in the idiomatic sense of “prejudice against Muslims’ must be denounced and banned in practice. Islamophobia in the etymological sense of “fear of Islam” picks out a justifiable reaction to a multitude of daily crimes Muslims commit against humanity in the name of a toxic form of religious fanaticism.
(Regrettably in a brief comment some stereotypes must be called upon.)

28 hughmanist September 11, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Melvin,

Your polemic conflates two senses of ‘Islam’. Islam refers both to Muslims collectively and to their religion.

“There is no separation between mosque and state; no civil law juxtaposed to Holy Law or Sharia …(Melvin). This is simply wrong in regard to most members of the Organization for Islamic Co-operation. Except for a handful of conservative Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, there is, as a matter of fact, a separation between mosque and state. Some are secular, some restrict Sharia law mainly to family courts. Outside of Muslim-majority countries, in the UK for example, Sharia law (and rabbinical courts) are voluntary courts of arbitration and not part of the judicial system.

Apart from that, your understanding of Islam, appears not to include any personal experience but to be based on theory and media coverage, focussing on acts of violence, atrocities and violation of human rights.

29 Melvin September 12, 2016 at 3:08 am

I believe we are letting semantic feuds about the “meaning” of words get between ourselves and Michael Nugent’s excellent article. I found the best antidote in simply re-reading what he had to say. Hugmanist, you might find therapeutic value in following suit. I particularly appreciate how he offered a helpful approach for arriving at a linguistic understanding of specific phenomena in the world of our experience.
“…people… start from the word, then try to attach definitions to it, instead of starting by observing reality, then trying to accurately describe those observations of reality” (I would omit the vague, abstract and privileged term “[of] reality.” But that is a philosophical discussion for another time.)

30 hughmanist September 13, 2016 at 3:13 pm

“…people… start from the word, then try to attach definitions to it, instead of starting by observing reality, then trying to accurately describe those observations of reality” (Melvin)

It’s not possible that you can ‘start from the word’ and define it without knowing — or purporting to know–its meaning , if the word is well-established in the lexicon. No more than you can describe ‘Melvin’ without having a clue what he looks like.

It’s clear that ‘homophobia’ means prejudice against homosexuality and homosexuals. The disagreements are about what constitutes prejudice, an inadmissable attitude, and justifiable ‘criticism’ in general, if any, or in specific instances.

It’s the same case with all such ‘anti’ and ‘phobic’ attitudes. It doesn’t make it any clearer if you substitute ‘prejudice’ or ‘discrimination’. Anti-Semitism, under the name of Judaeophobia, smells as rank. The issue is to separate legitimate from illegitimate usage and to determine the principles on which a judgement is made.

31 Melvin September 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm

“…people… start from the word, then try to attach definitions to it, instead of starting by observing reality, then trying to accurately describe those observations of reality” (Melvin)

Hughmanist: The quote is not from me but from a response by Michael in the thread. (Apologies if you understand that.)

“Start from the world” means sensory inputs from our interactions within an environment that form the basis for observations. Neurological processes in turn structure the component inputs into beliefs – organized perceptions and conceptions, “outputs” that “define” what we are observing. (If you saw Melvin “in your world/environment” -say at a business meeting – you could provide a lengthy detailed description of him.) It seems far more “clear” to communicate what we observe through linguistic descriptions (or narratives) rather than from isolated words. To take your example, consider the isolated sentence: “Joe is a homophobe.” Now consider, two different descriptions:

“Joe is nauseated by the thought of anal sex between two men, but he treats homosexuals with fully human respect in social and business relations.” As an employer he has scrupulously judged homosexual applicants and employees on an equal basis.

“Joe is nauseated by the thought of anal sex between two men, and believes such behavior is an abomination in the sight of Allah. He approves jihadists hurling a gay man to his death from atop a tall building” in obedience to God’s Holy Command.

Both sentences tell us much more about Joe because of their descriptive and narrative power, than merely saying “Joe is a homophobe” and you (wink, wink) know what that means.

32 hughmanist September 16, 2016 at 1:27 am

Melvin,
Yes, I noticed the quotation marks around the sentence about words and their definitions. As I said, it’s not correct at all. It suggests that words are floating around somewhere and people give meanings to them, in accordance with their prejudices.

The process is quite different in reality. For example ‘Islam’ means both the religion and its adherents. This is how it is used and dictionaries record the facts of usage. The definition is descriptive, not tendentious. The logic of that is further explained by etymology.

Islām is the verbal noun of Form IV of the root, and means “submission” or “surrender”. Muslim, the word for an adherent of Islam, is the active participle of the same verb form, and means “one who submits” or “one who surrenders” (Wikipedia)

You make a useful point about phobias, in the sense of prejudices. We may all have stereotypes of those of other nationalities or those of particular faiths or ideologies. This is where tolerance comes into it. In a democratic and secular society, we must not discriminate against others on the basis of these stereotypes. Tolerance, however, does not mean acceptance of what we find offensive. When this is a matter of argument, our principle should be intellectual honesty, based on adequate information. When it goes beyond rational debate and spills into verbal or physical violence, this is a law and order matter, and of finding a way to peace when the conflict is international.

In the case of Islamic State, we cannot engage in discussion with its proponents where there is civil disorder and war. In a democratic, secular society, we can discuss outrageous ideologies. We have done that with Christianity and it has been secularized to the extent that we can hope to continue to reduce the cases where its intellectual offensiveness is translated into action.

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