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.