The word Islamophobia is criticised by the right and atheists alike for being a shield against valid criticism on Islamism and Islam. They argue that fearing a religion is not irrational. It is deliberately equated to bigotry against the faith, to stifle debate.
When author Robert Spencer began speaking at a Stanford University event in 2017, most students walked out of the auditorium in an orchestrated move against ‘bigotry’ and in his own words, because he was ‘so evil’. Two years later, an audience at UCLA sat and heard him as he discussed why peaceful Muslims, who don’t bother about non-believers, shouldn’t be upset by criticism against Islamism, which calls for death to infidels.
“To say this is anti-Muslim is to say that if you opposed Nazism during World War II, you were anti-German,” he explains. Spencer stressed that not discussing why jihadis choose to justify killings using a holy book will only support violence and never lead to a solution. But how is the discussion blocked? With an accusation of Islamophobia.
‘Islamophobia’ is a propaganda term courtesy the Iranian fundamentalists of the 1980s. They applied it to suppress criticism or reform calls coming from Muslims and non-Muslims on Islam, Islamism and Islamists. According to French writer Pascal Bruckner, the deliberately vague word was formed in analogy to ‘xenophobia’ to declare Islam incorruptible.
Behind an accusation of Islamophobia rests a wanton conflation of two distinct categories–bigotry against Muslims and legitimate criticism against Islam. Bigotry against Muslims is condemnable. Yet, as Spencer asserts in Confessions of an Islamophobe, the difficulty arises when we rebuke those who analyse grounds on which jihadis use Islamic texts to justify violence with the same reasoning of rebuking bigots.
In An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, Bruckner underlines the need to differentiate between the two, “Striking a religious believer is a crime. Debating an article of faith, a point of doctrine, is a right. Confusing the two is an intolerable amalgamation.” The word Islamophobia as it has entered the global lexicon aids the radicals and fundamentalists alone.
Sometimes, even a critique on ideology is considered an evaluation of the religion itself. In the book Freedom of Speech and Islam edited by Eric Kolig, authors argue:
“In our view, the critique of Islamism in the context of thinking about Islam and modernity is neither Islamophobic nor heretical, but the legitimate application of rational thought and its expression and free debates. However, Islamism, being averse to being subjected to critical appraisal, uses both accusations instrumentally to stifle debate.”
The dominant role religion plays in influencing politics invites a discussion. For Bruckner, and a few freedom of speech warriors, questioning beliefs is a right in democratic and civilised societies and criticising a religion falls under examination, not discrimination. Nevertheless, we witness freedom of speech practiced selectively. On the one hand, even serious imputations against some beliefs find assistance as a movement towards reform. On the other, a cartoon by Charlie Hebdo is met with condemnation and his eventual death.
To oppose the accusation of Islamophobia is not to validate discrimination of Muslims. Discrimination is condemnable and experienced by all religions just as critique is universal for all. Then why is critique on one religion equated with discrimination? Sam Harris, author and neuroscientist and prey to righteous Left, in conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Islamophobia, states:
“Yes, other religions have problematic doctrines. We can even concede that the Old Testament is the most barbaric scripture of them all. But Christians and Jews don’t tend to take the worst of its passages seriously.”
After a journalist called him an Islamophobe, Harris invited him to a contest. He asked the journalist to hold up a cartoon on Islam and Harris himself would hold a cartoon on any other religion on earth. That ‘shut him up immediately’.
To Spencer, if at all there is Islamophobia, the Bin Ladens and Baghdadis are why. Such terrorists justify their killings as religious motivations. Though, a talk on reasons behind such motivations leads to a conviction for Islamophobia in the liberal courts. That, according to Spencer, is a deliberate attempt to shut down analysis which doesn’t arrest but advances armed jihad. Besides, such political correctness in public discourse provides cover fire to recruiters carrying out overground activities.
We’ll be lying to ourselves if we deny that a reasonable fear persists. For years Indians feared terrorist attacks as festivals neared; it wasn’t a phobia. We would hear news figures of deaths from local markets much before the other side of the world even accepted on 9/11 that something like terrorism exists.
Even without touching upon Hindu genocide at the hands of Mughal invaders and the nature of India’s partition in the name of religion, our fears are proportionate. Jihad and its apologists don’t let us forget. Across our borders are forces determined to sponsor jihad against ‘impious polytheists and cow-urine drinkers‘ or followers of Hinduism. These concerns are ridiculed time after time by a front of Islamophobia indictments.
In India, after the Tablighi Jamaat blunder became public, the collective disappointment of the media, political commentators, doctors and citizens was palpable. India was not the only country which recorded the Markaz event as the source of a rapid rise in coronavirus cases, with some Islamic nations expressing concerns as well.
