Why the Term ‘Islamophobia’ Is a Useful One
I hate arguing. I really do. It’s too confrontational. That’s why I like to write Cartoon Logic. It’s entirely one-sided. I put forward my point of view and throw it out into the silent ether. People can comment, sure, but The Hippo Collective is still a baby, and as far as I am aware, no one, on Cartoon Logic, has.
Indeed, I try to avoid encouraging comments as best I can, because of my morbid fear of criticism. The greatest defensive barrier I have is that Cartoon Logic is ‘silly’. You can’t seriously criticise silly stuff, because, well, it’s silly. I write silly things like ‘Jeremy Corbyn will devour everyone you love’ and ‘the Prime Minister is in Shrek the Third’. I describe futures in which Noel Edmonds is powered by coal and has only one eye. I try to make interesting points here and there, sure. But then again, it is called ‘Cartoon’ Logic for a reason.
Subsequently, I admire the serious columnists of the world, none more so than my contemporaries on this site; Matt Turner of Something for the Left of Us and John Byron of A Conservative Perspective. I always feel slightly fraudulent when I look over at the side bar and see my column included with theirs. They put their opinions on the line, while I hide behind whimsy.
Anyway, like I said, I hate arguments. It honestly gives me no pleasure, therefore, to attempt to start one with John Byron. But I feel that a dialogue needs to be established, and I look forward to John’s response to what follows. You see, John wrote some things in his column entitled ‘Why the Term ‘Islamophobia’ Should Be Dropped by the Media’ which he honestly needs to take a careful look at. I’d like to ask him to read through his column again, carefully, and pay particular attention to the things I’m about to point out.
Firstly, in his opening paragraph, John argues that:
“…in a post-911 world, one religion above all others has been given a special status and has become free from criticism and derision (under threat of persecution and jail sentences in some countries). That religion is Islam.”
Come on, John. Islam isn’t free from criticism. If it was, the attack on Charlie Hebdo most certainly wouldn’t have happened. Here are some other occasions on which Islam has been criticised. The point is, criticism shouldn’t ever be met with fundamentalist violence, which it was, on all those occasions. It’s totally disproportionate. That’s like using your Level 100 Charizard to Fireblast Pidgeys on Route 1. I’m sure we can both agree on that.
I can’t let John’s reporting of The Daily Telegraph’s reporting of that 2015 ComRes poll slide, either. I can’t, John. I want to. But I can’t. He writes:
“As reported in the Telegraph, 27 percent of British Muslims sympathise with the Charlie Hebdo attackers. As Britain’s Muslim population is now over 2.5 million, this means that over 500,000 of them endorse the hateful atrocities committed in Paris (not just on the people of France, but on freedom of speech as well).”
Slow down, John. I’m not sure your evidence supports your conclusion. You state that ‘27% of British Muslims sympathise with Charlie Hebdo attackers’. You use that titbit to conclude that 27% of British Muslims endorse the attacks. But that doesn’t work, does it? Sympathising with someone is not the same as endorsing their actions. You might sympathise with the fathers’ right movement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you endorse throwing condoms filled with purple flour at Tony Blair. (Yes, that really happened.)
But hold on. Because the ComRes report that the Telegraph report was based on actually stated that 27% of British Muslims, and I quote: “have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.” You’ve missed out some important words there John, words that even the Telegraph included. So let’s examine your logic again. ‘I have some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks’ translates to ‘I sympathise with the attackers’ translates to ‘I endorse the attacks’. That’s two steps too far, John. In fact, they actually asked the sample group whether organisations which publish images of the Prophet Mohammad deserve to be attacked. Only 11% agreed. Again, the Telegraph did mention this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that about 11% of any given population is as dangerously illiberal. We can’t find out for certain, because Whitehall recently stopped doing comparative surveys of communities.
John concludes in a somewhat more reasonable way. He writes:
“Prejudice against anyone for their religious beliefs is, to put it briefly, wrong… Being able to freely express oneself on any subject is the lifeblood of any fit democracy, and to have completely justifiable arguments labelled as a ‘phobia’ by the opposition is an incredibly crude and ungentlemanly way to debate.”
We agree perfectly here. To label an argument that is not islamophobic as islamophobic would be wrong. The title of your column states that the term islamophobia should be dropped by the media. You also argue that prejudice against anyone for their religious beliefs is wrong. So what would you call it then, John? There’s this really useful word that sums up prejudice against Muslims. It’s ‘islamophobia’. Why get rid of it? It’s a word that does a job that needs doing. People might misuse it, but that’s not the word’s fault. People might misuse the word avocado, but that doesn’t mean we should ban guacamole.
Seriously though, I wouldn’t call any of the arguments I’ve highlighted above islamophobic, because they’re not. Not really. They’re just not correct. I’ve avoided calling John islamophobic so far, because he hasn’t said anything particularly islamophobic. We agree that it’s not useful to use the term unless there’s a perfectly good reason to use it.
Which brings me to my final point. At one juncture, John makes a bit of a sweeping statement. He stumbles from the path of good reason and characterises Islam as a “faith that has caused misery and oppression worldwide”. Let me repeat that. John thinks Islam is a faith that has caused misery and oppression… worldwide.
Are you 100% sure you want to stand by this one, John? Islam has caused misery and oppression worldwide?! As in everywhere? Really? Think about the implications of this. Tell me I’ve misunderstood. Tell me it’s a joke. Be really careful here. Because if you truly, truly stand behind this gross generalisation, this plainly obvious falsehood, this blunt example of prejudice against Muslims, I would have to do something I really don’t want to. I’d have to label you as islamophobic.
There are other points I should pick John up on, but this piece is already over a thousand words long. Nonetheless, that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely why I think the term ‘islamophobia’ shouldn’t be dropped by the media.