We live in turbulent and scary times.
The forces of Jihadism are running riot all around the world, spreading murder and mayhem in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Indonesia, Nigeria and France. This is coinciding with the recent, but worrying trend of endemic sexual violence all across Europe commited by migrants/refugees coming into Europe mostly from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
This has made tragedy of the refugee crisis and dealing with the issues that come with unprecedented levels of international migration even more diffcult, because if you don’t engage in denialism, you are apparently a “Proto-Fascist” or an “Orientalist”. While, if you don’t buy into the hysterical, bigoted narratives of the anti-immigrant right then you are labelled a “regressive”, “far left”, “Islamophile” etc. As I’ve argued previously, Denialism and Bigotry are not the only choices.
The response of the political class has been abysmal, the left engages in apologia and withdrawal, refusing to accept facts that shatters the ideological windshield. Far-right nationalists cynically capitalise on this by playing on people’s understandable fears and worries to dictate the general terms of the debate.
With this in mind, we should all be disturbed by the recent rise in anti Muslim bigotry, specifically it’s increasing intrusion into mainstream discourse. A growing number of ‘pundits’ (in reality, they are disingenous misinformants) are purposefully blurring the line between Islamism and Islam, and the line between Islam and Muslims. The result of this could, if we are not careful, have devastating consequences – particularly in Europe.
According to TellMama UK, an organisation which measures anti Muslim abuse, both vebal and physical attacks against British Muslims jumped by 275 percent in the period after the Paris attacks- with the majority perpetrated against women since they are more “visibly muslim” with their hijabs. Likewise such attacks have also increased in France, the United States and Canada . In Stockholm, masked, Fascist thugs physically assaulted refugees at the railway station with brass knuckledusters.
I realise many critics of Islam are a little sensitive when it comes to “Islamophobia” for good reason. In many cases, Regressives and Islamist apologists have hurled the label “Islamophobe”, “bigot”, “racist” and other such terms in a very cynical and calculated manner at anyone who makes a criticism of the religion of Islam that they disapprove of. Because of this, critics of Islam may be a little apprehensive about people who do talk about anti Muslim bigotry. Wary that there could be some shadiness to this, they wonder is this being bought up to deflect from the problem and smear people unneccessarily?
So allow me to do some introductory throat clearing to eliminate any confusion and make my stance absolutely clear.
As an Atheist, and an Anti-theist, I have absolutely no sympathy for Islam or any religion for that matter. Not only do I believe Islam to be false but also pernicious for fossilising and giving the divine seal of approval to various regressive, and rather cruel social customs of 7th century Arabia which are clearly invalid for the 21st century. I also believe we should be relentless and merciless in our critique of it, just like we do with any idea. Ultimately, if the Qu’ran is meant to be the literal, perfect word of Allah, then I think Allah must have forgotten to take his pills. You can sense this just by reading the Qu’ran for yourself.
Additionally, “Islamophobia” is a vapid propaganda term as it is very broad and often conflates legitimate criticism of Islam with bigotry towards Muslims, especially since Islamophobia is often defined by its promoters as “hatred towards Islam and Muslims”. As Christopher Hitchens once put it, “Islamophobia — has been put into circulation to try and suggest that a foul prejudice lurks behind any misgivings about Islam’s infallible ‘message.’”
When it comes to criticizing ideas, nothing should be off limits and no idea should get a free pass from critique because it might ‘offend’ someone. ‘Islamophobe!’ is too often trotted out as a tactic to silence people you disagree with. In an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, where different and often opposing beliefs are held with deep conviction, conflict is thus unavoidable. Conflict is in fact necessary and desirable for the modern world because with conflict comes progress.
Clearly, being criticial of Islam or Muslims does not automatically make you a bigot.
So,when does criticism of Islam become anti-muslim bigotry? It is when criticism morphs into bigotry or prejudice against muslims or those percieved to be muslims; or when critics advocate policies that would deny muslims equal rights under the law, or demand muslims be arbitrarily discriminated against simply because they have a Muslim background. To put it simply. Anti Muslim bigots are those who despise, distrust, hate, and/or fear Muslims in general.
It is for this reason I feel it is an ethical duty of people who label themselves Liberals or Leftists to oppose discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere – from discriminatory policing and immigration laws that specifically target Muslims for no good reason, to planning regulations that make it more difficult to build mosques than other similar buildings/restrictions on the ability of Muslims to worship merely because they happen to be Muslims.
I have nothing but antipathy towards regressive jerks and Islamist propagandists who over exaggerate the extent of anti-muslim bigotry, who use it as a political weapon to shut down honest discussion on Islamism, and who use it as a false diagnosis for why Western Muslims join Jihadist organisations.
Nontheless, we must understand that anti-muslim bigotry is a problem that must be fought. To deny or downplay this is to put an intellectual blindfold on yourself, and thereby to deny reality. It is not uncommon, for example, to hear women in hijabs say they feel a little anxious about walking in public, as they are the most visible representation of Islam in public. This not only affects Muslims as sadly, Sikhs have also suffered hate crimes for being mistaken for Muslims. Standing up to this injustice doesn’t mean you are a ‘regressive’ or an apologist for fundamentalism.
We are now at a stage where we have the prominent U.S presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for Muslim citizens of the United States to have their information put into special databases and a complete ban on Muslim immigrants entering the United States. This is not merely flirting with Fascism, this is Fascism. Moreover, similar sentiments have been expressed by the ultra-nationalist, anti immigrant right who are currently gaining ground in Europe in the aftermath of the Cologne sex attacks. This can no longer be dismissed as the ramblings of fringe nutcases. It is now serious, because these troubling attitudes have now entered the mainstream in a way it wouldn’t have ten years ago. This is best shown by the fact that 25 percent of Americans support Trump’s ludicrous idea to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Albeit, this is a minority (thankfully), but it is still worrying that a quarter of Americans support it.
Above all, it seems wise to the rational person that we should care about anti muslim bigotry; not just out of principle, but also because it disarms the apologists of their claim that they are the only ones who care about bigotry while the critics are apathetic.
I advise fellow critics of Islam, if you are believers in secular humanism and you oppose Islam for that reason, then you should once in a while address anti-Muslim bigotry and criticise those who espouse it. To not do this is cowardice. Something as simple as just tweeting (or retweeting, even easier) an article about it on Twitter, or criticising the entrepeneurs of panic can go a long way.
This is not about deflecting or ignoring the problem, nor is this about imposing a sort of of quota on your public expressions, where for every criticism of Islam you have to have something on anti-Muslim bigotry. This is about defending secular, enlightenment values. The far-right with their proposed ‘solutions’ to Islamism, in addition to their general politics are also a threat to the west and it’s values – especially if they ever hold political power.