There have been a lot of articles recently which take people like R. Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bill Maher and Sam Harris to task for being intolerant, hateful etc.  The tortured logic and subtle misrepresentations of these people's positions is often all the more hair-raising because it is usually couched in the 'I'm a liberal secularist, but...' vein. A recent one was a New Republic review of Dawkins' autobiography:

and the latest is from Salon:

After writing basically the same long-winded response in comment sections several times, I decided to turn this into a short essay, and I would like to hear any feedback this community has. Or, when you all tell me that it's perfect, I would love any suggestions on where I could post this in order to perhaps deter the next half-assed apologist from writing the next such article. Also, anyone who knows of concurring/contrasting diatribes on the same subject is invited to share.

In Defense of ‘Islamophobia’


In the wake of a recent rash of criticism of ‘strong secular’[1] condemnations of Islam, it seems necessary to elucidate a few lines of reasoning that are often too easily obscured by broad language and fallacious arguments.  Many exchanges over what level of criticism of Islam is appropriate from Westerners tend to be completely unproductive for such reasons, falling prey especially to ad hominem accusations of bigotry and racism. This essay attempts to explain the strong secular critique of Islam as a particular species of the secular critique of all religion, and to demonstrate that particularly strong criticism of Islam, in specific, is a justified response to particularly strong currents of violence in that religion.


The word ‘Islamophobia’ is completely unlike any other in our language.  A quick inspection of English vocabulary reveals that there has never been a comparable usage of the suffix ‘–phobia’, which connotes an irrational fear.  To place a person’s expressed reaction to a religion and culture on the same semantic level as such knee-jerk responses as recoiling from a spider or feeling vertigo is a subtle but meaningful distortion; to call a person ‘Islamophobic’ immediately discredits their views, however rationally supported, as having their basis in fear and misunderstanding. 

It is particularly ironic that most of those branded ‘Islamophobic’ are those who are critical of religion in general. Unlike partisans in a religious conflict, for example, these persons typically arrive at their strong condemnations of Islam after studying it closer, not as a result of irrational fear, personal hatred or ignorance.  While it cannot be conclusively proven that any particular person is or is not irrationally biased, it should be recognized that the conflation of criticizing Islam with the irrational fear implied by the designation ‘phobia’ is itself irrational.  In fact, the reactions of strong secularists to Islam can be described as something quite the opposite of a phobia, i.e. a rationally-based condemnation, hardly deserving to be placed in the same category as gut-clenching fear. Whether or not one agrees with their reasons for singling Islam out, one has at least to recognize that such reason-based criticism is a far cry from cringing at the sight of a crescent and star.


What, then, are the reasons the strong secularists give for the special attention they devote to criticizing Islam?  The most common impression seems to be that their argument amounts to a simple statement: ‘Islam is a violent religion’.  While this certainly expresses some of the spirit of their reasoning, it glosses over the important points that distinguish their position from one of simple out-of-hand condemnation. 

The most important omission from this simplified expression is the fact that true strong secularists are consistently critical of all religions and ideologies.  Many of those tarred as ‘Islamophobes’ are people who have devoted significant creative energies to critiquing religion in general, as well as specific religions other than Islam[2].  One will certainly never hear a secularist say that Christianity is a non-violent religion; the fact that there is less explicitly Christian violence today is mostly a result of social, political and economic factors, and it is easy enough to point to the historical record as a demonstration that Christianity has at least the potential for violence that Islam does.  Rather than categorizing religions as violent or non-violent, a strong secularist recognizes that most religions, certainly the all three Abrahamic ones, are vast and nebulous bodies of advice, prescriptions, proscriptions, philosophy and wisdom; it would be impossible to nail any one of them down to a particular point on a ‘violence spectrum’. We can see from historical example that the cherry-picking afforded by such a wide body of often contradictory scripture and tradition allows a wide leeway for ‘interpreting’ doctrine to suite one’s own ends.  A common reaction to strong secular criticisms of Islam is to say that it unfairly judges the essence of the religion based on those most extreme and violent manifestations of it.  While this is certainly something that should be guarded against, the opposite extreme is equally illogical; one should not assume, either, that Islam (or any other religion) has a noble, non-violent essence which violence is merely a perversion of.  An impartial observer cannot assign either expression of Islam validity or invalidity; he can only remark that both expressions are possible outcomes from the same source text and culture.

