October 27, 2014

Is Islamophobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?

2014-10-16 08.40.10By Saadia Faruqi

Graduate student

Department of Sociology, Baker University

 A couple of weeks ago, Ben Affleck called out Bill Maher for being a racist because of his views of Muslims. In a world still healing from the racism of the pre-civil rights era, in a world of Ferguson and Michigan, being called a racist is no laughing matter. Sadly, we live in a society where more Americans sit up and take notice when a Hollywood actor makes a statement than when the president of the United States does. What is Islamophobia? Is it related to racism? How does Islamophobia relate to sociology?

 Edward Said, the patriarch of oriental studies and the first mainstream scholar to publish on western perspectives of Islam, explained the term in Orientalism (as did Daniel Norman in Islam and the West: the Making of an Image). According to these scholars, the origins of Islamophobia go back to colonization periods and even to the Crusades. Today, the concept of Islamophobia is phrased in post-9/11 terminology and couched as anti-Islamic and pro-secular western rhetoric. In simple terms, Islamophobia is a fear or hatred of Muslims or the religion of Islam, although due to its relatively new arrival on the social sciences scene, a fully acceptable and unanimous decision on the definition has yet to be reached.  

Why and how one can define this seemingly complicated concept as racism, then, may seem an insurmountable problem. It is a problem that needs to be addressed because of the term’s incessant use in the news media. After all, from Muslim activist groups to cable news talking heads, everybody seems to be using the word Islamophobia to mean different things.

Here’s what it isn’t: Islamophobia is not a criticism of Islam the religion, nor is it a stated hatred of Muslim terrorists, Islamists or any other group associated with Islam. In many ways, though, that is exactly what Islamophobia has become in the minds of many Americans, including those who are Muslim. Experts or academics who defame Islam as a religious ideology or raise their voices against the injustices perpetrated by authoritarian Islamic governments are called Islamophobes by Muslims themselves, as well as in the news media.

For most academics and sociologists, however, Islamophobia is a prejudice against the average Muslim because of his or her religion. Britain and France, with their higher populations of Muslim immigrants than the United States, are in the forefront of defining Islamophobia and working towards its eradication. The British Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) uses the phrase "intolerance and discrimination against Muslims" as does the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.

This explanation rightly reflects the focus on relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims within Europe rather than on Islam as a religion in the world. OSCE’s provisional definition is that “the term intolerance and discrimination against Muslims refers to behavior, discourse and actions which express, in OSCE states where people of Muslim heritage live as minorities, feelings towards them of hatred, hostility, fear or rejection.”

Is this racism? For many the fear and hostility is reminiscent of racism against other groups such as African Americans or Jews. In fact, many writers equate Islamophobia with anti-Semitism and American Muslim activism with a form of modern-day civil-rights movement.

Muslims make up so many diverse ethnicities, but there are many similarities between Islamophobia and racism. Islamophobia leads to many of the hallmarks of racism, such as stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and persecution. As a result, calling it a form of racism may have benefits. By rephrasing or modifying the term Islamophobia in relation to racism, sociologists can better understand the multi-layered levels of discrimination encountered by Muslims in America and Europe.

For instance, Fear Inc. a report by the Center for American Progress, details some of the ramifications of this form of racism, and which groups are benefitting from this kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media. At the same time, viewing Islamophobia as strictly religious  hatred may preclude us from considering non-religious forms of discrimination or prejudice. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explains how hundreds of Muslim women who wear the hijab are treated unfairly in the public sphere as a result of their faith, and the Equal Opportunity Commission writes about the more than 90 lawsuits against employers for harassment or employment discrimination since 9/11.

A discussion on whether Islamophobia is racism in its purest form may or not may be irrelevant today; the fact remains that its effects are felt by not only American Muslims but by others in society as well. One report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia delineates societal issues such as structural inequalities and inbuilt pervasiveness; others discuss the overall decline in well-being and lack of social prosperity.

Until we look at the issue, determine the causes and work towards a more pluralistic society, fear and hostility towards Muslims is bound to grow.  Ben Affleck may be a prominent voice calling attention to this form of bigotry, but the problem is long-term and systemic and needs attention from more than Hollywood actors. Addressing Islamophobia as a sub-set of racism is be the first step.

Comments

how can it be racism if it is not a race?

