Islamophobia Is Real And You Should Care

My Muslim readers are, no doubt, shaking their heads at such an obvious title–and it’s an understandable reaction.

Many of my secular readers seem to be another matter.

Over the course of my engagement with the organized secularist movement in the US, I’ve seen a popular refusal to believe that a phenomenon called Islamophobia exists. While I don’t mean to set myself up as the Grand Arbiter of All Things Social Justice, I don’t think my claim to be an activist would mean very much if I didn’t address this. Let me be clear about a few things: I approach this subject from a postcolonial perspective. I’m not a secularist, as I’ve already said. And from a postcolonial perspective I think it is clear that not only does Islamophobia exists, it’s rooted in racism. Further, I want to argue that if you’re an atheist, you should not only acknowledge Islamophobia’s existence, you should combat it. Unless, of course, you’re not concerned when a minority belief community is attacked by other, more mainstream communities–and if that’s true, I invite you to engage in some self-reflection.

I’ve heard, repeatedly, that it’s acceptable to criticize Islam because it’s a religion, not a race. On the surface of things this is technically true. But dig deeper and you’ll find the issue is far more complex than many secularist soundbites allow. Islamic belief and practice is tied to ethnic identity. It’s no coincidence that far-right groups like the English Defence League mix a fair bit of racism in with their Islam-bashing. Islamophobia is at its root a fear of the Other, a reaction to minority, typically migrant communities. When you campaign to ban the hijab from public spaces, as the Parti Quebecois has proposed, you are further alienating an already marginalized community. This isn’t made less racist simply by claiming the hijab is oppressive-over the protestations of the women who wear it, women directly affected by it in ways that secularists are not.

This approach to secularism very clearly prioritizes one set of cultural values over another. But wait! secularists cry, we should do this or else we’re cultural relativists who can’t condemn stoning or blasphemy laws or female genital mutilation.

That’s not true either. Sharia, and the broader field of Islamic jurisprudence, is a complex thing. It’s not static. It can be interpreted in egalitarian ways as well as regressive ways. You can oppose stoning, or blasphemy laws, or female genital mutilation without condemning Islam because these practices are not necessarily Islamic practices.

For years, I’ve volunteered with a group called Femin Ijtihad. FI uses Islamic law in defence of women’s rights, relying on the concept of ijtihad or innovative legal reasoning to argue against patriarchal abuses of the faith. To some, this might be accomodationism. To me, it’s a pragmatic approach to one of the most pressing development issues of our era: gender inequality. In 2012, I organized a research project with two of my colleagues from Femin Ijtihad. Our purpose was to examine the affects of revolution on women’s political participation in Libya. When we asked them about the challenges they faced campaigning for women’s rights in the new, allegedly democratic Libya our sources were very clear: the secularists were often just as sexist as the Islamists, and as a result, women’s issues received short shrift.

Across the Arab world, women, including observant women, have been at the forefront of revolutionary change. It’s absurd, I think, to look at this and then attempt to argue that Islam itself is what holds women back, or that women couldn’t possibly interpret their faith in a way that would actually encourage them to participate in the political process.

And yet, we hear that Islam oppresses women.

People oppress women.

Atheist people oppress women. Christian people oppress women. Jewish people oppress women. No one has a monopoly on sexism. This fact is so obvious that to me that I believe it’s unquestionable that opposition to Islam is rooted in bigotry.

Take the outcry over Universities UK’s alleged support for gender segregation, after it published a report that stated universities hosting religious speakers could separate men and women to suit the speaker’s beliefs. The report used the example of an Ultra-Orthodox speaker, but from what I have seen, secularist critics looked past this to their favorite scapegoat, Islam–not that I think anti-Semitism would be a preferable alternative.

Before anyone asks: I don’t think religious speakers should be able to force men and women to sit separately. At the same time, I do think that religious students should have the option to sit separately if they choose. And yet we have secularist figures like Maryam Namazie organizing literal posses to force ‘segregated’ students apart. If students have been forcibly segregated, she might have a point, but I am concerned that students who voluntarily separate will also be targeted. In fact, this has already happened, and it has not been condemned by secularists.

And that’s mild stuff compared to Islamophobic hate crimes, in the UK and the US, too. From mosque vandalization to a shooting rampage at a Sikh gurdwara (Sikhs are often mistakenly targeted as Muslims because they wear turbans), it’s obvious that Islamophobia exists and can have deadly consequences. The Southern Poverty Law Center has speculated that rates of these crimes remain high due to anti-sharia rhetoric. Unfortunately, that rhetoric is produced by the left as well as the right.

In the UK, the murder of a soldier by an Islamist extremist provoked mass demonstrations by the English Defence League and a rash of mosque vandalizations–even the racially motivated murder of an elderly Muslim man.

