Haroon Moghul – What’s Islamophobia, and Do I Have It?

islamophobia-on-the-rise-in-usa

Religious Dispatches has just published an article of Haroon Moghul that is trying to define ‘Islamophobia’ and to offer some help for self-diagnosis for those wondering if they might be suffering from this pathology. Here are some excerpts from this article worth reading.

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Islamophobia is anything but rational, fair, or grounded. Like climate change denial, it masks real threats and makes it harder for us to deal with them. America deserves a better conversation on Islam. One that has the room to acknowledge real threats and challenges, but also enables us to make smarter choices, and to deal with Muslims as what we are: Human beings.

In France, Muslims in public schools are forbidden to wear the hijab—overtly religious symbols are seen as threatening of a uniform French identity that is, by the way, more of a project of flattening France into homogeneity than reflecting France’s demographic reality. Meanwhile all women are forbidden to cover their faces in public spaces. This is so that Islam does not appear in public France.

The state does this to “reclaim” public space for secularity; in France, though, secularism is not neutrality. The culturally secular majority champions a statist secularism the effect of which is to restrict the visibility of a religiously defined minority. This is not racism per se, but I hope you can see the problematic overlap: most French Muslims come from France’s former colonies.

And the colonial mindset continues to pertain. Islamophobia privileges the point of view of the allegedly objective outsider, who believes he knows Muslims better than they themselves do. Whether because of race, or because it’s transcended race; whether because of religion, or because it has transcended religion; in all these scenarios, the West always knows best.

Indeed, the West may know best because the West can change. Islam, on the other hand, is frozen, stuck in what Dipesh Chakrabarty called the “waiting room of history.” This is not, by the way, an exclusively French dynamic—the simple and inaccurate binary of a dynamic West and a static Islam, mired in the seventh century or a “medieval mindset” is stunningly common. And equally inaccurate.

Conclusions: The Islamophobe likes to speak on behalf of Muslims, and appoints himself judge, jury, and even executioner. This may be because while the Islamophobe believes he represents a dynamic civilization, the Islam he speaks for is assumed to represent a static and unchanging force.

The right question to ask is why Muslims need liberation. Why can’t they (we) liberate ourselves? There is a racist logic within Islamophobia, which presents from time to time in the way Muslims are described and treated. As a single, indivisible whole. And, of course, a miserable one at that. The formula? ‘All Muslims are x,’ where x is bad.

This also means that all Muslims are on the hook for what some Muslims do, and must constantly distance themselves from other Muslims—as if the whole must bear responsibility for the acts and faults of individuals. How does that make any sense, except in a racialized and dehumanizing way?

If a Qur’anic verse seems to sanction violence, Muslims have no choice but to act on it. There is just one problem with this way of interpreting all of Islam.

Only a puny minority of Muslims acts in a violent manner, while the huge majority does not, though both are reading the same book. If Muslims don’t act in similar ways, the problem isn’t the Islamophobe’s interpretation of Islam, it’s anything else—perhaps the Muslims are practicing taqiyya! Or, perhaps, the Muslims don’t understand their religion.

Islamophobes resolve the challenges posed by reality by dismissing it. Hence, they’ll say things like “most Muslims don’t understand Islam.”

Islam has one interpretation: theirs. Which happens to be—by chance, of course—the same interpretation extremists offer. Leave aside for a moment the conclusions and consider the methods by which Islamophobes get there. Were Islamophobes Muslim, they would be the Muslims they warn us about.

Islam can only be understood on their terms, they say. And their terms are violent and intemperate. Their strict literalism, inability to grasp context, gross and frequent generalizations, and mind-blowing ahistoricism make them into radicals, only on the opposite side of a chasm into which both have thrown decency, history, common sense, and reality. In place of analysis, they offer us a Xerox machine.

They reproduce themselves and call it Islam.

Radical Muslims impose implausible meanings on Muslim scripture.

Radicals twist texts to justify despicable ends. Usually they can do this because, like Islamophobes, they have only a cursory familiarity with Islam.

For Islamophobes, Muslims don’t have agency, but the Qur’an does. (This might be why some Islamophobes have proposed banning the Qur’an.) If this discussion is hard to follow because the material is foreign, consider what would happen if we applied Islamophobia’s logic to Western affairs. Imagine how we’d react to the proposition that reading the Bible explains George W.’s war against Iraq?

This would be strange, to say the least, but we could say the same for subway ads that quote Muslim scripture beside scenes of terrible violence, as if all we need to understand the one is the other. One sure sign of an Islamophobe is this: you need only remove a few words here and there and their argument pertains with equal vehemence to the West, or Christianity, or Europe.

While condemning Islam for being allergic to secularism (creeping Shari’ah and all that), ostensibly Christian Islamophobes actively work for the Christianization of American politics and law. They see no contradiction in this.

I point to the inconsistency of the Islamophobia industry Wajahat Ali described: they refuse to admit to any kind of bias against Islam or Muslims because that bias is the ground they stand on. And to claim there is no such thing as bias against Islam or Muslims when, in the past decades, such bias has led to the deaths of tens of thousands in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Caucasus, leaves me dumbfounded.

I am not so dense as to argue that Muslims have always behaved innocently, and that is not the conclusion I want you to walk away with. We have more than enough examples of heinous acts committed by Muslims, sometimes justified in the name of Islam. In fact the first article I wrote for this magazine condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran for the hijacked 2009 election and subsequent crackdown.

But I’m arguing that Muslims have been targeted in the past and present because they’re Muslim—there is such a thing as anti-Muslim bigotry. Islamophobia is our word for that bigotry, and must be seen and rejected for what it is: ignorance, deliberate or unintentional, used in the past to justify genocide, and used today to bully, circumscribe, panic, or oppress.

Read HERE the entire article.

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Haroon Moghul is a Fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law. He is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University and the author of a novel, The Order of Light (Penguin 2006). Haroon has been a guest on CNN, BBC, NPR, Russia Today, The History Channel and al-Jazeera.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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