When exactly does “legitimate criticism” become “Islamophobia”?

February 19, 2013 at 9:03 am (Civil liberties, Free Speech, Guest post, Human rights, Islam, islamism, multiculturalism, Pink Prosecco, Racism, religion, secularism)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Above: “Islamophobia” or “legitimate criticism”?

In a recent article, Dr Leon Moosavi asserted that Muslims in the UK face “stereotyping, discrimination and even harassment.”  Anyone who has glanced at tabloid headlines much over the last few years, or who follows organisations and blogs which seek to counter this bigotry, will probably agree that Moosavi has a point.  He continues:

For example, in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry which examined news media conduct from many angles concluded that Muslims, along with asylum seekers, immigrants and travellers, are commonly derided in the mainstream press.

‘ More recently, a couple of weeks ago, Keith Vaz MP tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament suggesting that Islamophobia be recorded by police forces across Britain so that it can be better understood.’

Towards the end of the article I began to question elements of Moosavi’s argument:

 ‘There are also protagonists who actively seek to dismiss Islamophobia as a concept because they claim it is one that prevents free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion.
It is important here to distinguish between legitimate criticism of a religious ideology and generalisations and attacks against those who have a Muslim identity. Just like it is possible to disagree with Jewish theology without being anti-semitic, it is possible to disagree with Islamic theology without being Islamophobic.’

Is Moosavi right to say that “legitimate criticism” of Islam is not in itself a problem? I suspect that many commentators Moosavi would consider Islamophobic manage to avoid even verbal, let alone physical, “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” But when people criticise Islam with single-minded and passionate dislike, when they cherry pick sources to exclude less conservative interpretations of the religion, then it is hard to say that such discourse doesn’t have an impact on people’s treatment of individual Muslims.

However Moosavi is also in danger of making “Islamophobia” embrace much that one wouldn’t want to ban or even censure. There is a potentially huge contested area between “legitimate criticism of a religious ideology” and “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.”  What about illegitimate criticism? And who gets to decide what is legitimate?  Some people, for example, took great exception to Tom Holland’s documentary about Islam, based on his book The Shadow of the Sword.  That was a serious project; but what about Charlie Hebdo, The Innocence of Muslims, Jesus and Mo?  It would have been better (assuming this is what he thinks) if Moosavi had made a stronger and more unequivocal defence of freedom.  And unfortunately some of the most vocal opponents of Islamophobia (though not, as far as I am aware, Moosavi) are happy to weaponise that word in order to smear leftists, liberals and secularists who would probably be very willing to make common cause with them against racists like the EDL.

But the EDM (945) Moosavi is urging MPs to support seems like a reasonable and limited measure, responding to a genuine problem, and I have asked my MP to support it.


  1. When exactly does “legitimate criticism” become “Islamophobia”? | ChristianBookBarn.com said,

  2. Malte Brigge said,

    For Marxism, religion is one of the principle fundamental templates for ideology as such. Religion gives answers to apparently insoluble problems and obviously therefore perfoms a salutory as well as delusional function. It allows for a way of seeing the world in an ordered fashion – not by defintion a detrimental thing. Third, it focuses social power and wealth and channels it. fortuh, it therefore becomes a contituent of the subject’s identity as it holds and places them in the ‘world’. All these functions and operations, either negative or positive, can be termed ‘ideological’. To critique religion therefore is by definition to critique the people that adhere to it. I have never encountered a religion with no people in it! The idea of a sort of un-offensive critique of religion is a soft liberal dream (itself an ideological aspirin). It’s similar to saying that you hate ultra right-wing conservatism but not the people who believe in it! Feel free to let religious apologists ‘legitimise’ your comments into Sunday Supplement chatter – not for me though!

    • Jim Denham said,


      For Marxists, religion is an “ideology” of false consciousness that needs to be challenged and defeated. It may be a “way of seeing the world in an ordered fashion” but that in itself does not make it factually correct or in any way emancipationary. All manner of misguided and crazy ideologies (spiritualism, teapot-worship, illuminati – conspiuracy theories, UKIP, etc, etc) also serve such a function

      I can agree, Malte, that “to critique religion therefore is by definition to critique the people that adhere to it,” and, indeed that was the position of those of us who challenged the SWP and other relativist/ identity-politics people in the STWC and the Socialist Alliance who said we should’t criticise Islam or Islamism: they were, in effect, saying that people’s religious beliefs weren’t very important. We said those beliefs *were* important, and therefore needed to be taken seriously and challenged.

