The Corner

Religion

Is ‘Islamophobia’ an Invention?

Brendan O’Neill at Spiked has an excellent essay on the false equivalence — peddled by some Muslim leaders and activists in England — of equating Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. He writes:

But it is wrong, and historically infantile, to speak about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the same breath. This isn’t to say that there is no anti-Muslim prejudice. Of course there is. Some people are deeply suspicious of Muslims and even view them as the despoilers of our apparently hitherto pristine European civilisation. And some Tories – very minor Tories – appear to have shared memes or articles that contain such views. That’s bad. But anti-Semitism is different.

Anti-Semitism is older. It is far more entrenched in certain European circles. It is far more historically given to mass acts of violence, from pogroms to extermination. And – the really crucial bit – its re-emergence always tells us something important about the destabilisation of society and its descent once again into irrationalism, conspiracism, scapegoating, and fear of modernity. That is why the recent return of anti-Semitism, as a reformulated Socialism of Fools, leading to the casual spread of pseudo-radical conspiracy theories and even to horrific anti-Jewish violence and graffiti in countries like France, Belgium and Sweden, deserves our serious attention. Because this return of the old hatred speaks to an unhinging, a moral disarray, a crisis of reason. And yet if we focus too hard on this, and try to have a reckoning with it, the opinion-forming set will breathe down our necks: ‘And Muslims? What about them? You don’t care?’ It looks increasingly like a tactic of distraction.

Anti-Muslim prejudice unquestionably exists, but Islamophobia is an invention. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the Runnymede Trust, one of Britain’s leading race-equality think-tanks. It openly boasts that it is ‘credited with coining the term Islamophobia… in 1997’. And what does this term Islamophobia mean? It doesn’t mean racial hatred. Runnymede’s definition of Islamophobia, which has been adopted by the Metropolitan Police, includes any suggestion that Islam is ‘inferior to the West’, and even the belief that Islam is sexist. If you think Islam is ‘unresponsive to change’, you are Islamophobic. And, get this, if you ‘reject out of hand’ ‘criticisms of the West made by Islam’, you’re an Islamophobe. So even to ridicule Islam’s view of the West is apparently to be infected with the ‘cancer’ of this so-called racism.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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