25 March 2005


I’ve never had a great deal of time for the idea of “Islamophobia”. Is it phobia about Islam as a whole? Or phobia about about any part of Islam? Or phobia about Muslims in general? Or phobia about any group of Muslims? And which bit of phobia – fear, aversion or hatred – is it? Or is it all three?

As an atheist and secularist, I very definitely have a strong aversion to Islam as a whole, though it is I believe a rational one. I have no fear of Islam, though I would have if I lived in an intolerant Islamic state or if I were faced with the proclamation of a fatwa. I hate certain aspects of Islam (for example the intolerance of homosexuality and the patriarchal attitude to women found in most versions of the faith) but not every element of it. And although I have an aversion to some Muslims and indeed fear and hate a few – for example the persecutors of Salman Rushdie or the perpetrators of 9/11 – I do not have an aversion to Muslims in general and certainly do not fear or hate them. My attitudes to Christianity and Christians, Buddhism and Buddhists, Judaism and Jews and indeed every other religion and its believers are pretty much the same.

Does this make me an Islamophobe? I don’t think so, but I’m pretty certain the new weblog Islamophobia Watch (click here)would disagree, seeing as it has branded several other people expressing views not unlike mine – among them Nick Cohen, Andrew Coates and Harry – with the label.

Maybe, though, I’m being too literal in my definition of Islamophobia. Maybe it hasn’t got anything to do with fear of, aversion to or hatred of Islam or Muslims. Islamophobia Watch quotes a Runnymede Trust document from 1997, Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All, which defines eight characteristics of Islamophobia:
1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
2. Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a 'clash of civilisations'.
5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Now, I don’t see Islam as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change. I acknowledge that Islam shares values with other cultures, is affected by them and affects them. I’m against discrimination against Muslims. And I know that most Muslims are decent, peace-loving people. But at the same time I very definitely see Islam as separate and “other”. It has very little in common with my view of the world. And, most important, I know that in some of its forms Islam is precisely barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist, violent, aggressive, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a “clash of civilisations”. If it’s Islamophobic to say that – well, long live Islamophobia.

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