Sunday, November 22, 2015

Please, stop using the word “Islamaphobia”.

It is an amazing, but confounding and daunting, cultural phenomena in the United States today---perhaps in the Western world---that so many educated people, especially those on the political left, are quick to brand any criticism of islam as “Islamaphobia”. This is unfair, and wrong on so many levels it is hard to decide just how to start an analysis of it. I will try to sort all of these typical accusations out, and will discuss what I believe are the errors in them.

First of all, Islam is a religion, obviously not a race of people, and it should therefore be perfectly legitimate to analyze Islam’s precepts, and to present opinions about what is bad and what is good in it.

I’ll put my cards on the table right off the bat, and admit that I find this religion to be almost certainly false, and also backward and harmful to humanity at large. I have read the Koran, albeit in English, and to my disappointment, found it to be lacking the richness and the interesting stories in, for example, the Old Testament. Further disclosure---I am severely critical of said Old Testament, and am an agnostic about whether there is any kind of God or Deity---even tending toward atheism with respect to the God of any of the world’s major religions. But this is all irrelevant to the issue at hand, since I believe a person should be free to believe any religion, but should not be free to force that religion on other people.

There appears to be a prevalent, but confused, idea that “multiculturalism” demands acceptance and support for any religion that is not predominant in our own culture. I have posted another blog on this site that discusses what is wrong with this, but will just say here that multiculturalism is a wonderful thing as it pertains to importing art and music from other cultures, but when it involves ideas that violate human rights it is not a good thing. And the Islamic precept of Sharia involves many such rights-violating ideas, such as prescribing capital punishment for apostasy, practicing homosexuality, adultery, etc.

Another oft-heard attack on those who criticize Islam is that the critique is “racist”. Let’s try to figure out just what such such charges might mean, even though on the surface such a position is absurd since neither muslims nor Islam refers to a race. I suspect the basis is two-fold: (1) the muslim population is perceived to generally be darker skinned than the majority of people in the western world, and (2) the muslims are on the whole much worse off economically than many in the west. Both of these ideas are perhaps basically correct, on the average, and people of a “liberal” persuasion value---quite rightly-- tolerance of other cultures, the more so when the other culture involves these two factors. And everyone is aware of the very bad treatment in the past of certain dark-skinned people by the west.

But consider this: the widespread poverty in so many muslim populations is arguably in part due to the precepts of Islam. Hence criticizing Islam is actually an act of kindness toward muslims, since if one feels Islam holds them back, the removal of the strictures of that religion might well help them in the long run (maybe even to some extent in the short run). In any case, it is clearly true that negative reviews of Islam are not intended to hurt or offend Muslim people.

The term Islamaphobia is indefensible for another reason. If one were inclined to show hatred or disdain for muslim people, that could quite properly be termed “Muslim-phobia”; but even then the suffix “phobia” would be dubious since it suggests fear of the subject it refers to. It would not really be fear, but dislike. However, this is more of a nitpick, and I think we could let “Muslim-phobia” be used, without a strong protest, for bigotry against muslims. And that would indeed be a bad attitude to have, for the very reason that I give above, namely that reasonable people should wish the best for muslim people, except in cases where a group of Muslims tries or wants to overthrow the constitutions of the countries in which they reside.

It must also be realized that the implementation of Sharia concepts (in the form of a Sharia court) cannot coexist in a western democracy. Consider the case where  woman living in a European country commits adultery, and is brought before a Sharia court and condemned to death. Whether she is a citizen of that country, or a prospective immigrant that is not yet a citizen, such a sentence cannot be allowed to be carried out because that “crime” is not punishable by death in a liberal democracy (in fact, it is not even considered to be a crime, although some may condemn it morally). The same would go for a person charged with the “crime” of being gay, or of being an apostate. All western democracies forbid “cruel and unusual punishments”, most forbid capital punishment for any crime, most consider the right to a fair trial by the standards of the countries constitution, and most all adhere to the principle of of separation of church and state (which is immediately violated by the idea of a Sharia court).

Another common response to critics of Islam involves pointing to the horrid crimes done in the past in the name of Christianity---slavery, the crusades, witch hunts---which is not only the world’s other dominant religion, but the religion which invites a degree of disdain among the cultural elite in the United States and in much of the western world. But the difference is that the zeal for the committing of these crimes has been mitigated by the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Of course, those crimes can still point to the evils done when religion is made part of the state, and actually serve as additional fodder for criticizing theocratic Islam. And furthermore, every school child should know that pointing to evils done by some faction does not excuse the evils done by another one.

As far as I know, no one in the West is arguing for an actual physical war against Islam per se. The only war that seems justified to me is a “war of ideas”, which is in part justified by a true concern to improve the lives of the world’s Muslims.

So in summary:
--The term Islamaphobia is rarely, if ever, justified for use by people who care and value liberal democratic ideas.
--Muslim-phobia would be the correct term to apply to a person who is bigoted toward muslims.
--People should stop trying to excuse the bad actors of Islam by saying Christians (or followers of other religions) have been as bad. While this might even be arguably true, it is no longer relevant today.
--People in the west should feel free to criticize the precepts of islam, and engage where, an avenue exists (e.g., blogs), in a “battle of ideas”.