Surprising though that may be, I still run into people who think that “Islamophobia” is an illegitimate term. I don’t see how anyone observing right wing politics in the US can seriously say that deep-seated irrational hatred of Islam is not a widespread problem.
Mind you, Islamophobia does get used by Muslim groups and Muslim-majority countries as an excuse to attempt to stifle criticism. But then, every ethnic and religious group does that. To some supporters of Israeli nationalism, every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. To some Catholic conservative groups, anti-Catholic bigotry is the source of every negative comment about the Church.
But who cares? Just look at the right-wing furore right now about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—which is not a mosque and is not at “Ground Zero.”
What’s really shameful is that some nonbelievers, who have more at stake than most in avoiding a climate of religious conflict, are likely to follow bigots such as Sam Harris in condemning the non-mosque. This is a time to do just the opposite. If we want to convince people that our criticism of religion really is a civilized disagreement rather than an expression of anti-religious spite, we have to vocally support Muslims who want to do no more than exercise their rights.
Now is a time to say that we think that Islamic beliefs are grossly mistaken, but that we will stand up and defend their freedom to live religiously without being subjected to mindless harassment.