What Islamophobia Is and Is Not
By Mustafa Akyol
March 18 2015
The term “Islamophobia” entered the global political language in the past decade. The New American Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially when feared as a political force.” Yet in fact there are ample reasons to think Islamophobia is now a “political force” in itself, represented by far-right groups in the West, such as “The Freedom Party” in Holland or the Pegida Movement in Germany. Alas, this political force has even had terrorist outcomes; Andrew Breivik, a Norwegian who killed 77 people in a 2011 massacre, and Craig Stephen Hicks, an American who murdered three of his Muslim neighbours in February 2014, were apparently driven by Islamophobia.
But what really makes somebody an Islamophobe? Worrying about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban and other extremist groups who kill or oppress people in the name of Islam? No, such worries are justified and they are shared by many Muslims as well. The existence of these groups, along with the oppressive “Islamic” states on Earth such as Saudi Arabia, indicates certain interpretations of Islam are really troubling. Islamophobia is to perceive these troubling interpretations as the only way Islam can be understood, and thus to perceive all Muslims as potential threats.
In fact, most Islamophobes would tell you that they are not “against all Muslims,” and that they have no problem with “moderate” ones. But their definition of a “moderate Muslim” often comes close to a self-hating Muslim; you have to denounce your own religion, and applaud those who do so, to gain their blessing. Or maybe they don’t go too far, but still take every sign of committed Muslim-ness as a sign of your “radicalness.” Are you a bit too conservative and observant? Are your political views too critical of Western foreign policy? Are you pro-Palestinian? These can easily mark you as a “radical.” The more you explain yourself, the more you become a “closet radical” or even a “Trojan horse.”
One such name-calling was a recent article in the British Daily Telegraph targeting one of the prominent names of the British Muslim community, Mudassar Ahmed, who has done much “to strengthen transatlantic security cooperation and Muslim-Jewish ties,” in the words of British Member of Parliament Yasmin Qureshi. But the writer of the article, Andrew Gilligan, was not impressed with all the reasonable and helpful work Ahmed has done, and rather dug up something in his past: Ahmed’s brief involvement during his youth in the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), which is banned from many universities as a hate group. Gilligan, however, failed to mention Ahmed publicly condemned the MPAC, and is now millions of miles away from this agitated group.
What really impressed me in Mr. Gilligan’s article (titled “Islamic ‘radicals’ at the heart of Whitehall,” Feb. 22) was a term he used, “entryism,” which happens when “a political party or institution is infiltrated by groups with a radically different agenda.” Accordingly, many British Muslims have been guilty of “entryism” for joining British institutions with “a radically different agenda” that Her Majesty’s government has not seen, but extremely sharp people, who are brave enough to be “politically incorrect,” have.
As such, “entryism” reminded of another –ism: McCarthiysm. That was hype during the Cold War, when communism was indeed a legitimate source of concern for the West. But there were also fear-mongers such as Senator Joseph McCarthy, who made a name and career by pumping paranoia. The West should be wise enough today to not fall into the same trap for the second time.