About the ambiguities of the “Islamophobia” concept

Submitted by Matthew on 15 April, 2015 - 6:09 Author: Yves Coleman

I tried not to use the word “Islamophobia” in this article and chose expressions like “anti-Muslim paranoia”, “anti-Arab”, “anti-African” and “anti-Muslim racism”, in line with what Sacha Ismail proposed in Solidarity.

Among many other reasons, I prefer not to use the word “islamophobia” for the following motives:

• The phenomenon involved is not a simple phobia (fear) but a paranoia, therefore much more serious than a simple fear;

• This concept is manipulated by Islamists and the 57 States of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to prevent any criticism both of political Islam and Islamic religion;

• It’s used by left militants and social scientists who refuse to criticise religion: for example, Clive D. Field 60 considers the rejection of sharia courts in Britain an “islamophobic” prejudice!

Another social scientist writes about Satanic Verses: ”Little attention was ever given to the Muslisms’ own perceptions and feelings of offence and hurt laying underneath the public demonstrations around the Rushdie Affair 61” as if Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie was a simple joke.

And, in the same book, Ahe Sander writes: “The Swedes have to realise that Sweden is going to contain an increasing number of “unmeltable” individuals and groups, of which Muslim and Islamic groups are prime examples, and that every attempt to melt them down by force for casting in the traditional Swedish mould is going to be counterproductive in the sense that it will make them unite more strongly around their religion and ethnicity, thereby only – from the point of view of the workers in the Swedish melting works – making the problem worse62.”

The author rightly criticises forced integration imposed on migrants, but at the same time he does not seem to understand that “Islam” is not a monolith and is divided into many schools of thought. In his essay, he describes in detail the most reactionary, anti-secular views of the Muslims he met in Sweden as if they could represent all Muslim believers living in his country! He thinks one should let the most conservative “leaders” of Muslim communities maintain their own “collective traditions”, as if these “traditions” did not threaten individual freedoms of Swedish Muslim citizens themselves! And that’s what he calls a “fair balance between equity and freedom”!

In regard to imaginary “communities” whose self-proclaimed representatives want to impose a “traditional” law on their cultural/religious group, we can’t just look away and forget the necessity of defending democratic rights for everyone... including Muslim workers.

One can observe the same contradictions in Amnesty International’s report 63 of April 2012: “States must take measures to protect women from being pressured or coerced by third parties to dress in certain ways, and in so far as social, cultural or religious norms prescribing dress codes are a reflection of discrimination against women, the state has a positive obligation to take steps to prevent such discrimination.”

It’s difficult to understand who, according to Amnesty, will decide if a hijab or even a burqa is really “discriminatory”, or is the personal choice of a woman who has not been “coerced “ by “third parties “, specially when Muslims themselves don’t agree about these religious signs ! But when one reads the part of Amnesty’s report about Turkey, the organisation is clearly opposed to the strict secular view (actually the imams were and paid by the State, and preach under strict police control) which prevailed in Turkey from the 1920s until the AKP took power in 2002, and succeeded in partially changing the law.

But let’s continue our reading: “This implies that state-imposed restrictions may be necessary in specific circumstances to protect women against pressure or coercion, including violence or threats of violence, by their families or communities, to force them into wearing certain religious and cultural symbols and dress.”

Once more, who can measure and decide if a “community” is imposing discrimination when it pushes its members to act or dress in a certain way? It’s actually the function and role of an efficient community leadership to exert strong pressures upon its members!

One can’t innocently blame a community because it indoctrinates its members and disseminates a reactionary ideology! Such a criticism, formulated from outside of a community, will always be considered “racist” by its leaders ... We must therefore make a choice and take this risk or else... shut up.

“However, to impose a general prohibition on religious and cultural symbols and dress purporting to address discrimination within a community is itself discriminatory, and compounds and reinforces the idea that discrimination can be legitimate. Moreover, such a prohibition negates the right to freedom of expression of those women who choose to wear religious and cultural symbols and dress.”

In other words, Amnesty washes its hands and throws all its principles into the dustbin. It refuses to criticise “religious and cultural symbols and dress” and “religious and social norms” in the name of “freedom of expression”. In fact, very concretely, its position supports the AKP reactionary views against women in Turkey as well as the positions of other groups in Europe which would like every Muslim woman to be at least “veiled”, if not wearing the niqab, the djelbab or the burqa.

Amnesty is right to criticise the discriminatory policies adopted by Western states: in the countries where the hijab ban has been implemented (outside Turkey and Tunisia, where these decisions were taken by Muslim governments), it has only served to expel young girls from the state-run, or “non-denominational” schools, which was a major setback; it has pushed them either to abandon their studies, or to follow long-distance education and remain isolated at home, and made them more vulnerable to (self-) indoctrination; and it has reinforced the influence of private schools and religious (Christian or Muslim) schools.

With these qualifications in mind, it remains impossible to support, as Amnesty International does, the most reactionary Muslim bigots... against even the most secular and progressive Muslims, all that in the name of the “freedom of expression”64.

The Islamophobia concept is sometimes used to counter the necessary struggle against anti-Semitism, the latter being presented, by the most extremists, as a “Zionist” tool to prevent any criticism against Israeli war crimes (see for example the opposition raised in the left by the working definition of anti-Semitism elaborated by an European Union commission which proposed to point the limits of anti-Zionism).

The adoption of this concept leads also more moderate academics to use dubious arguments, like Adam Sutcliffe who writes that Jews are “relatively affluent”, “disproportionately visible in politics, the professions and cultural industries, and their diverse voices are clearly heard in the media.65”

It did not occur to this distinguished professor at King’s College London he could have written exactly the same superficial remark about the “Parisian gay lobby”; in fact, the French far right denounces the “homosexuals” who are “disproportionately visible in politics, the professions and cultural industries”, live in the wealthy Marais district, are well-introduced in the show business and media and belong to powerful networks which include Bertrand Delanoë, former Socialist mayor of Paris, and Jack Lang, former minister of Culture. Sutcliffe could have used the same kind of clichés about the so-called “disproportionate” influence of the Freemasons in French society.

We can be sure Adam Sutcliffe uses clichés, because, in one of the rare studies available about socio-demographic composition of French Jews (La population juive de France: socio-démographie et identité de Doris Bensimon et Sergio Della Pergola, Editions du CNRS, 1986) the authors show that French Jews are not all “relatively affluent”: 21.4% are “managers in industry and commerce” (not big company heads but mostly small craftsmen and shop keepers); 32 % are white and blue collar workers; 18.4% are junior managers and 25.3% are senior managers and professionals.

And I’m sure the same complex class analysis could be made about Jewish communities in Britain or elsewhere if left intellectuals were not so lazy.