What is Islamophobia?

April 17, 2010

What is Islamophobia? The need for a continuous critical scrutiny of Islam.

A phobia is fear, aversion or hatred, especially morbid or irrational of something, from spiders to wide open spaces. Islamophobia is fear of Islam. Yes I do fear it, but it is not irrational; my life and the life of my family is at stake. As an apostate from Islam I am at risk of being assassinated- all the Islamic schools of law whether Sunni or Shia prescribe the death penalty for apostasy. As a public speaker critical of many aspects of Islam I am also risking my life since I am on the death list of many Islamists. But, again, I repeat I am not irrational: I give reasons, arguments and evidence for my views. Criticisms of Islam are not just some empty parlour game but matters of life and death. It is irrational for liberal journals and newspapers to lament the lack of an Islamic Enlightenment and then refuse space to dissidents that criticise Islam as a dangerous ideology. How do these liberals think an Enlightenment will come about without criticism? Islamophobia is a vague term of abuse used to silence criticism of Islam. Islamic nations have also taken up the term Islamophobia to silence any criticism not just of Islam but any discussion of the human rights abuses in Islamic countries. Just to quote the Koran is now considered Islamophobic, and forbidden in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

I still receive letters from the Islamic world particularly from women telling me to keep up my good work since it was helping them to liberate themselves from an oppressive ideology. At the Secular Islam Summit in Florida a few years ago, I was interviewed by the Arabic language television network, Al Jazeera. I was a little hesitant but went ahead and answered their questions. At the end, the journalists and the camera crew shook my hands and confessed that they agreed with my views but were unable to express them; they also encouraged me to keep up the good work. A few years ago at CFI Conference in Buffalo/ Amherst, for once I had my Ibn Warraq name tag pinned on my lapel. As I was walking along a darkish corridor three South Asian males came towards me, bent down and peered at my name tag and asked in astonishment, "Are you Ibn Warraq. The Ibn Warraq?" I suddenly realised what Salman Rushdie must have felt during his years of hiding: absolute fear. They asked to shake my hands and said that my books had changed their lives.
Dr. Ali [a pseudonym] fom Iraq stayed at the Center for Inquiry for three months, sleeping in one of the guest houses next to my house. I spent much time with him. He revealed that there had been an "Ibn Warraq Fan Club" in Baghdad for many months but had to be disbanded because of threats of violence. Nonetheless, various fan club members are busy translating the works of Dr. Kurtz and Ibn Warraq.

The moral of all these tales and anecdotes is: we must continue criticising Islam-despite charges of Islamophobia- in a responsible way, without demonising all Muslims; there is an obvious need for it, and it seems to have helped countless men and women, and may even help eventually bring about an Enlightenment.


#1 SimonSays on Saturday April 17, 2010 at 11:07pm

I think it is a common misconception that liberals do not criticize human rights abuses in muslim countries.

I guess it depends on what counts as “liberal critique”. If you believe that the NY Times, NPR, NBC, etc. are the voice of liberals, then I can see where this misconception may arise.

However, if you look at organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch which most would consider “liberal”, they have been quite consistent in voicing opposition to human rights abuses regardless of where they occur. Groups like Reporters Without Borders also do not shy away from condemning (or at least giving a low rank) to muslim countries that restrict the freedom of the press.

As far as criticizing Islam, my personal opinion is that the most effective and credible way to do this is for people like Ibn who are themselves either ex or current muslims to do it. I’m not an expert on Judaism, but my understanding is that Reform Judaism came bout primarily through the efforts of jews themselves (I may be wrong).

Islamophobia is not only a way to silence criticism. In the US at least, it’s very real. Most of us recall the nasty innuendos that were made frequently on national television about Barrack Obama’s religion because of his father and middle name, not to mention the whispering campaign about him being a “secret muslim”.

#2 Tom Wood on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 7:26am

Islamists combine church and state in order to confer upon their political leaders the divine right to rule. The West has been there, done that, and relegated that bad idea to the trash heap of our history. It’s not just the Muslim religion that is at fault. It’s the ruling class of Islamic states that pretend to have supreme authorization to do the evil that they do. It’s a political issue to be in opposition to their expansion of influence. We are frequently in conflict with political entities around the world as we advance our self interests. That’s life, not a phobia.

#3 SimonSays on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 10:04am

Tom: Who are the “Islamists” you are referring to that combine church and state? If you are talking about Saudi Arabia, that fits the description. However Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan are just a few large countries that are predominantly muslim and do not fit this description.

