OPINION: The word ‘Islamophobia’ and its definition are not fit for purpose

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OPINION: The word ‘Islamophobia’ and its definition are not fit for purpose

Jewish News columnist Maajid Nawaz on how this misnomer fails to distinguish between racist hatred of Muslims and fairly criticising grotesque Islamic doctrine.

Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz

After New Zealand, addressing anti-Muslim hate has naturally become a matter of urgency, and calls to define this type of hate have understandably intensified. What is less understandable is how Islamists have sought to capitalise on this atrocity to shield themselves and their ideology from any legitimate criticism.

Using the deliberately vague misnomer “Islamophobia”, Islamists seized the opportunity that New Zealand presented to insist that any scrutiny of their reading of Islam, as opposed to hatred of Muslims, is cast as bigotry.

In this context, the Mayor of London and the Labour Party’s formal adoption of the misnomer “Islamophobia”, and its definition put forward by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, set up by a controversial group called MEND, is a victory for Islamists.

As a word, “Islamophobia” conflates scrutiny of Islam, a powerful world religion, with hatred of all Muslims. It is worth noting that it is primarily only Muslim-majority countries today that still impose a death sentence for, or otherwise criminalise, apostasy and blasphemy.

In those countries where death is the punishment, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is Islam that is used to justify these laws and not without a plausible scriptural basis.

A Muslim worshipper prays at a makeshift memorial at the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Rd in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

To scrutinise and challenge an idea – like religion – that comes with so much power must surely be the right of every free-thinking individual, and formed the very basis of Europe’s Enlightenment. Only last week a professor was murdered on his own campus in Pakistan by a student who believed that mixed gender education was “anti-Islam”.

The terms “Anti-Muslim hate” or “Muslimphobia” are more precise, and do the job nicely to address a very real and rising problem.

This is why the word “Islamophobia” is too blunt. It fails, in principle, to distinguish between hating Muslims and criticising Islamic doctrine.

Unlike other words that have drifted from their original meaning, away from polite liberal circles and among the most vulnerable of minorities within our minority communities, it is still used regularly and interchangeably to mean either or both.

Islamists know this. They deployed this ambiguity in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. And they continue to do so after New Zealand. They seek nothing but an opportunity to reintroduce a blasphemy taboo through the backdoor. In allowing them this, we betray ex-Muslims, liberal Muslim reformers and those from minority sects. That latter category even suffered a murder on our streets in Glasgow for being “anti-Islam”.

This is not semantics. The dead do not have the luxury to indulge linguistic laziness. And there are alternatives.

The terms “Anti-Muslim hate” or “Muslimphobia” are more precise, and do the job nicely to address a very real and rising problem.

This MEND backed definition unhelpfully borrows from definitions of anti-semitism. Though Islam and Judaism share much, Jews are more than a religion, they are also a national group, with a national homeland. Muslims – taken as a whole – are not.

So it is ill-fitting for Labour and our mayor to have accepted the definition that Islamophobia is “…a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Faith leaders in Birmingham taken last week, when rabbis and bishops joined imams at Birmingham Central Mosque to stand in solidarity with the city’s Muslim community in the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre.

The vagueness of this definition begs the question: is it now “Islamophobic” to criticise the misogynistic face veil as an expression of someone’s “Muslimness”? It would indeed be an anti-Muslim hate crime to target such a person, but to criticise the practice itself surely cannot be.

The guidelines continue: it is apparently “Islamophobic” to deny “Muslim self-determination”, whatever that means, when it doesn’t mean a sharia-enforcing state.

Is it now “Islamophobic” to criticise the misogynistic face veil as an expression of someone’s “Muslimness”?

The document cites Palestine and Kashmir as examples of “Muslim self-determination” but when did Parliament endorse terrorist groups Hamas’ and LET’s worldviews that these national struggles should be viewed as religious struggles?

To preempt this criticism, the document provides the example that considering those “Muslim” states as terrorist states is “Islamophobic”. But Hamas controls Gaza, and is indeed a terrorist group.

What’s so “Islamophobic” about saying that?

The examples also conveniently leave out internal independence movements, like the secular Kurds.

It should be clear by now that neither the word, nor the definition are fit for purpose. It is merely a conflation of genuine anti-Muslim bigotry, with an attempt to shoehorn in and institutionalise a protection to shield Islamism and Conservative Islam from criticism.

So how did this pass?

In short, and guided by naive APPG member Wes Streeting MP, Labour allowed the pro-Islamists over at MEND to define hate.

Naturally, they would define it in such a way so as to protect their own pro-Islamist dogma from being labelled as hate. A one-time director of MEND is Azad Ali, a man who actually lost a libel case against a newspaper that labelled him an extremist.

A Muslim man repairs a broken window after an attack on a mosque.

As I often say, just as no idea is above scrutiny, no person should be beneath dignity.

Politically lazy, intellectually dishonest and morally opportunistic Labour Party policy adoptions such as this ignore human dignity, and enforce only blasphemy taboos.

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