Words have power. And it’s disingenuous to pretend that they cannot convey bigotry if they’re targeted at a religion. We don’t privilege all religions equally in the West; it’s a lasting legacy of colonialism. You cannot reasonably claim that attacking Islam is the same as attacking Christianity, because attacks on Islam occur within a specific social and historical context that cannot be extended to Christianity.

Around the world, atheists face severe consequences for their beliefs. We can all agree that’s injustice. But we should also be able to agree that it’s an injustice when anyone is persecuted for their beliefs.

For these reasons, I think it’s time more secularists acknowledge the existence of Islamophobia, and address it in their own communities.


32 thoughts on “Islamophobia Is Real And You Should Care

  1. Islamophobia or no Islamophobia, it’s duty of a Muslim(I being one) to convey positive image of himself. Can’t blame others for too long. People talk, people will always talk, but Muslims themselves will have to get over the influence of religious clerics.


    Past performance is predictive of future behavior.

    People’s BELIEF SYSTEMS matter because they drive much of our behavior.

    ISLAM forms a belief system.

    It is NOT racism to recognize what PEOPLE’S BELIEFS are and profile this CULTURE (not race) according to what is acceptable behavior for in-group members.

    You appear to be uninformed in the areas of psychology and behavioral science, and her fallacious accusations of racism are both inflammatory hate speech, and not conducive to holding a productive conversation.

    • Oh hi there! Let me try to decipher this word salad. When you reduce Islam to a monolith, like you’ve done, we call that Orientalism and yes, it’s racist. There are progressive Muslims, moderate Muslims, conservative Muslims, fundamentalist Muslims–it’s just as diverse as any belief system. But you go on with your generalizing self!

    • Based on the observed facts of your little club’s vomittack here, I could conclude that all Christians / “patriots” / libertarians / whatever the hell y’all are were pompous idiots, but you don’t see *me* making any vast over-generalizations. Cause doing so is irrational (and in your case, hilariously hyperbolic), you see, and not conducive to holding a productive conversation.

  3. What about the fact that in many, many other countries in the East, the Ruling, IN-POWER Majority who are the Colonists (and there is no post-colonialism about it in those cases), behaving in the colonial oppressive manner, identify as rather “conservative” Muslims? (And I don’t mean “conservative” in any “republican” sense such as promoting lower taxes or less stringent government but rather, more illiberal, i.e. anti-gay, anti-adultery, intolerant of other faiths, etc). Yes, people oppress women, but ideologies enable and justify the oppression. Since Identity Politics demands that the Oppressed (in those countries that would be christians, jews, atheists, hindus, buddhists, zoroastrians, ba’hai, and women) be able to be what would be called racist and discriminatory against the Oppressor if the majority/control situation were reversed, is “Islamophobia” JUSTIFIED in those countries, as hatred of whites and treating them like the enemy is justified to Black Americans in the United States because they are oppressed and arguably have no other option and it is their right to do so because they are fighting oppression?

    In Saudi Arabia, would a non-Muslim (and they’re rarer than hen’s teeth in that country) have the justifiable right to have a “Things Majority Muslim Saudis Say” blog (equivalent to a “Things White People Say” blog?

    Example of a Muslim I admire: Tarek Fatah, who has gotten death threats for his promotion of a more liberal (NDP) Islam that doesn’t desire to oppress.

  4. BTW do you even know what Sharia is?
    (It demands that everyone, Muslim or not, be forbidden alcohol, demands chopping off hands for thieves, demands death for adulterers including FEMALE RAPE VICTIMS, Death sentences for Homosexuality or “apostasy”, and that’s just for starters).

    • Um, yes, if you actually read my blog, you would have read a discussion of sharia. You would have also read that sharia is interpreted in different ways by different people. Reading comprehension skills are important.

      • OK, that’s great. Yes, I know Sharia is interpreted differently by various groups. I ALSO know that the vast majority of the victims of Islamic Extremism are OTHER Muslims. You are aware, are you not, that Alawite, Ismaili, Sufi, and Shi’a (and any other flavor of non-Sunni) Muslims are considered Apostates and not true Muslims by Sunni Islamists? I do not fear a monolithic “Islam”, I don’t even fear Islam. However, the extremist interpretations of Sharia seem to be disturbingly common in several instances that affect the Western World. When people find out they shouldn’t do nothing, they should work to actively halt any attempt to impose sharia on non-muslims, just as you would no doubt work to oppose Christian Reconstructionism being applied in the US.

        You see, I understand that you don’t want all Muslims to be tarred with the same brush. Neither do I. But we must make our voices heard if the voices of extremism are present, and we can’t let what would be bogus accusations of “Islamophobia” (as opposed to legitimate ones, like that idiot that shot at Sikhs) stop people from speaking out against extremism. You get that, right?

