I always cringe whenever I hear this quote by Hitchens because it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever said. He spent a good deal of ink and thought on criticizing religion (organized and otherwise), but this statement essentially forgives world religions for one of the worst things they actually do: making stuff up about people that’s completely not true. When it gets applied against Muslims and the religion of Islam, it’s most often referred to as Islamophobia.
The problems with this term.
As the Wikipedia article notes, this word has been in existence since at least 1923, way before the proliferation of international terrorism. For many years, it existed without much criticism, referring to the irrational and unjustified fear or hatred of Muslims or Islam. Unfortunately, dictionaries and some uses of the word leave out the “irrational” and “unjustified” parts, so some people are trying to use the word for any criticism of Muslims or Islam.
Of course, this is just a discussion about one word. Islamophobia doesn’t inherently have to be used to describe unjustified criticism alone, because words only have meaning to the people that use them. What I’m getting at is that the debate on what Islamophobia should mean – if anything – is a necessary debate to have. Because religions historically make stuff up about other faiths which might lead to violence (here is a map of recent crimes against Muslims; here is a video describing peaceful claims of religion), it is critical to separate justified reasons from religious (and sometimes non-religious) fear-mongering.
Pretending Islamophobia – or any prejudice against religious people – doesn’t exist is turning a blind eye to a strong criticism of religion.
I linked to a video above which goes into the false claims that some religions make about being peaceful. Islamophobia is manifested in many of those religions, from Christianity to Buddhism. In short, it’s a symptom of how other faiths are trying to compete with Islam. While it might start there, it can expand to the point where major political candidates are threatening to discriminate against Muslim refugees. Practically speaking, it’s rendered some U.S. citizens afraid of children under the age of five.
Sadly, I’m not making that up. I’ve heard people claim that Muslims in general are trying to take over the country, that they worship the devil, and that they’re going to bring about the apocalypse. I’ve heard Muslims criticize Jews in Israel by saying they think of themselves as superior to everyone else, and that they’d give their dogs water before they’d give a non-Jew water. All of these claims are designed to keep people distrustful of those outside the faith, and distrustful of specific faiths regardless.
That violence and prejudice often results from such religiously inspired rumors is a rightful criticism of all faiths. To claim that a religion is peaceful and true while lying about others is pure hypocrisy. Indeed, one of the reasons why I can’t go back to faith is because of this hypocrisy. I cannot and will not turn a blind eye to it.
Finally, this does not mean that all criticism of religion (and Islam in particular) is unjustified.
What I’m talking about here is being precise in one’s criticism rather than heavy-handed. It’s not enough to say that I think the Quran allows for violence, I should also provide context with what I mean. Similarly, it’s not enough to say that some Christians are spreading ignorance about Islam, so I provide some examples of what I’ve been told. This isn’t unfair; it’s part of being a responsible person.
In fact, that’s what this entire post is really about. Some people are going to be irresponsible and just create false impressions of something, excusing it with divine fiat. Other people are going to be irresponsible and claim that saying anything critical should be silenced. Both have their places in the human condition, and they are things we need to overcome if we are to improve our lives.