by Jeffrey Tayler
May 5, 2016
When surveying the ill-informed, shoddy work that at times passes as in-depth journalism regarding Islam these days, a rationalist may well be tempted to slip into a secular simulacrum of John Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. In reputable press outlets, articles regularly appear in which the author proceeds from an erroneous premise through a fallacious argument to a fatuous conclusion. Compound all this — especially in the main case I’m about to discuss, that of the British former Islamist turned reformer, Maajid Nawaz — with the apparent intent to defame or cast aspersions, and you get worthless artifacts of journalistic malfeasance that should be dismissed out of hand, but that, given the seriousness of the subject, nevertheless merit attention.
For starters, a few words about premises and some necessary background. Those who deploy the “stupid term” (see Christopher Hitchens) “Islamophobia” to silence critics of the faith hold, in essence, that Muslims deserve to be approached as a race apart, and not as equals, not as individual adults capable of rational choice, but as lifelong members of an immutable, sacrosanct community, whose (often highly illiberal) views must not be questioned, whose traditions (including the veiling of women) must not be challenged, whose scripturally inspired violence must be explained away as the inevitable outcome of Western interventionism in the Middle East or racism and “marginalization” in Western countries.
Fail to exhibit due respect for Islam — not Muslims as people, Islam — and you risk being excoriated, by certain progressives, as an “Islamophobe,” as a fomenter of hatred for an underprivileged minority, as an abettor of Donald Trump and his bigoted policy proposals, and, most illogically, as a racist.
Islam, however, is not a race, but a religion — that is, a man-made ideological construct of assertions (deriving authority not from evidence, but from “revelation,” just as Christianity and Judaism do) about the origins and future of the cosmos and mankind, accompanied by instructions to mankind about how to behave. Those who believe in Islam today may — and some do — reject it tomorrow. (Atheism has, in fact, been spreading in the Muslim world.)
Calling the noun Islamophobia “sinister,” Ali A. Rizvi, a Canadian Pakistani-born physician and prominent figure among former Muslims in North America, told me via Skype recently that the word “actually takes the pain of genuine victims of anti-Muslim bigotry and uses that pain, it exploits it for the political purpose of stifling criticism of Islam.” In fact, denying Islam’s role in, for instance, misogynist violence in the Muslim world, said Rizvi, is itself racist and “incredibly bigoted, because you’re saying that it’s not these ideas and beliefs and this indoctrination [in Islam] that cause” the “disproportionately high numbers of violent, misogynistic people in Muslim majority countries, it’s just in their DNA.”
Also, remember that Islam claims jurisdiction not just over its followers, but over us all, with a message directed to humanity as a whole. Which means Islam should be susceptible to critique by all. People, whatever their faith (or lack thereof) deserve respect; their ideologies? Not necessarily. In fact, the cornerstone of any free society is freedom of expression – a freedom impeded by labeling as “phobic” those who would object to an ideology.