Islamophobia, the word’s origin and meaning

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by Neil Godfrey

I’m no longer desirous of defending myself, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or other public atheists against the charge of “Islamophobia.” It’s been widespread on the Internet these past two weeks, but I’ve ignored it. In the end, I’ve concluded that those charges come from borderline racists themselves: people who think that bad ideas, threats of violence, or religious oppression should be ignored, but only when they come from people with brown or yellow skin. Jerry Coyne fantasizing over what he wishes the source of the ‘Islamophobia’ charge to be. A little effort and he could have learned the facts but, like anything associated with Muslims, he appears much more comfortable rolling around in one-sided media bytes and ignorance.

This post explains the real origins — and meaning — of the word. Scholarly authority on Islam, John Esposito, almost gets it right with the following passage in The Future of Islam (the same source that was the basis of my previous post; formatting and bolding emphasis are mine):

summary“Islamophobia” is a new term for a now widespread phenomenon. We are all very familiar with “anti-Semitism” or “racism,” but there was no comparable term to describe the hostility, prejudice, and discrimination directed toward Islam and the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.

In 1997, an independent think tank on ethnicity and cultural diversity, the Runnymede Trust, coined the term “Islamophobia” to describe what they saw as a prejudice rooted in the “different” physical appearance of Muslims as well as an intolerance of their religious and cultural beliefs.

Origin of the word

Before I comment on the above (as I said, John Esposito only “almost gets it right”), let’s continue with another prominent user of the term and ask how well Jerry Coyne’s fantasy coincides with reality:

Like other forms of group prejudice, it thrives on ignorance and fear of the unknown, which is spreading throughout much of the non-Muslim world. At a 2004 UN conference, “Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding,” Kofi Annan addressed the international scope of the problem:

annanWhen the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry — that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with “Islamophobia.” . . . There is a need to unlearn stereotypes that have become so entrenched in so many minds and so much of the media. Islam is often seen as a monolith . . . [and] Muslims as opposed to the West. . . . The pressures of living together with people of different cultures and different beliefs from one’s own are real. . . . But that cannot justify demonization, or the deliberate use of fear for political purposes. That only deepens the spiral of suspicion and alienation.

The literature of the Runnymede Trust itself is not so willing to claim originality for the term, however. In the 1997 report to which Esposito refers, there is a Foreword by Chair of the Commission, Professor Gordon Conway. There Conway explains:

We did not coin the term Islamophobia. It was already in use among sections of the Muslim community as a term describing the prejudice and discrimination which they experience in their everyday lives. For some of us on the Commission it was a new term, a rather ugly term, and we were not sure how it would be received by the readers of our document [a preliminary consultation paper]. However, it is evident from the responses which we received that Islamophobia describes a real and growing phenomenon — an ugly word for an ugly reality. Hardly a day now goes by without references to Islamophobia in the media. (Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All, by Runnymede Trust. Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia; my bolded highlighting. This report is also found through Amazon and Google Books if you’d rather pay for it in order to have the cartoons included.)

So though the Runnymede Trust did not actually coin the word, they certainly did introduce it into the wider discourse on Islam with their 1997 report.

Meaning of the word, and why it was chosen

Chapter 2 of this report of the Runnymede Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia begins with a definition of Islamophobia (again my bolding emphasis):

The term Islamophobia refers to unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers also to the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and to the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs. The term is not, admittedly, ideal. Critics of it consider that its use panders to what they call political correctness, that it stifles legitimate criticism of Islam, and that it demonises and stigmatises anyone who wishes to engage in such criticism. When our consultation paper was first published, the Independent on Sunday (2 March 1997) ran a large headline in which we were accused of wishing to be ‘Islamically correct’.

The word ‘Islamophobia’ has been coined because there is a new reality which needs naming: anti-Muslim prejudice has grown so considerably and so rapidly in recent years that a new item in the vocabulary is needed so that it can be identified and acted against. In a similar way there was a time in European history when a new word, antisemitism, was needed and coined to highlight the growing dangers of anti-Jewish hostility. The coining of a new word, and with it the identification of a growing danger, did not in that instance avert eventual tragedy. By the same token, the mere use of the new word ‘Islamophobia’ will not in itself prevent tragic conflict and waste. But, we believe, it can play a valuable part in the long endeavour of correcting perceptions and improving relationships. That is why we use it continually throughout this report.

