Islamophilia cannot be an effective answer to Islamophobia

re-posted from Huffington Post, Huffpost Students UK, by Karthick RM, 23 December 2014.

islamophobiaThe recent siege by an Islamist in Sydney has raised all too familiar debates about Islamophobia. The general right-wing argument, of course, is that such acts of terrorism are justified by a hard-core minority of Muslims and that downplaying the role of Islam is potentially harmful. On the other hand, the general liberal-left argument is that expecting all Muslims to condemn such acts is bigoted because a whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few ‘deranged lunatics’.

Central to both arguments is an unstated belief that the Islamic identity is central to all Muslims, and while the former despises it, the latter preaches a patronising tolerance of the same. And both are wrong.

We have to look at Islamophobia as the tendency to blame Muslims as a whole, without any differentiation of nation, culture, class, gender, and political orientation for terrorist acts committed by Islamists.

Likewise, we have to look at Islamophilia as the tendency to exonerate Islam as an ideology from the crimes that are committed in its name, as the belief that the Muslim identity is good in itself and is central to an adherent of the faith.

Reality, if anything, shows the contrary. Proponents of the two sides are unlikely to remember that the first state to declare itself officially atheist in the world happened to be a predominantly ‘Muslim’ country – socialist Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, the state banned religion and religious preaching, shut down mosques, and tried to achieve gender parity in all services. In practice, the ‘Muslim’ Hoxha was the most rabid Islamophobe of the previous century. Incidentally, it was precisely those western governments – who are now accused of harbouring Islamophobia – who railed against Hoxha for curbing religious freedom for Muslims.

Several other examples could be given. The Indonesian Communist Party led insurgency, the Kurdish movement in the middle-east, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (Turkey), the Communist Party of Iran – all militantly secular movements led by ‘Muslims’ – have faced brutal repression from variants of Islamism. It would be a brutal illogic to say that the murder of thousands of individuals from these movements had nothing to do with the Islamic ideology that the states they challenged upheld.

Why is this important? Drawing parallels from other cases, can we say that the Inquisition’s slaughter of tens of thousands of heretics at the stake was just an act committed by a few ‘deranged lunatics’ and that the ideology of the Church had no role to play in it? Can we say that the discrimination against Dalits, the lowest castes in the Hindu hierarchy, owes to a few bad individuals and is not a structural problem in Hinduism? Can we say that war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils were just acts of bad soldiers and they can be divorced from the genocidal intent of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism?

Similarly, we cannot excuse the Islamic ideology from the terrorism and violence that is committed in its name. There is a lot in political Islam that justifies violence against non-Muslims, sexism and terroristic acts and those Muslims who have been fighting it for long have written the best testimonials. For liberals in the West to ignore this and to engage in downright immature acts, like wearing a hijab to convey solidarity with Muslim women, is tantamount to mocking those progressives in Muslim communities who resist the cultural diktats of political Islam.

A more critical approach to political Islam is needed. Commenting on the Rotherham child abuse scandal, which saw the sexual abuse of over a thousand white, mostly working class, children by men of Pakistani-Muslim origin, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued that raising questions about inherent sexism and violence in these communities is neither racist nor Islamophobic. Rather, it is this questioning alone that can guarantee an authentic co-existence.

Liberals and leftists in the West are right to condemn the bigotry of the majority community, but the fundamentalism of the minority community cannot be spared from criticism. If those identifying as left and liberal fail to criticise the dangerous trends of Islamism, the right will step up for the task. That is a future no one wants and political correctness can do little to fight it. Maybe one can start by expressing critical solidarity with those progressive movements from within the Muslim communities that are willing to think beyond narrow religious identities and are willing to challenge the bigotries in Islamic ideology.


