The Case Against "Islamophobia" - Civic Engagement & the 2016 Election

The best way to become a victim and play that role with no end in sight is to use terminology that forces you to be stuck in a self-deprecating cycle, in a box of your own making full of loaded emotions, in a world where you'll be perpetually fighting for your rights as though you are owed them rather than inalienably born with them.

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Enter the term "Islamophobia". Or fear of Islam, supposedly. Muslims love to use it. And frankly it's annoying. Why, you ask? Because it's actually a "conflict driver". Be careful the terminology used in situations of conflict. Whoever coined the term did it without thinking critically about the consequences.

In our typical American love for cool acronyms, expedient labeling of everything and anything, and the desire to effect change with catchy internet words, tags and phrases, we fail to see that the word "Islamophobia" does the following:

1. Incites all Muslims, puts 1.7b people on the defensive, gets them all riled up and dangerous to deal with because of their intense desire to guard the sanctity of their faith

2. Allows people to deflect from the real problem of plain old ignorance about the faith and turn it into a political "them versus us” issue…it polarizes rather than offering a compassionate approach of educating and reasoning, which is a basic core tenet of Islam.

3. Takes the faith itself, which has nothing scary about it, and forces people to associate it with fear. If anything, we should fear "Muslims" who are doing wrong - those few bad ones who actually ignore or twist Islam for a myriad of reasons across the human spectrum and validate themselves using terms such as “Islamophobia” because it plays into their justifications.

4. Deflects from the fact that THERE IS indeed a bunch, or are more than enough bunches, of crazy Muslims out there using Islam to do things that cause people to associate the religion with violence and evil. So in the end, there is little self-reflection and less of putting the onus on those who need to make change. The term has allowed many to scapegoat or live in denial, much like the parent who cannot accept that his/her child did something egregious lest it reflect badly on their parenting.

5. Lets Muslims separate themselves from every other American based on religion. Which, as a pluralistic society, is designed to not really give any one group a cause or reason to consider itself any more entitled than another. If you read the last sermon of the Prophet (pbuh), he said (to paraphrase) that no Arab is better than another Arab, no white man is better than a black man and that we should each compete in good deeds as the measure of superiority. So in an ideal world, this genius would manifest itself as a relay race for goodness and the world would be a wonderful place. Clearly this sermon eliminates any sense of entitlement, so even when under attack, using religiously loaded terminology to demand certain treatment assumes you're apt to judge and feel judged based on a tribe you belong to and not necessarily the acts you engage in. 

6. Gives so much legitimacy to the Gellars, Spencers, Gaffneys and Pipes by playing their game using terms with religion in the semiotics. The best defense is to take away the religion and expose the issue for what it is - fear created by the marriage of ignorance and agendas. The best vantage point for negotiating in conflict is appealing to the common, empathetic universality of the problem. Which is sometimes as simple as informational incorrectness - better known in this case as Misinformation or Misrepresentation.

7. Assumes Islam needs defense and validation through anyone's fear or love for it. Maybe Muslims do - so in that vein, what if we called it “Muslimophobia” or fear of Muslims? Honestly, who says Blackophobia or Hinduphobia or Judophobia?.. Muslimophobia is semantically closer to "Anti-Semitism", I suppose. But Muslimophobia sounds ridiculous. So perhaps we should call it what it plainly and simply is: Hatred. It's basis is agendas and ignorance and more often than not in this case, these two things aren't mutually exclusive.

8. Allows American Muslim children to grow up under a cloud of negativity, where an essential part of their identity is under attack through the use of a word that legitimizes aversion to their religion. Do we want to separate bigotry by religion or label it as what it is: a universal condition across all faiths, cultures, races and classes. I, for one, refuse to have my children feel ghettoized…especially by way of their faith, which must always remain their source of hope and strength.

It can be incredibly dangerous to choose the easiest, basest and sadly hugely damaging terminology to call out the ignorance of others. The conversation so often remains intra-communal because it preemptively accuses outsiders (even those who honestly care and just need more information) of coming to the table from a place of fear - shutting dialogue down altogether or keeping it superficial at most. And we wonder why it continues to manifest in America, in even the highest echelons of power. It's time for good Muslims (everywhere) to take control of their own narratives with proper terminology and an understanding of semantics that goes beyond pop culture and convenience and a victim mentality.

Just because it's a popular trend or term, or serves to draw attention to a pressing problem doesn't always mean it has positive psycho-social or political ramifications. The only way to change the landscape that exists is by becoming civically and politically sophisticated in engaging others. We can start by using words that empower rather than provoke emotions of disenfranchisement and victim-hood. The opportunity exists this election cycle to go beyond fear.  


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