Not my place

Here in my ivory tower, it’s true: Islamohobia is one of those words I flee from. To me, it is like the term Anti-Semitism, which particularises racism, when there appears to be no real need to. Of course one can argue that both Muslims and Jews are not necessarily targeted because of their ethnic backgrounds, but simply for their adherence to a particular faith. But then that argument could be made for vast swathes of humanity, for whom we have not adopted a designation to describe particularised hatred. But we are where we are, and these labels are here to stay.

Who am I to judge anyway, as a white, male, middle-class Englishman, known only to be Muslim by a minuscule few — and whose Islam many other believers would consider suspect? To reject such a term is easy when you do not find yourself on the receiving end of what it essentially describes. I am too much the literalist, picking at its constituent parts, when all most people really mean is pervasive prejudice against Muslims. In truth, it’s far too late in the day now to plead for its discontinued use: it is part of the sociological furniture which defines us.

There are, of course, multiple facets to this thing we call Islamophobia. While for Muslim activists it is usually taken to mean hatred of Muslims and the discrimination associated with it, for anti-Muslim activists, who often proudly embrace the term as a badge of honour, it is more often used to mean fear of Islam, sometimes based on their mining of a millennia of textual sources. Such opponents could be of the left or right wing, both progressives and fascists. And while some of us might argue that what they oppose is not Islam in its truest, purest form, all of that is just semantics, because it is an Islam made real for multitudes. Yes, that Islam of offensive conquests and slavery does exist in our texts and our history, so do not be surprised if our detractors take such concerns more seriously than we do.

Here in my ivory tower, I regret that I wince whenever this term is deployed to silence dissent: when it is employed as a weapon rather than a shield, as an offensive tool rather than a defence mechanism. But when it comes to prejudice, discrimination and hatred targeted towards Muslims, a Muslim of discrete appearance such as me really has no place telling others, associated with the faith via stereotypical characteristics, to move along, calm down and not protest. It is self-evident that I am not of those effected by far reaching prejudice. Whereas a woman who wears a headscarf may struggle to access the job market or a young Bengali, Somali or Algerian man may face discrimination in education, I find myself largely unaffected by such currents. I can go about my daily business free from harassment or obstacle. In short, free of its effects, far be it from me to throw the label away.

Let me confine myself to my ivory tower then, and not enter into this dispute. It is not my place to rail against accepted terminology or decry its use, at a time when vulnerable people the world over are suffering as a result of white supremacy, prejudice, discrimination and hate. We amateur philosophers need to know when it is and is not our place to speak. And so here I drive myself to silence: the terminology is imperfect, but semantics are the least of our problems.

 

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