The term “Islamophobia” has been on everyone’s lips for several years: it is used by Muslims who feel discriminated in Western societies, as well as by the so-called identity leftists, who use this term to define the new racism of the 21st century.
Certainly a definition is needed to address the worrying trend of hatred and violence against Muslims in Western societies. Although the intention to protect Muslims from hate crimes is important and necessary, the definition of Islamophobia – for example in Germany, Austria or Great Britain – is increasingly being used in draft laws that aim to protect Muslims in Western societies from anti-Muslim attacks. Most of these are still rejected, pointing out that the definition is too broad. In particular, a definition that focuses on hostility toward Islam (due to the credibility of the description “Islamophobia”) as opposed to hostility toward people involves a concern that those who also internally criticize aspects of Islam will be prosecuted or could be silenced.
The definition of Islamophobia aims to address specific expressions of Muslimness or “perceived Muslimness” rather than bigotry towards Muslim individuals themselves. Certainly the priority must be to combat hatred directed against Muslims, not to prevent criticism or opposition to any religion or belief system. Such criticism is necessary in any liberal society, and we have already seen that it is governed by recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that criticism of the Prophet Mohammed “goes beyond the permissible limits of objective debate”.
The people most at risk from criticizing or fighting Islamism are Muslims themselves. These include Muslims who are labeled as lacking faith, Muslims who belong to minority Islamic groups, Muslims who openly criticize aspects of Islamic practice or oppose political Islam, and ex-Muslims who have publicly chosen to renounce the Islamic faith. There are many examples of these cases, of death threats and intimidation faced by Muslim politicians, journalists, activists, writers and artists in Europe for openly expressing their opinions about Islam or leaving the Islamic faith. In most of these cases, those affected wanted to continue to express their opinions, but had to go into hiding or are permanently protected by the security authorities.
The most recent attack in Britain e.g. came after Sara Khan, the anti-extremism commissioner, received death threats and was accused of being a “traitor” to her religion for her work in fighting political Islamism. English Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Warsi, responsible for defining Islamophobia in Parliament, was pelted with eggs by protesters during a visit to Luton, followed by shouts that she was “only pretending to be a Muslim”.
The phenomenon of hatred, intimidation and violence directed against Muslims by other Muslims poses a serious challenge, and the current definition of Islamophobia does not address the hatred that some Muslims face from other Muslims. This includes Muslims who belong to minority faiths and face discrimination. Those of Muslim background who find that they no longer believe in the Islamic faith are regularly branded “apostates” by extremists and shunned by members of their community. In particularly serious cases, Muslims who had left Islam were threatened with their lives.
The term “Islamophobia” has a broad meaning that can easily be used to limit free and fair discussion of the Islamic religion and political Islamism. Instead, an alternative definition of anti-Muslim hatred should be specific and narrow. The fact that the perception of people from countries or regions such as Türkiye, the Arab world or North Africa as representatives of Islam, and even more their “full identification” with Islam, is a relatively new phenomenon, with Turks becoming “Muslims”.
Still in In the 1990s, the discourse of racists in Europe claimed that the Turks would cause “us” problems because they were Turks. Since the attacks of 9/11 and the rise of political Islamism, proponents of the new racism have claimed that the Turks (the Arabs, the North Africans…) are causing “us” problems because they are Muslims. In this discourse, Islam is no longer just a creed that people may or may not profess, but rather as a kind of “natural characteristic” of Arabs, Turks or Iranians.
Anyone who never tires of labeling “Islamophobia” as racist – or labeling the new racism as “anti-Muslim” – unknowingly declares Islam to be a “racial”, quasi-genetic trait of Arabs, Turks or Iranians. And reproduces, rather than combating it, the racist right-wing ideology of “full identity” between specific individuals and the imaginary category of Islam (imaginary because they are beliefs).
The focus should be on countering attacks against individuals and avoiding censorship of debate or freedom of expression related to religion. Finally, a comprehensive definition of anti-Muslim hatred must take into account intra-Muslim hatred in order to protect those who wish to express themselves freely or otherwise.
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