Frontpage, by Bruce Thornton, Dec. 30, 2015:
A few days before the San Bernardino shootings, President Obama reacted to Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims entry into the U.S. by saying, “It is the responsibility of all Americans––of every faith––to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country . . . Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes.” Attorney General Loretta Lynch went even further. In an address at the Muslim Advocates dinner, she commented,
“Now obviously this is a country that is based on free speech, but when it edges towards violence, when we see the potential for someone . . . lifting that mantle of anti-Muslim rhetoric, or, as we saw after 9/11, violence against individuals who may not even be Muslims but may be perceived to be Muslims . . . When we see that, we will take action”––or as she warns, “They will be prosecuted.”
How is that Muslims have become “snowflakes” like those pampered college students so traumatized by opposing points of view that they need “safe spaces” from speech they don’t like, and demand scrapping the First Amendment? For an answer, look to another progressive “thought-blocker,” “Islamophobia.”
This made-up thought-crime is not a response to an epidemic of Muslim persecution in America. Sixty percent of anti-religious hate crimes are directed at Jews, not Muslims. Nor is it penance for historical crimes committed by Christians and Jews against Muslims, whether those are imperialism, colonialism, or Israel’s defense of its nation against incessant violence. Islam’s record of slaughter, enslavement, and occupation far eclipses that of the West.
Rather, “Islamophobia” is the product of peculiarly modern bad ideas. It surfaced in 1997 in a report by a British think-tank, the Runnymede Trust. The purpose was to explain the social dysfunctions and problems of British Muslims, which were laid at the feet of “anti-Islamic bias” that encouraged discrimination, hate crimes against Muslims, and distortions of Islam in the media and popular culture. In 2004 the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia––notice how the name begs the question––concluded that England was “institutionally Islamophobic.” Facts of illiberal Muslim behavior such as its unequal treatment of women, intolerance of other faiths, and radical mosques preaching intolerance and jihad were ignored.
So where does “Islamophobia” come from? Start with the suffix “phobia,” from the Greek word for “fear.” This is a vaguely Freudian psychological idea referring to an irrational fear that reflects not reality but repression of unsavory or frightening impulses. After all, fearing a dangerous black widow spider is not irrational. Fearing a harmless brown recluse is. The suffix as used in other ideological smears like “homophobia” or “xenophobia” always implies that the fear is baseless, and has more to do with irrational neuroses and bigotry than genuine threats. “Islamophobia,” then, begs a huge question, for it is perfectly rational to fear a danger like terrorist violence justified by religious doctrine.
More important than two-bit Freudianism for the currency of “Islamophobia” has been the work of Edward Said, the main source of most of the malign ideas that poison our discourse on Islam with self-loathing and dismissal of reality. The colonial West, according to Said in Orientalism, invented the Muslim “other” as inferior and violent in order to justify Western dominance of the region, creating a “Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the orient.” In a later book Said argued that the Muslim terrorist was another “other” fabricated to create “both a peculiarly immediate sense of hostility and a coarse, on the whole unnuanced attitude toward Islam,” the purpose of which is to serve “national and corporate needs.” These needs created the “highly exaggerated stereotypes” of Muslims highjacking airplanes and blowing up buildings. As Lee Smith points out, Said set the terms of how journalists and intellectuals talked about Islam and Muslims––as the crude “other” invented to mask Western oppression and “Islamophobia.” The reflexive self-loathing and guilt that lie at the heart of “Islamophobia” found their most influential enabler in Said’s work.
The fear of being “Islamophobic” in part explains the whitewashing flattery of Islam that has characterized the government even before 9/11. In the late 90s, when Osama bin Laden was already waging war on America, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gushed that Islam is a “faith that honors consultation, cherishes peace, and has as one of its fundamental principles the inherent equality of all who embrace it.” George Bush said that Islam’s “teachings are good and peaceful” and that terrorists like bin Laden “blaspheme the name of Allah.” And of course Barack Obama has been the most fulsome and groveling in his praise of Islam. He carefully says “the Prophet Mohammed” and “Holy Koran,” while never saying “Our Lord Jesus Christ” or “Holy Bible.” He has leached traditional Islamic doctrines from the motives driving jihadists, and regularly condemns “Islamophobia” as a greater threat to America than Muslim terrorist violence. But the top prize for such myopic pandering to Muslims goes to ex-Army Chief of Staff George W. Casey, who responded to the 2009 Fort Hood jihadist attack that killed 13 by saying, “As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
The worst consequence of the “Islamophobia” phobia has been the distortion of our analyses of the jihadists’ motives. The specious psychology of the apologists holds that the insults or policies born of “Islamophobia” offend Muslims and create more terrorists. Or as Obama said of Trump’s proposal to screen Muslims entering the country, “plays into the hands of groups like ISIL,” for “when we travel down that road, we lose.” Hillary Clinton has played this same card, calling Donald Trump ISIS’ “greatest recruiter” and “recruitment poster,” and falsely claiming that Trump is used in ISIS recruitment videos. Thus her constant calls to cater to Muslims in America, who she sees as genuine, peaceful Muslims, and thus our natural allies against the “hijackers” like ISIS. “We must work more closely with Muslim-Americans,” Clinton said recently, “not demonize them” or make them “feel left out or marginalized” since they’re trying “to stop radicalization.” Of course she ignores the fact that CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the most influential Muslim lobby in America, continually apologizes and rationalizes jihadist terror, and encourages Muslims not to cooperate with the FBI.
“Islamophobia” is not just intellectually incoherent and loaded with cringing self-hatred. It is deadly. In order not to wound Muslim sensibilities and create a “backlash,” egregious rules of engagement are imposed on our warriors that sacrifice their lives by proscribing the destruction of mosques and dwellings harboring arsenals and snipers; common sense calls to limit Syrian economic immigrants are rejected; government security training documents are purged of references to Islamic jihadist doctrines; Guantanamo is demonized as a “recruiter” for terrorists from which actual terrorists must be released; Orwellian Newspeak is employed to “disappear” the precedents for terror in Islamic scripture and practice; and radical mosques and imams in America are given free rein to proselytize and recruit.
We’ve been at this tactic of flattery for decades, and there’s no evidence it works. America is no more liked among Middle Eastern Muslims today than when George Bush left office. Terrorist groups have multiplied and spread despite our anxious protestations of our admiration for their religion, even as we ignore the genocide of Christians in the Middle East. Jihadism is strong and growing, attracting thousands of Western Muslims to the fight against the infidel. And jihad, abetted by the anxiety over “Islamophobia,” is winning the hearts and minds of the youth demographic. As the Atlantic reports, globally jihad is “cool,” a false but glamorous promise of redeeming violence and transcendent meaning powerfully attractive in a Western world marked by anomic secularism and trivial hedonism.
“Islamophobia” blocks clear thinking. It ignores the traditional Islamic motives that drive jihadists, trivializing them into wayward teens who “act out” because their self-esteem has been damaged by insensitive adults, and who merely need their self-esteem boosted by recognition of how wonderful their religion and culture are. A foreign policy based on such pop-psychological superstitions is one doomed to fail.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy’s Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase