Islamophobia is stupid: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

The Messenger of Allah said, “The believer does not defame, abuse, disparage, nor vilify.” (al-Tirmidhi)

So it is official, Islamophobia IS stupid! Well, at least the Associated Press (AP) rejected the term (along with Homophobia and “ethnic cleansing”) in their most recent update to the AP Stylebook. [For those who don't know, the AP is an organization that among other things sets the journalistic standards for American Journalism if not most of English speaking world. To learn more about the AP, visit them here: http://www.ap.org/company/news-values]

 

The AP's Reasoning for Excluding “-phobias”

The online Stylebook now says that “-phobia,” “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness,” should not be used “in political or social contexts,” including “homophobia” and “Islamophobia.” AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told Politico, “”We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing.” – Emphasis added original source can be found here.

 

Why is this important? Two main reasons come to mind:

1)      Journalist will begin to avoid using the term in their own writing and will tend to use it primarily in quotes of their interviewees

2)      This represents a rare opportunity for Muslims to be able to define ourselves and shape the conversation about Islam and Muslims using more accurate, relatable and positive language.

In the first two parts of this series (part 1 here & part 2 here) we explored my argument that using the term Islamophobia was a strategic blunder destined to cause our community and causes more harm than good.

The major themes of my arguments were based on several factors like the etymology of the phrase, the dehumanizing effect it has on Muslims and the fact that Muslims are a religious grouping of people, not a race or are we ethnically monolithic. I then argued that the use of Islamophobia necessitates a strategy that leads to our community to be seen as a special interest group instead of a normal, contributing part of the societies we live in.  Furthermore, we covered how the phrase Islamophobia is a politicized, inaccurate and invented term with multiple meanings that mostly was ineffective with regard to shaming bigotry against Muslims.

In these final pieces I hope to show how its use negatively affects our relationships and the “brand” or general perception of Islam and Muslims. Finally, I will recommend a way forward that I believe will better serve our community.

 

New Developments, New Strategies?

Contrary to the kneejerk reaction many of us will have to this development, now that journalists will be using the term Islamophobia only when quoting their sources and interviewees, the Muslim voice can be even MORE empowered. Muslims who are supportive of the term Islamophobia will use similar arguments as many leaders of gay community have already articulated in their response to the AP's rejection of Homophobia: mainly that the term is established and that there is a need to shame bigots.

However, with regard to Islamophobia neither of these points are as strong as they are with homophobia not to mention that these responses still do not deal with the core reason for AP's rejecting the terms on the grounds of accuracy.

Homophobia especially — it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case” said AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn. Source here.

The crucial concept for us to examine is how our messaging (specifically Muslim's use of the term Islamophobia) shapes the way in which people view our faith and community. Are we favoring relationship building and the idea of soft power or are we attempting to use coercion?  Will our community and more specifically the leadership of our major national organizations employ strategic messaging or continue to depend on reactionary rhetoric?

 

So what are our goals?

We just concluded one of the most polarizing political campaigns in recent history. And while I predicted the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry during the 2012 elections, we would be fool hearted to think that any drop in anti-Muslim defamation we are likely to see in the coming months means that people do not continue to harbor distrust and/or ill will for those that they do not know. The reality is that the effects of our deeply divided nation will linger for years to come and this is precisely the type of environment that fuels fear and hate.

Bias against Muslims and/or Islam is a real problem. How we deal with it is what matters. Do we seek acceptance from those who hate us? Do we confront hate with force? What options do we have?

As Muslims we should always begin with an examination of our intentions and goals, then establish and maintain our integrity in pursuit of our goals.

If we merely seek the self-satisfaction of calling out bigots, we are on the right track with phrases like Islamophobia. Media highlights and footage of Muslims using language like this makes for good fundraising today, but does it serve our communities long term interests? Is the temporary emotional satisfaction we derive worth the potential costs and can this strategy really heal the wounds of fear, bias or hate?

If our goals are to be able to practice our religion freely, to be respected as Muslims and to clear misconceptions about Islam, then we are woefully on the wrong track.

A useful formula to understand confrontation is the dialectical method.

In short the dialect formula says that thesis A and thesis B result in synthesis AB. Or in very simple terms when two cultures, ideas or even points of view meet, that their meeting has an impact on the original starting points. Our task as people on the religion of truth is to manage that outcome to the best of our ability, not to deepen the divisions between people.

 

Principles and self-confidence

Islamophobia is a term that is unbefitting of a self-respecting Muslim, because ultimately embracing the term forces us to internalize an unhealthy world view.

