Islamophobia and infidelophobia

The original version of this page was published at:
Islamophobia and its mirror


Islamophobia

"Islamophobia" ought to mean "an irrational fear of Islam". In fact, the word is often applied to critical attitudes towards Islam that are not based on fear, and which are often rational and relevant. There is little doubt that the purpose is often censorship of unwanted criticism of Islam, by branding the critic as suffering from Islamophobia.

One reason that some Muslims want to censor criticism of Islam is that they have a sense of unity, reflected in the concept of the ummah, the community of all Muslims. Criticism of Islam is often seen as an attack on Muslims in a way that criticism of other beliefs would not be seen as an attack on their believers. An example is a common attitude of Muslims towards apostasy, or ceasing to be a Muslim. Instead of being seen as a personal decision, perhaps a disappointment to the family but an act that can be tolerated, it is typically seen as an attack on the ummah, sometimes as treason, and therefore intolerable even to unrelated Muslims. In some countries, the death penalty may be demanded by Muslims who never knew the person concerned. He/she rejected Islam - and that carries a public, not a private, message!

Discussion of Islamophobia misses an important perspective - the attitudes of Muslims towards non-Muslims. This is discussed later on this page.

From Christopher Hitchens, A Test of Tolerance:

As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything "offensive" to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter …

As for the gorgeous mosaic of religious pluralism, it's easy enough to find mosque Web sites and DVDs that peddle the most disgusting attacks on Jews, Hindus, Christians, unbelievers, and other Muslims - to say nothing of insane diatribes about women and homosexuals. This is why the fake term Islamophobia is so dangerous: It insinuates that any reservations about Islam must ipso facto be "phobic." A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. Islamic preaching very often manifests precisely this feature, which is why suspicion of it is by no means irrational.

The Runnymede Trust's definition of Islamophobia

Although the word "Islamophobia" may have existed since the 1980s, in 1997 the Runnymede Trust provided a "diagnostic" for Islamophobia, in the form of the first four columns of the table below. According to the Runnymede Trust, "phobic dread of Islam is the recurring characteristic of closed views. Legitimate disagreement and criticism, as also appreciation and respect, are aspects of open views". The obvious flaw in this diagnosis is that it assumes that the open views are correct! It would be more accurate simply to label the third and fourth columns "Views unacceptable to most Muslims" and "Views acceptable to most Muslims" respectively. The commentary below is intended to reveal the unlikelihood that this table diagnoses what it purports to diagnose. The LBC (London Bible College) Centre for Islamic Studies has also commented on the Runnymede Report.

Then, near the bottom of this page, a "mirror" of this table is provided, swapping "Islam" & "the West", etc. In principle, this becomes a "diagnostic" for Infidelophobia, judging the attitudes of Muslims towards non-Muslims. In fact, it is as valid for judging Infidelophobia as the table provided by the Runnymede Trust is valid for judging Islamophobia - which is not very valid!

The Runnymede Trust's diagnostic for Islamophobia Commentary on the diagnostic
Distinctions Closed views of Islam Open views of Islam
1 Monolithic / diverse Islam seen as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities. Islam seen as diverse and progressive, with internal differences, debates and development.

Islam is certainly diverse, and has internal differences, for example between Sunnis and Shias, that have often led to armed conflict. The Wahhabi "difference and development" led to the Saudi Arabia type of fundamentalism. In other words, the "open" view here can be consistent with the "closed" views of 3 and 4 below. (Note - some Muslims themselves stress the unitary nature of Islamic belief and practice!)

Islam's responsiveness to new realities often appears to be reluctant, requiring close proximity to western influences. Examples of proximity include Muslim minorities in western democracies, and Turkey's desire to join the European Union.

2 Separate / interacting Islam seen as separate and other - (a) not having any aims or values in common with other cultures (b) not affected by them (c) not influencing them. Islam seen as interdependent with other faiths and cultures - (a) having certain shared values and aims (b) affected by them (c) enriching them.

Islam inevitably shares values where these are dictated by human nature. And it evolved in the 7th Century from other influences, including Christianity and local culture.

