On March 5th, 2019 the House was set to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of a freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s latest hateful comments on Jews and Israel. Unfortunately, that resolution never made it to the House floor for a vote. Instead, on March 7th, a revised resolution was passed 407-23, denouncing both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia “as hateful expressions of intolerance”.
Around the same time, a resolution was introduced on the floor of the United Nations in response to recent attacks on minority groups, like the horrific murder of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the slaughter of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life in Pittsburg. Until Israel’s ambassador Danny Danon spoke out and rallied allies, the resolution only condemned Islamophobia, completely excluding anti-Semitism.
The events illustrate how anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are often framed in our discourse: as equivalent phenomena and equal dangers. This framing is both incorrect and problematic.
Let me be clear.
Bigotry, prejudice, and violence must be called out and combatted forcefully – whether it is directed at Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or anyone else. Those who traffic in this hatred must be marginalized and, when possible, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
That said, by definition, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia refer to two very different phenomena – and should not be lumped together as one and the same.
A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses no real danger. Judeophobia is an irrational fear of Jews. Islamophobia is an irrational fear of the Islamic religion or Muslims generally.
Anti-Semitism is a race-based ideology, rooted in stereotypes – not based on fear, but ancient hatred. One popular definition, explains: “Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for `why things go wrong.’”
‘Islamophobia’ as a term has existed since the nineteenth century, but became prominent in 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. The fatwa not only imposed a death penalty on Rushdie but also criminalized all the publishers and translators of the book. When Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 for his services to literature, Iran accused Britain of “Islamophobia”, saying its fatwa still stood.
Since then, the Islamophobic label has been used increasingly to deter and ultimately criminalize any scrutiny of any groups or individuals who happen to be Muslim, even when those are advancing radical or harmful ideas, like Iran’s Ayatollahs.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, the prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, refused to use the term ‘Islamophobia’ to describe the phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice, because, he said, the accusation of Islamophobia is often used as a weapon by apologists for radical Islamists to silence critics.
Like Valls, I have seen how these fabricated accusations of Islamophobia are designed to whitewash, obfuscate, and distract from dangerous and growing radical movements in the Muslim world.
Few stand up publicly today against radical Islam and those who do risk being silenced under the label of Islamophobes. The sword of Islamophobia is wielded to deliberately chill discourse and narrow the public marketplace of ideas. As a result, criticism of Islam, Muslims and related matters are censored often in favor of the Islamist.
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