June 18, 2010

Islamophobia—the tendentious term trips off the tongue full of clinical condescension.

The word implies that the “phobe” has a neurological problem, and that the accuser is a doctor. Islamophobia, it is suggested, is akin to those other irrational fears that we all carry within the darkest whorls of our cerebral cortexes—agoraphobia, claustrophobia, vertigo, arachnophobia, xenophobia, Oedipus Complex, and penis envy (the latter not to be confused with homophobia).

Many non-Muslims do feel an instinctive aversion to Islam. Ghostly green banners flutter at the margins of Europe’s consciousness—shivery folk-memories of the horns at Roncesvalles, catastrophe at Constantinople, Barbary slavers harrying coasts from Ireland to Greece, or the janissaries sweeping up from Anatolia to stab at Austria before being turned and broken by the Lion of Lechistan.

The continent that gave humanity humanism usually cannot comprehend Islam’s impersonality (the simplicity, rigidity, and aridity redolent of the desert), the droning avowals of orthodoxy (the architectural-puzzle, music-less mosques with their profusely patterned but un-peopled ceramics and exhortations in straggling script), a whole world of “€˜empty”€™ exoticism associated with alienation, occupation, and oppression. G K Chesterton once said that if the world was a stage, the East would supply the scenery and the West the characters.

But despite these irresistible inferences, and modern disapproval of Islam’s ideas on women, homosexuals, and Jews, too many tie themselves in neurotic knots trying not to be “phobic”—writhing with guilt trying not to express thoughts they know they must not have, smiling ever more broadly while their eyes glitter with guilt.
“Islam is a religion of peace,” politicians and churchmen intone, out of happy ignorance of history, hunger for leverage, or in order to persuade themselves.  Cynics who subject every Christian fable to scrutiny or satire—metaphorically tearing up the Turin Shroud, exposing venerated viscera as having belonged to rabbits, photographing crucifixes in urine or telling jokes about nymphomaniac nuns or pedophile priests—always stop short of extending their critique to Islam.

“‘Islamophobia’ is a mischievous misnomer. At its heart, the bitter battle now beginning over Islam is an old-fashioned question of force majeure and comparative advantage.

We do not see in BBC news reports “The Messiah Christ” or “The Grand Piano L. Ron Hubbard”, but we do see “The Prophet” inserted as a reflex before every “Mohammed” as if the 7th century warlord’s very personal visions were axiomatically true and above examination. In a May news story about the Islamo-obscurantists who assaulted a lecturer at Uppsala University, the reporter was at pains to point out they were protesting depictions of “The Prophet” Mohammed with the body of a dog.

An exhibition at the Science Museum, “1001 Inventions—Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World”, tells us that Muslims devised stone arches and carpets 2,000 years ago—which shows great foresight, considering that Islam itself would not be invented until the 6th century. Muslims also allegedly named the stars and told us the earth was round—although these astronomical arcana were lifted from earlier Greek texts. And the exhibition dodges the killer question—what have they done lately?

In 2004, in a speech advocating Turkish EU membership, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw differentiated between “so-called Christian heritage states” and “Islamic heritage states.” He knew what everyone knows—that adherents of the “so-called” religion invariably roll over and play dead, whilst some adherents of the other try to ensure that critics don”€™t just play dead.

Similar motivations may have operated on a later Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, when he agreed with Home Office mandarin Sir John Gieve that there should be no official inquiry into the 7/7 bombings in London. According to papers just released, Gieve felt it could cause “community tension…if it was believed that it focused negatively on the Muslim community…We want something low key and probably non-statutory.” Would Clarke have been so cautious with Christians?

Speaking of criminals, on June 8 the Times reported a study by the Chief Inspector of Prisons which found prisoners are converting to Islam to obtain status or perks—like being excused work in order to attend prayers. There are dark rumors that some prisoners are being intimidated into converting, but others gave pleasanter reasons for their new-found interest in spiritual matters, such as “I”€™ve got loads of close brothers here. They share with you, we look out for each other” and “Food good too.”

“Islamophobia” is a mischievous misnomer and in any case the real or alleged “phobia” is not the point. At its heart, the bitter battle now beginning over Islam is an old-fashioned question of force majeure and comparative advantage—a question with sadly all too much relevance for Europe’s future.


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