But it is not clear what other aims and values it now consistently shares. For example, Islam is incompatible with universal human rights, which is a major aim/value in other cultures. Value-sharing by Islam often appears to require close proximity to western influences. (See 1 above).

3 Inferior / different Islam seen as inferior to the West - barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist. Islam seen as distinctively different, but not deficient, and as equally worthy of respect.

A starting point for such a discussion is identification of whether universal human rights, sexual equality, science, technology, and democracy, are considered to be progress. If they are, then Islam will be evaluated as primitive and sexist, because to varying degrees it displays antipathy towards these. Islam's contributions to western civilisation were typically made at least 500 years ago, and the Islamic world has justly been described as a "science desert".

Judged by its own values, no doubt Islam will be seen as worthy of respect. But why should non-Muslims use that criteria, when they wouldn't use those values to judge their own culture?

4 Enemy / partner Islam seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in 'a clash of civilisations'. Islam seen as an actual or potential partner in joint cooperative enterprises and in the solution of shared problems.

It appears to be deliberate on the part of many terrorists that their acts of murder and mutilation should be associated with Islam. They appear to see this linkage as a political tool. "Islamic terrorism" appears to be a "brand" developed by some influential Muslims. Similarly, international Muslim responses in the Salman Rushdie affair and the Mohammed cartoon affair appear to have been orchestrated by some Muslims to generate a clash with the non-Muslim world. Some Muslims appear to want people to adopt this "closed" view!

The answer lies in 1 above. Islam is diverse, with internal differences, and is not a monolithic bloc. It is as wrong to generalise it as "peaceful" as to generalise it as "supportive of terrorism". It has multiple faces, and in part both of these views are true. (See also 5 below).

5 Manipulative / sincere Islam seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage. Islam seen as a genuine religious faith, practised sincerely by its adherents.

Islam is both of these, practised in different proportions by different people in different societies. Attitudes towards human rights, family law and sexual equality, financial transactions, foreign relations, criminal justice, science, and democracy, are topics that might appear in a typical political manifesto. (They can be seen in UK party manifestos since WW2). Attitudes towards supernatural beings such as a god and angels are topics that might appear in a typical religion.

Many, perhaps virtually all, of the negatives attitudes (other than disguised racism) towards Islam by non-Muslims are in response to the political manifesto, not to the religion. Modern western societies are typically tolerant towards genuine religions. They are not so tolerant towards "alien" political manifestos, because while religion can be a personal matter without significant impact on others, the political aspects typically affect non-Muslims. At this point, non-Muslims draw the line, and often resist.

6 Criticism of West rejected / considered Criticisms made by Islam of 'the West' rejected out of hand Criticisms of 'the West' and other cultures are considered and debated.

Given the degree to which many non-Muslims themselves criticise aspects of western values, it is probably rare that such criticisms are rejected out of hand! "The West", like Islam (1 above), is diverse, not monolithic, and should be seen as such by Muslims, and not be criticised en masse.

But Muslims have to tolerate rejection of their criticisms by individual western democratic cultures, in spite of any antipathy by Muslims towards democracy itself. Non-Muslims often have their own criticisms of "the West" rejected! That is life in western democracies.

7 Discrimination defended / criticised Hostility towards Islam used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society. Debates and disagreements with Islam do not diminish efforts to combat discrimination and exclusion.

Discrimination of people on factors that are irrelevant to the situation is unacceptable. But exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society is sometimes self-inflicted. When Muslims criticise mainstream society (6 above) they may also tend to exclude themselves from it.

Whether they are being excluded from society can only be judged in cases where Muslims have made the same efforts as others to be included in mainstream society.

8 Islamophobia seen as natural / problematic Anti-Muslim hostility accepted as natural and 'normal'. Critical views of Islam are themselves subjected to critique, lest they be inaccurate and unfair.

These views are not in the same dimension! One is about anti-Muslim hostility, in other words hostility towards people, which is unacceptable. The other is about criticism of Islam, in other words criticism of a religion, and that can be healthy and should be encouraged.

