Parliamentarians duped over Islamophobia part 2
In Nov 2018 the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) published their report Islamophobia Defined. This was the definition they came up with:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
There are many shortcomings both in the definition itself and the process of arriving at it, as pointed out in a previous blog post. This post will look in more detail at two aspects (my highlighting in bold type throughout):
- The confused and confusing relation between religion (but only one religion) and race.
- The unavoidably subjective distinctions which will have to be made by those in a position to apply the definition in practice, between free speech and “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness”.
1. Religion and Race
In chapter 2 of the report we see how definitions of Islamophobia evolved from the original Runnymede Trust definition of 1997:
”…a useful shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam – and, therefore, to fear or dislike all or most Muslims.”
to their 2017 update in which they baldly stated that:
“Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism.”
In 2018, as we have seen, the APPG declared that:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism….”
At the start of chapter 3 the group say this of their contributors:
“The contributors – academics, activists, NGOs, think tanks, experts and practitioners – tend to agree that the term Islamophobia is the most appropriate one, as it encompasses a variety of manifestations and practices that can comfortably be localised within what is generally understood as anti-Muslim racism.”
I contend that Islamophobia certainly is not generally understood as anti-Muslim racism but only by Muslim activists and certain academics within the field. Here is a small but very representative selection of their contributions to the inquiry:
On p29 Dr Imran Awan and Dr Irene Zempi say Islamophobia is:
”…motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism which targets the symbols and markers of a being a Muslim.”
On p30 Akeela Ahmed MBE points out:
”…the ‘structural nature of Islamophobia’ – which concerns “every aspect of a British Muslim person’s life” such as education, employment and representation in the Criminal Justice System – and the ‘intersectional nature of Islamophobia’ – which concerns its intersection with racism and sexism – would not to be captured if we were to understand and define Islamophobia solely as religious hate crime.”
On p39 Dr Omar Khan of the Runnymede Trust explains that:
“Islamophobia is positioned within a social and cultural space that homogenises Muslims and places them at disadvantage vis-à-vis society, on the basis of their belonging to a specific group perceived to carry certain characteristics. The process is known as ‘racialisation’ and, as Massoumi, Miller, Mills, and Aked argue: “Racialisation describes process by which certain groups become signified as ‘races’ within specific social contexts. European colonisation relied on pseudo-scientific theories of races to categorise people into different racial hierarchies, today we rely on more culturalist explanations. Muslim appearances, behaviours and assumed practices are taken as a sign of inferiority – this is the process of racialisation. If ‘race’ is a fiction created when certain ethnic heritage or cultural practices attach to social advantage or disadvantage, it is hard to see religious identity as ontologically distinct from ‘race’. For good reason then, racialisation is increasingly used to explain Islamophobia as a form of racism.”
On p41 Professor Kallis declares that:
“Race is not about phenotype, race exists first and foremost in the eyes of the racist. Race is a group that is defined by the person that makes a generalisation.”
“It is the racist who creates the race”.
What this boils down to is the claim that A looks like B therefore A is B (or a kind of B). This is plain bad logic to anyone but academics who beguile themselves with ten dollar words. If a person disparages groups because of their culture rather than their race then their attitude should properly be called something like “culturism”*, not “racism” or the hybrid “cultural racism”. One can see why people seeking enhanced victim status on account of one form of discrimination might want to link it to the gold standard of discriminations, racism, but it only works if you can persuade enough people to believe something which is simply not true.
* NB It appears that there is a long established term for discrimination on the basis of culture, “ethnocentrism”, but I think I’ll stick with “culturism” because it’s snappier and because the link with culture is obvious.
To spread the idea wider, is discrimination against gay people racist? Why not? To paraphrase one of the statements above:
“Gay appearances, behaviours and assumed practices are taken as a sign of inferiority – this is the process of racialisation. If ‘race’ is a fiction created when certain ethnic heritage or cultural practices attach to social advantage or disadvantage, it is hard to see sexual identity as ontologically distinct from ‘race’. For good reason then, racialisation is increasingly used to explain homophobia as a form of racism.”
It works just as well, or badly, doesn’t it?
