This is a guest post by Sarah AB
‘Forget “Islamism”: Let’s Tackle Foreign Policy’ has been the subtext of a number of responses to Woolwich. These have (rightly) been torn apart by many commentators. Now Douglas Murray, in a piece entitled ‘Forget “Islamophobia”: Let’s Tackle Islamism’ appears to be deploying Greenwaldian logic in order to ‘explain’ anti-Muslim bigotry.
I find Murray an infuriating writer because I do actually agree with at least part of what he says, and have myself written about both the more obviously extreme Muslim groups and individuals, and about ones that might seem rather more mainstream such as FOSIS and IERA.
Murray complains that the term Islamophobia is employed as a smear, and that it is wrongly equated with antisemitism. He describes how a ‘leader from the Jewish community … could not answer my question of how you could condemn Islamic anti-Semitism without committing an act of "Islamophobia".’ (p.2) It seems perfectly easy to me – Mehdi Hasan has written about the topic for example – just as one can discuss a possible intersection between Zionism and Islamophobia – as Klingschor does in this video (3:14) - without being antisemitic.
Murray goes on to assert that ‘in so far as there is a definition — it includes insult of and even inquiry into any aspect of Islam, including Muslim scripture’. This is completely wrong, I think. Yes, insulting an aspect of Islam might be deemed Islamophobic, certainly – which doesn’t mean such insults should be banned or censored. But although some intolerant types may shout ‘Islamophobia’ at dispassionate historians or scholars of religion, many more, who clearly take Islamophobia seriously, would not.
Murray goes on to claim that anti-Muslim bigotry doesn’t come from nowhere, but can be explained with reference to terrorism committed by Muslims. Although he contrasts this with antisemitism, in fact it is often noted that there is a link between the actions of Israel and spikes in antisemitic incidents. Just as with Greenwald and co, using a similar logic but different politics, a hint that violent hatred might be justified by root causes just hovers around this article, however strenuously, and I am sure sincerely, Murray insists this is not the case. I don’t accept his theory that Islamophobia can all be traced back to terrorism or non-violent extremism – that may be the case for some, certainly, but for others it is obviously just a handy handle for old style racists to latch onto.
On page 5 of Murray’s piece I read how:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim umbrella group, has similar form. In the wake of earlier terrorism investigations, CAIR distributed a poster which read: "Build a wall of resistance. Don't talk to the FBI."I think this is rather misleading. Here is another account. As I searched for Sheila Musaji’s rebuttal, it occurred to me that Douglas Murray’s approach has some unintended consequences. I’m agnostic about CAIR, and am generally happy to pounce on the failings of apparently mainstream Muslim organisations – if I see them. But in a few short pages Murray had induced in me a confirmation bias effect in CAIR’s favour. And yet I have posted myself about the problems with Warsi’s approach (the topic he turns to next), and agree fully that the views of Sarfraz Sarwar (p.7) are just horrendous.
Murray puts ‘Islamophobia’ in repeated sneering scare quotes and weakens his account of genuine bigotry faced by Muslims by juxtaposing it with the extreme views of Sarwar. Now, Mehdi Hasan cautions here against overstating the problems faced by Muslims, and I have no quarrel with the many people who prefer not to use the term Islamophobia. But if Douglas Murray’s goal is to encourage Muslims to speak out against extremism and cajole soppy liberals into recognizing that some Muslim groups are problematic – he really doesn’t seem to be going the right way about it.
I don’t think that standing up to Islamophobia needs to go hand in hand with ignoring the dangers (not just physical) posed by religious extremists and theocrats. Hope not Hate, for example, has recently launched a petition which denounces hate from both camps. I was going to end on that note, but think I must acknowledge a reasonable mild objection to that petition which I have just read – that it only criticizes violence from Muslim groups, not hateful views. Even though Douglas Murray would agree with me – I don’t think it is Islamophobic to wish to stand against illiberal attitudes as well as violence. After all many EDL supporters don’t go so far as to carry out, or approve of, acts of violence – and we have no problem saying we find their views deplorable.