“An Islamophobe—a silly word that means nothing.” – Bill Maher
“I’m always being accused of Islamophobia, that’s a non-word.” – Richard Dawkins
“Islamophobia is a misnomer. I prefer to use the word ‘anti Muslim bigotry’” – Maajid Nawaz
“This word is a pollution of the language… [it includes] perfectly legitimate criticism of Islam and its texts. Every single time this word is used it pollutes the English language even further.” – Douglas Murray
These are just a few examples of the sentiment expressed those who take issue with the word ‘Islamophobia’.
It would be fair to question the motives of such commentators and why they feel so strongly about the word. Why is it that each of these figures seem more disturbed and deeply threatened by the word ‘Islamophobia’ than the Islamophobic hate crimes themselves?
In light of recent hate crimes against Muslims which range from tearing off the headscarf of a Muslim woman to mowing down Muslim worshippers at a mosque, it does seem absurd to express such annoyance with a word used to describe and categorise those hate crimes.
The public figures quoted above all favour the invalid semantic argument against the word ‘Islamophobia’. Their logic is that a ‘phobia’ indicates an irrational fear yet there is nothing irrational about fearing Islam. The flaw with this argument is the incorrect notion that ‘Islamophobia’ is defined as ‘a phobia of Islam’.
This misconception has become a cliché. In reality, the ‘Islamophobia’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force”. While the word may be criticised for its seemingly wide meaning, it does not literally translate as ‘an irrational fear’.
The truth is, words don’t always mean what they appear to mean. ‘Homophobia’ does not mean an irrational fear of homosexuals and ‘antisemitism’ cannot simply be defined as bigotry or hatred for Semites. In fact, there are those who claim that antisemitism is a misnomer when used to describe anti-Jewish hatred because Arabs have Semitic genomes too. This is precisely the same logic used by those who dismiss the word ‘Islamophobia’ as meaningless – the word is broken down and given an erroneous definition which is not validated by the official dictionaries. This is done to discredit the word and to deflect from the reality of Islamophobia.
It is also very interesting that the one single word which describes anti Muslim bigotry is regarded by Douglas Murray as “a pollution of the language”. Murray, who is extremely vocal regarding the issue of antisemitism has never once condemned anti Muslim sentiment. On the contrary, he often repeats his disgust with the word ‘Islamophobia’. He even coined the term ‘Islamophillia’ and considers that a ‘weird love of Islam’ is more of a problem than anti Muslim bigotry. Can we imagine if it was stated that love of Judaism was more of an issue than antisemitism?
Both Douglas Murray and Maajid Nawaz have stated that the difference between anti Muslim bigotry and antisemitism is that Islam is not a race, while Jewry is. This is another flawed argument which fails to acknowledge the context behind Islamophobic attacks in the UK which have all been perpetrated by far-right racists.
Furthermore, it is evident that Muslims in the UK are mostly of South Asian origin and the ideology that hates Muslims today is precisely the same ideology that hated South Asian immigrants in the sixties and seventies. In fact, if we examine Muslim minorities residing in predominantly non-Muslim countries it is clear that each country’s Muslim minority is largely of a particular ethnic background such as the Tartars of Russia and the Uighurs of China. Undoubtedly, the ‘Islam is not a race’ argument is a poor one which seeks to justify racism. It is remarkably sad that the brilliant racial diversity of Islam is only acknowledged solely for the purpose of trivialising Islamophobia.
Another criticism of the word ‘Islamophobia’ which is shared by the above figures, is that it intends to shut down all criticism of Islam. This baseless argument implies that people are afraid to criticise Islam for fear of being labelled Islamophobic. Those who frequently watch television, read newspapers and follow social media would consider this to be laughable. Indeed, too many people complain about not being allowed to say certain things while saying the very things they claim they’re not allowed to say!
Freedom of expression allows for criticism of all religions however if that criticism perpetuates stereotypes and encourages hatred for Muslims, it will quite rightly be deemed as Islamophobic. Islamophobia like antisemitism can take subtle forms and these should not be ignored.
Those who take issue with the word ‘Islamophobia’ due to its purported chilling effect on free speech can seldom point to examples where the term has successfully shut down debate about Islam.
It can only be concluded that each Islamophobe is enjoined by certain traits: all are worried to some extent by the increasing number of Muslims in the West. Douglas Murray in particular considers Muslims to be the cause of what he believes to be the ‘death of Europe’. He and Maajid Nawaz consider Muslims to be inferior to Jews, evidenced by their belief that antisemitism is more serious than Islamophobia. It is crucial that we do not allow their bigotry to become mainstream or their stances to become accepted.
The next time someone repeats the slogans ‘Islam is not a race’ or ‘Islamophobia doesn’t exist’, be sure to respond to them with the above arguments.
Juveriah Alam is a full-time mother and a graduate in LLB Law from the University of Central Lancashire. Her interests include politics, current affairs and has a keen interest in Islamic Law.