The Messenger of Allah said, “Anger is a burning coal. It burns in the heart.” (al-Tirmidhi and al-Bayhaqi)

By seeing ourselves through the lens of someone else's fears and/or ignorance, we willingly preoccupy our consciousness with negative imagery about our community and religion. We begin internalizing the narrative that we are reacting against: that Islam is the problem. This is a sure path to developing a communal victim mentality and can lead to generations of Muslims with self-image problems and therefore self-limited progress and stunted influence.

This is not consistent with the example of how our noble Prophet dealt with the hatred and persecution that the early Muslims faced.

Our Prophet said, “Wondrous are the believer's affairs. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is so only for the believer. When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him; and when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient, and that is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim)

We have to understand that life today — with the onslaught of so much messaging, opinion, information and consumerism, combined with a weak economy — means that people do not have the desire nor the time to pay attention to nuances and issues of groups they are not sympathetic toward or do not identify with.

In today's mass communication world, we have to recognize, respect and begin to utilize the power of framing discussions. The frame of Islamophobia does allow us to call people out for bigotry — I think rather weakly and ineffectively — however, in the minds of non-Muslims it also permanently places us in the role of conflict at worst, or as a special interest at best.

 

Let's look at a typical scenario:

A Muslim or some group of Muslims is confronted with bias. We respond by calling it Islamophobia. Then a significant portion of the larger society we live in, learns about this incident through watching a 30 second spot on the news. The news segment has little background or context. Often the viewer feels implicated by our response and treatment of one of “their” own. They feel implicated not because they are committed “Islamophobes” but because they do not know much about Islam and Muslims, they do not ever have to deal with anti-Muslims sentiment and often these folks are sympathetic (regardless of if the source of the bias is based in hate, ignorance or mis-information) to what we just called Islamophobia.

Far too often we respond like this and galvanize bystanders – who normally would not care enough to have a position on our community — against us. Furthermore people who are already civil liberties and civil rights minded are already supportive so our response does not move them and the rest of the community either will still not care or develop a sense that they are being called a racist or bigot by virtue of them belonging to a demographic similar to the perpetrators of the original anti-Muslim bias.

This is in part where the false narrative that Muslims don't condemn terror comes from. The non-Muslim public more often hears more about Muslims condemning bigotry and oppression against Muslims, than anything that Muslims actually stand for or believe. They almost never hear directly from Muslims in any context other than some spokesperson reacting to some negative event while almost never being exposed to any positive information about Islam or Muslims.

Simply put, it is important to realize that the average American has more than enough in their own life to worry about. So when it comes to some other subset of the population, most Non-Muslims just want to know that we won't blow them up, sit by and allow someone else to blow them up, limit their freedoms or use their resources.

Here is another way to look at it. Person A says, “I don't want a Mosque at ground zero.” Person B says, “You are an Islamophobe!” The conversation ends and denigrates into a conflict. Conflict with Muslims already having a “goodwill deficit” combined with the prevalent ignorance about our faith and community is normally a net loss for our long term goals of respect and freedom to practice our faith.

 

Expanding our messaging toolbox

Fighting fire with fire sometimes works, however it also leaves a scorched earth. That is fine in some cases, like stopping the advance of a wildfire. But we are dealing with people, ideas and emotions not land, brush and trees.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy about how we label and respond to hate is that we fail to capitalize on the fact that we are truly empowered to define our own narrative. We have the power to accept or reject the terms used and now with the AP's stance we can really make a strategic shift in our messaging.

Remember that the latest demographic numbers have our community at less than 2% of the U.S. population. Can we afford reactionary or opposition messaging as our primary voice in media coverage?

 

To Date Our Efforts Have Not Produced Positive Results

It is well documented that over the last eleven years there has been a steady and negative shift or decline in people's attitudes about Islam and Muslims at large and Americans' perceptions about American Muslims have been stagnant while opinions about Islam have eroded.  Documented research from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life is available here and from the Gallup Muslim-West Perceptions Index available here along with video here.

 

In the final segment of this series (Islamophobia is Stupid Part IV) we will conclude by examining alternative terms and two new strategies for our community to adopt: 1) containment of anti-Muslim bias and 2) values-based relationship building through strategic messaging.

 

COMMENT POLICY

Comments not related to the subject of this piece will be edited or deleted. Apologetics and any other forms of ‘my religion is better than your's will be moderated. NOTE: Telling Muslims what we believe or debating us about how to understand our religious texts can and should be done on other forums.

