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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Thanks to the national anthem for the link and the link to this post on Islamophobia in pro-war blogland. I'd just recommend reading the whole thing because it's hard to excerpt it. But I think this is something worth having a closer look at:

I've long, as a Jew, found a highly useful test for distinguishing legitimate commentary from hate; I take the noun of the statement in question, switch it to "Jew," or the adjective to "Jewish," and see how I think it stands up.
One can also switch out, say, one religious figure for another who did things, in a different religious tradition, we now would call horrible and despicable. Enjoy the game! "If the bastard wasn't a Jew they would have said so." "I'd just be satisfied with covering those Jews with pork chops and putting them in a pit full of rottweillers."
Feel free to use "Christian, " or "atheist," or "Hindu," or whatever works best for yourself.

The good thing about this method is that we in the West are more used to recognizing and condemning anti-Semitism for sad historical reasons. Anti-Islamic and Anti-Muslim prejudice is however something we haven' t quite got a grip on yet, I feel.
However I would alter this recommendation slightly. When discussing Islam the religion, don't replace it with Judaism. Judaism is a religion closely linked with Jewish ethnicity and thus is not easily comparable with a universal religion like Islam. For me personally, I find it more effective to replace Islam with Christianity, and then imagine that Christianity is a minority religion. On the other hand the Jewish comparison works quite well when you look at bigoted remarks about Muslims as people. Try out some of the examples Gary Farber quotes and I think you'll see what I mean.
Just to be entirely clear, there is nothing wrong with criticising Islam the religion. It is not something for me as I prefer to sweep in front of my own door, but there is no reason to be opposed completely. As for hating Islam, that is slightly different and depends strongly on the context. If, like with Polly Toynbee, that hatred is combined with an equal hatred of all religion I would simply think it's a wrong way to look at religion per se which plays an important role in human existence and can't just be wished away. But if the only religion being subjected to hatred were Islam I would certainly feel that somebody is fishing around in murkier waters.
And this is where it comes to the question of being bigoted towards Muslims, as opposed to be being bigoted towards Islam. I know, many will think I'm trying to split hair atoms here, but I think there is a difference and that that difference is quite significant too. Hating Islam is at its worst just irritating and I wouldn't use the term Islamophobia to describe such an attitude that I would go talking of Christophobia, Hinduphobia etc. Islamophobia is a term I would use to describe a hatred of people who are Muslim. This hatred is then accompanied by a whole plethora of conspiracy theories and fear mongering. It breeds an image of Muslim people as incorrigibly evil and tries to eliminate their human individuality. If you find something and you're confused whether you think it fits this bill, just replace Muslim with Jew/Jewish and then see what effect it has and try to compare it to the kind of things the Nazis said about Jews. That is what I would understand as Islamophobic. And that is a dangerous bigotry that we must recognize and condemn as the evil it is.
Update: Had to make a highly embarrasing correction (see comments below).

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Thanks muchly for the link and kind words. Just for the record, my name is "Gary Farber," not "Gary Faber."

Thanks again for reading me!
How embarrasing. Thanks for pointing that out to me. It shall be duly corrected. And thanks again for the great posting.

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