Every time I look at the use of the term “Islamophobia” I come to the conclusion that it is even worse than I previously assumed. Last March I described it as a “junk concept in an article coinciding with the first UN Day To Combat Islamophobia. Almost a year later I would go even further in rejecting it.

Back then I slated the UN Human Rights Council’s working definition of Islamophobia as incredibly sweeping. It muddled together at least three different elements which should be kept distinct:

 ·      Anti-Muslim bigotry. Hatred aimed against individual Muslims should certainly be challenged. That does not mean that abusive words alone should be made illegal but it is imperative that bigoted ideas are countered. Acts of violence should be met with the full force of the law.

 ·      Criticism of Islam as a religion. The freedom to criticise the beliefs of any religion are a foundation of liberty. It relation to Islam this could include, for example, freedom to produce or publish unflattering depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Not allowing criticism of Islam as a faith is a form of blasphemy law.

 ·      Criticism of Islamism as a form of religionised politics (which I wrote about in my last post ). This can include political movements or belief. For example, people should be free to criticise Hamas or Isis or the Muslim Brotherhood as with any political organisation. 

The practical effects of this are shocking. It means that someone who criticises Islamist political claims, for instance, can be dismissed as an anti-Muslim bigot. It is also an attack on free speech.

Although last year’s article focused on the UN definition of Islamophobia it applies to other definitions too. For example, Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) report from 2018 defines it in the following terms: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. This definition too, while substantially using substantially different wording to the UN won, embodies exactly the same problem. It muddles together anti-Muslim bigotry, criticism of Islam as a faith and Islamist politics.

The seminal Runnymede Trust report from 1997, influential not just in Britain but beyond, is if anything more problematic. It makes a distinction between eight closed views of Islam, which it views as negative, and eight open views (p5). Yet some of the “closed” views it derides could be seen as fair descriptions of Islamism. Number four is that “Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’”. Number five describes “Islam seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage”. Although the references in the text are to “Islam” the broadness of its definition assumes there is no significant difference between it and Islamism. Indeed it is often denied that that such a distinction exists.

Under such circumstances it is clear why Islamists fervently welcome the notion of Islamophobia. For one thing it provides them with the perfect means to deflect criticism. Anyone who expresses qualms about Islamist initiatives can in effect be condemned as a bigot. Indeed Islamist groups and their supporters can gain legitimacy by presenting themselves as campaigners against Islamophobia. That is just one of the points I did not raise last year.

More broadly the notion of Islamophobia provides fertile ground for what Frank Furedi, a British sociologist, has called “identity entrepreneurs”. That is those who use every opportunity to promote identity politics. 

Indeed there is a substantial bureaucratic machinery for those who want to promote the flawed notion of Islamophobia in the wider context of identity. That includes in the UN, European Union, national governments, local councils and universities. In that respect the Islamophobia industry can be seen as part of a wider race relations and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) bureaucratic complex. There is a whole layer of professional activists dedicated to spreading these flawed concepts.

Finally, the Islamophobia complex provides a way of cementing the alliance between Islamists and supporters of woke politics. It is another one of several key features they have in common in addition to anti-modernity, hostility to democracy, an aversion to the nation state, intolerance, censoriousness and identitarianism. Anti-Semitism is of course never far beneath the surface with either group. 

PHOTO: "Trump stop spreading terror - end islamophobia." by alisdare1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The aftermath of the 7 October Hamas pogrom in Israel has made the rethinking of anti-Semitism a more urgent task than ever. Both the extent and character of anti-Semitism is changing. Tragically the open expression of anti-Semitic views is once again becoming respectable. It has also become clearer than ever that anti-Semitism is no longer largely confined to the far right. Woke anti-Semitism and Islamism have also become significant forces.

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