The Canard of Islamophobia

After the bombings in Brussels and Lahore, brief, perfunctory comments of sympathy were made, and then non-Muslims were ordered to be nice to Muslims. Muslims are now what Stephen Krason has called a “favored group.” How did this happen?

In 2004, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made the grave diagnosis that the West is afflicted with Islamophobia. Annan soberly explained that “the weight of history and the fallout of recent developments have left many Muslims around the world feeling aggravated and misunderstood, concerned about the erosion of their rights and even fearing for their physical safety.” His remarks, astonishingly, suggested that Muslims were the real victims of 9/11. Anan went on to describe the growing concern among non-Muslims that Islam carries within it a strain of anti-Western ideology as a “caricature.” Christine Fair, Associate Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, almost explicitly blamed Belgium for the two attacks in Brussels on NPR, saying that Belgium should expect such attacks given its lax gun laws and an anti-Islamic bias which prevents assimilation. This, of course, is the result of Belgian Islamophobia.

Nominally Catholic Georgetown University boasts a $20 million eponymous Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), part of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. On its website, John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director of the ACMCU, defends the term Islamophobia, opining that Jews have the term “anti-Semitism” to rally support for their causes, while the other Semitic religion had no such term within which it could find protection. Esposito asserts, “we have had no comparable effective way to counter the hostility, prejudice and discrimination directed towards Islam and the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world.” (Note Esposito’s claim that Islamophobia is so prolific it touches every Muslim in the world.) According to Esposito, “in 1997, the Runnymede Trust, a UK-based independent think tank on ethnicity and cultural diversity, coined the term ‘Islamophobia,’ to describe what they saw as a two-stranded form of racism—rooted in both the ‘different’ physical appearance of Muslims and also in an intolerance of their religious and cultural beliefs.” Predictably, Esposito turns to specious data, claiming “in 2005, the Muslim civil rights advocacy organization reported a 49 percent increase in the reported cases of harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment from 2003, which marked the highest number of Muslim civil rights cases ever reported to CAIR in its eleven year history.”

CAIR is the Center for American-Islamic Relations, an organization that has long been of interest to the FBI because of links to terrorist networks among its leadership. This doesn’t bother Esposito or the ACMCU. Nor does he cite any secular, independent source to support his astounding claim about the increase in alleged hate crimes against Muslims; far easier to assume things than to prove them.

The ACMCU rejects any approach to the Islamist crisis that “implies that Islam, not just its misuse by extremists, is the root cause of the problem.” Rather, Esposito, CAIR, and the UN, along with President Obama, continually suggest terrorism is the result of Western policies in the Middle East. Islamophobia is invoked anytime someone dissents from this orthodoxy.

To make their claims credible, Islamophobia apologists insist a qualitative difference exists between Muslims and terrorists, the latter being a fringe group of radicals who do not represent “true Islam.” They tell us repeatedly, “Islam is a religion of peace.” Yet, each attack, rightly, brings such claims under closer scrutiny. And, what about attacks by Muslims who are not terrorists, such as the 15 migrants arrested in Italy last April for throwing 12 Christians overboard during their Mediterranean crossing simply because their fellow migrants were saying Christian prayers?

Claims that Islam has nothing whatever to do with Islamism ignores the prevailing exegesis of the Qu’ran and Hadith in the Islamic world. As Robert R. Reilly masterfully explains in his book The Closing of the Islamic Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Islamist Crisis, with the ascendancy of Ash‘arism in the Middle Ages, the template of today’s Sunni and Wahhabi Islam, God is understood as pure will. Secondary causes are denied and no act is good or evil. There is only what Reilly calls “moral agnosticism,” what Allah allows or prohibits. Reilly indicates that every school of Islamic thought has rejected causality and accepted the God of voluntarism, including Shi῾ites. This has serious implications for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. A God of will rather than logos leads to tyranny, the will to power. Neither the ACMCU nor CAIR addresses these profound questions, even though they constitute the root of the Islamist crisis. They would rather shift the responsibility onto non-Muslims under the banner of Islamophobia.

Rather than engage the non-Muslim world in the free market of ideas, the ACMCU and CAIR hide behind smoke and mirrors, claiming prerogatives only available in Europe and the U.S. Islamophobia is a strategy implemented systematically to silence citizens in politically correct societies ruled by unelected elites where being intolerant is the most egregious of crimes (unless committed against Christians). CAIR now bears the First Amendment like a shield, deflecting attention from Islamist violence to civil liberties. Moreover, by making this an issue of civil rights rather than theological reform, CAIR and Georgetown’s ACMCU stifle the theological and philosophical reflection regarding Islam that needs to begin in earnest. This is a disservice to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Phobia as a Political Weapon
In a civilization rife with fear, it’s no wonder the word phobia has gained currency. Anyone who disagrees with any tenet of populist sentiments is immediately diagnosed with a phobia of some kind. There cannot possibly be sound reasons to object to so-called “marriage equality”; that’s homophobia. No rational person can be anxious about unregulated immigration; that’s xenophobia. Equally, there can be no reasonable questions asked about the connection between Islam and violence; this is now Islamophobia.

