What is Islamophobia?
On Jan 1 of this year, I posted an article entitled "Why Americans Should Worry About H.R. 5665." The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill identified as the "Combating International Islamophobia Act." The bill is not law yet. It still needs to be voted on by the U.S. Senate, and if it passes that hurdle, then to be signed by the President. The bill requires specific existing annual reports to Congress about human rights and religious freedom in foreign countries to include information about Islamophobia, such as information about (1) acts of physical violence or harassment of Muslim people, (2) instances of propaganda in government and nongovernment media that attempt to justify or promote hatred or incite violence against Muslim people, and (3) actions that a country's government took to respond to such acts.
The bill has not moved in the Senate because it is ambiguous in how it defines Islamophobia. The fact is Islamophobia means different things to different people. It can be defined as restricting your civil rights, such as free speech and perhaps even the products your store might sell. The definition of Islamophobia could be structured to affect our political relations with Israel and disable any criticism of Islamist activities abroad and in the U.S. Criticism of Muslim groups abroad that persecute Christians could be construed as Islamophobia. Restricting polygamy or prohibiting donations to ISIS or al-Qaeda could be considered Islamophobia. It all depends on how Islamophobia is defined in H.R. 5665.
Why am I rehashing an old blog, you might ask? In June, several notable Islamic organizations met with elected officials in Washington D.C, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO). For readers unfamiliar with how a U.S. law gets passed, a bill has to be passed by the House of Representatives, passed by the Senate, and signed by the President. The House has passed this bill, and the President has said he will sign it. What remains is for the Senate to pass it. Come November, there is a good chance that Dr. Mehmet Oz, a Muslim from Pennsylvania, will be elected to the Senate. What better champion to shepherd the bill through the Senate? CAIR also knows there will not be a better time to pass this bill as the House will revert to the Republican side in 2022 and a Republican president in 2024.
The History of Islamophobia
The word "Islamophobia" was not seen in print until 1925, when two French authors criticized another author who portrayed Muhammad in unfavorable terms. In decades and even centuries before that, leadership in the European and American religious organizations described Muhammad as an imposter and even an associate of the devil.
An interesting story illustrates the casual acceptance of the denigration of Islam during the colonial days. It begins with Voltaire, who wrote the play Mahomet, The Impostor, in 1742. During the Revolutionary War, the play was performed for the British in 1780 and the Americans in 1782.
Voltaire's knowledge of Islam was weak, and of course, much of what he wrote was untrue or incorrect, but he was known for insulting all religions in his philosophical essays.
Thanks to Docteur Ralph via Wikipedia Commons for a scanned copy of the original program of the play.
In 1802, President Jefferson fought the war with the Barbary Pirates all the way to the "shores of Tripoli." That was America's first experience with Muslim barbarians, and it scared the bejesus out of the Christian community living here. Paying bribes to trade commerce, having multiple wives, enslaving war prisoners, treating women as chattel, and having a holy book that authorized beheading were all alien practices of the devil. This fear of Islam and Muslims had been detected, and religious leaders wasted no time exaggerating those fears among the population.
Once the dam broke in 1925, several authors used "Islamophobia" to describe the conditions of Islam, but nobody tried to define it. At that time, the only common aspect among all definitions of Islamophobia is that all of them have something negative to say about Muslims, Islam, or both. These authors used the term to refer to the belief that Islam and Muslims were Christianity's implacable, absolute, and eternal enemies.
Islamophobia as a Form of Racism?
America was the first to experience discrimination on a mass scale. Africans and their descendants had been oppressed through slavery and later racial discrimination up through the twentieth century. It took numerous laws like the Civil Rights Act to build a foundation on which the rights of minorities would be protected.
England's colonies followed the same path. Migrants from India, Pakistan, Africa, China, and South Asia flooded into Britain. If you remember the saying, "The sun never sets on the British Empire," British colonies and possessions were everywhere. The migrants finding their way to Britain were initially welcomed. Still, when it was obvious that their numbers would supersede those of the original English, their welcome was no longer offered. Most migrants coming to Britain are Muslim. The British even acknowledge that these migrants are having difficulty finding the quality of life they promised them.
Sociologists claim a "Muslim penalty" exists in the employment market due to cultural and religious practices. There are several passages in the Qur'an that prohibit Muslims from marrying outside the faith and even having friends that are not Muslims. The faith practices exclusion from outsiders. That makes it difficult to diversify into areas dominated by non-Muslims.
Is this what Islamophobia has evolved to – a Muslim penalty similar to racial discrimination? While I agree that is part of the problem, that is not the whole problem. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and even Christians do not experience the discrimination that Muslims experience. There is something more that we will explore later.