The essential thrust of my argument is that the term Islamaphobia dangerously conflates two things. The first being Islam and the second being Muslims. Can we make no distinction between an idea and the vessel that contains it? To put my position crudely:
Human beings deserve respect. Ideas deserve nothing.
I would therefore like to introduce a new term Muslimaphobia which is of course illegitimate. Just because you believe something false doesn’t mean you should be the victim of physical abuse or impoliteness. However, is it not the ultimate disrespect to not attack someones ideas because of their being a person who holds such ideas? To put it another way, could not one say that the ultimate respect one can pay an idea is to savagely attack it? And that ‘tolerance’ is a form of disrespect – ‘I have such contempt for you that I don’t see the need to argue how wrong you are’. I tolerate my neighbour’s barking dog. I tolerate my nephew screaming and telling me he doesn’t like me. I do not tolerate Einstein’s suggestion that a physical theory can not contain probabilistic statements. I take it deeply seriously. I might even dedicate my life to trying to prove him wrong. I pay his ideas the respect of criticism.
This conflation of a people with an idea has been seen before, most notably in the twentieth century, and it did not end well. The only way one could escape this line of reasoning is to suggest religion is somehow different to other ideas. A form of exceptionalism, to which I do not subscribe. Racial correlation between religious observance is a fact but it is deeply racist to suggest criticism of one implies criticism of the other.
“My best friend believes that one race is inherently inferior to another but I do not argue with her because she is a racist and I don’t wish to be a Racismaphobe”. Lets stop patronising muslims and start telling them why we think they are wrong to take an ancient text, not as what it is, a profound work of literature and a central historical text, but rather as a consistent piece of moral instruction and a truthful description of cosmology.
Let me return now to my defence of Islamaphobia. Or rather my refusal to accept that a fear of the religion of Islam is irrational. Do you have no concern that a central text which absolves you of guilt from raping your wife may be misinterpreted and lead to frightening consequences if taken literally? If you think I am ignorant and have misread the Qur’an please tell me why, but don’t accuse me of irrational fear for daring to suggest that your ideas are wrong.
Can we not return to the original ideal of existentialism that existence precedes essence. That before I am an atheist I am a human being. Before you are a muslim you are a human being. And finally that either of us may be holding on to dangerous ideas that one can be legitimately and not irrationally afraid of. Incidentally, one major criticisms of Islam I would make is that it asks of the believer to put itself at the heart of their being, that is asks them to submit to being a Muslim first and a human second. Any ideology which seeks to place its followers beneath it is dangerous and frightening and we must balance a heartfelt respect, even love, for people with the intellectual honesty to engage in unpleasant debate. Muslims have given us wonderful culture. The Alhambra is a supreme expression of mathematics, art and architecture which has inspired my own cartoons. They have also given us some less welcome gifts.
I would like to finish with an attack on my peer group, the much derided Liberal Metropolitan Elite. My friends have recently shown a despicable snobbery in their dismissal of white working class concerns about Islam. There is something deeply ugly about an educated person mocking someone’s spelling and grammar when they are trying to voice concerns about an ideology. They are dismissed for being racists and Islamaphobes. I believe this to be at the heart of the Labour party’s problems. The metropolitan liberals who scoff at the rural and provincial white working class are displaying a lack of intellectual rigor that must be countered by the ideals they pretend to uphold: the primacy of reason and free thought.
I promise I’ll get back to producing bad comedy shortly,