July 26, 2011

On Islamophobia and Right Wing Extremism

Since I am constantly accused of being an 'Islamaphobe' let me, once again and for the record, explain my position on Islam, Islamophobia, and right-wing extremism. I'll start at the latter and work my way to the former.

1) Right-wing extremism is real. A lot of people on the right don't want to admit this. I'm not sure why, but I think it goes something like, "I'm on the right, and if this guy is also on the right then, by association, it makes me look bad." So, they simply redefine "right" in such a way as to exclude whatever nutjob or extremist they don't want to be affiliated with.

It happens on the Left as well ... and with any other grouping, ideology, or movement. It's probably normal for people not to want to be associated with extremists so we find ways to make it seem that we have nothing in common with them.

But, by definition, an extremist has similarities with, say, moderates ... only they are more extreme. Like I said, that's kind of the definition of extremists.

Right wing extremists do exist. I think you'd have to be in a state of denial to claim otherwise.

And, as I've often noted, being a nutjob and being motivated by ideology are not mutual exclusive things. Hence, someone like Abdulhakim Muhammad -- the Little Rock shooter -- might very well be a nutcase, but it doesn't mean he wasn't also motivated by his belief that America is at war with Muslims.

Likewise, it seems rather obvious that Anders Behring Breivik is certifiably crazy. But it also seems obvious that he was motivated by his worldview that Muslims are at war with Europe.

Reading his meandering and incoherent manifesto it is clear that Breivik was on the right, and that he was an extremist.

His extremism doesn't discredit the right any more than an ecoterrorist's extremism discredits those concerned with the environment.

Extremists of all stripes exist, even on the right.

The real problem is that the word is often misused. That is, people with political motives use the word to try and discredit those they disagree with even if the word doesn't truly fit.

I was at a conference once where one well meaning academic suggested that we stop using the word "terrorist" to describe those we are at war with since the word often meant one thing to one group of people and another thing to another group of people. They call us "terrorists", we call them "terrorists" .... so let's just come up with another word since our side and their side can't agree on the matter.

I pointed out that the fact that although we might disagree on who was or wasn't an as*hole, this didn't mean that as*holes don't exist and therefore the term shouldn't be dropped from the lexicon.

Yes, there really are right-wing extremists. And, yes, Anders Behring Breivik was one of them.

2) Yes, Islamophobia (or something very much like it) does exist.

I've always hated the term 'Islamophobia'. It seems so .... imprecise. These people are irrationally afraid of .... Islam? I don't know about that. Perhaps Muslimophobe works better? It just seems to me that there could be a better term for the phenomenon.

Semantics aside, there are people who hate Muslims and who, like Breivik, believe there is a massive conspiracy by them to invade and conquer the West.

One need look no further than the comments section on this blog to meet some of these people. I don't spend any time policing the comments section. If someone wanted to donate, say in the neighborhood of $60-70k a year so I could quit my job and do that full time, I'd be open to the idea. I'd apologize for them but I've never been one to to feel guilty for the sins committed by other people.

But there really are people who hate Muslims. This is an undeniable fact. It's not something I really understood when I started blogging, but over the years and interacting with people in the comments I've realized this.

If we must settle on the term 'Islamophobe' to describe those that hate Muslims or who see a Muslim conspiracy behind every door then so be it. I don't like it but neither am I the sole proprietor of the English language.

The problem with the term is that it is used by many on the Left and by some Muslims to describe any one who disagrees with them.

That is, just like the term "right-wing extremist", Islamophobe has become the epitaph of choice for those who wish to discredit any criticism of Islamist ideology, movements, and in the extreme any one who is a Muslim.

If a political opponent is an Islamophobe then it immediately ends discussion because what rational person wants to dialogue with a hater or an extremist?

It's much like the term racist. We all know that racists exist, but we also all know that the term is probably used far more often than is accurate.

Obama is a terrible President. Racist!

So, it's not that Islamophobes don't exist -- they do -- it's just that the term is used so often and so inaccurately that it loses nearly all of its bite and much of its meaning.

Clearly Breivik was an Islamophobe. If he was one, then they must exist.