The difference between legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamophobia

Again from the same chapter in the report:

It is not intrinsically phobic or prejudiced, of course, to disagree with or to disapprove of Muslim beliefs, laws or practices. Adherents of other world faiths disagree with Muslims on points of theology and religious practice. By the same token agnostics and secular humanists disagree with Muslims, as with all religious believers, on basic issues. In a liberal democracy it is inevitable and healthy that people will criticise and oppose, sometimes robustly, opinions and practices with which they disagree. It can be legitimate to criticise policies and practices of Muslim states and regimes, for example, especially when their governments do not subscribe to internationally recognised human rights, freedoms and democratic procedures, or to criticise and condemn terrorist movements which claim to be motivated by Islamic values. Similarly, it can be legitimate to criticise the treatment of women in some Muslim countries, or the views and attitudes which some Muslims have towards ‘the West’, or towards other world faiths. Debates, arguments and disagreements on all these issues take place just as much amongst Muslims, it is important to recognise, as between Muslims and non-Muslims.

How, then, can one tell the difference between legitimate criticism and disagreement on the one hand and Islamophobia, or unfounded prejudice and hostility, on the other?

Closed and open views of Islam

In a companion publication to the full 1997 Report, Runnymede Trust also produced a brief flyer outlining the main points of the report, similarly titled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. Summary [Link is to PDF of the summary]. The different approaches to Islam are tabled in a diagram in that summary:

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 7.41.38 PM

 From the report, these main points are.

1 Whether Islam is seen as monolithic and static, or as diverse and dynamic.

2 Whether Islam is seen as other and separate, or as similar and interdependent.

3 Whether Islam is seen as inferior, or as different but equal.

4 Whether Islam is seen as an aggressive enemy or as a cooperative partner.

5 Whether Muslims are seen as manipulative or as sincere.

6 Whether Muslim criticisms of ‘the West’ are rejected or debated.

7 Whether discriminatory behaviour against Muslims is defended or opposed.

8 Whether anti-Muslim discourse is seen as natural or as problematic.

Each is discussed at length in the report itself. I will be making use of some of this material in future posts.


The same pamphlet includes a visual summary of what is meant by Islamophobia:



Is it a form of racism or xenophobia?

This question is a matter of scholarly debate. Some sociologists say it is a form of anti-Arab and anti-Asian racism, but others dispute this. I myself have expressed the view, following Murtaza Hussain, that Islamophobia does involve an imputing of racial stereotypes into adherents of a religious group. I leave anyone interested in this question to read the Wikipedia article on Islamophobia and to follow up the many scholarly citations there that address the question from all points of view.

One of those citations is a research paper that developed and tested (for predictability) a scale that differentiated between Islamoprejudice and Secular Critique of Islam. Maybe another day when I have idle time I’ll delve into some of this myself. But till then I’m happy simply to accept that it is an ugly term for an ugly phenomenon that has been creeping up upon the world since the 1990s. Another of the citations there sums it up in its title: Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — new enemies, old patterns.


Gordon Conway, Chair of the Commission responsible for the report, "Islamophobia, :

Gordon Conway, Chair of the Commission responsible for the report, Islamophobia, A Challenge For Us All


  • 2013-05-02 18:51:22 UTC - 18:51 | Permalink

    The problem with this Runnymede Trust analysis is that it is written from the angle of applying the label “Islamophobia” to someone who finds other religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc) ok, but finds particular fault with Islam. E.g.:

    3 Whether Islam is seen as inferior, or as different but equal.

    4 Whether Islam is seen as an aggressive enemy or as a cooperative partner.

    5 Whether Muslims are seen as manipulative or as sincere.

    Now, suppose some Gnu Atheist bloggers see Christianity etal as “inferior” to a secular worldview (rather than as different but equal), and suppose these bloggers do not see Christianity as a “cooperative partner” but as something they would want to die out, and suppose these bloggers write post after post about the manipulative dishonesty of many Christians (e.g. creationists, and Christian apologetic theology, and those Christians wanting to overturn church/state separation, and those Christians opposing, e.g. gay marriage with dishonest arguments).

    If a blogger consistently does all of the above opposing religion in general, and opposing the most influential religion (Christianity) in particular, then I don’t see that they are at fault in applying the same criticism to the second most influential religion (Islam), and I don’t see that as “Islamophobic”.