9 Responses

  1. Reality Check

    This is the type of stuff I’ve come to expect from the “internet class” of Muslim activists. I have gained no insights from this article except a tour of the dictionary.

    The AP is not God. Who cares what they reject? There has to be SOME term for anti-Muslim hate that is not three words. Yes, phobia is not perfect because it also means psychological conditions, so let’s throw out xenophobia – because no one is truly “afraid” – how enlightening. But let’s say, for practical reasons, we must throw out Islamophobia due to the AP’s treatment, and then replace it with a more “accurate” (but longer) phrase, like anti-Muslim hate. There, done. One line article. But no one gets popular through that do they? So let’s reanalyze our entire approach as Muslims in America in a 4 part post, and pretend to have come up with the answer to solving anti-Muslim hate.

    The reality is, most of these authors have experienced “Islamophobia” in the medium in which they live – through the internet. Why wouldn’t it be stupid? It’s an abstract thing that is only viewed through youtube. Thus, we get poorly researched, knee-jerk white flag waving responses to the decisions of the god of all things associated press. (and I say authors because I think Brother Galloway HAS been in the trenches, I’ve just seen too many of these kinds of articles, and I’m surprised to see one like this from Brother Galloway).

    This is what I’m sick and tired of: anecdotes, knee jerk emotional pieces about the poor moronic mom in Kentucky who thinks Obama’s a Muslim, and that all Muslims are out to get her. I’m tired of this garbage that wouldn’t receive a passing grade in any college course. Where’s the research? Where’s the empirical evidence? How did you come to the conclusion that “current strategies are not working?” You sound like a Republican talking about the economy and that it hasn’t improved fast enough, without considering how worse the economy could have been without Obama. And that’s my problem with the internet class of Muslims – they have the logical and empirical reasoning of Republicans, which is to say they have none.

    Brother states most average Americans see a 30 second news clip about Islamophobia, then they form their opinions. The flip side to that is, many Muslim activists also view anti-Muslim hate, Islamophobia, Misunderstandings-between-wonderful-average-Americans-and-Muslim-Americans, whatever you want to call it, they also view it through 30 second clips – and are left just as uninformed.

    Back up your statements, with data. You have none? Then research. Don’t want to? Then stop writing about things you came up with while drinking tea with your friends in comfortable suburbia.

    The “typical scenario” above is the perfect example of making up your own facts. Because the brother lacks research or data, he has to make up his own “typical scenario,” which is made-up nonsense to fit the argument, again, like a Republican. Where does this typical scenario occur? How do bystanders get galvanized? Did you not consider Pamela Gellar galvanizing them? And then how do these people automatically link themselves to Islamophobia if Pamela Gellar is called an Islamophobe on the news? And then magically, the average American feels like Muslims don’t condemn terror enough because of that? LOL! What garbage!

    Show me – where did Person A say I don’t want a mosque at ground zero, and Person B calls them Islamophobe right from the get go?? Did Imam Faisal Rauf or Daisy Khan say any of those things? No, they carried themselves with grace and dignity in the middle of a KKK lynch mob. And yes, Pem Gellar and Robert Spencers are filth, they are Islamohobes, they will not be called Mother Theresa by me.

    And it all comes down to the mythical, moronic average American the internet class is trying to woo. Who is this person? I’ve never met one. I’ve met good people, bad people, open minded and closed minded. And yes, many Americans are bigoted. Unless you failed U.S. history, or you’re a coward (and I’m afraid I must say that), you will know that a large part of this country is boiling over with racism and hatred of anything non-white, and you will have the courage to include it in your analysis. They are not victims of our messaging. I have no obligation to go knocking door to door and tap dancing for these people, showing I’m human – they’re supposed to know that or they can make their own effort to reach out and meet their Muslim neighbors half-way.

    I’m sick and tired of the internet class, again – where is your empirical research of average Americans and how they develop their feelings towards Muslims? Is there a secret focus group I know nothing about? You have mentioned nothing of the propaganda of FOX News, the war machine they support, and the Republican/Tea party who counts on Islamophobia to scare up votes. By placing the blame squarely on Muslims and our strategies, you have failed to truly analyze the problem and once again, like the majority of the internet class, have wasted everyone’s time and this article will just be lost in obscurity like the rest of them. (Really, let me know how this is going in 1 month).