Who else is one? I'm not sure. Despite what some of my critics have said, I'm certainly not one. I don't hate Muslims. I don't fear them. I don't think they are secretly out to get me. I don't think there is a massive conspiracy by them to take over Europe or the US. I certainly don't think that we are at war with them.

As cheesy as this may sound, some of my best friends are Muslims. I have them over to my house a lot.

Which is why I don't like being called it. It's like being called a racist: I hate racists. So when you call me that I take great umbrage to it.

Many of you know that I have parted ways with many in the counter-jihad movement on a number of issues. For instance, over mosque building. Or that there is such a thing as "authentic Islam".

I point these out not to accuse others of being Islamophobic, but in suggesting that if I were an "Islamophobe" then I probably would not have supported the right of Muslims in NY to build the GZ Mosque. And if I were an "Islamophobe" then wouldn't I agree with the narrative that Salaafi jihadists -- embodied in the Taliban or al Qaeda -- are the "real" Muslims?

Sure, some people fear or hate Muslims. I am not one of them.

3) Islam isn't the problem, Islamism is.

Inasmuch as I've written hundreds of posts on Islamists and Islamism it's a bit tedious to have to do it one more time.

Islam is a system of beliefs -- a faith. Islamism is a political system in which there is no separation of church and state and religious law prevails. Islamists are those who believe in Islamism.

As a political matter I've got not problem with Islam or Muslims. If you want to pray five times a day, build a mosque in my neighborhood, and never know the delicious goodness of pork I really don't care.

It's only when you start demanding -- as a matter of legal requirement -- that I stop making fun of your prophet that your religion stops being a religion and quickly becomes a form of political fascism.

I'm not a Muslim so I am not in the business of deciding whether true Islam demands the implementation of sharia or not. Plenty of Muslims tell me that it doesn't. Others tell me it does. That's something for them to work out, not me.

But, if there is a reluctance on the part of many on the right to admit that there are right-wing extremists; and if there is a reluctance of many in the counter-jihad movement to admit that there are bigots who hate and fear Muslims; then it seems to me that any honest airing of the facts would require Muslims to acknowledge that they have a problem with extremists.

There are right wing extremists in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. Some of them commit acts of violence in the name of their political ideologies. However, I think one would be hard pressed to make the case that political violence from the right was anything approaching the political violence from Muslim extremists and Islamists.

A day doesn't go by in which Muslim extremists don't kill. Not a single day.

The worldwide body count is enormous. To think that the danger posed from right wing extremism is on par with Islamic extremism takes a willful act of ignorance or deception.

And the overwhelming majority of the victims of this extremism are Muslims.

Around the world Muslims who are killed for political reasons (that is, not counting ordinary murders) are far more likely to be killed by Muslim extremists than by right wing extremists or so-called Islamophobes.

Which makes the calls to end Islamophobia by Muslim majority countries that much harder to swallow. They'd save far more lives if they focused on fighting extremism and Islamism within their own countries

It's not just violence that we have to fear from Islamists. Most Islamists are so-called 'moderates' who reject the calls for violence as a means of adopting the sharia. Islamism itself is antithetical to human rights and incompatible with freedom.

I don't fear an Islamist takeover of the US. I fear an Islamist takeover in Muslim countries. Not because Hamas ruling in Gaza or The Muslim Brotherhood ruling in Egypt threatens my liberty. But because I want people in those countries to enjoy the fundamental human rights that I enjoy. Such as the right to change your religion if you want without fear of legal consequences. Or the right to criticize some of the crazy beliefs of a religion. Neither of which is allowed under traditional interpretations of Islamic law.

I'm not sure how to end this post, so let me just end here and challenge my colleagues on the right to own up to the fact that extremists on our side of the political spectrum exist and that sometimes this extremism manifests itself as political violence. Let me also challenge my colleagues in the counter-jihad movement to admit that there really are Muslim haters out there who might be called 'Islamophobes'. But let me also equally challenge Muslims to own up to the fact that the vast majority of terrorism in the world is committed by Muslims and that extremist views and Islamist sentiments are far too common among them.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 11:40 PM | Comments |