There is an essay by David Hirsh on Engage, that discusses Matthias Küntzel’s position on the term, Islamophobia. You should read this first.
I don’t use the term Islamophobia much. I prefer the term “anti-Muslim bigotry”. That is because I know precisely what anti-Muslim bigotry means, as I do “racism” or “anti-semitism”. With Islamophobia, the meaning is less clear to me.
I have written most recently about anti-Muslim bigotry here.
Islamophobia, like racism and anti-semitism implies that there is a recognisable and distinct pathological hatred of Islam. I think that there is an outrageous and disturbing level of bigotry towards Muslims. The content of the Daily Express is a case in point. But I do not think that there is a widespread disfunctional hatred of Islam.
Let me clarify what I mean by this. I think that there is nothing wrong about hating an ideology, religious or not. Liberalism, communism, Christianity might all be ideologies for which you could give a rational and accurate set of reasons for hatred. I wouldn’t call my attitude hatred, but I’m not a huge fan of Judaism, for example. I don’t like its hidebound nature, I don’t like its line on sexual diversity or gender equality. But, you know, there are things I like about it, mostly aesthetic stuff. I could say the same about pretty much any major world religion.
Then there is anti-semitism. Anti-semitism puts forward a number of reasons to hate Jews, and Judaism, which are not rational at all. The theory that Jews control the media and the banks, and are behind plots to kill children to drink their blood, poison wells, or foist wars and communism on people is not a rational one. It is an unsupported, truely pathological set of hatreds. The notion that Jewish books contain coded messages, mandating Jews to cheat non-Jews, or that reference on one text to somebody called Balaam who is boiled in semen in Hell, is really a reference to Jesus, is just freaky.
There are certainly some anti-Muslim bigots who fixate on what they take to be the ‘truth” about Islamic texts, doctrines and those who believe in them. The clearest example is the charge that Muslims – usually Sunni Muslims – are religiously obligated to lie to hide the truth about their religion. The ‘taqqiah slur’ is an absurd one, because it implies that Muslims are more likely than anybody else, to try to engage in spin: which is evidently not true. It is also a misapplication of a term; taqqiyah is something that Shiites allow for, in circumstances of religious persecution. The charge of taqqiyah is usually laid against Shiites by Sunni extremists. It has been adopted by anti-Muslim bigots.
But the worst aspect of anti-Muslim bigotry, is the argument that essentially takes the position of Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, and echoes their argument, that anybody who does not share their interpretation, is not a ‘true Muslim’. The anti-Muslim bigot would add:
“… or is practicing taqqiyah.”
But the point, here, is that the target of the anti-Muslim bigot is primarily the individual self-identifying Muslim: who he has conflated into an Al Qaeda supporter.
Islamophobia, as a term, therefore is a misleading one. It implies that what the anti-Muslim bigot is up to, is attacking the religion of Islam. However, when we listen to a classic anti-Muslim bigot, his charges are ad hominem, and usually text book racism. Muslims are seen as freeloaders and scroungers. Muslims are seen as criminals. Muslims are seen as aliens. These are the charges that have been laid at the door of successive waves of immigrants into Britain since the time of the Huguenots.
There are, I think you have to admit, other rational reasons to be critical of Islam as an ideology. These are specific criticisms, which are not common to many other world religions. Sunni Islam has a bit of difficulty distinguishing between the role of the State and the role of the clergy – Shiism in its classic form has no such problem, however. That is why Islamism as a political ideology is such a palpable threat to liberal pluralism. The Quran and the Hadiths contain and have been the medium for popularising and transmitting some extremely disturbing Jew hatred, a base on which a good deal of other anti-semitism has been grafted. And so on.
You could certainly say – as David Hirsh does in his essay – that Islamophobia is just shorthand for anti-Muslim bigotry, and so should be given that conventional meaning: and I’d agree that is fine, theoretically. However, unlike ‘racism’ or ‘anti-semitism’, a common definition of Islamophobia is pretty elusive. As far as Islamists are concerned however – and Islamists are at the forefront of defining the meaning of the term – Islamophobia is all about attacking Islam. Islamists do not focus, primarily, about the consequence of Islamophobia for the individual Muslim. Instead, Islamists are particularly keen to ensure that lack of respect to the person of Mohammed, the tenets of the religion of Islam, and political theory of Islamism – which they treat as aspects of the same thing – be punished. These are the ills to be remedied and prevented. In fact, this is the sort of thing that they do prohibit, in states that they rule.
David Hirsh says:
The structure of Matthias’ argument here is similar to what I have called the Livingstone Formulation. This formulation is a means of accusing people who are worried about antisemitism of really only being concerned to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Ken Livingstone wrote:
‘For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.’
His formulation, which is routinely raised as a response to an allegation of antisemitism, conflates criticism of Israeli policy with what we might call ‘demonization’ of Israel – with the claims that Israel is a unique evil, essentially racist, apartheid, Nazi, a keystone global imperialism, a child-killing state – and also with the campaign to exclude Israelis from the economic, intellectual, artistic and sporting life of humanity.
Rejection of the term “Islamism” is not an instance of the Livingstone Formulation. What is wrong about the Livingstone Formulation, is that it implies that when groups like Engage point to the undoubted fact that Al Qaradawi or Hamas are purveyors of genocidal anti-semitism, they do so in order to ‘silence’ criticism of the Israeli government’s policies. That is offensive, and a lie.
It is right to point out that Hamas and Al Qaradawi are genocidal anti-semites. By doing so, critics of Israel’s policies are not ‘silenced’. They are argued against. If their case is that Hamas and Al Qaradawi are not genocidal anti-semites, they are proven to be wrong. Moreover, it is right to point out, both that the present Israeli government’s policies are wrong, and both Israel and the world in general is full of people doing precisely this, without being accused of anti-semitism.
By contrast, it would be absolutely right to point out that false charges of Islamophobia are leveled against people who criticise named clerical fascist Islamist groups, in an attempt to silence them. Google my full name, and you’ll see people doing just that, right now, to me. Heck, have a look in the comments threads of Harry’s Place under this post, and there it will be, going on.
This is the parallel. It would be right to apply the “Livingstone Formulation” to the charge that all anti-Zionists, or mere critics of Israel’s government’s policies, are motivated by anti-semitism. Granted, sometimes it might seem that way: just as it might appear to somebody passionately involved in the argument, that Islamophobia is invariably an expression of racism. Nevertheless, these are is a false charges, and should be exposed as such.
There is nothing wrong with criticing Zionism, or the policies of the Israeli government. Some professed anti-Zionists, may be anti-semites, but you need independent evidence of that before making the charge. I don’t think, for example, that Rivka Holtzberg was an anti-semite. I do, however, think that the people who killed her, were.