I was watching some highlights from the previous year’s Golden Globes, and as I scrolled through the comments I couldn’t help but focus on one that attacked Ben Affleck. As the commenter writes, Affleck is an idiot for defending Islam and insinuating that Islamophobia is a real thing, since Islam is not a race. Affleck has received a wave of right wing backlash for his comments, being interpreted as another liberal who refuses to criticize Islam.
The sentiment that Islamophobia is an invalid, politically correct creation is even shared by former Muslim Salman Rushdie. After a fatwa was declared against him by the Ayotallah of Iran, Rushdie’s life was put in jeopardy by zealots who believed he insulted their religion. Zealot is the proper word to refer to people who would actually try to kill someone for insulting their religion, but I believe that this word is overused when it comes to Islam.
After the Danish newspaper Jylland’s-Postens depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, demonstrations predictably broke out amongst many Muslim populations. I am not here to defend violent extremists. However, I could never help but notice that even instances of peaceful protest by Muslims are often seen as proof of their zealotry. Comments online indicated Muslims should learn how to take a joke, like people of other religions can. Can we agree that this cartoon is pretty offensive?
Maybe people will be quick to argue that it doesn’t matter, since the Prophet was not an angelic figure anyway. Whenever Islam as a whole is insulted, many people turn a blind eye since they see it as a religion that is inherently violent and misogynist. Even if critics can recognize that not all Muslims are terrorists, they still argue that the religion itself feeds into corrosive vices. It is easy to think this when we look at a nation like Saudi Arabia, but seeing nations such as Dubai and Egypt should make it clear that interpretation is just as important as content when it comes to religion. To those people I think it is important that they see this experiment, where people are given a copy of the Bible covered with a Koran jacket. The only thing better than seeing people express their amazement at how backwards the “Koran” is, is seeing their reactions when it is revealed they were reading the Bible. Watch the video, and read the comments to see Christians defending the bible and denigrating Islam. It seems like the Christians can’t just take a joke.
This experiment also highlights the key issue I wanted to discuss. There are far too many people out there who pat themselves on the back for recognizing Islam is not a race, thinking they can end the argument about Islamophobia with that sentence. There are recognized phobias of buttons and clowns, no one is trying to say there is a racial component for those. There is also homophobia, which we can see in people’s attitudes towards topics such as gay marriage. “Phobia” does not have to imply race. However, “Islamophobia” is a valid term due to people’s reactions to Islam, or what they perceive to be Islam. Islam is not a race, but racial ignorance can contribute to it. Following 9/11 there were hate crimes committed against Middle Eastern people of all religions, including Sikh. The fact that the people attacked weren’t Muslim is irrelevant. The attackers intended to attack Muslims, and their ignorance led them to attack people of a different faith. White people who convert to Islam have testified to being treated poorly by friends and family for their decision, due to their association with a religion perceived as backwards and violent.
It is easy to see Muslims as a faceless, terrorist horde with all the negative things we may hear from Trump, the news and maybe even our social circle. I don’t like throwing out the “I have ___ friends” argument, but I am curious to know how many people who relentlessly criticize Islam as the root of all evil actually have close relationships with Muslims. My own exposure has led me to people who rarely mention their religion and never criticize me for mine. They respect their religion, but they aren’t hellbent on killing or converting the infidels surrounding them. Exposure to moderate and liberal Muslims (the majority of them) isn’t a foolproof strategy, but it is something that can demistify and humanize the people we’re accustomed to thinking of as a threat to the safety of progressive Western societies.