      By the way, on your claim that the stance of hating “ultra right-wing conservatism but not the people who believe in it” is inconsistent: surely it is a-b-c Marxism that we try to relate to, and understand, the backward ideas of workers and win them over: and that doesn’t mean in any way making concessions to those backward ideas?

  3. Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce) OOps upside your Head this time with feeling said,

    there is no such thoing as islamaphobia. it is an invention.

  4. Malte Brigge said,

    Points taken Jim,
    My main point I guess, is that letting ourselves be ‘judged’ as ‘legitimate’ or not by religiously minded commentators and apologists is the road to purgatory (forgive the pun). It is my contention that criticising religious idiocy always means hurting people’s feelings – it is just the way it is, there is no way out of that. Second, people who are prepared to even consider this stance of ‘criticising but not offending’, should further consider that if one is judged as speaking ‘illegitimately’ then if one persits then one must be either silenced or punished. I disagreed with Chris Hitchens on many many points, but on this he was surely correct – behind the ‘legitimate/illegitimate’ stance of religious apologist resides an age old threat. This is typical of all theocratic thinking -you agree or you are an apostate to be brought forcibly under the ‘fold’, cast out, or punished. The position of sitting in ‘judgement’ on what is licit or illicit is either granted politically by agreement or contract (by political leaders or groups of various kinds and status) or recognised as earned by acknowledged preeminence in the field (philosophers, those who have gained victories – workers in struggle and so on) – it is not simply ‘given’ because you happen to be ‘religious’ – we no longer accept the notion of the divine ‘elect’. It is my belief that those who say that a criticism is ‘illegitmiate’ and so on, are more often than not actually saying that they don’t ‘like’ it! A confusion (often deliberate) of fact and value very typical of the religiously-minded.
    With all best,

  5. Greg said,

    The Jewish religion is thoroughly shitty but since the holocaust you can’t say that and zionism has used this as cover for its crimes.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Blah, blah, blah..”zionism has used this as cover ” blah, blah, blah, etc, etc…

    …I’m not antisemitic, just anti-zionist, can’t you tell the difference…blah, blah, blah..

    Oh dear, oh dear.

    • Greg said,

      No I’m not anti-semitic I just think the Jewish religion is one of the most benighted belief systems on the planet and it is surely not controversial to say that Zionism has taken the sympathy afforded the Jewish people following the Holocaust and used it to cover its own murderous crimes. I think that ship has now sailed. But perhaps it is you who is the anti-semite as you clearly identify Judaism and Zionism much in the way the EDL identify Islamists with Islam and ordinary Muslims. Yes, I think that must be it. You are an anti-semite Zionist.

      • Sholem Aleichem said,


        Even in a thread below an article that has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews the antisemitic scum have to spread their filth.
        If “since the Holocaust you can’t say that”, then why is the internet fifty feet deep in ranting, spiteful “antizionist” rhetoric like yours, even under articles which don’t mention Jews or have anything to do with them? Amazing how, whenever anyone challenges these vile, pig-ignorant comments, however mildly, the commenter starts bleating about how they are being censored by the tentacles of the Zionist Octopus…you haven’t been deleted, have you? Fucking hell – if it was my blog this sort of irrelevant racist rubbish would have disappeared immediately.

        Up until a little more than a decade ago your sort would have found solace and comradeship in groups like the BNP or National Front. Now you have groups like the PSC, SWP and Respect, most of whose time is spent repeating the mantra “we’re not antisemitic, ’cause we disapproved of the Holocaust*, we just think that it’s now our raison d’etre to spend every day of our worthless lives campaigning for a Jew-free Middle East”.

        A good site for an obsessive neonazi trying to pass himself off as a Palestinian rights Supporter would be deLiberation.com. Have fun!

        (*except PSC, who have plenty of members who either approve wholeheartedly of the Holocaust, or believe that it never happened but ought to as soon as possible)

  7. Minerva Strigiform said,

    There are so many problems with this language and also risible terms such as ‘moderate muslim’, ‘fundamentalist muslim’ or ‘radical muslim’ which are bandied about with such gay abandon by various professional and amateur commentators.

    Your HP Sauce or EDL/BNP/UKIP common or garden racist uses ‘islam’ as a convenient fig leaf for actual racism based on skin colour/perceived ethnicity. It doesn’t matter whether someone is from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Pakistan, they are a ‘paki’ to the racist, and can be agitated against on the basis that they pose a threat to society, and people are constantly uncomfortable in the knowledge that they may be attacked at any time. It is no different to the law in Arizona which forces hispanic american citizens to carry their papers all the time or risk being deported to Mexico.
    So it’s not really about religion at all, it’s merely a convenient stick with which to beat people who are not lily white.

