Categorized | Opinion

The Ignorance of “Islamophobia”

Posted on 09 October 2011 by Joseph Dobbs

On a Tuesday in September a little over ten years ago, the United States was introduced to a side of Islam it ad not experienced before. A few zealots, backed by a network of their fellows, killed over 3000 Americans in a matter of hours. American Muslims who had co-existed peacefully with their neighbors for generations were thrust into the spotlight of suspicion and even fear. Guilt by association is an insidious concept, but is there more to Islamic extremism than crazy people who need an excuse?

Consider the case of Yousef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death last week by the Iranian Supreme Court for converting to Christianity in a country ruled by Sharia (Islamic Law). Is this because Iran is ruled by despotic theocrats, or does it have something to do with the man who said “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him”? After all, that man is the Muslim prophet Muhammad, as recorded by Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari.

The talking points of those who attack Islamophobia, such as Othman Atta in his Sept. 14 presentation at Marquette University, are not terribly varied. I attended Atta’s talk and saw a lot of people nodding their heads along in agreement. And why not – he said everything we wanted to hear; he blamed the people we don’t like (Fox News, fundamentalists who think burning the Quran solves anything) and absolved the people we do like (normal people like us!), and that made us happy. There’s no better way to make people agree with you than to paint anything else as absurd.

But I’m getting off on the wrong foot — let’s be fair! We must be fair and precise in these things. Atta defined Islamophobia as an unfounded fear or unfounded dislike of Muslims. Now because we at Marquette are good people it gets under our skin to think of someone saying “I don’t like you, and I don’t even have a good reason.” That doesn’t seem right. So it’s easy for Atta to deal with any critics of his ideas by putting them in the Islamophobia corner. Here’s the thing: the definition looks like a good strawman, but it’s still just a strawman. Yes, there are people who hate all Muslims everywhere, but, unlike Atta, I’m not going to look at the tiny minority of extremists and claim they represent the whole. So this is my question to Atta: obviously there are certain Muslims who have given us reason to fear or dislike them; is it Islamophobia to ask whether Islam has helped inform these extremists in their terrorism?

Atta’s thesis was that Americans are Islamophobes through ignorance. His reasoning was along these lines: that Muslims had never been viewed by Americans as particularly desirable; that the unfortunate incident 10 years ago caused Americans to blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few; that this is largely the fault of right-wing media; that Islam is truly and only a religion of peace, acceptance and tolerance; and that now brainwashed Americans are trying to stop mosques from being built and bizarrely trying to prevent Muslims from following their dietary code by making all aspects of Sharia illegal. Anti-Sharia laws are currently being considered in 14 states, and though the Ground Zero Mosque in New York City has received the most opposition and attention, it is not the only Muslim place of worship that has found itself unwelcome.

Well, let’s try and cure our ignorance. According to the FBI’s records, hate crimes against American Muslims increased substantially from 2000 to 2001. Since then they’ve never fallen to pre-2001 levels. At their highest, hate crimes against Muslims happened less than half as often as hate crimes against Jews. In 2009, the most recent year for which there is available data, Jews were more than seven times as likely as Muslims to be the victim of hate crimes. Every crime is a stain on society, but if there is a media industry devoted to convincing people that all Muslims are a serious threat to you, me and America, it doesn’t seem to be doing such a great job, even though there are obviously examples of Muslims who are or have been a serious threat. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of ignorance about Islam, and there is certainly a significant anti-Islamic sentiment among Americans, particularly on the political right. But, knowing that, the first question to ask is not “What can we do to change that,” but “Why do they think that?”

Well, I’m not a Muslim and I guess I don’t understand Atta’s point very well. If I had never read the Quran or the ahadith of Muslim and Bukhari (considered to be the most  authoritative collections of the sayings of Muhammad), or Muhammad’s biography by Ibn Ishaq, I would probably have had a much easier time following along. Instead I recalled the verses in the Quran that advocate war against the unbelievers (9:5) and the beating of wives (4:34). I remembered how Muhammad is declared to be a model of good conduct (33:21), yet he ordered the execution of poets who wrote against him, led armies in unprovoked and bloody battle, ordered the torture of captured prisoners, said that women were deficient in intellect and religion and enslaved women and children.