Here is another aspect to all this. No other racially heterogeneous group attempts to claim that discrimination against themselves is racist, not even other religions. When Christians are persecuted in Nigeria, Egypt or Pakistan – or derided in Britain – they never make this claim. The fact that Muslims do makes one suspect something less than straightforward is going on. The phobes among us will see this inquiry as merely another example of what Muslims do best, claiming victim status in order to gain special treatment and therefore political advantage, summed up in the Arabic saying “Show a victim’s face and you will take over”. It is exactly what Mohammed did in Medina when he fled there as a “refugee”, after all. The extraordinary thing is how the APPG members lapped it up, although perhaps not quite so extraordinary when you consider that the majority of them are Muslims themselves.
Also, Muslims should be careful what they ascribe to others because it can be turned back on them and their religion. For instance, it is surely beyond doubt that Allah is a hateful religious bigot. How else can you describe a being who refers to those who don’t believe in him as “the vilest of creatures” and who boasts throughout the Koran of the hideous tortures they will suffer once he gets his hands on them? Clearly, according to this new concept of “cultural racism”, he must now also be a racist.
Which brings us on to:
2. The unavoidably subjective distinctions which will have to be made by those in a position to apply the definition in practice, between free speech and “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness”.
On p11 of the Executive summary the APPG tell us:
“…the aim of establishing a working definition of Islamophobia has neither been motivated by, nor is intended to curtail, free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion. Evidence read and heard by the group clearly delineated between the desirability of criticism, debate and free discussion of Islam as a religion – by Muslims and non-Muslim participants in the inquiry – and the victimisation of Muslims through the targeting of expressions of Muslimness to deny or impair their fundamental freedoms and human rights.”
So that’s okay then, I can criticise Islam, presumably including its god, as long as I do not target Muslims’ expressions of Muslimness.
Except that on p35 they endorse these views from two of their contributors:
“Ali and Witham further their concern about the boundaries between Islamophobia and free speech by arguing that “there is no ‘good faith’ criticism of Islam”. Central in their argument is the concept of inseparability of race and religion, whereby an attack on the religion cannot be separated from an attack on the race because both concepts are constructs adopted “as a means of categorising colonial subjects”. As such, the recourse to the notion of free speech and a supposed right to criticise Islam results in nothing more than another subtle form of anti-Muslim racism, whereby the criticism humiliates, marginalises, and stigmatises Muslims. One, real life example of this concerns the issue of ‘grooming gangs’: “Participants reported being told that ‘Mohammed is a paedophile’, for instance. This comment does not,in a strictly grammatical sense, have the victim themselves as subject, but is rather an example of the ‘criticism of Islam’ as it is actually articulated and experienced. Yet, clearly, it is aimed at (and can achieve) harm to individual Muslims, and is not rooted in any meaningful theological debate but rather in a racist attempt to ‘other’ Muslims in general, associating them with the crime our society sees as most abhorrent of all.”
and on p57 of the Conclusion they describe calling Mohammed a paedophile (along with several other arguably factual statements about Islam and Muslims) as a “symbol associated with classic Islamophobia”.
I maintain that the characters of both Allah and Mohammed are central to the theological debate about the truth or falsity of the religion of Islam. In my view Allah’s all too human character flaws make him an unlikely candidate for the position of Creator of the Universe. Likewise Mohammed’s rap sheet, including much more than paedophilia, is an indication of his untrustworthiness as the sole witness to the supposed Creator’s revelation.
But the APPG appear to regard making such claims as unavoidably directed at Muslims and therefore Islamophobic. I wonder what criticisms I can make of Islam that are not trumped by concern for the sensibilities of Muslims.
At best, the verdict on such criticisms will depend on the judgment of the individuals in authority armed with this definition. If it becomes officially accepted, and some councils have already accepted it, your fate, if you dare to express an opinion about Islam, will depend on the subjective interpretation of any social workers, teachers, policemen, employers etc you have dealings with.
At worst, despite the APPG’s protestations about free speech, we could find ourselves subject to official sanctions, and their enforcers, against any criticism of Islam. There is a word for such an arrangement…Sharia.