Why the word Islamophobia should not be used

I’ve been meaning to update this entry for some time. Although I still agree with some of the points (for example, more people anti-Muslim racist bigots than Islamophobic), I have changed my mind on the validity of appending “ophobia” to “Islam”.

A phobia is not only an irrational fear, it is also an aversion to. A good way to think of this is hydrophobic materials. Material doesn’t have the ability to think, so cannot possibly hold an irrational fear, so either the materials are named poorly, or phobias aren’t only irrational fears.

Hydrophobic materials repel water, they avert its path, they keep it away, they avoid it; so it can be said they have an “aversion” to water. So, in my mind, a phobia is layered

  • Level 1 – Something that is avoided/averted
  • Level 2A – That aversion is caused by hatred of the thing or its proponents.
  • Level 2B – Or that aversion caused by irrational fear.

Hydrophobic materials are a level 1 phobia – they have a physical aversion to water.

Islamophobia is a level 2A phobia- Islamophobes have either a hatred of either Islam or, more commonly (on account they know very little of the religion) they have a hatred of Muslims.

Arachnophobia is a level 2B phobia – arachnophobes avoid spiders due to an irrational fear rather than through malice.

So yes, Islamophobia is a perfectly valid word – although I still think that it is mostly driven by hatred of Muslims or the ethnic group most associated with Muslims (in the UK this would be Pakistanis).

For this reason I still prefer the terms

  • Anti-Muslim: If the person is actually opposed to Muslims rather than a theology they know little or nothing about.
  • Racist: If Islam is seen as a synonym for Muslims, which is seen a synonym for Pakistanis.

I have left the contents of the original blog below for the sake of openness, but please keep in mind that I do still think it is used as a word to attempt to silence informed people who criticise Islam (by implying they are irrational, or bigots / racists).

And now onto the original content…

Quite frankly I am sick of the word “Islamophobia”.  The reason is that it is completely the wrong term.  Burning down mosques, pulling off hijabs and indecent graffiti are not forms of Islamophobia but anti-Muslim.  It seems that users of the word “Islamophobia” think that an irrational fear is when you are able to put the words “irrational” and “fear” into a single sentence about a specific subject, but this is simply not the case.

An irrational fear (or phobia) is when the fear itself is irrational, not the process which leads to deciding if something is dangerous or not.  Given accurate and sufficient data to show that something is harmless, one may still fear that thing if they use an irrational or illogical process to evaluate the data and therefore incorrectly conclude that thing presents a sufficient risk.  This is not a phobia, this is and misconception, an erroneous conclusion, irrational thinking.

For something to be a phobia it is the fear itself which must be irrational, i.e. there is no way for the person experiencing the fear to justify the level of fear they experience.  For example, given the data that a plastic doll has never attacked anyone and reaching the logical conclusion that dolls are therefore harmless, it is still possible for someone to fear plastic dolls whilst at the same time knowing there is nothing to fear.  Knowing there is nothing to fear and yet fearing it anyway is what makes the fear itself irrational and therefore a phobia.

For Islamophobia to be a phobia of Islam one must genuinely believe that there is very little or no threat at all, whether or not this opinion is well informed, ill informed, or completely uninformed is irrelevant, the important factor is that despite concluding there is no threat the person continues to fear Islam (or disproportionately fear Islam if one decides it poses a small threat).

  1. A fear of dolls is a phobia if you know that dolls cannot willfully harm you.
  2. If a person knows that most spiders are not poisonous then fearing all spiders is a phobia.
  3. If a person knows that few spiders are poisonous then a small amount of fear is warranted, but a high level of terror of all spiders is a phobia – because the fear is known by the phobic person to be disproportionately high for the threat.
  4. If a person believes that all spiders are poisonous then fearing all spiders is not a phobia, it is an irrational/erroneous conclusion, possibly based on little or incorrect data.  If it is proven to the person that most spiders are not poisonous it should change their level of fear of spiders, if they remain desperately fearsome of all spiders then it becomes a phobia.

People who have a phobia tend to avoid exposure to that which they fear, or when forced to be exposed to the thing they fear they are uncomfortable and wish to leave.  People who have a spider phobia tend to run away from spiders rather than seek them out to kill them.  People who have a clown phobia tend to run away from clowns rather than to seek them out and attack them.

One cannot say that Muslims pose no risk at all, but only in the same way that one cannot say strangers pose no risk at all; but fear of what Muslims might do is related to how they look (visually identifiable as a Muslim) or when they are in a social situation which identifies them as a Muslim.  The risk of being killed or harmed by a Muslim is probably less statistically likely than being killed by a non-Muslim, a complete stranger, or even someone you know.  It seems that the level of risk of harm from Muslims is what is actually being discussed when people argue as to whether or not Islamophobia is a real phenomenon.  This however distracts from the fact that the conclusion one reaches is nothing to do with whether or not fearing a belief or believer is a phobia.

So what are we really dealing with if not a phobia of Islam?  First there is the case of people being anti-Muslim.  This is a case of guilt by association, blaming the whole for actions of a few or of bigotry towards those deemed to be the “most different”.  In many cases it is racism towards non-white people which is openly displayed because racists somehow feel it is more socially acceptable to hate Muslims (claiming they deserve it) than it is to admit they hate Pakistanis, and by extension hating anyone who seems to sympathise with them by dressing as them.

This is particularly highlighted by the accusations made against Muslims.

  1. Rape gangs: The circumstances of these actions were not permitted by Islamic laws.
  2. Female genital mutilation: As far as I can tell this is a social phenomenon rather than an Islamic one.
  3. Forced marriages: Although the female’s consent is assumed she is permitted to object.

Regarding Islamophobia what can we conclude?

  1. Whether the person has accurate, inaccurate or no information is not a factor.
  2. Whether the person is rational or irrational in reaching their risk assessment conclusion is not a factor.
  3. Whether or not Islam is in reality a threat is surprisingly also not a factor.
  4. Only if the person fears Islam whilst believing that it is harmless or disproportionately fears Islam whilst believing it is of little risk makes their condition a phobia.

Racists and anti-Muslims might use Islam and Muhammad as topics of insult because they know it will emotionally hurt Muslims, but they’re attacks are against the Muslims themselves.  The term Islamophobia is not only an incorrect description of hatred towards Muslims and/or the resulting attacks against them, it is also such a vague term them any valid criticism of Islam can easily end up with one being accused as Islamophobic, and thus by extension someone filled with hatred and a possible violent attacker.  One can be outright anti-Islamic yet at the same time believe Muslims to be equals worthy of the same rights as themselves.

Islam is an idea, disliking Islam means only that you dislike an idea.  The term “Islamophobia” is a strong tool for silencing criticism of a specific idea.  Not only does this word make criticism of Islam difficult it also serves as a gross injustice to the crimes being committed against Muslims today.  To attribute crimes of hate as an irrational fear / phobia of a specific idea belittles the severity of what is actually happening.  People are being attacked because they are Muslims.  The people being attacked are not collateral damage of people attacking their common idea, they are a social group that is being alienated and attacked and that is much worse than any attack against their beliefs.

Most Muslims you meet are more likely to offer you a free dinner than blow you up on a bus.  We must make sure we protect these Muslims rather than their beliefs.

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