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Janet Keeping: The Irrationality of Islamophobia

Janet Keeping

Janet Keeping

Well worth the read!

The Irrationality of Islamophobia

by Janet Keeping

CALGARY, AB, Jan. 3, 2010/ — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Muslim from Nigeria and a passenger on a commercial airliner destined for Detroit, is charged with attempting to blow the plane up. The Christmas-day near-catastrophe was the perfect scenario to feed further fear of Muslims. It should not.

Certain strains of Islam, like some varieties of Christianity and other belief systems, preach seriously dangerous ideas. With careful thought we can sort the real threats to our peaceful, democratic way of life from what is harmless, that, is, “different”. Without such careful thought, we will get more irrational mistrust of everything Muslim – more Islamophobia, pure prejudice. Lazy thinking leads to the bad; careful reflection is necessary for the good.

Consider the Swiss ban on minarets, the towers adorning some mosques. There are four mosques in Switzerland with minarets. Nevertheless, organizers of the anti-minaret initiative are said to believe that “minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.” “Forced marriages [for example] – we don’t have that in Switzerland, and we don’t want to introduce it . . . Therefore, there’s no room for minarets in Switzerland.”

Faulty logic, bad thinking

The “logic” appears to be this: because minarets are an architectural detail associated with a religion, some forms of which are incompatible with modern European democracy, it is OK to prohibit the construction of minarets. This would be silly if it weren’t so frightening.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as much against forced marriage and other forms of oppression – so much of it directed towards women – as anyone (in fact, as an unabashed feminist, probably much more so). But the reasoning behind the anti-minaret vote is rubbish.

Consider some of the sorrier episodes in Christianity. Probably most infamous are the Crusades, a series of bloody military campaigns waged largely against Muslims to restore control over Middle Eastern lands viewed as holy by Christians. Things did not improve much over time – remember the Inquisition?

It is widely accepted that the Catholic Church was sympathetic to the Holocaust of Europe’s Jews and other minorities by the Nazis. Then there was the Dutch Reformed Church fervent support of Apartheid in South Africa. Strict division of races and the supposed superiority of whites lay at the heart of that religion’s teachings.

There is simply no doubt that enormous evil has been done in the name of Christianity or with the tacit support of some of its most prominent leaders. So should the Christian cross be banned? Of course not.

We face a choice: let ourselves be tricked into thinking that the symbol (minaret, cross or the like) is the problem, or think it through. We can let ourselves be used by the demagogues and endorse suppression of symbols. But this will do no good and at the same time lots of harm by alienating those for whom the symbol is precious.

A happier alternative

Or we can recognize that dealing constructively with diversity-engendered conflict requires effort and application of our best thinking.

With the influx of people from cultures very different from those found in the liberal democracies (for example, in Canada, the United States, western Europe, New Zealand and Australia), there will be tensions – as there always have been. Some of the practices brought by contemporary immigrants are unquestionably backward, for example, favouring male children over female, exclusion of women from public life, or forced marriage. But it wasn’t so long ago that mainstream Canadian society emerged from that dark misogynistic place itself, and it would be regressive in the extreme for us to slip back from the human rights gains made by women and others, such as gays.

But avoidance of Islamophobia is also a human rights imperative and, in order to achieve it, we need keep two things in mind. First, some versions of Islam are not anti-women or otherwise dangerous to human rights. So aversion to Islam per se is nonsense. Second, while we ought to struggle against the importation of backwards views, there is nothing bad or good about a minaret. It’s just an architectural detail – beautiful to some, not so much to others, but not inherently evil or in any way dangerous.

We must make a distinction — there are things to get properly excited about (for example, the oppression of women and attempts to blow up planes) and there are differences which present no threat at all (like minarets). It is repressive and undemocratic to ban the latter. It is right and good to oppose the former.

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  • i find it apalling that western feminists have got such a blindspot when it comes to the stunted lives some women are forced to lead in islamic countries.
    irrespective of the justification of “honour” for women hiding their faces, it turns them into depersonalised ghosts in public, and sets a very bad example with regard to equality, to their younger female relatives. i dont see how it can be healthy in any way for women to go round dressed all in black like some medieval leper.

  • Garo

    To: cudoin,February 18th,2010 at 3:08 pm.

    you could not make your comments without name-calling and using filthy words{.Admin Edit.}

    Using such words is indicative to me that you are one of those characters whom I call the lowest of the lows

    The content of my post of February 14,2010 at 8:26am must have hit a VERY
    SENSITIVE NERVE. Therefore, I adhere firmly to what I said in it.

  • Imad

    is this criticism or bigotry, cudoine?

    “The misbegotten term “Islamo-fascism” is wholly redundant: Islam itself is a kind of fascism that achieves its full and proper form only when it assumes the powers of the state.” (”

    the reason I have a problem with Spencer and critics like him is because he isn’t just critical of Islam- he’s intolerant of it. I’ve read the first chapter of the politically incorrect guide to Islam and there is dishonest manipulation in his facts

  • cudoine

    garo you’re an idiot, islamophobia is a construct to deflect criticism of islamic and muslim practices and beliefs. In fact if you would get off your ass and have a look at the tenets of islamic law you would find that much of the criticism leveled at islamic orthadoxy is legit and not stemming from either ignorance or bigotry. Let’s say for a moment that it was white bigotry that was responsible for attacks on islam, why are so many of islam’s critics not pursuing other minority groups with such vigour. Fucking fauxgressive idiots

  • Garo

    Thank you,Janet Keeping,for saying everything I wanted to say.

    As far as I am concerned,Islamophobia stems from IGNORANCE or BIGOTRY,or a combination of both. Both are extremely destructive in any social order, whether such a social order exists in the West or in the Islamic world.

    Therefore,Islamophobia,whether it is stemed from IGNORANCE or BIGOTRY or from both,must be fought and defeated by the pens,by the words of mouth and/or by the power of legislatures in every human social order,world wide.

  • Sir David

    Very odd comment Marc . Are you a ‘wee free’ member by any chance?
    Which religion had you in mind?
    They all have branches with extreem views
    I have friends in Scotland who have been called disbelievers and worse because they hang out clothes washing on a sunday.

  • Marc,,Ayrshire Scotland

    Shouldnt we judge all religions on how they treat or see the disbeliever??

  • retaane

    two Mooslims make threats on airplane, no wait……

    Two british white Anglo saxons arrested for threats but ofcourse why would you hear that on fox news!!!!

  • Danios

    Great article.

  • The guy who’s not imad :p

    “It is likely that his party will win the next election in 2011 with the possibility of Mr Wilders becoming Prime Minister”

    is this true??

  • The guy who’s not imad :p

    Islam prohibits forced marriage but ecourages arranged marriages, and studies have shown that divorces are lower arranged marriages.

  • George Carty

    Oops the link should be here.

  • George Carty

    In Britain’s Asian communities (I don’t know about other Western countries), forced marriage is often part of an immigration racket, designed to secure British citizenship for family members left behind in the home country. You can read an article here by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood.

  • Nabeela

    Well said Janet Keeping.

    The last paragraph summed it up beautifully. I’d event that focusing energies on minarets and making trival bans that will anger Muslims and further disenfranchise them, does not solve or help the real problem of those who oppress women, kill and murder innocents, and blow up planes in the name of Islam.

  • I keep seeing this falsehood repeated which alludes to Islam promoting or allowing “Forced marriages”, and I can’t figure out why since Islam specifically forbids forcing anyone into marriage, it is not a point on which any Islamic scholar could offer an opinion otherwise and still expect anyone to consider him (or her) an Islamic scholar.

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