Also, you say “We are frequently in conflict…”? Who is “we”? Are you referring to US military interests? Arguably US military aid and support has legitimized and strengthened the Saudi regime. Likewise with Egypt, a secular dictatorship that is the second largest recipient of US military aid. US support for Israel (the #1 recipient of US military aid) is also a huge factor in that part of the world, something that even Mike Mullen and David Petraeus have now started to tell the administration: http://www.politico.com/blogs/laurarozen/0310/The_PetraeusMullen_briefings_.html

#4 Tom Wood on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 11:48am

Iran also fits the description. And, many of the nations that have Islam as a state religion, like Pakistan, have powerful Islamist groups that would move their country (and the world) toward a more theocratic government.

When I said “We” I meant the entire US. We are in a constant struggle for resources and access to markets. Most of that struggle is either diplomatic or businesses in competition. (Google in China for example.) The military is supposed to stay sheathed as the ‘big stick’ that Teddy Roosevelt alludes to. Once it’s pulled out, it loses a lot of its ability to intimidate.

If Islam were just a benign religion it wouldn’t pose much threat and there would be no phobia. It’s the political aspirations that make it a threat. Although I see no real possibility of the return of the caliphate, that goal is motivating some of the violence.

I don’t like our own American Taliban, the Christianist religious right, who also want to blur the separation of church and state. It’s a grasping for economic and political power that is justified by a false piety. The Islamists and the Christianists both spring from the same well.

The ordinary Christian and Muslim pose no threat and no reason to inflame any phobia of them. It’s the ‘ists’ who use their religion to incite tribalism into political action who are frightening, to me.

#5 Ophelia Benson (Guest) on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 5:15pm

“However, if you look at organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch which most would consider “liberal”, they have been quite consistent in voicing opposition to human rights abuses regardless of where they occur.”

Er, no, not exactly, not AI. Google “Gita Sahgal” to learn more.

#6 SimonSays on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 6:21pm

Ophelia: Amnesty International got a lot of heat for that, my personal opinion is that it was way overblown. Her speaking out against the relationship with Cageprisoners is very similar to people speaking out against the ACLU when they defended Neo-Nazis in the US. Regardless, Amnesty International has done a lot of excellent work and they continue to do so.

#7 Ophelia Benson on Monday April 19, 2010 at 10:13am

“Her speaking out against the relationship with Cageprisoners is very similar to people speaking out against the ACLU when they defended Neo-Nazis in the US.”

No it’s not. The issues are different.

I don’t much care about your “personal opinion” of Amnesty’s casual disregard for women’s rights. That’s probably not surprising - they’re my rights that are being dismissed, and not yours.

#8 SimonSays on Monday April 19, 2010 at 10:23am

Ophelia: (a) You don’t know me. (b) You’re speaking to a self-professed feminist. I’ve actually been debating a libertarian about birth control availability on this very blog. Feel free to chime in: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/show/sometimes_the_market_works/

As far as Amnesty’s track record, here’s some stories from their website in the past few months on just violence against women (among their many areas): http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/show/sometimes_the_market_works/ This is not just lip service.

And as far as the cageprisoners issue, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky: if we don’t believe in free speech for those we disagree with, then we don’t really believe in it all.

#9 Ophelia Benson on Tuesday April 20, 2010 at 10:01am

It’s not a free speech issue. Moazzem Begg and Cageprisoners have free speech rights; that does not mean that Amnesty International is required to give them a platform, or to ally itself with them. It is the latter, of course, that Gita Sahgal objects to. AI should not partner with Nazis, and it should not partner with Islamists.

#10 Universalgeni (Guest) on Saturday April 24, 2010 at 6:20pm

Islam is a set of beliefs. A conviction or view points, one can hold. Just like political convictions, view points or beliefs. Like all other convictions be that political, religious or something else, islam must tolerate criticism and discussion. Even resistance.

If I said that I hate communism and communists and that I will fight them for the rest of my life, people would assume that I would fight communists with ordinary means such as writings, campaigns, money, posters, flyers, conferences, lectures.

But if I said the same about muslims and islam, people would call me racist and call my words incitement to genocide.

Never the less I continue to fight islam and muslims with ordinary means. And I do that indiscriminately of race, skin color, nationality, gender, age, origin and all else.

If a person calls him or herself a muslim, that person is a part of a movement that is a threat to humanity. Moderate or not.

I do not want to include moderate muslims more than I want to include moderate communists, moderate nazists, moderate fascists, moderate scientologists, moderate jehovah’s witness’s or any one else with a hostile conviction.

I will only muster that minimum of tolerance that is required by law. Not an inch more. And fight them at the same time.

Islamophobia is not an illness. But islam is. Islam is insanity.

#11 Commenter123 (Guest) on Thursday April 29, 2010 at 1:25pm

I was not aware that quoting the Koran it forbidden in the Human Rights Council. Does anyone have a link to a news story about this? I’d be interested to hear the reasoning behind it.

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