Below is the paper that will be presented for publication by International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) to supplement its intervention at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 6 “Freedom of religion or belief”, Warsaw, September 26, 2013.
This document acts as an executive summary of the ICLA paper “The Problematic Definition of ‘Islamophobia’”, which was presented here in a slightly different form as “Stalking the Mythical Islamophobe” (in five parts).
What Does “Islamophobia” Mean?
By the ICLA Research Group
OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting
Working Session 6
Freedom of religion or belief
Material supplementary to ICLA’s intervention
The International Civil Liberties Alliance notes with concern a growing tendency in public discourse to use terms that are poorly defined or even undefined. This practice is especially worrisome when the topics being discussed are contentious, as it destroys clarity and hampers mutual understanding. Under these circumstances, it is crucial that precise, unambiguous definitions be provided, and that all parties discussing the issues agree on those definitions.
One such term that has seen frequent use in articles, publications, papers, and interventions is the word “Islamophobia”. Although opposition to its use is usually thought of as a “conservative” position, among those who find its use objectionable is also the British Muslim socialist Rumy Hasan:
Since 11 September 2001, the epithet ‘Islamophobia’ has increasingly become in vogue in Britain — not only from Muslims but also, surprisingly, from wide layers of the left, yet the term is seldom elaborated upon or placed in a proper context. Invariably, it is used unwisely and irresponsibly and my argument is that the left should refrain from using it.
Shockingly, some on the left have, on occassion, even resorted to using it as a term of rebuke against the left, secular, critics of reactionary aspects of Muslim involvement in the anti-war movement. So what does the term mean?
The definition of “Islamophobia” as presented by Umut Topcuoglu fails to meet even minimal standards of logic, coherence, and objectivity. As such it must be rejected for any further usage in OSCE proceedings as well as in educational and official publications in participating States.
As demonstrated in the ICLA paper, six of the terms used in the definition (“racism”, “xenophobia”, “intolerance”, “discrimination”, “prejudice”, and “stereotyping”) are “biased”, in the sense that they are either of recent coinage or have recently acquired new meanings, which alone is reason enough to render the definition questionable for any scholarly use. Words that are commonly used to demonize, intimidate, and marginalize certain viewpoints are always unacceptable in presentations that affect public policy. Unless the controversial “biased” terms are themselves clearly defined, they should be excluded.
The definition fails utterly through its inclusion of three phrases (#7, “unequal treatment”, #13, “stigmatization of a religion and its followers”, and #4, “unfounded fear, mistrust, and hatred”). Specifically:
Unequal treatment. As described in “Examination of Terms” in the ICLA paper, Islam itself (via Shariah) treats non-Muslims differently from Muslims. Under the given definition, Muslims would themselves be guilty of “Islamophobia”. This is a logical fallacy, and the definition fails solely because of this.
Stigmatization of a religion and its followers. The vast majority of Islam-critics do not “describe or identify [the Islamic religion] in opprobrious terms”. Their critiques are focused almost entirely on the tenets of Islamic law (and the practical implementation of those tenets), which are not at all religious. Criticism of the religious elements of Islam is rare, mild, and often non-existent. This term therefore deflects the discussion into a “straw man” argument, and the definition fails solely because of this.
Unfounded fear, mistrust, and hatred. This is the heart of the definition of “Islamophobia”. Any fear, mistrust, or hatred of Islam must be shown to be unfounded if it is to constitute Islamophobia. As previously demonstrated, millions of non-Muslims all over the world have well-founded empirical reasons to fear Islam and the behavior of Islamists, and thus cannot reasonably be described as “Islamophobes”.
Furthermore, any investigation into the basis for the fear of Islam — which requires research into and discussion of the collective behavior of self-identified Muslims in real-world situations — is almost always itself condemned as “Islamophobia”. Therefore the definition of “Islamophobia” makes the word into a self-referential term. This is a violation of logic, and the definition fails solely because of this.
Other logical failures detailed in the paper include those for “racism”, “xenophobia”, and “stereotyping”. Additional logical problems are presented by “contemporary” (incoherent usage in context), and “classical racism and xenophobia” (demands clarification of the meaning of “classical” in this context).
Five other terms (“intolerance”, “discrimination”, “prejudice”, “hostility”, and “adverse public discourse”) were analyzed and shown to be applicable to Islam itself. This is not a logical argument against their appearance in the definition — it would be a tu quoque fallacy to make such an assertion — but it adds weight to the failure of the definition on logical grounds. Reciprocity of behavior, commonly referred to as the “Golden Rule”, is a core cultural value in Western societies. Islam’s manifest failure to exhibit normative reciprocity argues persuasively against the inclusion of these five terms in any definition of “Islamophobia”.
We cannot help but conclude that the definition of “Islamophobia” as presented by the Turkish representative in Tirana on May 22, 2013, is prima facie void of merit, and must be abandoned.
|1.||To ODIHR: Based on the above, ODIHR must abandon any discussion of the term immediately. The term must be removed from any existing official publications, and may not be included in any future publications.|
|2.||To the Participating States: Refrain in all circumstances from using the term “Islamophobia” in any public discussions, papers, publications, brochures, and other printed material.|
|3.||Alternatively, to ODIHR: Appoint a committee whose duty will be to establish a definition of Islamophobia that is acceptable by consensus. The makeup of the committee must include Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists. The non-Muslims on the committee should include in equal numbers supporters of Islam, critics of Islam, and people with no opinion on Islam.|