    Indeed, Jerry Coyne has a point, that those who say that such bloggers should not criticise Islam in the same way that they criticise other religions seem to be adopting a racist stance that the Islamic world should be let off with lower standards than the West is held to.

    • 2013-05-02 19:28:43 UTC - 19:28 | Permalink

      You missed the section headed “The difference between legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamophobia”.

      I myself have posted on the difference between the way we generally criticize Christianity and the way many attack Islam. The difference is real. (Of course, there are mindless goofs who just attack any religion any old which way without a care for understanding what they are talking about.)

      I am quite willing to criticize the many faults of Islam as I am the faults of Christianity and Judaism. I have focused on Christianity for the simple reason I know a lot more about it. Happily many Muslims are engaged increasingly in critical reflection upon their own religion, too, as I mentioned briefly in my previous post. I have a lot to say against religion in general, and I really don’t like any of the three “religions of the book” personally. But I have never attacked Christianity in the way Islamophobes have attacked Islam.

      It is a pity you did not choose to consider the points other than 3, 4 and 5 (they get to the nub of Jerry’s and your ignorant diatribes that demonstrate no serious study of what you are talking about beyond sucking up pop media sound-bytes), and more the pity that you even misquoted them!

      The alternative to “cooperative partner” is NOT “something they would like to see die out”. Why did you blatantly misrepresent this point? Because, I suggest, the real point as written originally goes to the heart of your ignorance.

      You also misrepresented point 5. It is not a question of whether “many Christians/Muslims” are personally sincere. The question is “Muslims”, generically — by virtue of the nature of Islam itself.

      It is quite possible to argue civilly and with understanding that one point of view has superior benefits for humanity than another. So you need to go back and read that section you missed that explains what legitimate criticism is and how it differs from Islamophobia.

      Why not try to actually read some of the Report and try to at least understand what it is you have made up your mind to disagree with anyway before you even see it?

      • 2013-05-02 22:38:17 UTC - 22:38 | Permalink

        You missed the section headed “The difference between legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamophobia”.

        Wrong, I read it. In your post that section ends with a question, without answering the question. In the report the question is answered with the list of things, some of which I then addressed in my comment.

        It is a pity you did not choose to consider the points other than 3, 4 and 5 (they get to the nub of Jerry’s and your ignorant diatribes …

        As usual you don’t actually demonstrate that anyone is guilty of the things in those other points; as usual you just strawman.

        The alternative to “cooperative partner” is NOT “something they would like to see die out”. Why did you blatantly misrepresent this point?

        I fail to see what I misrepresented. If you would like to see Christianity and/or Islam die out then you do not see it as a “cooperative partner”. If you don’t see it as a cooperative partner then (in the case of Islam) you’re labelled an Islamophobe.

        It is not a question of whether “many Christians/Muslims” are personally sincere. The question is “Muslims”, generically — by virtue of the nature of Islam itself.

        And, as usual, you have not demonstrated any difference in the way those you label “Islamophobes” treat Christians and Muslims on this point.

        So you need to go back and read that section you missed that explains what legitimate criticism is and how it differs from Islamophobia.

        I did. And I addressed 3 of the indicators it gave. And it seemed to me that many of the others were strawmen that those labelled “Islamophobes” had not been demonstrated to be guilty of.

        Why not try to actually read some of the Report and try to at least understand what it is you have made up your mind to disagree with anyway before you even see it?

        I had downloaded the report and read it before posting my above comment. In particular I was interested in how it answered the question you left hanging in your “difference” section. You don’t seem very good at actually arguing your case. All you do is attribute strawmen, accuse people of ignorance, of not having read relevant things, of misrepresenting things, etc. If you’re trying to convince me that there is some substance to your claims of “Islamophobia” then you’re not doing well.

        • 2013-05-02 23:00:38 UTC - 23:00 | Permalink

          I have no illusions that there is anything I could possibly say (or any authority or research or data I could discuss) that would change your mind. (I’m impressed that you were able to read the 75 page report, digest it and respond to it in such a short time — perhaps you had read it before I posted this.) If you actually demonstrated a basic knowledge of what you are arguing against — if you had actually addressed the explanations in the report that you say you read — I would be able to have more respect for your comments.

          I did explain the difference in the way people criticize Christianity and Islam in the post to which I linked. The differences are palpable. Why don’t you set out what the arguments are for these differences, or what a legitimate criticism is, (you read them in the report and in my previous post) just to prove you really did read them and do understand them?