I must be a total bigot, being both Islamophobic AND Christophobic. My prejudice stems from the inherent susceptibility both these religions have to making claims to possessing a monopoly on Truth. It has nothing to do with the ethnicity of the adherents. It has to do with the Truth claim and the marginalization of people who do not agree

The Quran makes distinctions between believers and non believers, orders the subjugation of people of other religions, explicitly draws distinctions between other groups and insults and belittles them. Therefore, the Quran must be judged as a racist book also. In fact, it must be THE MOST racist book ever, since it calls Jews and Christians 'unjust' purely based on their religion.

Saadia Faruqi:

A couple of thoughts I would ask you to consider.

I read this article and I must say it is a bit self serving on your part. It is clear that you are a Muslim and as such You are looking for any possible way to develop a victim status for your political ideology that masquerades itself as a Religion. I wouldn't expect you to hold to any other view. You need to promote a view that describe people who are Anti Islam in a negative light. Islam is first and foremost A political system that seeks world domination. It is secondly a Religion that controls its citizens morality. This reality is critical if you wish to understand why people like me are profoundly against your system of government.

The idea that I am racist because I appose you based on you political and religious view is asinine.It is utterly ridiculous. Islam is not limited to one race or culture. I would not discriminate against you simply based on you ethnic back ground. I have no problem with a person who is of Arab descent. I do not care what nationality you are from. Your blood line has no bearing on my Anti Islamic View. However I will discriminate against you or anyone that holds to a belief system that will justify and is known to kidnap, cut off heads, or force its particular flavor of morality upon me or my society at large.

Am I Islamophobic? That is, do I have an unrealistic fear of Islam? No! I have a realistic and justified fear of Muslims. We use this word Phobic to describe people with irrational fears. There is nothing irrational about recognizing you faith's Violent past and seeing the destruction it is causing in the world today and being fearful. fear is the very thing Islam uses to control its citizens and those who apposes it. I fear Islam. This is not my problem its yours. Islam is responsible for its actions. I fear your political ideology for a good reasons. I will always be afraid of, and fight against those things that are dangerous. Islam is dangerous and violent. I can't change that. But you can.

Until the Muslim people decide to do something about those with in your faith that is causing harm It will always be a dangerous political Ideology. I will appose it just as I will appose Communism, Fascism, or any other political system that seeks world domination at the expense of human freedom and civil liberties.

The real irrational reaction to Islam is accepting its Political tenets and religions views.

Peace to you
ABR

"Until the Muslim people decide to do something about those with in your faith that is causing harm It will always be a dangerous political Ideology."

Acts of few can not be generalized to define the 1.6 billion Muslims, 99.9% of who are peace loving citizens of the world. On the contrary, 99.9 % of the killing by death & destruction were carried out by the west, not Muslims. What we're all scared of the repercussion of the advent of this peaceful religion by the enemies of Islam. Yes, the political aspect of our faith guides us to struggle in whatever way we can. The persecution of Muslims all over can not be ignored, that happens even in the Muslim dominated countries, by Muslims on Muslims. Therefore, Jihad has become an obligation to resist such persecution, first by hand, then by mouth and the least is by you mind.

To Mr Dough Taylor'remarks about Quran:
Quran never asks to subjugate believers of other religions. It gives a message of peace to the world. It is only lack of knowledge and mis-interpretation of this book that it is regarded racist by infidels. i invite all to read the translation and explanation of Quran carefully and understand what it actually says. It is revealed to the Holy prophet(SAW) who actually spread its message of peace .Victory of Mecca and common pardon for all (even for the direst enemies of Islam) is an obvious proof of it. Fear against Islam and Muslim is nothing but bias of the West for their own interests. Not all five fingers are equal.

@ Infidel, FYI not all Muslims chop of peoples heads, it is a small group of radicalized people. Never, in the Quran does it say to promote violence, but it also promotes peaceful behaviour. Just because a few people who aren't even really practicing our faith gives you the right to judge and fear all muslims. And if so do we have the right to fear all germans due to actions of the Nazi Germans, or white people due to the KKK. Really, don't argue something that you don't know anything about. Read the Quran or talk to any muslim if you really want the truth

Sorry linked the wrong person, should be @ABR

The author unfortunately equates an intolerance towards a religious belief with racism. They are quite distinct things - a belief system is an adopted viewpoint , something entirely in control of the 'believer' and fully open to debate and testing. It does her neutral authority as an an academic no good that she seeks to draw some equivalence between a legitimate questioning of the actions and influence of a 'belief' with a legitimate denouncemrnt of racism.

do you know the technology exists to create dreams and visions?

I think this video shows one way how many people become Islamophobic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UWd94CKO-I

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