Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jeffrey Tayler on "Islamophobia"

In the Salon article "Richard Dawkins is not an Islamophobe" (August 24, 2013), the writer Jeffrey Tayler argues that Nathan Lean's recent "attack on the renowned atheist" Dawkins as an Islamophobe is nothing more than an attempt "to squelch honest conversation about religion" in general and about Islam in particular.

The proximate cause for Lean's ire was Dawkins tweet on August 8th that, "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though." Lean was not the sole critic, of course. Dawkins was widely criticized. But as Tayler notes, Dawkins has a point:
The fact Dawkins presents -- that so few Muslims have won Nobel Prizes -- does raise legitimate . . . questions that Dawkins himself addresses in a blog post about the controversy he stirred up by his tweet. He points out that in view of the grandiose claims advanced by some Muslims for the "science" contained in the Quran, it's rather depressing to note that not much by way of science has come out of the Muslim world in the past 500 years, and it behooves us, and certainly Muslims, to ask why. Dawkins also wonders why Jewish people, with infinitesimal demographic stature, have won 120 Nobels, whereas the 1.6 billion-strong Muslim world can boast of only 10 (and six of those were Peace Prizes).
The question is legitimate. The general response, however, has been to call anyone raising the question an Islamophobe, and Lean is particularly apt to do so, having written an entire book on The Islamophobia Industry. Tayler dismisses this label as unworthy of being taken seriously:
"Islamophobia" is nothing more than a quack pseudo-diagnosis suggesting pathological prejudice against, and fear of, a supposedly neutral subject, Islam, in the way agoraphobic folk cringe at open places or claustrophobes dread an elevator. Based on the erroneous premise that those who criticize Islam are somehow ill, the term, along with its adjective "Islamophobic," should be banished from our lexicon as pernicious to rational thinking. People, regardless of race or creed, deserve equal rights and respect; religions, which are essentially hallowed ideologies, merit no a priori respect, but, rather, gimlet-eyed scrutiny, the same scrutiny one would apply to, say, communism, conservatism or liberalism. No one has a right to wield religion as a shield -- or as a sword . . . . Surely, Lean imagined that he could mount the podium shouting "Islamophobe!" at Dawkins and hold forth unopposed, or he would not have ventured into print with such a maladroit, bungling critique. But the age of politically correct timidity in the face of religious zealots and their apologist shills has, thankfully, come to an end.
Political correctness in its death throes? Let's hope so. But I would point out that the word "Islamophobia" is only superficially used as designating a pathology. Its deeper use is as a term of moral opprobrium, condemning the supposed Islamophobe as one whose illness rightfully invites disdain, as in "That's sick."

Not diagnosis, but exclusion, banishment to the intellectual equivalent of a lepers' isle . . .

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At 8:28 PM, Blogger Able said...

'The Left' has always defined, using redefined or even made up terminology, anything which they dislike or disagree with so as to ostracise anyone who dares go off reservation/message. The aim of which is to stifle any rational debate on a subject when they know their position is indefensible, weak or questionable (think homophobic, racist, misogynist, etc.)

I think of them as permanently pre-pubescent teenagers - can't win an arguement? Call them names! (with the occasional addition of 'stamp your feet and threaten to hold your breath' and 'refuse to play/take the ball home')

I'd say 'Islamaphobia' was in the same vein but 'phobia' denotes an 'irrational fear' - I for one think the fear here is justified. What they seem to have missed, in their limited 'I only talk/listen to others like me' world view, is that 'being banished, only works when there are more banishers than banishees.

(blame JK for me being here)

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'll not blame JK, rather, thank him.

There are also honest, highly intelligent Leftists, fortunately, like Tayler or Paul Berman, who stand for a clearheaded Left and see that Islamism is antithetical to their position.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:23 PM, Blogger Able said...

Maybe 'over there' but here in PRUK? meh, not so much!

You also have to remember, our 'right wing' Conservative (with a large C) is more left wing than your extreme left wing. That's merely a heads-up for why I may get crotchety at times.

I'd have raised the point that Islam of even 500 years ago, and all it's claimed advancements were in fact the products of those cultures it had invaded and enslaved, but probably preaching to the choir here.

At 4:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Actually, I'm 'over here' in South Korea, but like JK, I'm quintessentially an Ozark hillbilly.

Back when I was a grad student in history of science, I wanted to investigate the Arab development of science and determine for myself what the Medieval Muslim world had done for science -- given the transmission of ideas in Muslim-dominated Spain -- but I never got around to it.

If Islamism is the core of Islam, however, then Islam couldn't have contributed much.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:49 PM, Blogger Able said...

On consideration I've decided 'Islamaphobia' is incorrect, 'Islamycosis' would be more appropriate.