    Next, muslims are not ‘moderate’ or whatever, they are, just as adherents of other [abrahamic] religions, either secularised to a greater or lesser degree, or observant (even self-styled quran literalists, just like the xtian right, cherry pick from scripture to suite their own very worldly ends). If we want to look at actions and motivations then we must examine the contending social forces.

    • Sholem Aleichem said,

      So what happens if I want to criticise the fanatical hateful views of a white British convert to Islam?

      Lauren Booth, Laura Stuart (ex-national Front, now a “devout Muslim”), Yvonne Ridley, George Galloway…all pushing a disgusting far-right ideological viewpoint in the name of “Islam”. Is pointing out their antisemitism, their enthusiastic support for HAMAS (a Nazi party whichever way you try to spin it) etc “racist”?

      What about when hate preachers from cesspits like the East London Mosque are challenged? Is that “racism” when I point out that they are calling for execution of homosexuals, abolition of women’s rights and jihad against Jews?

      When atrocities are committed in the name of Islam (the July 2005 bombings in London to pick one of hundreds of examples) of course any person with half a brain can distinguish between the perpetrators and the majority of Muslims. However people like Ken Livingstone are always on hand to decry any mention of Political Islam as a driving force behind these acts as “Islamophobia”.

      A racist is easy enough to spot, whether they’re from the BNP/EDL/NF axis or their PSC/SWP/Respec’ mirror images. However “Islamophobia” is a term usually employed to silence any criticism of or worry about the hateful and dangerous nature of Political Islam (or “Islamism”, or whatever term you prefer to distinguish it from Islam as a faith).

      Incidentally, have you ever read the Koran? If you have (though most people who rant about “Islamophobia” clearly have never so much as glanced at it) you may be able to determine why some people are less than enthused about the ever-increasing tolerance of its literal interpretation by religious and political figures (note: its content about Jews makes Mein Kampf look like a holiday brochure).

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Rumy Hasan’s 2003 article on “Islamophobia” is still worth reading, and deals with many of the points that Minerva (above) has raised:

  9. Malte Brigge said,

    The Hasan article is worth the read and its main points a valid to my mind. However, his recommendation of the SSP in Scotland is a mistake. I was a member and worked closely with them. I broke with them over the national question. Their position on Scottish independence and nationalism is simply delusional and in some odd respects even racist. They claim that an independent Scotland would act as a ‘socialist symbol’ to the rest of the UK’. I could not quite get to the bottom of what that meant concretely other than that a socialist scotland would appear as a sort of beacon of light to a Tory England. This is pure fantasy, full of ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ and based on childish notions of symbolic efficacy that only infantile believers in totemic magic adhere to. Second, they claim that the Scottish working class and ‘people’ are in general, somehow intrinsically more socially minded if not actually socialist in tendency. Unlike their kin over the border who are so congenitally backward that they keep voting Tory. An independent Scotland would ‘protect’ the good Scottish kindly ones from these political primitves, or so the theory goes. Again, this is either bad faith or idiocy of the worst kind. In one respect I argued, this means that the SSP are effectively running away from the broader struggle and abandoning their comrades in a less favourable political situation. At worst it is nothing more than nationalistic stereotyping based on primitve notions of ethnic ‘traits’ and so on. If English comrades said that Scotland has the worst health and obesity in Europe (which it does) because all the Scots are culturally predisposed to eat fish suppers and guzzle Iron Brew one can imagine the response. But apparently it is fine for the SSP to claim that the English are less socially aware and predisposed to be less militant. Apart from all this, the SSP MSPs that were returned previously made fools of themsleves in the parliament to such a degree that I could no longer take them seriously (dressing up in a Robin Hood costume is not what I want or need from my comrades). Forget them, they are like superannuated sixth formers who got poor grades – I know I was one of them for a while and the playpen is wonderful until you hit serious and crucial political demands. In my view phrases such as ‘the inclinations and expectations of the Scottish people…’ etc etc have no place in the vocabulary of a serious materialist and dialectical mind.

  10. chris brennan said,

    Islam and all religion should be banned in the UK.

  11. Minerva Strigiform said,

    @ Malte, Hasan was writing in 2003 when the SSP had just been elected to the Scottish Parliament, therefore without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Yeah, I read some (SSP?) bollox claiming that with Salmond (the former RBS economist) in power after 2007, the balance of contending social forces in Scotland weighed heavily on the side of the working class.

    If English comrades said that Scotland has the worst health and obesity in Europe (which it does) because all the Scots are culturally predisposed to eat fish suppers and guzzle Iron Brew one can imagine the response.

    Yes, a hovering rat would materialise and shout that fish suppers and irn bru do not exist in Scotland.

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