    I’m sick of this garbage because of another psychological condition we have: Fear to call it out like it really is. How’s that for a phobia? We feel like the poor average American must be catered to at all times, but we are cowards to say admit that some of these people will never be reached, no matter what the strategy. We need validation from these “real” Americans in order to be truly “integrated.” And due to mental colonization, we also don’t take anti-Muslim hate seriously unless a white, non-Muslim says it – oh then it must be true! OK, need a white guy? Glenn Greenwald, the premier civil rights intellectual today, said that the civil rights struggle of American Muslims is THE most important struggle of our modern era, and it’s the most challenging because it happens behind closed doors. He says the courage of organizations like CAIR and Muslim Advocates is important, because the rest of the organizations lack such courage. Not my words, Glenn Greenwald and Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson’s words.

    Here’s the problem. A good 25% of this country IS racist. They are not victims. They are the spawn of slave owners and descendants of the KKK, and they have these attitudes. Some of these people have burned dozens of mosques around the country, have sent death threats, mailed pigs feet to mosques, shot and killed Sikhs thinking they are Muslims, killed Muslim store owners, and more. Their more sophisticated brethren is going around training law enforcement departments to identify terrorists based on who prays, they have convinced 25 state legislators to consider or pass anti-Muslim legislation, they have produced children’s textbooks saying that Mohammed was a rapist and that all Muslims are commanded to kill. Other actors have convinced the government and its security apparatus to send informants into each and every mosque, and FBI agents now attend potlucks on one hand and conduct investigations with the other. Entire federal prisons exist just for Muslims, not Guantanamo, but here in the states. Bottom line, there is an utter tsunami of ISLAMOPHOBIA, and the internet Muslim class is having debates about etymology! TAKBIR!

    And after all this, you’re asking why the average American thinks Muslims are terrorists, and all you’ve come up with is that we used the wrong word? That we showed up and answered questions to a news reporter while a mosque burned? That, we looked bigotry in the eye and called it such? WOW!

    Allah help us if this is the level of thought we call sophisticated.

    Looking forward to part 4 strategies – and if you can, employ these “strategies” in one community for one year, tell me how it works in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, then we can make claims about what works and what doesn’t.

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  2. Reality Check

    I forgot to mention:

    Thousands of Muslim lives have been ruined and destroyed. Thousands of legal immigrants have been deported, families have been separated, mosques have been shut down, well-run charities have been shut down and our zakat money has been frozen, people have been jailed under the guise of “secret evidence,” many thousands more Muslim children struggle with bullying. And your response? The word used to describe these tragedies is stupid! TAKBIR!

    I know I know, I shouldn’t mention all these bad things, because that’s “victimization,” right? I’d love to see the four part piece on victimization.

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    • Mahmud

      wa alaykumusalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Why don’t you ever talk about Muslims around the world whose suffering is far greater than ours? Are you making us some kind of separate entity which looks after it own self? American Muslim? SubhanAllah are we more part of this Ummah which is eternal or this temporary nation which will pass away like all others?

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      • Iesa Galloway

        Asalaam Alaikum Mahmud,

        A weak unempowered Muslim community can “talk” all we want about any topic. I focus my time and efforts on trying fast track our community (the American Muslim community) into a better, stronger and empowered position. Perhaps if we got our act together we could enact positive change… or we could keep on talking among ourselves online. Remember MuslimMatters is primarily read by Muslims, (who have plenty of sources telling them how bad the situation is for our brothers and sisters around the world) so I message to Muslims in America and pray that if the stances/ideas I promote are applicable elsewhere that those communities’ leaders will also apply them.

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      • Mahmud

        Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        What is your ideal? What is a better, stronger, empowered position?

        In any case, Jazzakallahu khairan. This piece, at least quoted from Sunnah. I would include ayat if I were you.

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  3. Reality Check

    Brother Galloway, thank you for your class act response to my very harsh comment. I have lost family to Islamophobia and truly evil people, thus I wish to remain anonymous, and I’ve found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the response from Muslim activists focusing so much on the average American and “if we just got the right message to these poor angels.”

    I think we really need to step back and analyze who we are as Muslims in America and our situation, from a broader perspective. Historically, it has taken 2-3 generations of people in America to be accepted, and we’re asking for that in 2 (yes I know African Americans have been here longer), on top of being associated with the worst terrorist attack in the country. The Irish, Jews, Hispanics and other immigrant groups who aren’t associated with such things had to struggle for years, who are we to think it should have been done in 10 years?

