Originally published in The Huffington Post
In a recent piece, new atheist Ali Rizvi argues “The phobia of being called “Islamophobic” is on the rise — and it’s becoming much more rampant, powerful and dangerous than Islamophobia itself.” While thus admitting that Islamophobia exists in some form or another, Rizvi then cites Sam Harris who contrarily claims, “There is no such thing as ‘Islamophobia.”” Rizvi is clear that however Islamophobia exists, it is less dangerous than being called “Islamophobic” and Rizvi apparently has some danger-meter device to measure. Next, Rizvi also argues that the Qur’an endorses death for apostasy while Sam Harris is on record to state to the contrary that “…[the penalty for apostasy] isn’t spelled out in the Koran…” (By the way Harris is right on this one as the Qur’an categorically condemns any and all punishment for apostasy).
I present this illustration to show that in just one article, two new atheists who ostensibly agree on much cannot seem to agree on even basic principles of what is or isn’t Islamophobia, and what Islam does or does not teach. Yet, they seem to want to paint all Muslims into one corner as a group who sounds the alarm anytime someone criticizes Islam. Rizvi, in particular, would like for us to believe that the “Islamophobia smear [is] the ultimate, lazy substitute for a non-existent counter-argument.”
So rather than risk being called a lazy smear-monger, here are the five facts Islamophobia deniers just don’t get.
1. No, Islam is not above criticism — it never was and never will be — and neither are Islamophobia deniers
Rizvi writes, “When you’re unable to introduce Pakistan-style blasphemy laws in a secular, Western society, you have to find alternative ways to silence those who offend you… and that’s where the ‘Islamophobia’ smear comes in.”
As I sit in pain for my immediate family that has and currently suffers, been tortured, shot at, lynched, murdered and certainly silenced as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, I’m appalled that Rizvi would even make this shameless comparison.
I’m grateful, however, that Rizvi says “Pakistan-style blasphemy laws” and not “Islam-style blasphemy laws.” He’s right. While Pakistan has let extremism and unjust political forces write its narrative, a matter I address thoroughly in The Wrong Kind of Muslim, nothing in Islam permits, promotes or prescribes any form of blasphemy law. Thus, as Rizvi admits, this is a Pakistan issue, not an Islam issue.
Political regimes that forbid dissent are not the issue here — Islam is. And the fact is that Islam does not forbid nor punish dissent. It is no accident that the Qur’an repeatedly commands reflection, investigation, inquiry and contemplation. That upon reclaiming Mecca Prophet Muhammad offered carte blanche forgiveness on the single condition that universal freedom of conscience remain free. I delve deep into this topic in my upcoming book EXTREMIST.
The West, likewise, promotes dialogue and debate. Thus, Muslims have every right to claim Islamophobia as they see fit. Rather than flat out denial, Islamophobia deniers should descend from their ivory tower and engage in a healthy conversation based on facts, not demonization. Islam is not above criticism, and neither are Islamophobia deniers.
2. The ones denying Islamophobia are often the ones creating it most.
The anti-Islam campaign has forged an amazing alliance between the far-right neo-conservative and the far-left new-atheist movements. While both would not be caught physically near one another, both are united in their antagonism of Muslims and their vehement denial that Islamophobia exists.
Ironically, both are also names that surface in terrorist manifestoes of those like Anders Breivik — who cited far right anti-Islam personalities like Geller and Spencer and far left new-atheist personalities like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Let’s be clear — I’m not “blaming” any of these individuals for Breivik’s violent acts. Unlike these individuals who shamelessly blame the Qur’an for the acts of terrorists, I have enough good sense to hold each individual accountable for his or her own actions — Breivik included. But to claim that Breivik profusely praises Spencer and Hirsi Ali as potential Nobel laureates for their anti-Islam propaganda had nothing to do with his hatred of Muslims is denying common sense.
And no, the results are not always violent but create hatred none-the-less. In 2012, Sam Harris, while recognizing my Muslim organization, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, practices a “moderate strand” of Islam, then defamed Ahmadi Muslimsby adding, “I’m not sure I would want to put these assertions [of peace] to the test by venturing into an Ahmadi mosque with a fresh batch of cartoons of the Prophet.”
Let me logically explain, as I did once before, how Harris — an Islamophobia denier — is clearly promoting Islamophobia.
In 125 years, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has spread to 204 nations with tens of millions of adherents, runs over 15,000 mosques, over 1000 schools providing secular education to kids of all backgrounds, and over 300 hospitals to people of every creed — all without a single act of religious violence in any form. Indeed, as Harris acknowledges, Ahmadi Muslims face brutal persecution and “our mosques are regularly bombed.” Despite the violence and persecution we face (and our clear cutcondemnation of the post-Danish cartoon violence) we instead champion separation of mosque and state, universal freedom of conscience, women’s rights, and have uncompromisingly condemned all religious violence.
Instead, Harris ignores all this, maintains “Islamophobia doesn’t exist”, and asserts it would be dangerous to venture into one of our mosques. His fear of the “moderate strand” of Islam practiced by Ahmadi Muslims despite an unprecedented history of peace and service to humanity is by definition Islamophobia. Despite Harris’s claims that he condemns Islam, not Muslims, the only person his meritless claim of “dangerous Ahmadi mosques” helps is himself, as it advances his narrative that all Islam is evil, no Muslim is trustworthy, and silences dissent.
