There's nothing phobic about criticising Islam

2 Sep 2016


Right now, there are some words in the English language which are being deliberately conflated and confused by a censorious and socially regressive metropolitan consensus.


Phobia. Abuse. Criticism.


These words all have very distinct meanings, and yet around the topic of Islam in the UK they are being blurred together until they all mean just one thing: racism.


The first word, phobia, in its literal, psychiatric sense means an irrational fear, but when applied to create the term Islamophobia the resulting word sounds inappropriate.


That's not because the people labeled Islamophobic are not scared of Islam. It's because the fear they express is rational—there are Islamic denominations in which deliberately instilling fear is a central method of control, just as in that other corrupt and discredited monotheistic atrocity, Catholicism.


The Catholic Church has been losing its grip on enlightened societies for a long time now, but where it ruled, it ruled through terror. In the most extreme historical examples that meant hideous torture and public execution. In more contemporary cases it meant sexual abuse, beatings, and official cover ups at the highest levels. In its core teachings it issues threats of damnation, pain, and suffering.


If you lived at a certain place at a certain time, fear of the Catholic Church would not be irrational one. It would be a mechanism of survival.


And just as with the now retreating Catholic Church, Islam attempts to instill fear as a means of appropriating control and power. It must be heavily emphasised that the vast majority of individuals who identify as Islamic have no desire to coerce, oppress, or intimidate, just as most Christians have no great longing to execute evolutionary biologists. Pointing out the use of fear as a tool is a criticism of Islam, a monolithic, dogmatic, controlling racket whose non-negotiable beliefs would place it above the law and whose ideologies run counter to Enlightenment values.


Adding to our sensitivity to such a grimly doctrinaire and intolerant theistic orthodoxy is the fact that in historical terms we have only recently defeated another such monstrous organization, Catholicism, and its scars remain.


In this context, is it really irrational to fear Islam? Or is it an entirely understandable reaction? A human, pragmatic response to an imposing, populous movement which can appear disposed towards blocking or even reversing cultural and political progress? Again, don't forget that the Western world is mainly composed of newly unshackled secular nations. Having, in historical terms, just freshly broken free of the bonds of religious entrapment, there is nothing phobic about fearing Islam.


The other two words which are being misleadingly obfuscated are abuse and criticism. If I slate the Catholic Church, fairly and with evidence, I'm unlikely to be accused of abusive behavior. But many people would be wary of doing the same with Islam, which seems somehow to have been afforded a special, protected status limiting the criticism to which it may be subjected. One recent example is a video in which a BBC reporter is interviewing a Muslim woman about Islamophobia. The interview is interrupted by a man who comments that there should be no Sharia Law in Britain. The clip was posted online by the BBC with this explainer: BBC Islamophobia discussion interrupted by Islamophobia.


But if we take Islamophobia in its usual sense - a hatred of Muslims - then it becomes less clear whether there is actually any Islamophobia here. The man doesn't appear aggressive. The context is a serious conversation about Islam in the UK. And the man succinctly interjects that Britain should never allow a parallel, external legal system to be imposed on the country.


If the problem is that the man interrupted a private conversation, and the suggestion is that he would not have done so if it weren't a Muslim speaking, then I would say go and take a look at the history of popular political movements and public discussion in the UK. We have a culture of combative debate, of righteous insolence, of, if you like, sticking it to the man. You conduct a topical political interview in a public park and you are damn right you're going to get interrupted. This would be the case for any contentious issue, not just Islam, and we must ensure that nobody is allowed to try to take that spirit of biting dissent away.


Criticism is not abuse. Criticism is essential and underscores social progress. Through questioning authority, speaking out without fear, and irreverently facing down joyless, dictatorial tyrants, Western societies have won liberty.


Those who wish to shut down dissent now do so using political correctness as a means of restricting the parameters of debate. Narrowing the conversation to such an extent that you have a false consensus is pernicious and goes against the tenets of rationalism. Not only that, but it's counter-productive—a backlash is almost certain to be provoked, which is likely to be much fiercer and more extreme than if a fair argument were simply allowed to take place in the first place.


On the subject of Islam, we must be free to state facts and voice opinions clearly and without fear of harassment. In a robust, free democracy such as the UK, no organization is protected from the rigors of debate, nobody has special status, and the right not to be criticized does not exist.


Read more articles by this commentator, or follow @SamWhiteTky

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