By Terri Murray, PhD | 22 June 2017
Part of the purpose of this column is to show how the positive connotations and moral prestige associated with political and social liberalism are today routinely transferred to new and seemingly similar ideas or policies. This is accomplished in large part by means of bad analogies. Bad analogies invite a comparison between two ideas or situations that are not actually similar and may even be quite dissimilar in important respects.
One example of a bad analogy is the word “Islamophobia” which implies a similarity between irrational fear or prejudice of homosexuals (“homophobia”) and irrational fear or prejudice against Muslims (“Islamophobia”). The word “Islamophobia” trades on the morally acceptable liberal idea that individuals or minority groups sometimes need protection from a tyranny of the majority in society. For this reason, states uphold the fundamental rights of minorities and protect them by means of laws. This protection extends to minorities no matter how unpopular or despised its members may be. However, in the case of “Islamophobia” legal protection from verbal criticism is being transferred to a group that is not actually similar to other minorities at all. Religion is a set of ideas. People can ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of religion in a way that they cannot do with their biological sex, sexual orientation, skin colour, or other heritable conditions. Beliefs are not innate.
Unlike a person’s sexual activities, religious beliefs are very seldom private or self-regarding matters. More often, religious institutions and religious spokespersons make huge claims about human nature (in general), the relationship of humans (all humans) to divine governors, and what constitutes the good life (for everyone, not just believers). Religions often criticise and even proscribe other people’s behaviour, including in matters that liberals view as private, such as what people can do with their own bodies. Religions have told people what they may eat or drink and when or how they may do so, whether, when, how and with whom they may have sexual relations, what they may say, how they may dress, etc.
This kind of ideology has nothing in common with merely being ‘different’ to others because of your biological inheritance. The kinds of sweeping claims that religious institutions and spokespeople make do not warrant immunity from criticism or ridicule in the way that involuntary aspects of a person’s biological constitution might. Religious ideas are chosen. They imply moral content and consequences for others. This makes them fair game for public scrutiny and criticism.
As Benjamin Jones has astutely pointed out, the result of using the word “Islamophobia” has been to confuse criticism with bigotry.
“At present, Islamists and their apologists use this single term to shut down reform of Islam by labelling critics of (and within) the faith with the same neologism used to describe bigoted thugs. The word is repeatedly used to try and taint people by association; …”
The consequence of constricting language through the use of such misleading terms, as Jones says, has been to constrict debate and even thought.
Other examples of bad analogy can be gleaned from the use of “hate speech” and “defamation” as applied to religious beliefs. “Hate speech” as it was originally conceived, implied hatred of groups based on their biological difference, as is the case with racial or homophobic speech.
This changed under the influence of The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an organisation that every leftist European ought to know about. The OIC is the self-proclaimed representative body of the Universal Ummah: a community of more than 1.5 billion Muslims. The OIC considers itself the “collective voice of the Muslim world” and is the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations, and arguably more powerful.
The OIC’s 1999 introduction of their draft resolution on “Defamation of Islam” contained the all-important conflation of religion and race. The resolution adopted liberal language redolent of Western critiques of racism (hatred, intolerance, discrimination, intolerance, intimidation) but applied it to the protection of Islam (an ideology and set of values).
— Asra Q. Nomani, PI (@AsraNomani) February 15, 2015
Instead of dismissing the OIC’s dubious merger of race and religion, the EU member states instead accommodated it and decided only to correct the exclusivity of protection of Islam by broadening the protection to all religions. This move gave the OIC room to introduce the religious defamation concept and in 2001 Pakistan, acting on behalf of the OIC, introduced a resolution titled: ‘Combating defamation of religion as a means to promote human rights, social harmony and religious and cultural diversity.’ Despite the fact that this resolution served to protect religions (ideas) rather than the human rights of individual adherents of these religions (people), the resolution was adopted by 28 votes in favour with 15 against, and 9 abstentions. This set the stage for what would follow in subsequent years. References to the concept of defamation of religion increased considerably in the UN and the OIC stepped up efforts to criminalise religious defamation, despite the absence of any definition of ‘defamation’ in any of their resolutions.