Karthick RM is a PhD student and Graduate teaching assistant at University of Essex. He blogs at Unceasing Waves. Some initial further readings –

+ A Glance in to the Archives of Islam by Slavoj Zizek. – “One becomes a full member of a community not simply by identifying with its explicit symbolic tradition, but only when one also assumes the spectral dimension that sustains this tradition, the undead ghosts that haunt the living, the secret history of traumatic fantasies transmitted “between the lines,” through the lacks and distortions of the explicit symbolic tradition…”

+ When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia? Pandaemonium – “Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.”

+ Islamophilia by Douglas Murray – “For the record I don’t think everybody needs to spend their time being offensive about Islam. Not only is there no need to be offensive all the time, but most Muslims just want to get on with their lives as peacefully and successfully as everybody else. But there is an unevenness in our societies that needs to be corrected.”

Multimedia Postcards

Christoph Pohl loves to see new places, meet new people, and ‘have coffee & cigarettes here or chai & beedis there’. He calls himself a “multimedia traveller” who wants to create “good media” (guteMedien). In May 2008, when he started his overland journey from Istanbul to Auroville, South India, he travelled through Iran and Pakistan, filming, editing and uploading “multimedia postcards” on his minimal video blog called guteMedien postcast. After arriving in Auroville, the site is now the main window where he uploads all his audio-visual productions. We are publishing a few chapters* (with his notes) from his journeys here. In the first two videos, you will meet Christoph, drink coffee with him, smoke if you do, follow lady bugs, make few travel buddies, try to go to Darjeeling like in the limited movie, get held at Kolkata because of the riots in Darjeeling, and these are the beginnings of a trip to watch the eclipse in Varanasi.

The next four videos are some excellent snippets of life we really want you to watch and share. Here, you’ll meet Mrs. Parisa from Iran who doesn’t want to be called a terrorist, a Pakistani optician who travelled around Germany in 1985 and loves cars, a guesthouse owner in Mastuj who treats leprosy, and his young son Fahad’s stories of mountains and bomb blasts.

Click to watch all postcasts.  

I’m Waiting for the Men. 02 mins 45 s. 2009

Calcutta Dilemma. 04 mins. 2009. 

postcaster – I met Parisa in an internet café in Kerman. Just like most of the few English speaking Iranian people, she likes to get in touch with foreigners and practice her English. And just like every Iranian I met, she is incredibly hospitable, spending a full day with me, covering all our expenses and giving me no chance to invite her, not even for a chai. During a walk in the streets of Kerman we talked about some of her views on Iran. Mrs. Parisa about Iran… 03 mins 51 s. 2008

postcaster – My last afternoon in Lahore one guy came up to me asking if I need an optician. Well, yes, in fact I was looking for one, where I can get sunglasses with special spectacle glasses for my shortsightedness. So he took me to his father’s shop and I got this extra cool glasses for real cheap and within 3 hours! In the shop I met Dr. Muhammad Anwar, the owner and father of the guy who got me there. When I answered the obligatory question about my homeland, he said “Oh, Germany, have a look, I show you some photos.” And he did. And I loved them. I said “I’ll be back in 5 minutes” and I was, with my camera, ready to record what Dr. Muhammad Anwar had to tell… about his trip in 1985. 05 mins 02 s. 2008

postcaster – Mr. Jafar Nabi, the owner of the wonderful guesthouse ‘Tourist Garden’ in Mastuj, turned out to have a second life … Dr. Nabi and Mr. Jafar… 04 mins 38 s. 2008.

postcaster – Full service at the wonderful guesthouse ‘Tourist Garden’ in Mastuj included a little mountain tour with Jafar’s cute and smart son Fahad and his friend Nahim. With Fahad on Mountains and Bombblasts… 03 mins 47 s. 2008.

Read more about Christoph and his projects at Visual Berlin [] and visit

*Some times WordPress does not accept embeds. It already took our muddled brains long to realize it could be so simple. So, do please go through the links to watch these videos, in case they don’t play here. Don’t miss them.

This post was put together by Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and screen, under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the videos to Christoph Pohl. 

Chai Kadai. ( |

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