I have a problem with the term Islamophobia, for its technical meaning translates as an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. I would argue to be fearful of terrorism being committed in the name of Islam is one of the more rational responses to today’s circumstances, a healthy adaptation to the times.
What is more problematic and widespread is Islamophilia. Philia is one of the four Greek terms for love, but in psychological circles it refers to pathological affection.Paedophilia comes to mind as the most heinous example. Islamophilia’s most common manifestation is where progressives treat Muslims as vulnerable children whose feathers can’t be ruffled. The Islamophilia crowd damage Western democracies and Islam for they invite us to sacrifice elements of our own freedom to redeem ourselves against the largely imaginary sins against Muslims in the colonial past. They also invite Muslims to pose as victims and demand the rewards of such victimhood. The message of Islamophilia is that Muslims deserve to receive no flak at a time when Islam and Muslims badly need to be criticised.
It was widely prevalent in the wake of the Orlando massacres, where enthusiastic efforts were being taken to paint the massacre as primarily related to either the ease of access to guns or homophobia. This is despite the outright allegiance to Islamic State that the killer, Omar Mateen, actively proclaimed. A reasonable place to understand someone’s motives is to start with what they say.
In fact, Orlando was a good illustration of how Islam does not have a monopoly on bad ideas, be they homophobia, the suppression of female desire or an aversion to free thought, but how the religion is particularly good at magnifying and intensifying them before rendering them non-negotiable by linking them to the literal, word of God. I would never have thought I would agree with the likes of Uthman Badar, local spokesman for Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who chided fellow Muslims who suggested gays should be tolerated. He posted on facebook after Orlando that his fellow Muslims were cowing to liberalism in direct opposition to core tenets of their religion. Badar is right and exposes the Muslims who have absorbed Western values but pretend their more progressive views are somehow because of Islam. They see Islam as they would like it to be, and not how it is.
Another example of Islamophilia backfiring occurred last week when our congenial Prime Minister hosted Muslim glitterati in the plush surroundings of Kirribilli House only to discover, while dining on babaganoush and felafel, that the guests included some who held abhorrent views around homosexuality.
What is particularly disturbing, but a good reality check, is that the offending guest Sheik Shady, who suggested death to homosexuals may be appropriate in past speeches, is considered very much a moderate. He has been celebrated in the past as being able to engage with Muslim youth and modern Australia. His speeches reveal topics varying from how to spot early signs of an emerging apocalypse to dealing with stress and anxiety.
But the Sheik’s example highlights the absurdity of the idea that there is an overwhelming number of moderate Muslims to a tiny proportion of so called radicals. His views are Muslim mainstream. When we denote the term radical Islam, the primary differentiating feature is the desire to commit violence.
Turnbull is right in noting good relations with the Muslim community is essential to ensure collaboration with our security services. This was noticeable during the arrest of the Sydney teenager for planning Anzac Day attacks. His capture depended on the co-operation of close relatives who became suspicious of his behavior. But having the courage to use the term radical Islam is not the same as showing the mettle to call out the real problems in Islam and the Muslim community. That makes the current battle a counter-insurgency against an enemy whose views have widespread support among more than a tiny minority of Muslims. Much like Obama, Turnbull has gone out of his way to celebrate past Islamic achievements, such as when he suggested much of our learning and our entire system of numbers comes from Islamic scholars. While all cultures propagate a Golden Age, often mythical, the Islamic idea of its Golden Age throughout the 8th and 12th centuries is critical ideological armour for Muslims to seek solace from critics who point to its current malaise. While growing up, I was brainwashed umpteen times about the horseshoe arches that emanated from the Cordoba mosque, the founding of algebra by Islamic scientists and multiple other discoveries varying from pulmonary circulation to compound chemistry, but that Islamic scholars just weren’t given historical credit in comparison to Western scientists centuries later who drew on the findings.
The Islamophilia is also apparent in what David Cameron has identified as the ‘racism of low expectations’, which turns a blind eye to crimes such as the subjugation of females, even whilst they live in Western countries. It is ugliest when the sexual crimes in Europe are overlooked or brushed aside as another outpouring of racism or a symptom of male villainy more generally. Arguably one of the more farcical examples of Islamophilia is detailed well by Tim Cooke on the website Quilette. He recalls John Pilger answering a question about Isis beheadings by suggesting we weren’t aware enough of Aborigines beheaded by British settlers. While Pilger lost relevance years ago, the views he represents are alive and well in academia and the arts. For all the attempts to veil or sugarcoat reality, history has a way of usurping falsehood. Just as the howls that arose against changes to the Racial Discrimination Act occurred months before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, clearly illustrating the end point of the arguments wanting to curtail free speech, the Paris attacks exploded within weeks of Tony Abbott being thrown out of office unceremoniously and further hounded for giving an apparently bigoted speech in the UK.
Allowing Muslims alone to debate amongst themselves the challenges within the religion is not progressing well. It is only magnifying the frustration and insecurity in the rest of population, highlighted by the rise of figures like Trump or white supremacist groups. The Muslim armour of victimhood and denial is further buttressed by a misplaced flattery called Islamophilia, and it is a mistaken affection that threatens us all.
Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a western Sydney based psychiatrist
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