And while Islam certainly had a fine crop of scientists and artists, the historical record contains worrying information as well, even in Spain, the crown jewel of the Muslim conquests. In 1066 Muslim mobs stormed the royal palace in Grenada, crucified a Jewish vizier because they thought he was too powerful and then murdered 4000 Jews.

I like history, but maybe I over-think such things. It’s true that mainstream Islam considers the Quran to be the literal word of God. It’s also true that in 1195 A.D. the great Muslim philosopher Averroes’ books were burned in his own city, that he was then sent into exile, and that the teaching of philosophy was banned. And it’s certainly true that the doctrine of abrogation mandates that the verses in the Quran composed at the latest date override any earlier ones they contradict, and that the ninth Sura was the last written and contains the most direct admonitions to violent war against the non-Muslims.

But the Hebrew Scriptures certainly had a lot of gruesome behavior in them, and while you can’t find such things in the New Testament, Christians still honor the Old.

So it’s not like Muslims need to take their faith so  seriously, and after all, most Muslims are good people; I’m sure I’ve never met one I didn’t like. And yet, the Telegraph reported that in a survey of American Muslims this August, “21 percent of respondents told a study they had detected “a great deal” or “a fair deal” of support for extremism in their areas,” — and shouldn’t they be doing something about that? I remember how the Council for American-Islamic Relations — itself an unindicted co-conspirator in funding Hamas — had a poster on its California chapter’s website saying “Build a Wall of Resistance” and “Don’t talk to the FBI.”

Just last week, thousands of Muslims rallied in London to protest extremism and the killing of innocents. But what of the Muslims like Anjem Choudhury, who claims “non-Muslims are never innocent”? And who in the world considers himself an extremist?
Marquette’s own Center for Peacemaking e-mailed students to support the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The people on this flotilla were caught on Al Jazeera TV not only bearing weapons but chanting “Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” Khaibar was a Jewish village which Muhammad attacked without provocation, killing many men and looting the village, as well as torturing one of the village elders to death and taking his wife in marriage. I doubt Marquette really wanted whatever kind of freedom that flotilla was sailing for.

Now, isn’t there something here to be a little curious about, if nothing more? Is it Islamophobia to want a better explanation from Atta than “Americans don’t like Muslims very much”? Is it Islamophobia to be wary of a penal system that views apostasy as a capital offense and prescribes amputation as a punishment? Perhaps the anti-Sharia laws that are being considered in many states are a solution without a problem, but isn’t it a statement worth making — shouldn’t the United States reject such a system? And if Sharia is based upon the life and words of Muhammad and the Quran’s authority as the word of Allah, how can you accept one part and reject another?

So it’s not like Muslims need to take their faith so  seriously, and after all, most Muslims are good people; I’m sure I’ve never met one I didn’t like. And yet, the Telegraph reported that in a survey of American Muslims this August, “21 percent of respondents told a study they had detected “a great deal” or “a fair deal” of support for extremism in their areas,” — and shouldn’t they be doing something about that? I remember how the Council for American-Islamic Relations — itself an unindicted co-conspirator in funding Hamas — had a poster on its California chapter’s website saying “Build a Wall of Resistance” and “Don’t talk to the FBI.”

Just last week, thousands of Muslims rallied in London to protest extremism and the killing of innocents. But what of the Muslims like Anjem Choudhury, who claims “non-Muslims are never innocent”? And who in the world considers himself an extremist?
Marquette’s own Center for Peacemaking e-mailed students to support the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The people on this flotilla were caught on Al Jazeera TV not only bearing weapons but chanting “Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” Khaibar was a Jewish village which Muhammad attacked without provocation, killing many men and looting the village, as well as torturing one of the village elders to death and taking his wife in marriage. I doubt Marquette really wanted whatever kind of freedom that flotilla was sailing for.

Now, isn’t there something here to be a little curious about, if nothing more? Is it Islamophobia to want a better explanation from Atta than “Americans don’t like Muslims very much”? Is it Islamophobia to be wary of a penal system that views apostasy as a capital offense and prescribes amputation as a punishment? Perhaps the anti-Sharia laws that are being considered in many states are a solution without a problem, but isn’t it a statement worth making — shouldn’t the United States reject such a system? And if Sharia is based upon the life and words of Muhammad and the Quran’s authority as the word of Allah, how can you accept one part and reject another?

by Joseph Dobbs

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