What is “Islamophobia”?

In a comment at 3quarksdaily (on the posting by Robin Varghese  about Jerry Coyne’s response to Glen Greenwald’s criticism of Sam Harris’ attitude to Islam), Abbas Raza objects to Coyne’s and Harris’ claim that those who complain of Islamophobia never define it, and he points to the following (from Greenwald):

It signifies (1) irrational condemnations of all members of a group or the group itself based on the bad acts of specific individuals in that group; (2) a disproportionate fixation on that group for sins committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups, especially one’s own; and/or (3) sweeping claims about the members of that group unjustified by their actual individual acts and beliefs.

Well that may look “like a definition” to Raza, but in fact it is not one.

(Or at least it is not a plausible definition of Islamophobia)

Because the definition following “it signifies” makes no reference to Islam or Muslims. It is plausibly a definition of a general class of predjudicial attitudes but is not a definition of Islamophobia per se.

Perhaps Greenwald (and Raza) mean to say that “Islamophobia” means one of these predjudicial attitudes applied willy-nilly to all Muslims. But then it would be a poorly chosen word because irrational fear and hatred of Muslims should be called Muslimophobia and one can (in my opinion quite rationally[1]) fear and hate Islam (or any other religion) without attaching the same fear and hatred to all of its nominal adherents. (And even an irrational fear of the religion is not the same as prejudice against its adherents)

Certainly the anti-Muslim prejudice that  Greenwald, Raza and others identify as “Islamophobia” does exist and is a problem, and it is also true that criticism of Islam is sometimes a cover for such antimuslim prejudice just as anti-zionism is sometimes a cover for antisemitism. But it is no more true that every criticism of Islam is antimuslim prejudice than that every criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and seeing the Islamophobia card played against every criticism of Islam is just as tiresome as seeing the antisemitism card played against every criticism of Israel.


[1] The sacred texts of most religions include passages whose naive interpretation is offensive and even if that interpretation is rarely put into practice it is quite rational to fear institutions whose lack of offense depends on sophisticated re-interpretations of what they actually say. (It may also be rational to overcome that fear in the light of other putative values of these religions, but I have never been of the opinion that one cannot rationally support opposite positions.)

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