Godless Poutine's Note (2012-11-12): Please see the followup post Islamophobe 2.
The word islamophobe means someone who is afflicted by islamophobia which is a term that dates back to the early twentieth century according to Wikipedia.
Islamophobia denotes prejudice against, or hatred or irrational fear of, Muslims. Some scholars of the social sciences consider it a form of racism, although this is controversial. The term dates back to the early 1900s, but its modern use originates during the late 1980s or early 1990s. It entered the common vocabulary after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.Like any other phobic word, at base it means means the fear of something. I would tend to think it really means a fear of Islam - as in the religion if we want to be pedantic.
But we all know it's more tricky than that. Everyday usage extends the meaning to a fear of not only Islam but also Muslims themselves - like homophobia. And this is where it gets blurry.
To use an analogy, I am not afraid of alcohol and I am not afraid of people, but I am afraid of some people when they have had too much alcohol. This is because, quite frankly, their brains stop functioning properly - in safe ways which are conducive to them living in a peaceful society. In other words - violent fundamentalist fanatics. But even this analogy breaks down.
I'm going to admit something many readers may find shameful. I never really liked alcohol. I will enjoy a nice Black Velvet every so often, but otherwise, I think beer and spirits are pretty much horrid. I don't like the taste. So let me fix my analogy.
I'm not afraid of Islam, I think it's misguided, outdated, wrong and has much that is highly objectionable. But I'm not afraid of Muslims because they are not the same as Islam - they are not an ideology, they are flesh and blood like me. They are people who are just like others. Some are good, some are bad - most do their best to be good people. I'm just afraid of what happens when the judgement of Muslims can become impaired by that which is ugly in the religion of Islam.
It's like any dangerous cult and there are Christian and even non-theistic equivalents. When people lose their ability to know what's right and what wrong and start murdering others or oppressing them in the name of their ideology/religion it's time to be afraid.
But there seems to be more to it than just this. Christianity has all the traits of a religion that has a fundamentalist wing which is interested in oppressing and rubbing out opposing views and establishing Theocratic Law. But over the centuries something has changed. With some notable exceptions, Christianity has lost its violent streak.
So bear with me here. Let me make another pass at this target.
For me at least, the fear is not rooted in fear of a religion that believes it is the one true faith. That's the case with Christianity. The source of my phobia is how utterly foreign the concept of free speech seems to be for great swathes of the Islamic world. I think this is probably at the root of most of the West's fear of Islam. And I think this anxiety is well-founded.
In other words, people can go ahead and believe in whatever crazy stuff they wish, be horribly offended when others disagree and scream at the top of their lungs in disapproval. It's when they start doing violence to the free will of others that it's time to take notice because that is a real threat.
I don't mean all Muslims are ignorant to the principles of free speech and free expression. The latest protests by certain segments of the Islamic world against that horrendously bad film, Innocence of the Muslims, were peppered with the occasional Muslim counter protester who understood that when the principle of free speech is trampled everyone suffers.
There is a lot at play here and I know very little. There seems to be generations of social conditioning by ruling classes and clerics who have used the banner of Islam to control and oppress free thought and freedom of speech in their countries. Frankly, it makes my head hurt when I try to pick out a single coherent argument out of the overwhelming cacophony of competing narratives coming out of the Muslim world. These stories go back centuries and the closer you zoom into any particular detail, more complexity springs out.
The examples of the suppression of free speech by Islamic governments are so apparent and have been covered so closely by Western media that I'll just let them drop from this post. They can be found in legion elsewhere on the web. It often seems like governments and clerics whip the masses up into a frenzy against people in lands far away - in completely different cultures and contexts. And it's contexts so completely different than their own.
Perhaps it's a lack of connection? Would free Internet to all people in Pakistan, Egypt and other countries where deadly violent protests occurred against stupid movies and newspaper cartoons solve this problem?
Is the problem Religion? Maybe, but how do we deal with it?
Perhaps we all need to hold on for dear life to the oh shit handles, grit our teeth and hope this car we're all in doesn't crash.
Unlike other people out there, I just don't have any solutions to this. But I do know the world I would like to live in. It's one where all ideas, including Islam are not scary and subject to open criticism and scrutiny - like all ideas. Where nobody can be locked up for believing or disbelieving in anything. Where thinking is never a sin and only one's actions can bring about incarceration to protect others from further harmful action.
Where all people are feared or loved for their actions to other people. Where no human is excused for doing harm to another because they feel offended.