Muslims themselves, especially Muslim women who are probably more than half of all Muslims, may benefit from criticism and reform of Islam. Much criticism of Islam is prompted by sympathy towards the Muslims who currently suffer from the consequences of Islam. Perhaps some Muslims would say "mind your own business". But people who believe in universal human rights typically believe this is their business.


"Infidelophobia" - holding a mirror up to Muslims

Discussion of Islamophobia misses an important perspective - the attitudes of Muslims towards non-Muslims. Irrational disproportionate reactions by Muslims were seen internationally during the Salman Rushdie affair and the Mohammed cartoon affair. The people who published the Mohammed cartoons were not Muslims, and so not bound by the taboo. And perhaps only tens of people were involved in the decision to publish the cartoons. Yet many Muslims reacted destructively against targets that were obviously nothing to do with those people.

This suggests that there is a frequent attitude by Muslims towards non-Muslims that needs to be explained. It can't be dismissed simply as a reaction to Islamophobia - it is an attitude revealed when non-Muslims don't conform to Muslim standards. Words that have been used for it include Infidelophobia, Infidelphobia, Westophobia, and Westphobia. But perhaps it isn't fear, and instead simply intolerance of contradictory values, accompanied by an arrogant assumption that Islam is "the one true religion" that should be accepted as privileged, even by people with other beliefs.

Whatever the nature of the attitudes of Muslims towards non-Muslims, it needs to be studied. It influences discussions about Islamophobia itself. For example, it may influence some Muslims to treat "the West" as a single coherent society, or to assume that the attitudes of non-Muslims towards Muslims mirrors their own attitudes towards non-Muslims.

If the Runnymede Trust's diagnostic tool is considered to be valid for Islamophobia, then surely a mirror of it will be valid for Infidelophobia/Westophobia? (Or for phobia about dar al-harb, the non-Muslim world). This version of the table simply swaps "Islam" & "the West", and "Muslim" & "non-Muslim", and so can be used to examine the attitudes of Muslims towards the West, or to judge discrimination against non-Muslims in Islamic states. (It inherits the flaws of the Runnymede Trust's original table). It is illuminating to evaluate speeches by influential Muslims using this table!

The mirror of the Runnymede Trust's diagnostic tool Commentary on the diagnostic
Distinctions Closed views of the West Open views of the West
1 Monolithic / diverse The West seen as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities. The West seen as diverse and progressive, with internal differences, debates and development. Many Muslim attitudes towards "the West" are based on the "closed" view. Indeed, the Runnymede Trust's table itself appears to assume a "closed" view of "the West".
2 Separate / interacting The West seen as separate and other - (a) not having any aims or values in common with other cultures (b) not affected by them (c) not influencing them. The West seen as interdependent with other faiths and cultures - (a) having certain shared values and aims (b) affected by them (c) enriching them.  
3 Inferior / different The West seen as inferior to Islam - barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist. The West seen as distinctively different, but not deficient, and as equally worthy of respect. The closed view is often expressed by Muslims across the world.
4 Enemy / partner The West seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in 'a clash of civilisations'. The West seen as an actual or potential partner in joint cooperative enterprises and in the solution of shared problems.  
5 Manipulative / sincere The West seen as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage. The West seen as a genuine religious faith, practised sincerely by its adherents. This doesn't work well, because "the West" is not a religion. But ... some Muslims talk about "the West" in religious terms, such as referring to western attitudes as Zionist.
6 Criticism of Islam rejected / considered Criticisms made by the West of Islam rejected out of hand Criticisms of Islam and other cultures are considered and debated. Accusations of "Islamophobia" sometimes appear to be examples of the closed view.
7 Discrimination defended / criticised Hostility towards the West used to justify discriminatory practices towards non-Muslims and exclusion of non-Muslims from mainstream society. Debates and disagreements with the West do not diminish efforts to combat discrimination and exclusion. Note that this is about discriminatory practices towards non-Muslims, and exclusion of non-Muslims from mainstream society, in Islamic states. It is rife.
8 Infidelophobia seen as natural / problematic Anti-non-Muslim hostility accepted as natural and 'normal'. Critical views of the West are themselves subjected to critique, lest they be inaccurate and unfair. Sometimes the closed view appears to be required!