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. 

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I love it when people channel Neville Chamberlain...  

And your belief that Western rage feeds their cause is based on what source?  If you research that you'll find the only people who are tossing that idea around are the talking point factories.  

And here's the biggest joke you've written so far...

"Every bomb that kills an innocent civilian hardens their resolve and justifies their continued atrocities."

I'd say that every atrocity and bomb that kills innocent civilians justifies  whatever steps must be taken to stop them.

Go explain the rule of law to jihadists and get back to us.


   I've been wondering, as I suspect many others have, where did you aquire your extensive expert knowledge of Islam.

    You make make assertions that we  others are expected to accept unquestionably as true, often with little or no basis in reality. 

a total of 22 months in Afghanistan with daily exposure to all aspects of Islamic culture. Interacting and learning to understand Islam without processing it through western culture's built in sensibility filters.  Relying on authors and historians from before 1960 in order to understand islam's history, culture and overall ideology.  Reading the Quran, 3 hadiths and sira.  Forming friendships with secular Muslims who've escaped from Islam and learning from them.  Reading the books and watching discussions and interviews of other secular Muslims speaking about Islam, Sharia law, Islamic imperialism, the hoax of *Islamic Human and Civil Rights.*    If you think I sound hard on Islam you need to meet people like an Iranian refugee who came to the US when he was 18 and had seen his father, grandfather and older brothers all slaughtered, his mother and sisters raped.   Or maybe an Egyptian man who was imprisoned and whipped daily for 5 years and has the scars to prove it... 

Making a stand to protect human rights, liberties and to end Islamic terrorism is scary?

"But total complacency and passing this off as simply nothing is just as ridiculous."

Being complacent and doing nothing to stop them is all the aid they require.  Being complacent and doing nothing makes people bigger enemies to western civilization than Islam.

And if you think what I say is "bloody scary" you ought to spend a few days getting familiar with secular Muslims like Noni Darwish, Ed Hussain, Wafa Sultan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Raheel Raza, just to name a few. They've been doing their best for over a decade to get people to listen to the truth about islam.

Thanks Mike!  I've been waiting a long time for someone to make the mistake like you did... and trying to make a connection between the number of people killed in acts of terror and the number of people who die due to accidents. The fact that you did it as a means of justifying doing nothing to stop terrorism is astounding... So do you believe there's some quantity of acceptable murders through terrorism before actions are taken to stop it.?  How many buildings bombed?  How many planes crashed?  

Ohh.. I get it  now I re-read your words.. you only see it as how it effects YOU and your neighborhood.   When it shows up on your doorstep and causes you an inconvenience it's something you intend to worry about?  Maybe NZ emergency services should adopt your *brilliant* idea and only go to neighborhoods when they've reached an acceptable quota or house fires, car wrecks, murders and heart attacks.

I guess I'm not like you.  I care about people -- all people and injustices bother me whether they are to one person or thousands.  I'm all for putting down bullies from grade schools to heads of state. I think one of the greatest things ever invented by people is called human rights.  Islam is a bully and has no respect for anyone's human rights.  They need to be dealt with.  Screw you and your neighborhood mentality.

By the way I have no rage about this.  My rage about it has been over since 2008. I just want to solve the problem with the least bloodshed, least treasure and the least time.  It's gone on long enough and no small part of that is due to Fumb Duckers who don't want to get their hands messy until Islam knocks on their front door....

You say I'm doing exactly what they want... No.. you're wrong. You're as wrong about that as you are about your neighborhood theory.  I can tell you this for sure... People who think like you do are bigger enemies to human rights and liberties than Islam.

14 October 2014.  This story is important because recently many people online have been saying that New Zealand has never had any terrorist attacks, and Islamic beheadings will likely never happen here. Well, that just isn't true - terrorist attacks have happened in New Zealand before (such as with the Rainbow Warrior bombing) although it's not clear whether Muslim terrorist attacks have happened. But the Dixon case shows that at the very least Islam has had an influence on at least one attempted beheading in New Zealand. 

you only see it as how it effects YOU


I guess I'm not like you.  I care about people -- all people and injustices bother me


By the way I have no rage about this.

Get help.

Love your icon. It suits.

People who think like you do are bigger enemies to human rights and liberties than Islam.

Damn, that means a lot, coming from you. You're on your own Jihad, bro!

You become them. 

Sorry, converting to Islam is not in the cards for me.

In a way, you have to get into the enemy's head to defeat them, and in doing so you, in a way, become them.

Reply by Unseen 4 hours ago

You become them. 

Sorry, converting to Islam is not in the cards for me.

In a way, you have to get into the enemy's head to defeat them, and in doing so you, in a way, become them.

I was tempted to try to explain that basic wisdom that's almost 2300 years old...

"If you know your enemy and yourself you need not fear the outcome of a hundred battles."

General Sun Tsu.

He also had great things to say about winning the war before armies fight... by which he mean crippling the enemy's economy and resources... and also making them captives in their own homes before war even begins.

and exactly how the hell can it get any worse than it is now?????????


Blankets infected with smallpox? ;)

You know what bothers me? I have a Muslim last name and I dont want to be discriminated against.. 

Islamophobia is totally different from discrimination but both 2 are linked somehow.. :/ 


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