An astonishing phenomenon of the 21st century is the perversely ironic way in which the Information Age has actually increased ignorance. With all the knowledge in the world just a quick Google search away, many people have somehow managed to seal themselves off inside cocoons of confirmation bias, where they only encounter narratives that fit their preconceived personal prejudices. It is not simply a matter of people avoiding opposing opinions, but of filtering out facts in such a way that their worldview becomes wholly unrealistic. Paranoid hostility flourishes inside these online bubbles where kooks cluster, affirming their shared delusions and piling up “evidence” to “prove” their false beliefs to each other. It was while making my rounds in the online lunatic asylum that is Feminist Tumblr that I encountered this 157-word rant:
Islam, like all other religions/ideologies, should remain an open ground for criticism, but to say that Islamophobia is absolutely not related to racial persecution and racism in any way is an oversimplification.
Anyone on this earth could be a Muslim, but it’s the brown and black ones that being attacked and killed for being associated with Islam. Anyone could have some kind of tie to Islam, the ideologies presented in Islam, but it’s the brown men and women, the kids with “Middle Eastern” names, the Sikhs wearing turbans, Hindus wearing traditional attire that are being called “terrorists” at the highest frequency.
Ask an Islamophobic assailant why he hit a Sikh man with his car and he’ll tell you he did it because he hates Islam, he hates terrorists.
Islamophobia has criminalized the brown body, to say that it has nothing to do with racism would be to overlook the suffering of countless victims of such baseless hatred.
Stipulate that concerns about radical Islam do create a certain level of suspicion that is ethnic in nature, and that people may wrongly suspect a Hindu or a Sikh — or a Christian, for that matter — of being Muslim.
Anyone can ask Ali Akbar (a half-Arab/half-black Southern Baptist from Texas) about this kind of confusion. For that matter, you can ask Raheem Kassam, the spokesman for the U.K. Independence Party, who is the child of Pakistani Muslim immigrants, but who is himself a thoroughly secular young Englishman.
This raises the question of whether “Islamophobia” actually exists. The term “phobia” denotes an irrational fear, yet the history of recent decades offers enough rational basis for concern to make the word “Islamophobia” inherently problematic. One may perhaps distinguish between two phenomena — a vigilant concern about dangerous radicalism, on the one hand, and a simple-minded bigotry on the other — but making that distinction does nothing more than to say, “Ignorant people are ignorant.” To say that fair-minded and educated people should condemn ignorant prejudice isn’t controversial. What is controversial is to assert that “Islamophobia” is a more important problem than the actual dangers posed by radical Islam.
The flat statement that “Islamophobia has criminalized the brown body” is a falsehood, and to then throw in “the suffering of countless victims of . . . baseless hatred” as the emotional freight of an argument requires us to ask, “Are the ‘victims’ truly ‘countless’? Where is the evidence of this ‘suffering’?” In order to sustain such claims, it will not do to cite a list of incidents or anecdotes. No one disputes the fact that ignorant hateful people do ignorant hateful things.
What is in dispute is whether “Islamophobia” — specifically, the concern about Islamic terrorism — has generated such a spree of anti-Muslim violence and harassment as to produce “countless victims.”
According to the FBI, Jews were the targets in about 60% of religious-bias incidents in 2013, the most recent year for which complete data is available. By comparison to the 625 anti-Jewish crimes, Muslims were targeted in 135 incidents (13.7%), and Catholics were the third-most commonly targeted group, accounting for 6.1% of such incidents.
Facts matter. We cannot let ourselves to be misled by propaganda, whatever the source or nature of that propaganda may be. When we know the facts, our skeptical curiosity ought to be aroused whenever we encounter tendentious claims. Who is it, we must ask, that deries the “countless victims” of “Islamophobia”?
Here is the profile of the Tumblr blogger who wrote that 157-word rant: Zanab, Nineteen, Female, Ontario, Canada. No rational person desiring information on hate crimes would deliberately seek out the expertise of a Canadian teenager, yet inside the online ideological bubbles of the Information Age, no one bothers to contradict this girl’s claims. If not for my habit of patrolling the weird universe of Feminist Tumblr, you might have no idea how these poisonous seeds of dangerous disinformation are being sown.
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