James Bloodworth‘s blogpost beseeching English speakers to stop using the term “Islamophobia” garnered some attention recently. He has the sneaking suspicion that the term resembles characteristics one expects from slick “Orwellian” style PR campaigns. For Bloodworth the main concern seems to be his belief that the term “Islamophobia” will make it harder to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Islam and anti-Muslim prejudice.
Bloodworth makes the sweeping claim that,
It is now possible to shut down almost any contemporary political debate by blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Islam and the anti-Muslim prejudice of the far-right.
Where is the evidence for such a claim? Bloodworth does not provide it in his article. In fact, the opposite seems to be true; contemporary political debates are filled with claims by populist and fearmongering fascist politicians that they are just “criticizing Islam,” when in reality they are stoking hate and promoting irrational anxieties and myths about both Islam and Muslims. One only has to recall the mosque controversies, anti-Sharia’ drives, attempts to redefine Islam as not a religion but a political ideology, etc.
Bloodworth also altogether rejects any “racist” component to anti-Muslim bigotry,
[t]erms like “islamophobic racism” – a further extension of the concept of islamophobia -, which conflate the idea of “race” (the way a person is born) with religion (a set of ideas passed on in the home, the school and the community).
This simplistic analysis ignores the fact that irrational fears about Islam are quite often tied to race. For example when Fox News commentator Juan Williams says he feels “worried” and “nervous” when he sees people dressed in “Muslim garb,” he is identifying Islam with particular cultural appearances and races.
In a further attempt at delegitimizing “Islamophobia,” Bloodworth gives space in his blog to the theory that the coinage of “Islamophobia” had its root in the minds of the “mad” Mullah’s of Tehran during the Iranian Islamic Revolution; relying of all people on the so-called “French feminist” Caroline Fourest.
Interestingly, the French feminist writer Caroline Fourest makes the claim that the word Islamophobia was originally popularised by the Mullahs during the Iranian revolution, where the term was employed to describe those women who bravely refused to wear the hijab.
Bloodworth does not seek to verify Fourest’s claim, and he fails to mention that Fourest has made her career on what has essentially been an Islamophobic witch-hunt of the European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, whom she accuses of “double speak” and the old bogeyman of taqiyya. So it is strange that Bloodsworth would cite Fourest, whose credentials on this topic are dubious at best.
In Garibaldi’s article, Islamophobia is Not a Neologism Anymore–It’s Mainstream he notes that “Islamophobia” was first employed as a term in the 1920′s,
The first occurrence of the term Islamophobia “appeared in an essay by the Orientalist Etienne Dinetin L’Orient vu de l’Occident (1922),” however it did not enter into “common parlance” until the early 90′s.
Oddly, Bloodworth must think that the French have some special providence to speak on matters related to Islam and Islamophobia because he once again cites a French author to prove Islamophobia is a “crude” term. This time he cites nouveaux philosopher Pascal Bruckner, writing,
As Pascal Bruckner puts it in his book The Tyranny of Guilt, “To speak of Islamophobia is to maintain the crudest confusion between a religion, a specific system of belief, and the faithful who adhere to it…Must we then speak of anticapitalist, antiliberal, antisocialist, and anti-Marxist racism?”.
Bruckner, a staunch ally and supporter of loon Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes there is an “Islamic offensive in Europe” and that words like “Islamophobia” just muddle this “reality.” Does Bloodworth likewise believe there is an “Islamic offensive” in Europe? Isn’t this exactly the kind of paranoid conspiracy talk that he wants to differentiate from legitimate “criticism” of Islam?
Finally, one must question whether Bloodworth would be consistent in his criticism of terms that may not completely, to his liking, precisely, describe certain hateful phenomena. Take anti-Semitism, as Garibaldi notes,
We are not going to stop using anti-Semitism because some fail to delineate “what is and what is not ‘anti-Semitism.’” Or because the term excludes Semites who are non-Jews.
Bloodworth’s article is a little late: “Islamophobia” as a term to describe anti-Muslim prejudice and irrational fears about Islam is mainstream now. It has reached an irretractable point in our language, a fact witnessed by its usage in academia and various mediums of media. It is up to scholars, politicians, journalists, bloggers and activists to make sure that they use terms like Islamophobia and anti-Semitism responsibly; being careful not to confuse or conflate legitimate criticism of Islam or Islamism and Judaism or Zionism with racism and prejudice.