I’m for striking it from use entirely.
Published on Sep 28, 2013
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2013, Warsaw
On the evening of September 24 2013, the ODIHR Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department convened a side event, “Educational initiatives and approaches for addressing anti-Semitism and intolerance against Muslims”. ICLA and allied organizations decided to look in on the event and point out that the word “Islamophobia” has never been properly defined…
Mirrored from The Gates Of Vienna:
The full audio of the final 48 minutes is available here, and a complete transcript of that audio is at the bottom of this post.
Transcript of the excerpts:
Ned May: Thank you, Mr. Moderator, about how long do I have to speak? A couple of minutes?
Moderator: A couple of minutes.
Ned May: Okay. Thank you for this opportunity.
And I’d like to thank my esteemed colleague from Belgium because I can’t help but agree with her.
We need new terminology. On behalf of the International Civil Liberties Alliance, I formally object to the use of the word Islamophobia. Any official use, including this document. It is ill-defined and was undefined for four years. We requested a definition for four years. And it’s not even defined in here. And when we finally got one, it was from the Turkish delegation this year. And it was based on a definition by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. That is a clear conflict of interest, to use a definition by an Islamic body of something that is used against non-Muslims.
That’s the first problem. The second problem is the definition itself as our extensive, well-sourced paper showed, has at least thirteen major problems including six logical failures. It cannot be used. And the biggest failure is that the definition calls Islamophobia based on unfounded fear of Muslims or Islam. That itself is difficult to prove in any given circumstance.
And any researcher who attempts to prove that someone has a well-founded fear of Islam is branded an Islamophobe. That turns the word itself into a Catch-22. It is circular; it is recursive.
The word must be defined through the agreement of people who share different points of view: those who object to Islamic law, those who support Islamic law, those who have no opinion.
It must be defined by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agreeing together what Islamophobia is. Otherwise, it should be abandoned entirely. Stricken from existing publications including kept out of future publications. Thank you.
Bashy Quraishy: We have been asking OIC for years and years now not to call it intolerance against Muslims when they call it anti-Semitism, they call it Christianophobia, they call it everything — if Muslims want to call it Islamophobia, it is none of anybody’s business to call it something else. Thank you very much.
Moderator: Thank you. Now I will give the floor to panellists to respond and I will get back to you — you will be the first, okay? So Robin, do you want to [BACKGROUND VOICES]
Robin Richardson: I’ve got lots to say, but I’d like to hear other people, I think. It’s true that I was working for the Runnymede Trust. And the report — the definition which our friend mentioned was from the Runnymede report. But we had a huge argument at the time about it. We didn’t invent the word. And we did the best we could to define — to describe, not to define — we were describing. And we had that big argument and there’s been an argument going on ever since in academia. There’s huge academic literature on all this. And I do agree with our friend from Belgium, terminology is difficult. We’ve only got the words from the past. Human beings make their own culture as somebody once said — or make their own history. But always with conditions inherited from the past, a very famous statement about human nature. We’ll talk on — we’ll let other people talk for the moment.
Robin Richardson: Just finally, I do agree that terminology is important and we’ve got the wrong terminology. But there’s nothing new. Ever since human beings have been talking to each other, we have not had adequate words, never and never will.
We do our best with what’s there. There are lots of languages and we learn from each other’s languages. From each other’s struggles and so on.
So I’m not ashamed that our language isn’t good enough. The key thing is to work on getting better language. But, as I’ve already quoted, the great philosopher once, and without naming him, I might name him another time, it’s not Groucho Marx, but somebody with the same surname, but he said the task, philosophers have interpreted the world, the task is to change it. And we need language to interpret the world and to some extent we need language to change the world. But all the same, language doesn’t really change the world. It changes how we see it.
And I agree with — when you, you’ve got to make choices and continually you have to make choices, and suddenly the word Islamophobic was originally a French word so far as scholars can work out, came in at about 1910, it appeared in English in the work of an American Christian writer in about 1985. That was the first known use in English.
So it’s not a Muslim word, actually. But when you’ve got to make a choice, well, some of us choose to be on the side — I’m sorry to be histrionic and passionate about this, but some of us want to choose to be on the side of those who are suffering, those who are harmed and hurt. And people are being hurt and Islamophobia is as good a word as any to describe what it is that’s hurting them. But it’s not perfect.
Umut Topcuoglu: Thank you very much. It’s not a question, but rather I just want to clarify a point.
My name’s Umut Topcuoglu, I’m from the Turkish delegation and first of all, thank you for this very interesting side event. In fact, I waited until the end, because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of comments, but I did hear my delegation being mentioned by the representative of the International Civil Liberties Alliance and I just wanted — and we’ve talked about terminology, so I won’t be going into that, I just wanted to clarify one simple point.
You, sir, mentioned that the Turkish delegation provided a definition of Islamophobia which came from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Now I’m sure I have really stated this before, the definition of Islamophobia, my delegation provided in some previous sessions or meetings on tolerance and non-discrimination was formulated by a retired Turkish ambassador, Mr. Ömür Orhun Now this retired Turkish ambassador was between the years 2004 and 2008 personal representative of the chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims.