On March 24, 2011 The United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted Resolution 16/18. It was a crucial moment in the dismantling of the liberal concept of freedom of religion. The OIC had introduced the resolution on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief.” This document has played a guiding function in the UN and received the backing of the United States. To facilitate implementation of Resolution 16/18, the Istanbul Process, a series of high-level meetings, was formed in July 2011. The first of these meetings was hosted by the OIC and chaired by Hillary Clinton. This was followed in December 2011 by another meeting (behind closed doors) in Washington, again co-chaired with the OIC. This time Clinton had a more prominent role, and stated “together [with the OIC] we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religion sensitivities against freedom of expression.” Annual sessions took place in London, Geneva, Doha, Jeddah and Saudi Arabia in the following years.
A year after the adoption of resolution 16/18, the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (established by the OIC) announced that the International Federation of Journalists “should respect Islamic religious symbols and halt desecration of them.”
“Defamation” implies an analogy between (a) false allegations about individuals and (b) criticisms or satire of religious claims, which should be open to debate.
To pretend that any statement or depiction that offends religious believers or hurts the “reputation” of the religion is equivalent to a false allegation about the religion or a smear against the reputation of those who follow it begs the question, or assumes what it needs to prove, which is that the religion’s beliefs or claims are infallible. This premise itself deserves ridicule, but defamation forecloses the ability to poke fun at such an absurd conceit before any argument as to the merits of the vaunted infallibility has been had. To accuse his critics of “defamation” is a proclamation by the religious person by fiat that his religion is True… or that his credibility in teaching it is irreproachable, not just for believing adherents but for everyone!
Muslims are not like homosexuals or racial minorities, they are more like a political party. No one would accept “Liberalismophobia” as a real word, and nor should we accept the misleading neologism “Islamophobia”.
Furthermore, if people are afraid of “Muslims” [as a group] then this is unfortunate, but not completely surprising given the demonstrable intolerance of some Muslims towards those who disagree with their religious claims or sacred cows. Criticism of Islam is misleadingly described as a ‘phobia’ to imply that it is pathologically irrational. It does trade on a falsehood though. People might look around and see that nowadays Muslims perpetrate the vast majority of terrorist acts, sometimes even shouting Islamic slogans during or after their crimes.
However, while today it may be true that most terrorists are Muslims, it would be a mistake to think the converse: i.e. that most Muslims are terrorists. The latter does not follow from the former any more than a similar falsehood that has gained huge popularity amongst the regressive left.
It goes like this:
- Most known racists have been white.
- X is white.
- Therefore, Mr. X is a likely racist.
The structure of the argument is identical to this:
- Most known terrorists have been tea-drinkers.
- Ishmael is a tea-drinker.
- Therefore Ishmael is probably a terrorist.
Both arguments are invalid. We are being asked to accept the conclusion that most white people are probable racists on the basis that most known racists have been white people. The reasoning would be valid only if racism were entailed in being white. It isn’t. Being white is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being a racist. Many factors, such as culture, religion or poor education can account for racism, and there is no evidence of any one-to-one correlation between racism and being white per se.
But then reasoning is not what matters here. Spurious accusations of racism against religious extremism’s critics are less about formulating arguments than using emotive buzz-words to stigmatise as a suspected racist anyone who vocally criticises doctrines of the Muslim faith or the clerics who preach it.
Emotionally-charged appeals to universal taboos like “racism” (or, nowadays, “Islamophobia”) are hard to resist. Emotional appeals are the last resort when your arguments are bankrupt. It costs the claimant nothing to label someone else a “racist” and yet, even when the claim is spurious, it costs the accused a great deal of credibility (whether or not the charge has any merit). This is what real defamation looks like. It is an unfounded smear aimed at someone else’s reputation that has no basis in fact.
 See ‘Religious Freedom and Blasphemy Law in a Global Context: the Concept of Religious Defamation’ by Mirjam van Schaik in Cliteur, Paul and Herrenberg, Tom, Eds., The Fall and Rise of Blasphemy Law, Leiden University Press, 2016, pp. 177 – 207.
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Terri Murray, PhD, is a thrice published author, and has written for The New Humanist, Philosophy Now magazine, Sp!ked and Conatus News, among others. She has taught political philosophy and political ideologies and is currently Director of Studies at Fine Arts College, Hampstead, London.
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