My background (second career) is in Nursing/clinical sciences so similarly to you I was introduced to the 'golden age of Islam' during that (second) time at university.

I'm nothing more than a dabbling dilettante but the impression I have is that the great claims were in fact nothing more than the spreading of knowledge spread to them.

Philosophy (Greek), Mathematics (Greek and Indian), Medicine (Greek, Galen and Hippocrates) and even in art and architecture - those archetypal minarets and domes? Rome, Persia and India. The 'Arabesque? - India and China.

Can you claim innovation and development when all you are doing is rehashing something you 'acquired' by conquest and slavery?

Another Hillbilly? So someone else who can tell me the correct grammar and pronunciation for Shakespearean English.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I can brush up your Shakespeare, but we hillbillies can do that only because we grew up on the King James Bible . . . uh, I mean the Authorized Version.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:52 PM, Blogger Able said...

King James Bible?

No, I heard it was something to do with being isolated in them thar hills and so 'escaping' the evolution in language occurring in these septic isles.

So whilst you may speak correct 'traditional' English, you don't speak proper modern English like what I does.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK is a professional hillbilly.

He does happen to be right about the fact of an Ozark dialect, but most of it isn't fossilized 16th-century dialect, and lots of it is gone now anyway, though JK and I do recall the way old timers spoke, and JK can authentically still speak that way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"'The Left' has always defined, using redefined or even made up terminology, anything which they dislike or disagree with so as to ostracise anyone who dares go off reservation/message. The aim of which is to stifle any rational debate on a subject when they know their position is indefensible, weak or questionable (think homophobic, racist, misogynist, etc.)

Replace "left" with "right" and "homophobic, racist, misogynist" with "Marxist, socialist, unpatriotic, un-American" and your statement would be equally true. Polarity requires two equally extreme ends. Both the left and the right have "issues" with religion. Leftist media treat Muslims as the baby seals of religious persecution while rightwing media scream, "War on Christianity" if a diverse public school opts not to celebrate any religious holidays including Christmas.


At 6:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

True enough, Sonagi. Part of the issue, then, is to consider which voice is dominant in public discourse. "Islamophobia" seems to have caught on as an approved term of description despite Islamism being a far greater threat than 'Christianism.'

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Approved by whom?


At 8:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, not by me, but the term is widely used, as if an accepted label.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether or not the term is widely used is not necesarily a problem. The term being misused to delegitimize critics of Islam is one obstacle to rational public discourse among many. I would aloe appreciate some clarification on what you meant by "which voice is dominant in public discourse," keeping in mind the diverse forms of media that engage Americans as viewers and participants,


At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 4:37 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see the term "Islamophobia" used rather often, but that could be a function of what I read. I am not speaking only of America but of the West and the Islamic world. In discourse about Islam, the term gets used very often.

Here's the sort of voice that I find dominant:

Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project

I could also point to the OIC and its views on Islamophobia.

Both of these are the sorts of voices I had in mind.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reply confirmed my suspicion that your perceptions came from academic discussions. The Berkeley organization appears to have broad interests in a variety of human rights issues. The OIC is a joke. The primary concern of its membership, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other beacons of equality and freedom, is criticizing the treatment of Muslims in countries where they are a minority.

I am not knowledgeable about public discourse on Islam outside the US, so I will limit my opinions to within the US. Both the left and the right distort public discourse about religion, particularly Islam. As note, the left tries to silence legitimate critics by labeling them Islamophobes. The right makes inflammatory remarks sound Islamophobic to many ears, including mine. Below are two examples with more to follow in a separate post to avoid being caught by the spam trap.

Mike Huckabee

Michelle Bachmann

At 6:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allen West

At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A long essay by a former Republican and devout Muslim detailing why Muslim support for George Bush plummeted from 70% in 2000 to 4% in 2004.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi. I'll try to check out these links soon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From the first link, I see that Huckabee is rather careless with his language. If he had simply noted that Imams have used Friday sermons to incite riots after prayers, he would have been correct. His choice of the expression "uncorked animals," may very well express a disdain for Muslims.

But the article is also careless. For instance, it says:

"[Huckabee] also drew scorn for a 2011 interview about churches allowing Muslims to use their space for referring to Muslims as 'infidels who should essentially be obliterated.'"

The link given in the article, however, leads to words used to say something completely different:

"If the purpose of a church is to push forth the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I guess I have a hard time understanding that."

Carelessness seems a problem on both sides.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are correct about the careless misparaphrasing. The actual comment, however, still offended Muslims because it misrepresents what Islam actually teaches about Jesus, whom they respect as a prophet, and Christians as people of the book, teachings ignored by Muslims who persecute Christians. Huckabee did not provide any proof that that group using the church actually spews hatred of Christians. His unsupported statement, like the previous one, suggests that he does not like Muslims.

