I have been increasingly frustrated by the direction in which Phil, Sebastian and maybe one or two others are taking the comments in my post on the Dove World Outreach Center’s burn-a-Quran day. Instead of focusing on the obvious Islamophobia motivating the event, they want to interrogate Islam, Islamic values, the values Muslims hold, etc., and it seems to me that they want to do this in part in order to determine whether or not the Islamophobia my post was pointing out is at all justified. (I might be wrong about this; it is just the feeling I get.) For example, as I pointed out in a response to Phil, there is a big difference between asking, as he does:
Does that mean, then, that it is always wrong to wonder how many millions of Muslims hold extremist views?
Does that mean, then, that it is always wrong to wonder what percentage of Muslims hold extremist views?
The former version of the question seems to me clearly Islamophobic, not because there might not be millions of Muslims who hold such views, but because the question proposes its own answer in a way that frames Muslims as “the enemy.” If we were talking about any other religious group, I don’t think this kind of rhetoric would be allowed to stand unchallenged, and I think people from those groups would, rightly, refuse to engage the conversation precisely because the rhetoric of the question is so biased and inflammatory.
To give a specific example, an awful lot of people have a problem with the idea within Judaism that the Jews are God’s “chosen people.” I can understand why someone who is not Jewish might not care that this phrase does not have a monolithic meaning within the Jewish community, that they might, in other words, find offensive any way in which the phrase can be understood. It is, however, one thing to say, simply, that this belief and therefore Judaism is offensive; while it is quite something else to demonize the Jewish people as, for example, Zionist conspirators who want to rule the world and feel it is their right to do so because they are God’s chosen people. (And I would like, please, to leave out of any discussion of this what Christians mean when they talk about the Jews as God’s chosen people.) Similarly, as I pointed out in another comment: It is one thing to point that there have been despotic Black political leaders in the world, demonstrating–as if it needed to be demonstrated–that Black people are just as capable of being evil and oppressive as everyone else, but it is quite something else to start talking about those leaders when the discussion at hand is about anti-Black racism in the United States.
There is nothing wrong with asking questions about Islamic values, beliefs and traditions, even for the purpose of critiquing them; there is nothing wrong with asking how many of which Muslims hold which kinds of beliefs, religious, political or otherwise; there is nothing wrong with pointing out that Sharia law has within it, as do Jewish and Christian law, elements that we today consider barbaric, and there is nothing wrong with pointing out that those regimes which put those elements into practice are, in fact, behaving barbarically.
I hope that statement is unambiguous enough. Because there is something wrong with using those questions to demonize Muslims and their religious tradition. And that is why I have given this post the title I have given it. I just wish I knew enough about Islam to write Islamophobia 101.