There is a rather disconcerting idea touted by so-called progressives on the order of: Islamophobia is on the rise in the West: most particularly in Europe and the United Sates. The idea itself presupposes that there is such a phenomenon as Islamophobia and that it is some nefarious and specious contaminant in our cultures and, that if left unchecked, would see the unrelenting evisceration of the dignity of Muslim peoples.
Islamophobia is defined as the irrational dread or hatred of Islam and, therefore, the fear and dislike of all Muslims; that it discriminates against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social and public life of the respective nations in which such phobia occurs. Other definitions seek to link it with social anxiety about Islam and Muslims.Let me say, as a social democrat, that there is no single piece of evidence that in the wake of 9/11 attacks in the United States and the Islamic terrorists attacks in England and Spain that Muslims have been subjected to anything nearing the definition of Islamophobia. Quite the contrary. The West has exercised unprecedented restraint in its treatment of Muslims, making sure to point out as George Bush did after the attacks, that America was not at war with Muslims but with terrorist cells. There were no mass burning of Mosques, no wholesale vandalization of Muslim businesses, no mass murders of Islamicists and Muslims of the moderate, fundamentalist and extremist stripes.
The Western hating radicals were still free to tout their hatred of England in Trafalgar square, spewing invectives and death threats against the Queen and ordinary British citizens. Various organizations such as Islam4UK have openly advocated a complete implementation of sharia law in Britain, adding that it is part of the forthcoming Islamic revolution. Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands continued to admit good Muslim refugees as well dubious right wing religious fundamentalists bent on radicalizing the youth—and all the while these welfare states continued the suicidal mission of supporting their political, moral and social destroyers with welfare checks and free health care. If such are not acts of beneficence and moral selflessness then nothing is. Both Europe and the United States have gone to great lengths to protect the religious freedoms of Muslims, even those who state openly that they intend to kill their western enemies in the name of religion.
Make no mistake about it. In the absence of religious reciprocity such as we find in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Gulf States, Christians who committed attacks of wanton, indiscriminate acts of terrorism would not only be killed, but their religious counterparts—all Christians within reach—would be decimated in an instant. What westerners are suffering from is moral trauma and rightful fear of extremism and fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism in secular, largely atheistic Europe is Islamic fundamentalism. There are no religious right wing groups with the same degree of influence over large populations such as we find occurring under Islamic fundamentalism. Christian right wing movements and their adherents in Europe are regarded as pathological, freaks–fringe morons. No one takes them seriously except their few and deluded followers. Not so with the Islamic fundamentalists who are radicalizing Muslim youth all over Europe at an unprecedented rate and, whose religious practices are taken by serious politicians and intellectuals as worth protecting and preserving in the name of religious freedom, heterogeneity, pluralism and multiculturalism.
No rational person suffers from a phobia against destructive ideologies of hatred and murder. Even the outlawing of the burka by the French government was a moral move against the discriminatory ideology behind the burka. The ideology is one that promotes gender apartheid which is just as heinous as racial apartheid. Gender equality like racial equality is an unassailable value in the west; one of the moral axioms that is a linchpin undergirding our democratic institutions promoting freedom, civil liberties, equality in the public sphere, equality before the law and bodily integrity.
The burka is, really, a misanthropic symbol effacing a woman’s identity and tells a frightening narrative about the status of woman as a particular type of symbol in society. It is not a pretty narrative. The French law, far from being a case in Islamophobia, is an implacable moral and political statement on the order of: we will not endorse that vision, treatment and violation of women on French soil. Our republic does not and will not stand for sex inequality. This is not a case of Islamophobia. It is a moral defense of the virtues and values upholding and sponsoring gender equality and the concomitant bodily integrity that goes along with it.
For those who say the burka is a complex phenomenon beyond easy moral judgment. I will quote my dear friend and fellow philosopher Glynis Cousin who said to me: “Do we suspend moral judgment in our evaluation of lynching because it refuses the complexities of white supremacy?! This word ‘complex’ seems to me to be empty of meaning and it is deployed so often to defer judgement. It also seems to me that Europe/West are consigned to a naughty corner as a form of moralism and this continually produces a victimist response from those claiming to speak for the non-west.”
One final note. The anti-concept Islamophobia is really a misnomer. It equates legitimate criticism of Islamic totalitarianism with irrational fear and dread of Muslims in general. Hence it conflates a form of rational scrutiny with actual cases of real prejudice against Muslims for politically expedient purposes—to neutralize all criticisms as intrinsically derogatory and irrational. When we resort to these sorts of logical infelicities we undermine the very basis for that which keeps our democracies alive and vibrant: Human fallibilities are tempered and corrected by open, transparent debate and rational argumentation. When we refrain from directing such criticisms and debates against destructive extremism, then it is our own minds, our rational discourses and moral axioms that we have a phobia of.