A rise in dangerous consequences meant a rise in disapproval against Jamaat, but also in balancing narratives of ‘targeting of Muslim community’. Opinion pieces surfaced on usual platforms about India’s ‘Islamophobic response’ to COVID-19 pandemic. Even the few Muslim voices in India reprimanding the irresponsible and criminal behaviour faced vilification. A Maulana threatened journalists. Thus were revealed the levels contrarians could stoop to, to sustain their allegations. Liberal obscurantism and hypocrisy unveiled.
Those who sermonised others to support claims of women during #metoo, saw a conspiracy in nurses reporting misconduct by Jamaatis. Those who stood by the healthcare workers were othered as fanatics, because social stands are not above political inclinations. Sampling errors are the new defence, which were non-existent during cow-lynchings.
But to top it all, an article by Swati Goel Sharma explains how agenda peddlers deployed selective fact-checks to give clean-chits to genuine cases of deplorable behaviour towards healthcare professionals and the police. The usual handles with blue ticks defended the indefensible and how! All unfavourable facts were declared collusion against one religion.
Perhaps in the same spirit, Maulana Saad had convinced his followers to flock to Masjids defying all rules because to disperse their gathering was a plot to attack their religion:
“If you think you will die if you assemble in a masjid, let me tell you, there is no better place to die…This is not the time when you leave your prayers, meeting people just because doctors are saying. When Allah has given this disease, then no doctor or medicine can save us.”
What justifies the Islamophobe tag if we criticise Maulana for criminal negligence? The name-callers are dishonest to their arguments; wasn’t a gomutra party to cure coronavirus mocked and Ramayana slurs passed casually in a display of hatred? So what’s communal in demanding accountability from Maulana like another Indian citizen? Why are deliberate violations of Jamaatis declared innocent mistakes?
This hypocrisy is not a newborn. Vocal critics of ‘Brahmanical Patriarchy’ have also styled as Islamophobic, debates on Hijab and Triple-Talak. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany. In India, negationism has been institutionalised through education by Marxist historians and their monopoly on academia. The struggling accounts of those writing history from primary sources are for all to observe, but a hint is that it all begins with name-calling.
Mainstream media has a history of selectively highlighting crimes committed by the majority, while giving alibis of economic circumstances, past mistreatment and discrimination to justify violence against Hindus by the minority. As the situation wants, they normalise jihad and insist terrorism has no religion or construct communal angles where none exist crying ‘Muslims persecuted!’.
An unverified news item from Rajasthan went viral where a husband charged a hospital for religious discrimination when a doctor referred his pregnant wife to a higher centre. Here, Umar Khalid found an opportunity to blame the unfortunate death on media houses allegedly spewing venom against Muslims while reporting on Tablighi Jamaat.
So bloody shameful. This is the result of anti-Muslim hate that is spread daily from TV channels& BJP IT Cell. And I know there will be more hate under this tweet.
Doctor refuses to admit pregnant woman because she's Muslim, her child dies after deliveryhttps://t.co/1s93utqAQq
— Umar Khalid (@UmarKhalidJNU) April 4, 2020
Dismissed by doctors on twitter on its medical details, the viral news item was already weak before being verified false. Khalid’s tweet still stands. Now, if someone takes action against Khalid, we know from experience he’ll call it suppression of dissent but what’s remarkable is how, not organised spitting and spreading of coronavirus by Jamaatis but ‘Islamophobic’ media houses reporting their crime are responsible for spreading hate!
Eminent journalists calling reproval against Tablighi Jamaat, Islamophobia, had in the past indirectly called for nationwide violence by spreading misinformation and justified anti-Hindu slogans during unconstitutional anti-CAA blackmail/protests. They called bigotry against idol-worshippers, poetic freedom.
By stigmatising and demonising those attempting to counter a politically correct narrative, we are curtailing their freedom of expression, creating obstacles in the fight against the global threat asserting religious supremacy on infidels or non-believers. Islam should be open to the same scrutiny that other religions face in a democracy. Behind an accusation of Islamophobia lies the motive to victimise jihad and to conflate criticism against Islam and bigotry against Muslims. While the latter is unjustified discrimination, the former is a right in any civilised society.
It may be young and fragile, but an alternate narrative is gaining strength to challenge the unfair denouncement following an Islamophobia accusation. The ground reality prevails as appeasement politics of decades is threatened, and monopoly over victimhood stands exposed. The questions shouldn’t be cautioned now from resistance of labels. Like Spencer said at UCLA, “If we don’t discuss it, it will continue.”
– Stuti S.
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