    Second, I think a big problem that is never discussed is the utter greed of the Muslim ummah in this country. Our mosques are embarrassing, underfunded, too small for the community institutions, lacking full time staff and services. That’s simply a reflection of our lack of will to donate and build – many American Muslims are free-loaders and are not willing to sacrifice big, like buy a smaller house or car, to donate $10,000 or more to an institution. Many people I know in their 20’s or 30’s wouldn’t dream of contributing over $1000 to ANY cause.

    Because of this greed, we commit to projects on tiny shoe-string budgets that, although good on paper, will never work because they require millions of dollars to properly implement. American Muslims can easily raise $50-100 million dollars to fund a professional public relations campaign to completely erase Islamophobia, but we choose not to. Instead, we are left with half-baked efforts like “My Fellow American”, and then when these half-baked efforts don’t work, we think “OK our strategy isn’t working.” Then we perpetuate a cycle of reinventing the wheel.

    To me it’s simple. Generations upon generations of people have been through this. America started in 1776, not 1976 when immigrant Muslims arrived. We have many examples to look to – just because we aren’t the same color or speak the same language doesn’t mean we can’t learn – we ARE the same group for purposes of how we identify ourselves and how others define us.

    We need a CAIR to fight the Gellars and Spencers, and to take certain issues to court (which builds good case law favorable to Muslims, look it up), just because they do that doesn’t make it a bad thing to do. But we also need new organizations and campaigns to focus on the PR side. And we need MPACs of the world who have access to Washington D.C. insiders and the white house.

    We need to have the courage to accept the fact that 30% of Americans will never like us, the same 30% who hate blacks and everyone else. Forget them. Our goal should be to make sure their hate stays in their living rooms, and that politicians don’t mobilize that hate.

    Thus, we need to make responsible people in leadership positions accountable – media, politicians, and major institutions, and make sure they don’t engage in Islamophobia. If they don’t, then Billy in Kentucky won’t.

    We need to go for the “swing voter” – not the bottom 30%, but people in the middle who might be swayed by a PR campaign. This requires putting our money where our mouth is – raising the millions needed to do it right, like the Mormons have done with those commercials. Why can’t we have a super-bowl commercial or newspaper campaign? Let’s do that.

    Finally, we need to stop belittling and chastising the countless activists and other Muslim leaders who have sacrificed their livelihoods, family time and health for the sake of Muslims in America. They have done the best they could with very limited resources, and for what? To hear from us complain how they have failed. That is deeply unfair and unjust. Our organizations, and the people running them, have done a lot, and we ought to be thankful and not just non-stop critical.

    It’s easy to be critical of your own people. It takes a leader to be inspirational though. Muslim Americans are tired of hearing from our own people that we suck. We have the lowest crime rates. We are honest, hard working people. We volunteer and make our communities better, each and every day, and we have to hear how that’s not enough because Susie in Kentucky hasn’t heard about our free health clinics in California or New Jersey.

    I would love to read any post on Muslim Matters saying: “Hey you know what, we are a good people and we have made this country better. There are some horrible attitudes among some of our fellow Americans, and we will do our best to reach out to them, but if they choose to have veils drawn over their hearts, we will move on and ensure such people don’t have the slightest opportunity to harm our community, because we will protect it, and in doing so, we protect America and its values.”

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  4. Muhammad Abdul Haqq

    Sorry akhi, but it’s rightly called a phobia. It is a psychological illness, hence the definition “irrational fear and hatred of all things Islam(including it’s practitioners)”.

    And I agree with the brother, who cares what the kuffar think..honestly, I am trying my best not to sound hateful, but the kuffar are our enemies. They are the enemies of Allah. I have non-Muslim family and acquaintances, a few friends, and because of that I have tried to see the good in them. But this approach of apparently kow-towing to them is simply wrong-headed.

    Allah says in the Qur’an that the hatred they(some of them) conceal in their breasts?(hearts) is even worse than what they manifest of speech. True some of them can be reached, but many more will reject you no matter what strategy you employ, unless of course you denounce Islam, in whole or in parts, and accept their way of life. In my view, true victimization is when we refuse to even call a spade a spade.

    Barak Allahu Feek.

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    • Mahmud

      Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Ahh….you grasped the point I would like to have grasped……

      Exactly why should we care what they think about us?

      Why? They hate Islam. They hate the death for adulterers and sodomites and the cutting of hands of thieves. All of that is part of our deen.

      They don’t like it. We will NEVER satisfy them. This push to be accepted by everyone is excessive.

      We Muslims care more about pleasing Allah and we fear Allah and not the Jews and Christians.

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