To elucidate why secularists single out Islam, however, two distinct points must be understood.  The first, simple point is that, of all the major religions today, Islam is the one most often and pervasively associated with violence.  The second, more abstract, is that religions can, in fact, have a differing levels of inherent violence or peacefulness. Christianity makes a poor point of comparison here, having in its history demonstrated a comparable potential for violence; instead, we will take the example of one of the world’s oldest religions, Jainism.

Jainism, briefly, is oriented around three major principles: Non-Violence, Non-Possession and Non-Absolutism.  In addition, they place a strong emphasis on historical awareness, culture and lifelong learning. Needless to say, not much violence comes out of the Jain community.  That which does has a much harder time excusing itself because the cultural backdrop against which it occurs is distinctly condemnatory of violence.  Contrast this to almost any other socio-religious setting, in which almost any violent act can be ascribed to (not to say excused by) religious motivations, owing to the extreme latitude for interpretation afforded by other religious cultures. 

The simplicity and clarity of Jainism’s attitude towards violence ensures that such violence as occurs will never excuse itself as ‘justified’.  Violence of any sort is always a human-scale phenomenon; only the culture in which it takes place can determine whether it will be discouraged or Magnified and Sanctified. The fact that violence perpetrated by Muslim ideologues is likely often based on political, economic or personal factors does nothing to erase the fact that their religion has elevated violence into a legitimate vehicle for expression. 

The Jains believe plenty of crazy things, as any strong secularist will say, and in an ideal world we would be rid of their superstitions as well as all others.  It is, after all, nothing more than a ‘cosmic accident’ that Jainism universally condemns violence rather than, for example, universally encouraging it.[3] However, reality demands priorities, and it should be clear that Jainism has a far lower inherent propensity for causing human suffering than Islam (and many other religions and ideologies).  A Jain facing the temptation to confront violence must choose it without the possibility of blaming it on ideology, which the Christian or Muslim who acts violently has as many religious justifications open to him as his fellows may have religious-based condemnations. 



An actual investigation of why contemporary Islam is the strongest force for explicit religious violence is beyond the scope of this essay.  It is hoped that the foregoing discussion should highlight the fact that strong secular critiques of violence are entirely conscious of socio-cultural, economic and political factors, and that seeking to paint the strong secular position as dismissing these factors in order to blame all religious violence on the religion itself is misrepresentation. The strong secularist makes no claims about the inherent violence of people (which could rightly be labeled bigotry or racism) but of religions themselves. 


[1] This term is used herein to denote criticisms of religion in toto that attempt to explain religious phenomena in rational and secular terms, and to answer religious claims with naturalistic explanations. Its use is intended to draw a contrast with ‘soft secularists’ who, while non-religious themselves, stop short of condemning others’ religious beliefs.

[2] It is instructive that many of those secularists most often accused of Islamophobia actually first gained notoriety as secularists for books critical of Christianity—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens are notable examples.

[3] The author knows of no such religion per se, but one need imagine nothing more exotic than movements in Christianity or Islam based on those verses which promote religious hegemony. 

Views: 2963

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

This is a great point that I didn't feel I was on a sound enough footing to substantiate.  It relates to what I said about there being possible inherent differences in religions. The fact that Islam has multiple, specific proscriptions against free interpretations of doctrine separates it dramatically from an 'ideology' like scientific rationalism (sarcastic quotes to indicate that many have accused of being an ideology) which places foremost emphasis on changing one's precepts based on evidence. To me, these methods of constructing and maintaining a worldview seem about as diametrically opposed as its possible to be, and one of them seems to have more inherent potential for promoting sanity.


Before you decide to take any action please be tested to see if you're a carrier of contagious  analysis paralysis. 

The thing about Islam is right out in the open, very simple until someone starts over analyzing it and trying to interpret it through their western understanding of things.

All you have to do is read islam and it will frigging tell you exactly what it is.  After that you ave a choice.  Do you trust what you just read or do you trust an Islamic apologist telling  you Mohammed never really meant all the hundreds of times he talked about christians and jews as being less than human and should be killed where ever they are found or do you believe the friggin majority of people in Islam who agree with Mohammed.

How hard is that?

From Davis Goodman in this thread:

Gary you are totally lost in a false-liberal haze.

