It’s seems we’re trapped in a bizarre cycle: a terrorist attack by Islamists on a Western target, followed by criticism of the link between Islam and terrorism, and then cries of ‘Islamophobia’ against those who spoke up. Rinse and Repeat.
Sometimes one must wonder what people react to more strongly – the attack itself, or the terrible sin of Islamophobia?
A phobia is defined as “an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something”. So Islamophobia is a fear of Islam or Muslims that is irrational (as an aside, it’s interesting that the term antisemitism has no connotations as to the extremity or irrationality of Jew-hatred, but what has become the corresponding term for Muslims has an inherent bias).
But how irrational is the fear brought about by these terrorist attacks? The attacks are declared to be against Western society, in the name of a brand of Islam that seeks to transform the world into a caliphate. These are not open spaces, closed spaces or spiders. These are groups of very bad people whose ideology is based on Islam, and who have openly declared war on our way of life and our values. The fear of what these people might do is genuine and rational.
Now, there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and the vast majority do not seek to impose their way of life on others. However, the ones that do, are doing so in the name of their religion. If anything, it is the terrorists who are giving Islam a bad name, not us. And the responsibility to clear the name of Islam rests primarily with Muslims rather than with the West. While blaming the entire religion is sometimes a stretch, the fear of Islamism is certainly very rational.
Indeed, the genuinely irrational fear we should be focussing on is not our fear of them, but their fear of us.
The Islamist theology maintains that the Quranic ideal human identity has come under attack, helped by the modern Western cultural influence. Further, they believe this ‘attack’ on their identity is a conspiracy mounted by Christian Crusaders and Zionists for the purpose of annihilating Islam. Their response, starting with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and continuing to the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of Mohammed, is to seek to impose their own standards on the rest of the world.
Last time I checked, there was no widespread Western movement that sought to destroy the Islamic way of life, or to convert the Moslems to Christianity or any other religion. Even the neoconservatives who sought to redeem the world through democracy did not seek to disrupt Islam in the process.
To be sure, some Muslim groups may see the temptation of Western society as a threat to their way of life much the same way Haredim view the modern and integrated society as a threat. The Haredi response is to maintain insular communities that protect adherents from external influences. It is not to seek to impose their standards on Jewish communities across the world. Live and let live.
At the heart of this conflict are two opposing fears: the paranoid fear of Islamists that the West wants to destroy their way of life when no such sentiment has ever been expressed, and the fear of the West that Islamist terrorists will attack symbols of their modern society and kill thousands of innocents, given half a chance, with the stated aim of transforming the entire world.
Now, whose fear is the irrational one?