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Piling it on with more examples of rightwing Islamophobic nuttery:

A solution looking for a problem: Red state Oklahoma's law barring judges from referencing Sharia law found unconstitutional.

The new McCarthyism: Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert accused the Obama Administration of being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhoodin an interview with rightwing mouthpiece World Net Daily.

"Q: Some people are wondering whether or not the fact that it looks like radical Islam is once again a factor here is potentially a narrative that some folks don’t want publicly out there. Do you think that’s playing into this at all?
GOHMERT: I think it is… It’s very clear to everybody but this administration that radical Islam is at war agains us… Radical Islam is at war with us. Thank God for the moderates that don’t approve of what’s being done. But this administration has so many Muslim Brotherhood members that have influence that they just are making wrong decisions for America."


At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More on the state Constitutional amendment approved by 70% of Oklahoma voters.

At 4:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm aware of the rightwing voices that accuse Obama of being a secret Muslim and the Administration of being riddled with Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathizers. I don't see much evidence for that.

Sharia, however, is a problem, one that Europe is having difficulty dealing with in its Muslim enclaves.

As for Islam's respect for Jesus, this is limited to Jesus as prophet, not as divine (as you note), the latter belief being seen as a type of shirk, or polytheism, the worst of sins, and Christians are merely tolerated as dhimmis, a term referring to "protected" minorities, but one has to ask, "Protected from what?"

These reasonable criticisms of Islam would likewise be considered Islamophobic.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharia may or may not be a problem in Europe, but it is definitely not a problem in the US. Small Muslim minorities in Oklahoma, North Dakota, and other red flyover states understandably feel targeted when Republicans introduce legislation to bar Sharia despite the fact that local Muslims have not expressed any desire to see it implemented!.

As for Christians as Dhimmis, that is irrelevant to Huckabee's baseless inflammatory remarks about the attitudes of Muslims meeting in churches. Would Muslims holding strong feelings about polytheism feel comfortable meeting in a building adorned with crosses and statues?

Let me reiterate my main point about how Rightwingers' ignorant, hostile, and hateful comments about Islam and Muslims damage public discourse. Whether or not a few, some, many, or most Muslims (and non-muslims, too, judging by the reactions to Dawkins' comments which inspired your post) object to reasonable criticism is irrelevant to my main point. Phrases like "uncorked animals" and baseless accusations about the loyalties of Muslims working in government are harmful to much needed public dialog among Americans of all faiths or none at all. One reason why Europe has a problem with its enclaves is that Muslim immigrants are not politically, culturally, socially, and economically integrated into mainstream life. The US, on the other hand, does a decent job accommodating newcomers from around the globe and accepting them as members of the community. Civil public discourse is a must if we are to achieve peaceful coexistence.

You mentioned that you "don't see much evidence" for Obama being a secret Muslim and his administration being "riddled with Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathizers." So what (little) evidence do you see?

The right's ignorance and hostility towards Islam and Muslims goes far, far beyond conspiracy theories about the Obama Administration, I checked out a few of the examples to verify and found this this video of Geert Wilders speaking at rightwing Free Speech Summit in Florida. The problem with someone like Geert Wilder is that many of his criticisms are defensible, but then he severly damages his credibility by demanding that First Amendment religous protections should not apply to Muslims at a summit devoted to protecting that same amendment's free speech! .

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sonagi, my point about dhimmis' status was in response to your remark about "Christians as people of the book." Muslims believe that Christians have corrupted that "book," effectively making it a polytheistic text.

As for what I mean by not seeing much evidence, that's another way of saying that I see none.

I think we're talking past each other.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not much evidence" does not mean "no evidence." Recall Confucious' statement about his first order of business being the rectification of names. Precise and accurate language is important in a debate.

Since you appear to be concerned about religious influences on American jurisprudence, you might be interested in learning a bit more about the former Arkansas governor and failed presidential candidate:

Huckabee expresses profound respect for the First Amendment.

Meet the man Time designated one of America's 25 most influential evangelists.

We don't need any laws or amendments specifically barring Sharia. Perhaps we do need another amendment to clarify that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," as Founding Father John Adams noted in the Treaty of Tripoli.


At 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to clarify my first paragraph in the last comment. You are someone who generally respects and uses precise and accurate language. I took your comment about "not much evidence" at face value because anywhere from 30-48% of Republicans, depending on different poll questions at different times, believe our president to be a Muslim in spite of the fact that there is zero publicly available evidence to support that belief.

At 3:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That's how I use the expression "not much evidence," and it's a usage I've often heard, so I don't think I'm idiosyncratic here.

As for the necessity of the secular state, you're -- so to speak -- preaching to the choir.

Jeffery Hodges

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