3. We get it. Some Muslims over use the Islamophobia label
Shocking as it may be, I agree with Ali Rizvi — the Islamophobia term is overused. (Katy Perry video anyone?) But why is this a surprise? Every demographic has this problem. Rizvi admits, “Muslims around the world have rightly complained about the Israeli government labeling even legitimate criticism of its policies ‘anti-Semitic,’ effectively shielding itself from accountability.” In 2012, American Atheists were forced to take down anti-Christian banners after Christians complained their were offensive. Every winter, like clockwork, we hear about the alleged “war on Christmas” from the far right.
So what does it prove that some Muslims overuse the Islamophobia label? It proves the shocking fact that Muslims are human too and like many humans, some simply don’t exercise the best judgment. This is a human phenomenon, not a Muslim phenomenon. The solution, thus, is not the other extreme of denying Islamophobia’s existence. That extreme approach only fuels the overuse narrative and the rest of us are stuck having to write these articles to set the record straight.
By comparing every Islamophobia claim to Pakistan-style blasphemy laws, Rizvi asserts some sort of unified Muslim force launching claims of Islamophobia. The comparison and the claim is nonsense. Yes, some Muslims overuse Islamophobia. Just as we rightly do not condemn all Jews or Christians who use censorship tactics, don’t demonize the whole Muslim world for the acts of some.
4. There’s a right way and wrong way to point out something isn’t Islamophobia.
The wrong way is clear: denying its existence. It’s contrary to the observable world around us.
The right way requires honesty and objectivity — two items lost on both sides. The right way requires us to engage in dialogue and understanding and to reject carte blanche labels that some espouse that “all Islam is evil.” Likewise, for those who overuse the Islamophobia label, know that right or wrong, each use diminishes its value.
Islamophobia deniers cannot possibly expect anyone to agree with them when despite the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, some $343,000 in tax dollars have been spent litigating whether the Murfreesboro, TN mosque has a right to exist. The Muslim community building this mosque has existed in Tennessee for decades without any acts of violence or problems. It is nothing short of an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims that forces these American citizens in Tennessee to suffer through this fiasco simply because they happen to be Muslim.
The right way, therefore, is to stand in solidarity with Muslims when they clearly are suffering discrimination. Rest assured Muslims will take your word much more seriously when you then disagree whether something is Islamophobia.
5. Islamophobia deniers are just as skewed as those who overuse the term.
Here’s a perfect example of how Islamophobia deniers slant the story to support their cause. If we were blind and knew nothing of the world this might sound like a wholly different story than it actually is. Rizvi writes, “Last month, a white American man successfully convinced the Massachusetts liberal arts school Brandeis University that he was being victimized and oppressed by a black African woman from Somalia — a woman who underwent genital mutilation at age five and travels with armed security at risk of being assassinated.”
Sounds horrible doesn’t it! Here’s a more honest assessment reflective of the facts behind the alleged “victimization.”
“Last month, a 6000-person strong petition lead by Brandeis University’s Women and Gender Studies Program notified the University that the woman they’d invited to receive an honorary doctorate is in fact a disgraced Dutch MP with a history of lying. She lied about suffering through five civil wars, much less witnessing one, provided no evidence that she ever was in fear of an ‘honor killing’, provided no evidence that she ever suffered FGM, claims we are at war with all Islam, and is open to using military force to win this war. Also, due to her lies, she was eventually ousted from Dutch Parliament. Considering she proved untrustworthy even after she took an oath to uphold the law and maintain honesty, does a University as prestigious as Brandeis really want to honor such a person?”
Paints a different story altogether doesn’t it? Its the true story that Islamophobia deniers don’t want people to hear.
Rizvi and those like him presented his slanted narrative and demonized anyone who disagreed. Then, they refused to acknowledge that Hirsi Ali’s anti-Islam comments were at all condemnable. To illustrate this double standard my colleague Kashif Chaudhry wrote an excellent piece discussing an experiment where he took Hirsi Ali’s comments and replaced Muslim with atheist and Islam with atheism. In response,the experiment garnered universal condemnation, including from atheists, with Kashif labeled as “against the spirit of secularism,” “sad soul,” “intolerant and insane,” and “no different from the Taliban.” Yet, such comments against Islam are apparently “legitimate criticism.”
As a Muslim, American and person of color I found the choice to have Hirsi Ali speak shockingly similar to the NAACP awarding Donald Sterling a lifetime achievement award. Yet, we have unanimous agreement that Sterling’s non-violent but bigoted comments against Black Americans are unacceptable — Sterling is banned from the NBA and the LA NAACP President has resigned for his error. Yet, with Hirsi Ali who called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death” and is open to using force to militarily destroy Islam, not to mention her history of lying — Muslims are suddenly engaging in a smear campaign in objecting to her speaking?
Islamophobia deniers need to stop slanting the narrative and proceed with more objectivity if they expect anyone to take their positions seriously.
Muslims don’t do themselves any favors when a massive petition is born in response to a terrible Katy Perry video with cries of Islamophobia. Islamophobia deniers don’t do themselves any favors when despite overwhelming evidence of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam bigotry they close their eyes and pretend Islamophobia doesn’t exist. While I hope not, it is likely that some Islamophobia deniers will continue to demonize Muslims who claim they’ve been discriminated against. Such demonizing is a slanted narrative devoid of common sense.
Don’t fall for it.