Are those who use the word Islamophobia using it correctly? The Greek word phobos means the emotion of fear. The English word phobia means an irrational psychosis. This is why phobias are relegated to the domain of psychology, not schools of foreign service or the UN. There is nothing irrational about phobos. Aquinas, in Question 125, ‘Of Fear,’ noted “fear is natural to man.” He supports his claim by referring to The Nicomachean Ethics where Aristotle observed that “a man would be insane or insensible to pain, if nothing, not even earthquakes nor deluges, inspired him with fear.”

Is the growing anxiety regarding Islam irrational? If so, then the American Psychological Association should be hosting symposia on Islamophobia, not the UN or Georgetown. Many reasonable figures have expressed quite rational concerns regarding Islam, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, John Quincy Adams, John Wesley, Hilaire Belloc, and Winston Churchill, just to name a few. Aquinas saw a danger in Islam’s inability to attract adherents through the persuasiveness of its own arguments because this leaves only force.

Some have suggested Islamophobia is the result of media coverage. This seems unlikely given that the media now seem to make a point not to say anything about Islam when reporting terrorist attacks, even when it is clear jihadists are responsible. The media now prefer amorphous terms like “radicalized individuals.” Yet, this immediately provokes the question of who or what radicalized them. Those who would have us believe these people are motivated by economic atrophy caused by bygone policies of Western imperialism woefully underestimate the power of religious fervor. And, they ignore the claims of the jihadists themselves who know their own religion better than any non-Muslim does. The Brussels bombers were not crying out phrases from the Sykes-Picot Agreement as they murdered scores of helpless civilians.

It seems manifest that CAIR and leftist PC ideologues are largely succeeding in divorcing Islam from terrorism. Yet, the question persists: why, among the world’s religions, are orchestrated acts of indiscriminate violence committed only in the name of Islam? No other religious tradition in the world must grapple with such a phenomenon. One sympathizes with the average Muslim who does not himself understand what is being done in his name.

Two decades of Islamist violence tells us that anyone who rejects the anti-rationalism of modern Islam is now a potential target. This is not Islamophobia. It is a sad fact proved by the indiscriminate nature of every terrorist attack, both in terms of locale and number of innocents killed. It is also clear from the words of Islamists themselves.

It is not a symptom of phobia to expect an organization like CAIR, which posits itself as a guide toward “the middle way,” to offer some means of synthesizing virulent claims by prominent Muslims with a “religion of peace.” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s spokesman, standing in front of a clutch of microphones claiming “terrorism has no religion” is simply not enough anymore. Whether he likes it or not, terrorism has claimed a religion.

What is CAIR?
What are we to make of CAIR, the group that now stands at the vanguard of Islamic-American relations? CAIR claims it respects the Constitution and accepts the religious pluralism guaranteed by its First Amendment. This is hard to believe when Mr. Hooper himself famously (or infamously) said, “I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future… But I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.” This is cold comfort.

Many on both sides of the aisle in Congress are keenly aware of CAIR’s suspect behavior. Senator Chuck Schumer said, “we know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism.” Senator Dick Durbin commented that CAIR is “unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect.” Likewise, Senator Barbara Boxer noted, “To praise [CAIR] because they haven’t been indicted is like somebody saying, ‘I’m not a crook.’ We made a bad mistake not researching the organization.” Additionally, Rep. Bill Shuster observed, “CAIR has failed to prove that it is not in league with radical Islam. Time and again the organization has shown itself to be nothing more than an apologist for groups bent on the destruction of Israel and Islamic domination over the West.”

Interestingly, the Middle East Forum reports that there are many notable Muslim Americans who also have serious concerns about CAIR.

The late Seifeldin Ashmawy, publisher of the New Jersey-based Voice of Peace, called CAIR the champion of “extremists whose views do not represent Islam.” Jamal Hasan of the Council for Democracy and Tolerance explains that CAIR’s goal is to spread “Islamic hegemony the world over by hook or by crook.” Kamal Nawash, head of Free Muslims Against Terrorism, finds that CAIR and similar groups condemn terrorism on the surface while endorsing an ideology that helps foster extremism, adding that “almost all of their members are theocratic Muslims who reject secularism and want to establish Islamic states.” Tashbih Sayyed of the Council for Democracy and Tolerance calls CAIR “the most accomplished fifth column” in the United States. And Stephen Schwartz of the Center on Islamic Pluralism writes that “CAIR should be considered a foreign-based subversive organization, comparable in the Islamist field to the Soviet-controlled Communist Party, USA.”

Are all of these Muslim organizations also afflicted with Islamophobia? Despite all of these concerns, CAIR has enjoyed privileged access to the last three administrations.

If the actions of Islamists all over the world are not “true Islam,” then what is? No one at CAIR or Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding seems interested in considering this question honestly. Accusing non-Muslims of being afflicted with a phobia is absurd and evasive. CAIR and the ACMCU should be working to help the Islamic world toward untangling the thick knot of theological confusion that is undermining the very goals they claim to be pursuing. In the meantime, they should also put plenty of daylight between themselves and known agents of Islamism, while showing some sensitivity to the rational concerns about Islam among non-Muslims in America and Europe.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is CAIR executive director Nihad Awad at a press conference. 

Tom Jay

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Tom Jay is a teacher at a charter school in Scottsdale, Arizona. Prior to his current position, he taught junior high at a Title I parochial school in the Diocese of Phoenix. Tom is a graduate of the University of Dallas.

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