“Ground Zero” Islamophobia

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.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17093711439992855042 UNRR

    It's pretty sad that an atheist is smearing fellow atheists who have differing opinions on the wisdom of building an Islamic center near Ground Zero as bigots, and actually resorting to the contrived term of Islamophobia — as if it were irrational in any way to dislike Islam.

    Almost 70% of America opposes the idea of building an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Do you think the whole country is full of bigots?

    I don't particularly care whether they build it or not, but I've felt forced to post about it because of the ridiculous smear campaign — mostly from the left — leveled against critics.

    Although I'm on the other side politically, I still like reading this blog. But it bothers me when atheists take irrational positions — since I've found atheists of whatever political stripe tend to prize rational debate more highly than most theists.

    Do you really not understand why people object to a new Islamic center so close to Ground Zero? No reason other than bigotry comes to mind? Do you think there would be the same reaction if the center was to be built in downtown Philadelphia?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    "Do you think the whole country is full of bigots?"

    Why not? It's not as if bigotry against other groups hasn't been widespread in this country before.

    "Do you really not understand why people object to a new Islamic center so close to Ground Zero?"

    Oh, we understand just fine. Americans don't distinguish between Islamist extremists and other Muslims as clearly as they do between Christian extremists (e.g. killers of abortion doctors, members of the Christian Identity movement) and other Christians. Hence, an Islamic center near Ground Zero is somehow seen as supportive of the 9/11 terrorists rather than as a repudiation of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17093711439992855042 UNRR

    "Why not?"

    I guess it's much easier to just smear people you disagree with, rather than making a basic attempt to understand where they are coming from.

    "Hence, an Islamic center near Ground Zero is somehow seen as supportive of the 9/11 terrorists rather than as a repudiation of them."

    The purpose of the center is largely irrelevant. It's the symbolism that most people object to, for what you might think are obvious reasons. Some Muslims see it that way also. I guess they must be Islamophobic Muslims.

    People can view something as tasteless or offensive without being bigots. I'm not sure why that's such a difficult concept to grasp.

    I'll borrow someone else's analogy… If a couple of gun enthusiasts unveil plans to construct a huge gun emporium, shooting range, and ammunition supply center two blocks from Columbine High School, do you think there might be some opposition? The developers have nothing to do with the Columbine Massacre, just like the vast majority of gun owners in the U.S. In fact, their center is partly designed to emphasize gun safety. But people still object and protest. In your world, are they all just irrational gun haters?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    Kathleen Parker, whom I usually dismiss as a chucklehead actually made sense in her column today about the "ground zero mosque." She asks whether it is insensitive to locate a large Islamic center (not a mosque)so close to ground zero? Sure. What if a German cultural center were to open four blocks from the entrance to Auschwitz? Now, not all Germans participated in the Holocaust (and very few are still alive that did) and not all Muslims approved of 9/11. However, when places have enormous symbolic significance as the scenes of great tragedy,you have to consider the intensity of the emotional reaction people will have.

    So, is it insulting to have a large Islamic center so close to ground zero? As Parker observes, if it is, so what? Tolerance means willingness to put up with insult and offense. Muslims have a right to put up such a center on private property even if it offends you. Likewise, you have a right to print cartoons of Mohammad throwing a bomb even if it offends Muslims. You cannot have it both ways. If you want the right to do things that are offensive, you must be willing to be offended yourself.

    A word on "Islamophobia": Irrational dislike of anything is bad. Is it irrational to dislike Islam? Parts of the Koran, like parts of the Old and New Testament, are plainly insidious and preach cruelty, violence, and intolerance. Is it bigotry to point this out? Does any branch of Islam, however, "moderate" truly endorse a separation of mosque and state? This is not a rhetorical question, I really want to know. If the answer is "no," I consider this a legitimate complaint even against "moderate" Islam.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    "I guess it's much easier to just smear people you disagree with"

    No, I was pointing out the absurdity of citing the statistic that 70% of Americans oppose something as support for the claim that the opposition isn't motivated by bigotry. You only have to go back a few decades in American history to see about 70% of Americans supporting bigotry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17093711439992855042 UNRR

    "No, I was pointing out the absurdity of citing the statistic that 70% of Americans oppose something as support for the claim that the opposition isn't motivated by bigotry."

    Ok, true, the statistic alone means nothing. Basic common sense (and Occam's Razor) is the main indicator that most of the opposition isn't motivated by bigotry. Also I might point out that disliking Islam is not itself bigotry, as some would like to pretend. There's a difference between being against Islam the religion, and against Muslims the people — just as one can strongly dislike the Catholic Church without hating people who happen to be Catholic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    "Also I might point out that disliking Islam is not itself bigotry"

    It's one thing to be against Islam on the grounds that it is as incorrect as any other religion. It's another thing to make an irrational broad-brush association of Islam with terrorism is. The latter is bigoted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00829691991487066316 Roger

    As far as the hypothetical German cultural center being built close to Auschwitz is concerned I wouldn't see a problem with it because Germans to do not equal Nazis. And that should be the point, shouldn't it? Al-Qaeda does not equal Muslims. The Christian Identity movement does not equal Christianity.

    I certainly see bigotry at play here, especially since I've seen it personally. The last person I talked to about this center being built told me we shouldn't let the people who brought down the towers build their mosque there. There's your equivocation. There's your bigotry. (Forget the fact that American Muslims died in 9/11 as well.)

    There is already an Islamic center 4 blocks from Ground Zero. Where was the outrage? I believe this latest outrage is a result of hype built up by right-wing extremists. Just my opinion, but Fox and conservative radio are seen and listened to by a lot of people in this nation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04604847159462215168 Sheldon

    "Almost 70% of America opposes the idea of building an Islamic center near Ground Zero. Do you think the whole country is full of bigots?"

    Well I suspect that a significant portion of those people are responding to a tricky pole question like "Do you think a Mosque should be built at Ground Zero?" And the other significant portion, is yes, bigots.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826568465831489492 Alex Dalton

    Taner is, from my point of view, quite a snob. But he is at his most rational in writing on Islam. I largely agree with most of what he writes on this blog on that subject. Americans in general, and particularly evangelical Christians, are largely blinded and ignorant when it comes to this topic. Having a good grasp of Mediterranean culture from a cultural anthropological perspective is essential to any criticism, political or otherwise, of Islam.


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