          • 2013-05-02 23:25:41 UTC - 23:25 | Permalink

            I did explain the difference in the way people criticize Christianity and Islam in the post to which I linked. The differences are palpable.

            I don’t accept that the differences are palpable. It’s just that people treat it as normal and appropriate when one criticises Christianity but howl “Islamophobia” when one criticises Islam. And it seems to me that your attempts to show a difference involve misinterpreting attacks on Islam by construing them as going well beyond anything actually said.

            • 2013-05-02 23:27:45 UTC - 23:27 | Permalink

              I would prefer you to support your accusation with evidence. Can you quote both me and the Report to support your claim, please?

              • 2013-05-02 23:36:21 UTC - 23:36 | Permalink

                My statement ” it seems to me that your attempts to show a difference involve misinterpreting attacks on Islam by construing them as going well beyond anything actually said” referred to previous posts in this “Islamophobia” series, not to your post above. I can point you at specific examples if you wish, though we did discuss them in the comments to those posts.

  • 2013-05-02 20:48:33 UTC - 20:48 | Permalink

    Well, well, I attempted to let Jerry and his readers know that I had explained, with supporting evidence, the origin and meaning of the term Islamophobia, but it seems Jerry has seen fit to delete my comment and link to this post rather than let it appear on his blog: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/jesus-n-mo-n-islamophobia/

    I made two three attempts to post it there but they appear to have been removed.

    Well, he did say he’d rather I kiss his arse than try to engage him in argument about the correctness of his views.

    (As far as I recall the last comment of mine that I had no trouble posting to Jerry Coyne’s blog was this one: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/islam-apparently-behind-boston-bombing/#comment-425423 — Did I offend him by asking for civil debate?)

    • Al
      2013-05-02 23:38:01 UTC - 23:38 | Permalink

      Somewhat hypocritical of Coyne, no?

    • proudfootz
      2013-05-02 23:48:06 UTC - 23:48 | Permalink

      That’s too bad. So much for ‘rational debate’.

    • 2013-05-03 07:09:10 UTC - 07:09 | Permalink

      Unfortunately it’s by no means hypocritical of Coyne. He has made it very clear that people like me who disagree with him can “kiss his ass”. “Rational debate” on this question means, for Coyne, excluding anyone who disagrees with his take on Islam, otherwise, in his view, it cannot be “rational”.

  • RoHa
    2013-05-03 12:04:20 UTC - 12:04 | Permalink
  • anon
    2013-05-03 15:13:35 UTC - 15:13 | Permalink

    ” Do not be daunted by the enormity of the worlds grief,

    Do justly now,

    Love mercy now,

    Walk humbly now,

    You are not obliged to complete the work,

    But neither are you free to abandon it.”

    ——The Talmud

    I suppose, in some ways, Humanity is still a “work-in-progress” and there is much we can improve on.

    Both racism and xenophobia are problems U.S. and European societies have been struggling with for some time. (though these are not uniquely western problems—much of humanity everywhere, throughout time, has been dealing with various expressions of “us vs them”).

    Perhaps Islamophobia offers a unique opportunity for Europe and the U.S. to confront an old problem in a new way—not by sweeping racism and xenophobia “underground” but by offering a new paradigm where humanity in all of its diversity deserves tolerance and respect (without sacrificing criticism ).

    When injustice and intolerance occurs, good people must speak out for what is right and discourage what is wrong. We may not be able to solve all of the worlds problems—and that is OK………….as long as we strive for improvement, there is hope for a better future.

  • 2013-05-03 19:55:40 UTC - 19:55 | Permalink

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22356306 illustrates just how widespread irrational phobia of Muslims is.

    • 2013-05-03 20:50:01 UTC - 20:50 | Permalink

      Thank you, Steven. You do not know this (since Jerry Coyne has chosen to place comments from me on moderation all of a sudden) but some hours ago I did submit the following to your comment . .. . . . But hang on … let me quote your original comment first, here:

      Steven Carr

      Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      You call Dawkins an Islamophobe?

      Now this is Islamophobia….


      Of course, we will now face a prolonged period of silence from anti-Islamophobes when real Islamophobia rears its head.

