Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Let's Face It, Islamophobia Isn't Very Much Like Racism At All

The government hasn’t got much right, especially recently - but it is right to reject a very plastic definition of Islamophobia published in December by a cross-party group of MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Most broadly, this is wrong - in most cases Islamophobia is nothing like racism, because racism is an unfair prejudice based on skin colour and ethnicity - both of which are not choices made by the individual - whereas Islam is a chosen belief system, and prejudice against it ranges from a philosophical viewpoint that thinks it is a foolish, dangerous set of ideas (which it certainly is in many places) to hating Muslims and treating them appallingly through a form of dehumanised aggression and intolerance.

In this article we find the pretext for justifying why Islamophobia is supposedly rooted in racism:

“So we argue that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. We’ve produce a series of examples, modelled on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, to help people understand how this manifests: the attempted murder of a Muslim woman and her 12-year-old daughter as “revenge” for the Parsons Green terror attack; the torture of a Muslim convert by two women in Guisborough, while they shouted “We don’t like Muslims over here”; the Muslim mother attacked for wearing a hijab on the way to collect her children from primary school in London; the “punish a Muslim day” letters sent to Muslim institutions, and prominent Muslim figures; the racists in Northern Ireland who left a pig’s head on the door of the mosque they had graffitied; the motorists forking out £1,000 more to insure their car if their name is Muhammad; the Social Mobility Commission’s findings of conscious and unconscious bias against Muslims in the employment market; the Islamophobic abuse hurled at people who aren’t even Muslim, because their abusers couldn’t tell the difference between, for example, a Sikh wearing a turban and a Muslim man; the men who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque in Bristol.”

Some of them are a bit like racism; some of them are nothing like racism at all. The attempted murder of a Muslim woman and her 12-year-old daughter as “revenge” for the Parsons Green terror attack sounds quite a bit like the kind of dehumanised aggression and intolerance that one might believe to resemble racism; but motorists forking out £1,000 more to insure their car if their name is Muhammad sounds much more likely to be based on actuarial data concerning geography, postcodes and statistical likelihood of making insurance claims.

Islam isn't a race, and therefore definitionally Islamophobia is a much broader concept than racism, even if some Islamophobes are also racist. A lot of racist people probably don't like Islam - but that doesn't make racism equivalent to Islamophobia.

In 2015, I was highly critical of the then Labour leader Ed Miliband's squalid attempt to win Muslim votes in his election campaign, by promising to outlaw Islamophobia:

"We are going to make Islamophobia an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people's records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime."

I explained why absolutely everything is wrong with this idea, with four principal reasons that still hold true today:

1) It's a dystopian example of thought crime; the very epitome of an Orwellian nightmare. Phobia literally means a fear of something. If you have claustrophobia you are afraid of confined spaces. If you have arachnophobia you have a fear of spiders. If you have a fear of Islam you have a fear of its growing socio-political influence in society, and of the way people anxiously pander to it, and of the extent to which its extremities stultify minds, and of the spectre of increased radicalisation that leads to hate speech and sometimes murder and terrorism (all very understandable fears, I'm sure we'd all agree). Of course we should be wholly tolerant and kind towards moderate Muslims, but far from wanting to criminalise this anti-extremist phobia, we should actively encourage it, and come down even harder on those Muslim leaders radicalising young people.

2) It's a contemptible infringement of our civil liberties and our freedom of speech. To outlaw the ability to criticise, mock, ridicule, campaign against and intellectually challenge Islam is to rob us of vital tools for enquiry and progression, and will at the same time create an even greater culture of trepidation whereby people are forever afraid to speak openly for fear of being criminalised. The best and most gracious way to handle intellectual scrutiny of any idea or viewpoint is to focus on the belief itself, not the individual. This also provides a useful maxim for free speech and offence, where no belief should be above criticism, challenge and intellectual scrutiny, but where no individual believer is beneath respect, courtesy and kindness.

3) It's ambiguous to the point of being useless. How the heck is this ridiculous legislation even going to be properly enforced anyway? The boundary line between what constitutes the Miliband version of Islamophobia is blurry. Am I an Islamophobe if I write a blog saying that I don't think the Qur'an is anything other than an inept man-made creation? Will I be outside the orbit of the Islamophobia law if I demonstrate outside a Mosque known to be radicalising young Muslims, or if I tell the police about a Muslim grooming gang operating above a local kebab shop (that's hypothetical by the way - I know of no such place in my city)? In terms of the law, Islamophobia is so ambiguous it is nigh-on impossible that it could be enforced with any consistency or in a way that doesn't stifle our free expression and genuine concerns about the darker elements of Islam. This leads me nicely onto point 4 - perhaps the most frightening prospect of them all.

4) It empowers the very people we actually want to disempower. Even aside from the very serious problem of making people reluctant to speak out against radical Islamist preaching in mosques, extremism in schools and hate speech in public places, the law will only help the despicable child-sex gangs that groom, entrap, rape and exploit young British girls. The majority of these offenders are Muslims of Pakistani origin (recall infamous cases in Doncaster, Rotherham, Manchester, Blackpool, Oldham, Derby, Newcastle, Rochdale, Bradford and Oxford as horrible cases in point). The reason so many of these young girls were subjected to the perverted exploits of the organised Muslim gangs for so long is because numerous agencies and authorities (including the police) were cravenly fearful of being labelled racist or prejudiced if they enforced the law against these perpetrators.

The truth is, any proposed law against criticism of Islam is going to be highly irresponsible and gravely hazardous, as it comes with the danger of creating a greater freedom for already dangerous Muslims and potentially dangerous Muslims, and also the danger of creating a culture of trepidation and spinelessness for most other UK citizens.