So we have here, of course, right now he’s special envoy to the chairman, the secretary-general of the OIC. But the point is that the definition was formulated by someone who has deep experience in these affairs and who actually worked within the OSC in these affairs, so I think saying it’s an OIC definition is really sort of distorting the facts. I just wanted to let you know that.
I also wanted to let you know that the fact that we also discussed a very valuable tool here, the guidelines for educators on combatting intolerance against Muslims, well, the fact that this tool, that three international organizations chose to collaborate to formulate guidelines such as these obviously indicates that there is something there, whatever you call it, like other participants have said, there is a need to be addressed and I don’t think we should be, you know, haggling about terminology and giving the impression that what we actually are against is addressing the problem. Thank you. [BACKGROUND VOICES]
Bashy Quraishy: Can I just add, very quickly, the information of the delegates and for the speaker, in the last five years, there has been six international service by Amnesty International, fundamental rights agency, open society, European [UNCLEAR] and hundreds of others who have clearly documented the discrimination, prejudices, violence, hate speech, which is being, you know, used against Muslims, so we cannot just say that it is just what our own idea — it is very well documented and I can give the name, the link of the reports to [UNCLEAR] like to have. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Now we have last intervention and then we will have to finish.
Stephen Coughlin: Yeah, my name’s Steve Coughlin. Center for Security Policy. The name of this forum has the word Islamophobia and we’re talking about a publication that concerned itself with Islamophobia when asked for a precise definition, and I did an intervention today where we’re calling for that.
It was precisely because it’s a term that stereotypes people for the purpose of attacking them. Which in theory is exactly what this concern for Islamophobia is supposed to be countering when they do it.
We’re being told there is an epistemic reason that we cannot linguistically arrive at a definition of this. We’re told that we’re supposed to rely on these international authorities, that they bought off on it.
But what I saw today was a refusal to give a definition, and I think in large part because you can’t.
Now the thing about it is, the term Islamophobia is applied to people for the purpose of attacking them. And so I noticed, sir, you brought up the fact that you work for Runnymede. It’s not lost on me that the OIC’s observatory publications, annual observatory reports, relies on Runnymede for the terms that they go after to attack people. And in fact, I just pulled one up right now where they’re quoting Runnymede.
So I think there’s something just not quite right about how this discussion is going. I mean, all people asked was that you define the term you’re going to use to attack people, when you attack them, when it’s clear that the OIC has observatory reports to go after people for doing exactly that.
So I mean, if the people writing this book find that the terms is so complicated they can’t define it, maybe they should defer to somebody else or maybe they should suspend use when attacking people when they can’t get their hands around it. I mean, there’s just something not right about this. Cause you did say you were going to give us an in detail discussion of what it means and that has not happened. [APPLAUSE]
Woman: Okay, I think we’re going to close the discussion right here. I think —
Robin Richardson: Just could I come back, I don’t think the word Islamophobia appears in here. It appears on the title.
Ned May: It’s in there forty-nine times.
Robin Richardson: Is it really? I guess you’re right. I stand corrected. I’m surprised. But anyway, on definition. At Runnymede, we had a working definition. I don’t think the OIC existed —
Ned May: The Runnymede definition is in here.
Woman: Okay, these are detailed questions —
Moderator: So there is no way of getting an agreement on this issue. We already told that it’s a — there are a lot of discussions, disagreements, even on the term of anti-Semitism. Even if you look at the issue from an epistemological viewpoint, you can’t reach an agreement on this —
Stephen Coughlin: Then how can you use that term to attack people — [OVERLAPPING VOICES]
Robin Richardson: I’ve never used — I have never used it to attack people.
Moderator: We — sorry, one response to that, we encourage critical thinking, open discussion. There is no suggestion, no suggested educational approach to attack people.
If you read the guidelines carefully, you would find that we encourage not to — when there is a manifestation of intolerance against any group, it’s not a good approach, pedagogical approach, to even accuse a student of being racist immediately.
This is not correct approach. So there is no way of suggesting attacking anyone. This is not — sorry, we have to, we can’t — that’s very clear that we can’t reach an agreement on that point. There is —
Stephen Coughlin: I didn’t ask you to reach an agreement. I asked you just to define your terms. Can I just take it that you’re not aware that the OIC publishes annual reports and now monthly reports on Islamophobia for the purposes of bringing action against them? So you’re not aware of that?
Moderator: You can mention — you can talk about this issue with the authorities of OIC. This is not the right place. Thank you. Yeah?
Woman: Thank you very much for coming to this side event. I think everybody’s hungry and ready for the Ukrainian chairmanship’s reception downstairs in the opera room. I hear there is also alcohol [LAUGHTER] So I think we can close the evening there. Thank you very much to our three distinguished speakers who were talking about practical initiatives. [APPLAUSE]