        You know something’s messed up when one guy’s brand of Islam is dismissed as a mortal sinful apostasy just because he doesn’t agree with who was supposed to succeed Mohammed as Caliph.

        The most tolerant muslims are the ones that don’t even go to mosque and reject the more extremist interpretations/teachings.

        Quick question, which Religion’s holy books contain writings that actually demand that wives be beaten? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

      • That’s just great, but most Muslim Majority Countries are dictatorships, not democracies as we experience them. Somehow in many of even the “democratic” ones, there are vigilante extremist Muslim mobs that go around harassing non-muslims, abducting girls and forcibly marrying them to their Muslim sons, destroying the non-Muslim places of worship (and in these countries often building a new house of worship that ISN’T a Mosque is forbidden), and very often the authorities do nothing to punish said vigilantes.

        There are sane muslims in these countries that help their non-muslim brethren. But there are not nearly enough of them to make a huge difference.

  5. islam is a misogynistic, theocratic cult of blood and death and the koran is a war manual. feminazis will be the first under burkas and/or slaughtered when you sell your soul for the PC multi-culti nonsense canard that “all cultures are equal”, and the end justifies the means for the final caliphate that will suck the life out of each and every one of you. Choose freedom – choose Western civilization.

  6. Islam is not a race. Obviously you have not spoken to many ex-Muslims who fear for their lives; knowing that their family and community are religiously obligated to kill them under Shariah apostasy laws.

    • Remember how the media hoped the Boston Bomber hoped the suspect was a white “christian right wing nut job”, and it turned out to be a white Muslim? Many branes broke the day they found that out.

    • As I said in my post (which you clearly did not carefully read, if you read it all) I made it very clear that sharia is interpreted in different ways by different people. It is not intrinsically oppressive but can be applied in oppressive ways by fundamentalists. Nuance is cool!

      • I understand that. However, many “liberals” use “islamophobia” as a blanket silencing tool, like “Islamophobia is a thing and you must never ever criticize Muslims because someone might attack them” and to some of the people reading this blog, this is what you appeared to be doing.

        What you have to ask yourself, is, who’s in power? Is it the extremists, or the sane Muslims who aren’t interpreting the Sharia in literalistic ways? If it’s the sane muslims, there’s nothing to worry about. If it’s the extremist ones, then “Islamophobia” isn’t actually a phobia. Who was it who was killing millions of Hindus in Kashmir? Surely not sane Muslims.

    • Of course not! Only white Christian/Deist/maybe even atheist “colonization” is objectively wrong according to the professors, for some reason.

      • But yet you conveniently ignore that many of the harsh laws in Muslim-majority countries are based in European criminal codes, not Sharia law.

        For example, the law in Morocco which says a woman should marry her rapist comes from the French.

      • They were colonized by Muslim Arabs long before the Europeans got there. So it’s sort of hypocritical to gloss over the previous Arab Muslim (or Turkish Muslim, etc) conquests and occupations and pretend that those don’t matter and had no effect, while focusing on the European occupations as the sole root of all evils, as some professors are wont to do.

        I don’t recall France ever having a law where the woman must marry her Rapist. I do however recall what some Fundy-style interpretations of a passage in the Torah where some claim that a woman must marry her rapist (it doesn’t actually say that at all).

        What European criminal codes caused Saudi Arabia to ban women from driving? Or caused Indonesia to forbid the building of new churches? Or caused Afghanistan Taliban to decree that girls cannot attend school?

  7. Tarek Fatah (who I mentioned in previous posts; a Pakistani-born Muslim who does not go to mosque and who ran for the New Democrat Party in Toronto, which is like, sorta like the Democratic Party in USA but a bit more socialist) has been warning for years about Saudi money financing new mosques in United States, Canada, Britain, and other western countries. As you know, Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Wahhabi Islam, a particularly extremist sect of Sunni Islam, along the lines of the Salafists. The spread of Wahhabi Islam is something we cannot allow, because it is more intolerant of the Liberal values we in Canada and USA hold dear, and even more intolerant of “leftist” values such as Gay Marriage than most Christians. So in the case of radicalization of mosques with Saudi money and Wahhabi Doctrine, it’s not actually Islamophobia. However it is important to keep the distinction, although it is very difficult to ascertain sometimes if any given Muslim is a Wahhabi or Salafi unless he or she loudly advocates on behalf of Wahhabist practices and beliefs.

    See, and herein lies the problem. Extremist Islam has the doctrines of kitman and taqquiya, where it is permissible to deceive non-Muslims in a treacherous manner. That’s a recipe for distrust of any Muslim if I ever saw one, because how would anyone ever be able to tell if someone is genuine sane muslim, or a Wahhabi masquerading as one?

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