Islamophobia

I’ve recently written about antisemitism, so I thought I would give equal time to Islamophobia — especially since I and other Zionists are often accused of it. Here’s what the Council on American-Islamic Relations [CAIR] says it is:

Islamophobia refers to unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam. Such fear and hostility leads to discriminations against Muslims, exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political or social process, stereotyping, the presumption of guilt by association, and finally hate crimes.  In twenty-first century America, all of these evils are present and in some quarters tolerated. While America has made major progress in racial harmony, there is still a long road ahead of us to reach our destination when all people are judged on the content of their character and neither on the color of their skin or their faith. [my emphasis]

They add that the following (false) propositions are widely believed as a result of Islamophobia:

  • Islam is monolithic and cannot adapt to new realities.
  • Islam does not share common values with other major faiths.
  • Islam as a religion is inferior to the West. It is archaic, barbaric and irrational.
  • Islam is a religion of violence and supports terrorism.
  • Islam is a violent political ideology.

In order for an attitude to constitute Islamophobia, then, it must be an irrational prejudice, like racism or antisemitism, in which discrimination or hatred occurs based only on a person’s membership in a particular group.

It is not irrational, though, to feel fear and hostility towards a group which does intend, through violence or subversion, to replace democratic governments with theocratic ones. And this describes those Muslims that we call Islamists. Daniel Pipes defines ‘Islamists’ as

…individuals who seek a totalistic, worldwide application of Islamic law, the Shari‘a. In particular, they seek to build an Islamic state in Turkey, replace Israel with an Islamic state and the U.S. constitution with the Koran. — Pipes, “Counting Islamists

Although CAIR’s examples of Islamophobic belief do not apply to all Muslims, at least the last three propositions arguably are true of Islamists, such as members of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and their supporters. There is no doubt that these groups explicitly believe in violent action to achieve their goals, and that their supporters applaud violent terrorism. There is no doubt that Shari’a — where it has been applied in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example — is at odds with Western values.

It’s not relevant to this discussion whether these Islamists have ‘hijacked’ normative Islam, as is often said. The point is that they behave in barbaric and violent ways — or support such behavior — and justify this by an appeal to Islamic principles. Only a minority of Islamists are actually prepared to engage in violence themselves, but most would agree with statements like “violence is often justified in defense of religion”.

One question that is relevant is how many Muslims among the world’s 1.4 billion are Islamists. If it turns out to be a significant number, then a degree of concern — not prejudice, but concern — about Muslim influence in American society is justified. Pipes believes that the number of Islamists worldwide is between 10 and 15 per cent of all Muslims. Some communities have a much higher percentage, such as in the UK or among Palestinians, and others are lower. Overall, this is a huge number.

Pipes, by the way, is mentioned by CAIR as a disseminator of Islamophobic beliefs — but his careful distinctions between Muslims, Islamists and  Islamists who are terrorists refute this accusation, by CAIR’s own definition of Islamophobia.

If we draw the distinction between Islam (a religion) and Islamism (a political movement based on Islam) we can see that concern about Islamism is not irrational or unfounded. It is not a form of racism or ethnic prejudice. There may indeed be Islamophobia in the world, but this isn’t it.

But that doesn’t stop some people from confusing legitimate concern about Islamism with hatred for Muslims.

For example, one of these concerns is that some history textbooks recently adopted in California present a distorted, “sanitized” view of Islam. A report from the American Textbook Council (“Islam in the Classroom: What the Textbooks Tell Us“) includes the following discussion of the concept of jihad:

New definitions of jihad started to circulate in U.S. history textbooks and classrooms in the 1990s. The engine was a 1994 Council on Islamic Education [CIE] “guide” for publishers that maintained jihad meant “‘to exert oneself’ or ‘to strive.’ Other meanings include ‘endeavor, strain, effort, diligence, struggle. . . .’ It should not be understood to mean ‘holy war,’ a common misrepresentation.” Soon, jihad underwent a definitional overhaul. In this amazing cultural reorchestration, the pioneer was a Houghton Mifflin world history textbook, Across the Centuries, still firmly established in junior high schools. Across the Centuries said jihad is a struggle “to do one’s best to resist temptation and overcome evil.” Jihad was reimagined as an “inner struggle” and element of Muslim self-improvement. These changes reflected the intersection of multiculturalism, suddenly a trendy social studies construct, and Houghton Mifflin’s commercial ambitions in social studies. Then and later, appearing from nowhere, the California-based Council on Islamic Education would become a fixture on the textbook scene.

Other items such as shari’a, the status of women in Islam, etc. have similarly been made more palatable. A student educated from books like this would have no idea that Islamism existed. Yet when the editor of the  local Hadassah newsletter included a discussion of this in connection with Hadassah’s Curriculum Watch program, she was called a “hate-mongering Islamophobe”. Even by CAIR’s definition this is absurd.

CAIR and other similar organizations have done their best to exaggerate the amount of true Islamophobia in America and to promote an exquisite sensitivity to it on the part of Muslims and the ‘multiculturalism police’. The effect is to prevent an accurate understanding of Islam in all of its forms, and to make it more difficult to expose the activities of Islamist extremists.

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2 Responses to “Islamophobia”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Adherents of Islam are in violent conflict with others in many places of the world. Adherents of Islam are in violent conflict with each other, as we see for instance in the Shiite- Sunnite violence in Iraq.
    Societies and individuals who have been victimized or threaten to be victimized by adherents of Islam, thus have genuine reason to fear those who threaten them.
    Perhaps the Islamic groups so concerned about the image of Islam, should work not only to prevent discrimination against Muslims, but to change the kinds of behavior by Muslims which lead so many to feel threatened by them.
    I by the way am a Jew living in Israel who not only knows the vile hatred of Ahmadinejad and company but has been tuned in for years to the viciious, anti- human anti- Semitic efforts of Palestinian groups and groups throughout the world to dehumanize Jews.
    If adherents of Islam wish to change the behavior of others towards them they should thus eliminate, or if this is impossible, greatly reduce their own kinds of objectionable, and even evil behavior.

  2. Lise Rosenthal says:

    You’re overlooking the contention of Muslim refusenik Irshad Manji that a moderate Muslim is part of the problem. He personally denounces violence but denies the part that Islam plays is promoting it. Manji is waiting for an organized Reforming impulse to arise within Islam–parallel to the development of the Christian Reformation and the clarifications made by the Talmudic sages in Judaism.