You pulled the same phrase out for me, too. I had no idea what this "false-liberal" label means, much less what it means to you. Is it your term, or did you remember where you picked it up from?

There's an impasse in this conversation and it won't go anywhere and you seem set on going as far as necessary to condone horrific behaviour, claim it doesn't actually exist or blame it on anything or anyone other than those who are doing it.

You also pulled this kind of hyperbole on me (elsewhere), and ironically after accusing me of--in the same manner--misrepresenting your views. Look, I agree that these tactics cause impasse. But it discredits you to then use the same tactic in your rebuttal. (I call this hyperbole instead of hypocrisy to give us both the benefit of the doubt. I don't like impasses caused by monologues, either.)

Ditto the above when you slap the post-modernist label on me, like it's a meaningful generality. I might as well just slap a "FOX talking point" label on you, right... what's the difference? Again, I hope we can just call that a temporary lapse into hyperbole.

Take away the media, oil, western geo-politics and mass mistreatment of women, homosexuals and religious minorities STILL exist (and existed way before oil, mass media and geo-western politics were ever born). I don't know why you are so set on denying it. I'm not sure just how many statistics, how much field research and how many endless stories of barbaric suffering occur (systematically throughout the muslim world) it would take to convince you otherwise.

Well, yeah, that shit even existed even long before Islam. But I won't accuse you of denying it. I'll just accuse you of spinning it to fit an ad hom. (A minor ad hom, at least.)

Meanwhile, I'm still learning from most of what you're writing, and I appreciate the intelligence you can add to these discussions. I'm still working on that intelligence and those skills.

Post-modern relativism = complete incapability of recognising that some problems in non-western parts of the world can be generated by and sustained internally within those communities. Cultural norms are relative and this we cannot sensibly critique them if they come from outside our moral sphere (i.e. Mulims can cut each other's vaginas off and we have nothing to say about it). I stand by what I said.

False-liberalism = False liberalism extends certain post-modern sensibilities to such an extreme that it becomes unable to criticize anything outside the western sphere due to political correctness and exoticisation of other cutures. It basically negates the whole point of liberalism which is to critique unfair power structures, closed society, suffering of those who cannot defend themselves, unfair economic privilege. So thus...a liberal should critique cruelty and slavery and oppression but not if it is part of a culture which may be "misunderstood" or one that has had grievences or misunderstandings with the west in the past. I stand by what I said.

Neither of you have addressed most of my problems with your critiques of "Islamophobia". I've pointed out places where the typical tropes of western-menace don't apply (oil, globalization, hegemony etc.) and yet where systemic abuse is recorded by NGOs, athropological field work, questionnaires and other research. So why I've tried to ask is ... in these places what is left to blame psychotic abusive Islamic behaviour on? There is nothing. And so you are left with three possibilities. Either admit that perhaps these communities are responsible for the generation and perpetuation of their problems (of which Islam is the common string) or b: insist that there is some hidden western diabolical influence that we don't know about or simply assume it...or c) diminish just how bad things are (well...they're only chopping off vaginas but not executing's not as if every single husband beats up his wife's not like blood is flowing in the streets so really we shouldn't be critiquing them this way).

So what is the answer? How do you explain the insanity that goes on in the Muslim Islands of the Phillipines or in Mauritania or in Somalia where they have no resources to exploit, no western interference, Islamic anarchy, a general disengagement with Globalisation). What hidden western menace can you pull out of your hat to explain it away? Or what is it about Somalians mistreating each other is it that simply isn't so horrendous or "just not that bad" that we shouldn't critique it?

"So what is the answer? How do you explain the insanity that goes on in the Muslim Islands of the Phillipines or in Mauritania or in Somalia where they have no resources to exploit, no western interference, Islamic anarchy, a general disengagement with Globalisation)."

Delusion of the masses. 

The thing that scares me the most about extremist Islam faith is their total disregard for the sanctity of life. They are callous and indifferent to the plight of others, devoid of empathy. How can one suppress feelings of familial closeness to a sister while condemning her to death for being a victim of rape? It is insanity personified. 

One thing that gets lost when discussing Islam is that it has victimized up to 60 generations of people in the nations it dominates.  As hard as it is when faced with the atrocities committed by Muslims in the name of Islam try to remember they've been indoctrinated / brainwashed since birth, intimidated, terrorized and lied to for so long they have lost all awareness of alternatives to the oppression they live under.  However any acts of sympathy shown for people who are so indoctrinated are misplaced.  They have been trained all their lives to be defenders of of their static 7th century tribal ideology and enemies to all infidels and this should never be forgotten.  

