“Islamophobia”, a dangerous concept for freedom of speech?

 

Everyone who uphold human rights – and all pro-democracy and “modern” people accept and support them. Every reasonable person rejects discrimination, racism, or any infringement of religious freedom. In this context, “Islamophobia” is a widely-know, concept.

Certainly, criticism of Islam can conceal xenophobic, contemptuous, and even racist discourses. In this very precise sense, the concept of Islamophobia can be meaningful. The real dangerous prejudice is to assume that adherents of Islam cannot break free from religious thought patterns and particularly the “violence” associated with their religion. Generalizing violence to a whole group is an significant risk. Criticism of Islam is dangerous if and only if this allows anti-Muslim hatred and if one considers that all Muslims are inherently “violent” or “anti-democratic.

However, the notion of Islamophobia can be applied to various domains, making its meaning highly debatable:

  • Islamophobia can apply to literary and artistic use of Muslim symbols (like Salman Rushdie) ; caricature of Muslim religious symbols (as seen in Charlie Hebdo) ; theological controversy (like Benedict XVI during his famous Regensburg speech).
  • It can be applied to the criticism of Muslim countries, to the reduction of Islam to a religion of “violence” or even to critique of the Quran and of Muhammad.
  • Islamophobia can describe discrimination against Muslim populations in the West.

Fundamentally, the use of the concept of Islamophobia is based on the following reasoning:

  • You mock a symbol of Islam or you reject a symbol of Islam (like the veil).
  • However, this symbol is sacred to Muslims.
  • By attacking this sacred symbol, you attack the people who believe in it (causing humiliation, “essentialization,” and mockery of their beliefs or way of life)
  • Moreover, Muslim communities in the West are of immigrant origin.
  • Therefore, you are acting as a racist.

Premise 3 (“By attacking this sacred symbol, you attack the people who believe in it (causing humiliation, “essentialization,” and mockery of their beliefs or way of life)”) is the most important: it equates violence against symbols with violence against individuals. Making fun of collective ideas or practices (because a religion is nothing more than that: a set of ideas and practices) is considered as real or potential physical violence against individuals who adhere to them.

The legitimacy of artistic, satirical, and intellectual criticism of Islam.

In truth, intellectual criticism, “artistic” caricatures, or literary creativity are not Islamophobic; they are quite the opposite.

They represent the exact opposite because they create a space for freedom and critique within both the non-Muslim and Muslim worlds, inspiring reevaluation, enabling social creativity, opening “Islamic” culture, which is not closed but can evolve, open up, and “live.”

All artists, journalists, thinkers who dare to be heretics – often at the price of their life -, are indispensable ones.

In one word: the concept of Islamophobia is full of pitfalls. If “sacred” ideas are true or just, they must be defended rationally. An if ideas express hatred towards individuals, they must be condemned morally or legally.

But if even if ideas are not individuals, they address individuals, who are accountable for what they think, do and who must accept caricature, criticism, questions other their culture and religion will stay closed and conservative forever. 

In short, can one criticize a religion without despising its members? The answer is yes. Criticizing or caricaturing Muhammad or the Quran is not directed at individuals but at symbols. They pose no danger for the integrity of Muslims. They even make a transformation of Islam possible and evoke various feelings: laughter, reflection, creativity, but no hatred. Salman Rushdie or Charlie Hebdo have never inspired any hatred. The exacte opposite is true.

The legitimacy of artistic, satirical, and intellectual criticism of Islam.

In truth, intellectual criticism, “artistic” caricatures, or literary creativity are not Islamophobic; they are quite the opposite.

They represent the exact opposite because they create a space for freedom and critique within both the non-Muslim and Muslim worlds, inspiring reevaluation, enabling social creativity, opening up “Islamic” culture, which is not closed but can evolve, open up, and “live.”

All artists, journalists, thinkers who dare to be heretics — often at the price of their lives — are indispensable.

In one word: the concept of Islamophobia is full of pitfalls. If “sacred” ideas are true or just, they must be defended rationally. And if ideas express hatred towards individuals, they must be condemned morally or legally.

But even if ideas are not individuals, they address individuals who are accountable for what they think and do, and who must accept caricature, criticism, and questions; otherwise, their culture and religion will stay closed and conservative forever.

In short, can one criticize a religion without despising its members? The answer is yes. Criticizing or caricaturing Muhammad or the Quran is not directed at individuals but at symbols. They pose no danger to the integrity of Muslims. They even make a transformation of Islam possible and evoke various feelings: laughter, reflection, creativity, but no hatred. Salman Rushdie or Charlie Hebdo have never inspired any hatred. The exact opposite is true.

 

 



Cite this blog post
Baudry Pierre (2023, November 13). “Islamophobia”, a dangerous concept for freedom of speech? Deciphering international politics - religion, economics and international affairs. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/tl3m

Baudry Pierre

Ph.D. CNRS/EPHE (Paris), Assistant professor.

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