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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Kenneth Lipp on Islamophobia

Further to my recent discussion of this issue, Kenneth Lipp now has a solid post on the subject.


The term Islamophobia dates back to the late 1980s, but came into prolific usage after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, to refer to types of political dialogue that appeared prejudicially resistant to “pro-Islamic argument."

Professor Anne Sophie Roald writes that steps were taken toward official acceptance of the term in January 2001 at the "Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance", where Islamophobia was recognized as a form of intolerance alongside Xenophobia and Antisemitism.

In 1997, the British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as the "dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, to the fear and dislike of all Muslims," stating that it also refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation. It purports to include the perception that “Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.” The trust’s website boasts the accomplishment-

“Through the work of the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, Runnymede achieved tangible response from policy makers and the general public. For example, the Government approved the first state funding for specifically Muslim schools in late 1997, and there has been some improvement in media portrayals of Islam. The UK National Census in 2001 contained a question on religion.”

I chose this sample because it is useful to have a reminder that the current widespread use of the term "Islamophobia" has a history, and particularly a history of deliberate politicking for its acceptance. Now, that's not to deny that there can be elements of racism or cultural xenophobia feeding into criticisms of Islam (or even that criticism of Islam can sometimes feed back into racism and cultural xenophobia). I don't think we should forget this, especially when we see the criticism emanating from right-wing groups with faux-traditionalist stances on cultural issues and a general dislike of immigrants.

But nor is the idea of Islamophobia entirely innocent. It is all too easy to use to beat up on people who are attempting to engage in genuine dialogue about the nature of Islam - particularly its more extreme or political forms - and how non-Muslim citizens of liberal democracies should respond to it.

I should also oberve that earmarking government funds to specifically religious schools and including a question about religion on a census don't necessarily seem like great policy outcomes. I can definitely see arguments for the latter, from a town planning viewpoint, but these are not the sorts of policies that knock my socks off. Just sayin'.


ColinGavaghan said...

I think I could happily enough use the term 'islamophobia' for newspaper headlines like this:


Technically, the headline is accurate; they three men in question were Muslims, and they did apprently express that sentiment. But the use of 'Muslims' - rather than, say, 'Muslim extremists' (or just 'arseholes') - could easily be taken to imply that Muslims more generally express this view.

And here's another example: http://tabloid-watch.blogspot.com/2009/10/all-muslims-are-same-to-express.html. Now what would be wrog with a headline that read 'Muslim group demands'? Or 'Muslim fanatics demand'?

The attribution of the most extreme Islamist views to 'muslims' is, at best, very sloppy reporting, and at worst outright deliberate fear-mongering. I'm not saying it belongs in the new DSM, but insofar as it displays a fear out of all proportion to the risk, 'phobia' doesn't sound too wide of the mark.

(And I think this one just speaks for itself: http://enemiesofreason.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/dailystar3.jpg)

Nick Barrowman said...

The term "Islamophobia" may not be to everyone's liking, but intolerance towards Muslims (often—though not always—accompanied by racism) is a real problem. As a general rule, it is easy to suppose that one has identified flaws in other people's culture and traditions. But tolerance, historical perspective, and common courtesy would suggest one should only comment on such sensitive topics with the greatest of care and thoughtfulness. Sadly this is often not the case.