If you want to understand honor killings, sex with children, the atrocities of Boca Haram, the terrorist insurgencies in the Phillipines, Mauritania, Somalia as well as many other things you need to know they are doing as good Muslims as taught to do.  They are taught to follow the words of the prophet and emulate his life with their own actions.  

That is all you need to know.  Everything they do is a reflection of the words of Mohammed or an imitation of him.  Boca Haram kidnaps dozens of non Muslim girls, forces them to convert and  takes them as brides just as Mohammed had his 7th century gangsters do. Fatwahs and assassinations of enemies of Islam are carried out the same way Mohammed did them in his time. Mohammed proudly proclaimed in the Quran he used terror to win battles and is imitated 1400 centuries later.  Mohammed and his men raped women and are imitated today. Mohammed married his first cousin and he has been imitated so long that inbreeding amongst Muslims has produced a plague of birth defects and mental deficiency that's seldom discussed in the west.  It's impossible for most of us westerners to believe. However even Health officials in the UK are finally discussing it.  Secular muslims who've escaped to the west insist it is true.

However any acts of sympathy shown for people who are so indoctrinated are misplaced.  They have been trained all their lives to be defenders of of their static 7th century tribal ideology and enemies to all infidels and this should never be forgotten.

I swear, I would like to see all extremists get wiped off the planet. But I can't give up empathy for the human beings forcefully brainwashed by their culture and traditions.

It's not that I don't understand or believe that (e.g.) honor killings happen. And I understand how literal interpretations of Islamic scripture support such atrocities. But only Muslims can reform Islam, short of all conservative Muslims being wiped off the planet. International proclamations have not teeth, but neither does the rhetoric in this thread.

Sure, the best solution would be for all religion to become as powerless as myth, so that human beings can take control of their own lives without fear of punishment from barbarians or the state. But the only two "solutions" I've seen proposed so far are 1) stop liberals from talking and 2) line all Muslims up by a ditch an bury them. Just knee jerk reactions, like an Iraq invasion. Or WTF am I missing?

We have historical models for what needs to be done with islam and the people who like the idea most are secular Muslims.

The whole strategy would be to beat them at their own games and fight them in ways that will instill fear they've not known since the 13th century when Genghis Khan sent his armies to eradicate Islam after they beheaded emissaries he sent bearing gifts. Sadly when the Khan died his armies stopped their scorched earth offensive and integrated into Islamic life as their rulers. 

It will take a war that starts with crippling the banks, printing presses, media, power, radio, internet, phones, roads, and oil of the middle east INCLUDING SAUDI ARABIA, QATAR AND the rest of the Wahhabist emirates. 

Once a war has been fought to the point that all power in the middle east is lost and everyone is thoroughly demoralized it will take an uncompromising military occupation similar to the ones done in Japan and Germany after the 2nd world war for possible as long as 2 or 3 generations while the people are shown how to move away from Islam's unchangable 7th century commands and the domination of all life by fundamentalist clerics. Execute extremists, people who help extremists and people who help the people who help extremists. 

Leave Islam no other alternatives; Mollify or become extinct.

[...] and people who help the people who help extremists.

Damn, so on that note, wish us all good luck with a "rational" judgment system...

" it will take an uncompromising military occupation similar to the ones done in Japan and Germany after the 2nd world war for possible as long as 2 or 3 generations while the people are shown how to move away from Islam's unchangable 7th century commands and the domination of all life by fundamentalist clerics. Execute extremists, people who help extremists and people who help the people who help extremists."

I personally have no stomach for such an idea, especially if it involves American troops and trillions of dollars.

That's understandable. No one would have the stomach for knowing the longer they procrastinate having a foot cut off the further gangrene will spread up the leg.

But having the stomach for it or not does not change the reality of the situation or the hazards of doing nothing.


No one wants to see US troops on the ground (with plenty of help from surrounding states and our allies, hopefully, but one also has to consider what it would mean if a big chunk of land and wealth and resources in the area were in the control of nut cases who would have no problem at all with using nuclear weapons, biological weapons, etc., on an American city in attacks that would make 9/11 look like a day at the beach.


© 2020   Created by Rebel.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service