[Warning – there’s a Jesus and Mo cartoon at the end of this post]
In the comments to this post, Max G suggested that I write something about Islamophobia in the Daily Star – this arose out of a conversation about the fact I’d signed this petition, and a discussion about whether Islamophobia was a legitimate term or whether it was just something invoked to silence debate. (Anti-Muslim bigotry was, I think, allowed by all to be an acceptable expression.)
To start, as requested, with the Daily Star (though it’s not the only culprit). Here are a few examples of tendentious reporting: a fabricated story about ‘Muslim toilets’, a headline which implies a disconnect between being Muslim and being British, or this one, which also casts Muslims as the Other in a particularly aggressive way.
Perhaps these could all be classed simply as anti-Muslim bigotry, rather than Islamophobia though. Islamophobia seems to denote an irrational dislike or fear of beliefs or practices associated with Islam. Many would argue that they don’t think such dislike is necessarily just irrational, and that they are critical of other religions too.
I do not think it is Islamophobic to report on concrete problems regarding specific organisations, hate preachers, or regimes – or to express concern about Sharia law, or forced marriage, or fgm. However pointing out these problems, even if they have a genuine basis, could be done in a way which could be termed, helpfully or not, Islamophobic (for example, fgm is not only practised by Muslims and many would say that forced marriage was directly contrary to Islam) and I think there might be a genuine debate as to when fair criticism slipped into Islamophobia (if that’s the best word). And Islamophobia/AMB can be mild, marginal or unintentional of course.
One or two people were saying in the comments that they felt Islamophobia was just an extension of racism. I think there’s an intersection, but I also think that there are many who would react with hostility to Muslims, to Islamic dress and to new mosques, whatever race the Muslims happened to be.
Personally I do use the term ‘Islamophobic’ even though I think it’s problematic and overused – here’s Bob Pitt on the topic:
Liberal and leftist Islamophobia is typically couched in terms of a defence of Enlightenment values, secularism, feminism or gay rights, but the effect is to reinforce the right wing narrative of British Muslims as an alien presence and internal threat … For others, hostility towards Islamism stems primarily from the fact that politically engaged Muslims are vocal critics of the Palestinian people’s oppression by the Israeli state. Here Islamophobia is harnessed to the Zionist agenda of delegitimising political support for the Palestinian resistance.
That’s – annoying. But Islamophobia still seems the right word to use, for example, of this poster. Obviously this is a complicated issue. I don’t think the fact that many Muslims find images of Mohammed offensive, perhaps ‘Islamophobic’, for example, should prevent others from depicting him if they want to. Clearly I was on the atheists’ side in the Jesus and Mo debate. I think people should be able to mock and criticise religion, and the fact Christianity is also mocked in the cartoons softens any sense that Muslims are being picked on. But I do think criticism of Islam might be classed as Islamophobic in some circumstances.
For example there are some on the internet who seem to have an exhaustive knowledge of Islam, insist on the most rigid interpretation of Islam being the only true one, and are quick to point out that more secular Muslims, or the Ahmadiyya, are not-proper-Muslims. Some of these stern people are Muslims of course, but some are Islam’s most dogged critics. They might say that Islam needs a Reformation, but if anyone seems to be making an effort to do so they are quick to assume that the moderates are dishonest, or, at best, the exception that proves the rule.
But although I think this kind of criticism of Islam might (depending on tone and emphasis) be classified as Islamophobic, I had no problem with, for example, Tony Blair’s fairly tough discussion of Islamism (and its relationship with Islam) in A Journey.
How we view someone’s criticism of Islam might depend on context. As I suggested in my post on Howard Hodgkin’s EDL assistant, unwelcome or extreme views, kept to oneself, should not normally be a barrier to employment. But sometimes they might stop one carrying out one’s job fairly. Here’s a rather sympathetic account of Paul Derengowski’s resignation on Jihad Watch.
He may not be an anti Muslim bigot – he may just really hate Islam – and that’s fine, but it could affect the way he views students’ essays on the topic. If I was a Muslim student taking Paul Derengowski’s course on religion I might worry that his views would interfere with my ability to succeed on the course.
All isms and phobia are quite hard to define – we all have our own slightly different thresholds. I don’t want to fall out with people who would really rather stick to the term ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ but neither do I want to insist that anyone who sets the bar a bit lower than me is an evil Islamist who would like to see Pakistan-style blasphemy laws in place. I thought parts of Tasif Zaman’s article were pretty idiotic, but I didn’t respond with quite such suspicion as some others to this point:
I strongly believe that the question shouldn’t be whether “offensive” cartoons should or shouldn’t be published. Rather, we should question whether using freedom of speech to cause offense and provoke sections of society is compatible with civic responsibility within a pluralist, tolerant and diverse society.
We all self-censor in different ways, surely – I warn my students if I’m going to show them a clip with any disturbing violent/sexual content for example. That’s why I think Zaman’s point should not be seen as completely and shockingly outrageous. However I think recent events in Jaipur, in Pakistan, understandably, and quite rightly, make people absolutely determined to stand up for their rights to free expression (and I admit I wasn’t anything like as clear about this as I should have been when I posted on Charlie Hebdo) and so I’ll illustrate the point that we may want to take different perspectives into account (while ultimately ignoring those that are obviously silly and wrong)* with – some thoughts from Jesus and Mo (and Moses too).
To try to sum up – I don’t think measured criticisms of various aspects of Islam, in theory and practice, should be termed Islamophobic. But someone else might make broadly the same points, perhaps quite good points, but do so using language or images which seem designed to stir up hatred rather than prevent injustice. Fitna’s a typical example. For me a useful marker might be whether the writer seems to have any concern for Muslim victims of a debated practice – Sharia law say – or if he or she is more focused on more sensational Eurabian fantasies, the Muslims against Brits narrative of the Daily Star. (And reading about what things are apparently like in my part of Cambridge, or should that be Cambridgistan, has made me particularly sceptical of these.)
As with all posts on HP, this is just my own view, and other writers and commenters will probably see things differently. As might I, on a different day.
Update Going back to the post’s title – essentially all the things I don’t like – the Daily Star etc – I don’t like because they seem designed to whip up dislike and bigotry. I don’t mind rational discussion of real problems, but I don’t like hysterical and overblown coverage which lumps all Muslims together. So maybe ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ is an adequate term after all – it’s often not precisely the substance but the tone I object to. Here, for example, in a rather interesting thread, I made the point that I might not have minded a similar post expressed in more measured terms. Perhaps as I objected so much less to the content than to the tone, AMB is the right word.