Playing the “Islamophobia” Card


Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True weighs in on the Sam Harris-Glenn Greenwald debate on the New Atheists and Islam:

The thing that distresses me the most, as I suspect it does Harris, is the fast-and-loose use of the term “Islamophobia”, intended as a brand of “racism,” to criticize those who emphasize the dangers of Islam. This puzzles me, as New Atheists have never been accused of “Christian-phobia” or “Hindu-phobia.” There is a double standard at work here—one enacted in a misguided defense of multiculturalism and moral relativism. Those who accuse others of “Islamophobia” are, I suspect, a bit bigoted themselves, for underlying it is the notion that we’re supposed to hold adherents of Islam to behavioral standards lower than those we expect from adherents to other faiths. It’s patronizing.

It is obvious to any objective person that, among all faiths, Islam poses the most danger to our world. Followers of which faith riot and kill over cartoons, subjugate women in the most offensive ways possible, send suicide bombers to weddings, blow up airplanes, buses, and embassies, advocate a form of law that would destroy democracy, issue fatwas and death threats against writers they don’t like, and espouse death to apostates, converts, and unbelievers? If you think that all religions are equally dangerous—that, for instance, Islam is no more dangerous than the Anglican Church, Quakers, or even Catholics (an invidious faith itself)—then you’re living in a fantasy world. If we had a choice to improve our world by dispelling just one brand of religious belief, I know which one I’d choose. That doesn’t mean, of course, that other faiths aren’t dangerous as well, or that we should work toward dispelling religious belief in general.

But what is Islamophobia? It’s certainly not racism, because racism is a form of bigotry against people based on things they cannot change: the genes that make them look different from others. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are not genetically based, can be changed, and are often inherently dangerous. It’s no more “racism” to criticize Islam than it is to criticize the beliefs of Republicans or Tories.

In truth, those who hurl charges of “Islamophobia” never define it. That’s because it is, at bottom, only “criticism of the tenets of Islam,” and that doesn’t sound so bad. And it’s all in the name of multiculturalism. Indeed, ethnic diversity has good things going for it, as it exposes people to different points of view, enriches a society by exposing it to other cultures, and actually dispels racism by showing people that members of other “races” are human beings like themselves. It’s this exposure, in fact, that Peter Singer and Steve Pinker hold largely responsible for the increasing morality of our species. And I am proud to be a liberal who, like many of my kind, defends the benefits of multiculturalism.