      Now here was my reply over there on Jerry’s blog, less than an hour after you originally posted those words I’ve pasted above:

      Neil Godfrey

      Posted May 2, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Glad you’ve finally discovered the events I’ve been talking about in this context for months and weeks now, Steven. [I add here something I did not include in my original response on Coyne’s blog: I recently responded to someone here quoting Sam Harris who was saying how wonderfully peaceful the Buddhists are by my referring them to the murders Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Burma had committed. Several time now I have attempted to point out that real terrorism (and miscellaneous racial and religious murders) are not the preserve of Muslims by such references.]

      I suppose the only anti-semites are those who actually kill Jews. Anyone fanning hatred through ignorant stereotypical generalizations is not a real anti-semite.

      Why not inform yourself about the origins and meaning of the term “Islamophobia” and see its use among highly respected persons and organizations working towards a more peaceful world.

      But I can understand your own feelings — I know Europe/UK has many of the worst features of Islam festering in social ghettos. But that makes it all the more incumbent upon people to be even more understanding.

      You don’t fight crime or social undesirables by treating your potential friends and allies as criminals too.

      I don’t know if Jerry (who says he’d rather I kiss his arse than try to engage him in rational and civil debate) will let that comment of mine through, so you can read it here — if you happen to come back to see a response at all and are not just flying by like any other troll.

      Now, how about you scroll up and start at the top of the post here and read what I have written about the meaning and origin of the word “Islamophobia” and who uses it and whether they are respectable citizens of the world or no, and begin to learn something. New experience. It will be exhilarating.

      • 2013-05-03 21:05:20 UTC - 21:05 | Permalink

        MY apologies for highlighting what real Muslims suffer by way of real persecution.

        Meanwhile in Britain, the Runnymede Trust are choosing to highlight that ‘most children who live above

        the fourth floor of tower blocks in england are Black or asian’ – one of their top 12 ‘key facts’ in their latest report.

        • 2013-05-03 21:11:33 UTC - 21:11 | Permalink

          Would you care to quote or link to your sources, Steven, or do you just want to make decontextualized remarks in order to avoid real debate?

          I’m glad you don’t see anti-semitism as consisting of hate-speech and ignorant stereotyping. So long as you yourself don’t pull the trigger, or plunge a knife yourself, your conscience will be forever clean. Banality and all that.

          • 2013-05-03 21:32:45 UTC - 21:32 | Permalink
            • 2013-05-03 22:16:18 UTC - 22:16 | Permalink

              Thank you, Steven. That is most helpful. I can now make some sense of what you seemed to present as “nonsensical”. That little factoid that ‘most children who live above the fourth floor of tower blocks in England are Black or Asian’ suddenly emerges as a quite meaningful bit of data.

              Have you seen what its author actually wrote by way of explanation? Do you mind if I begin at the author’s sentence just prior to the one you want us to read?

              Muslims are far more likely to marry non-Muslims in Britain than Christians are to marry non-Christians.

              There are no ghettos in Britain. According to accepted definitions, a ghetto is an area where most people belong to one group and most of that that group live in that area. Our last ghetto was the Jewish enclave in Whitechapel a century ago.

              But . . . most children who live above the fourth floor of tower blocks in England are Black or Asian. High-rise living with children in Britain is almost always not luxury living. Most of these children are poor and Britain tolerates a much high proportion of its children living in poverty than does anywhere else in Western Europe.

              That’s life — what about death? The greatest threat in Britain for everyone under age 30 is the car.

              Gosh, so Muslims are far more likely to be prepared to integrate with a white culture than white Brits are prepared to change their denominational affiliation????

              But back to this “fourth floor” business. What comment do you have by way of response to the data that indicates this is a pointer to a new form of ghetto?

              Don’t get me wrong, Steven. If I had grown up in a happy and cozy white suburb in Australia that was suddenly invaded by Asians and Mosques, I imagine I would be very upset, too. Now, what options do we have when faced with that situation?

              Here’s a chance for us to engage in something Jerry Coyne cannot countenance with anyone who disagrees with him when it comes to Islam.

              Can we have a serious discussion about the realistic alternatives when faced with this dilemma? Please?

        • 2013-05-03 21:30:14 UTC - 21:30 | Permalink

          Steven Carr has kindly attempted to sneak through onto Jerry’s blog what I attempted to post on there myself without success. Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 9.22.33 PM

          Looks like no comment or argument is necessary. Such views as I have expressed here are clearly as out of place as a pork chop at a Jewish wedding on post-Enlightenment, rationalist Jerry Coyne’s blog.

          • 2013-05-03 21:31:06 UTC - 21:31 | Permalink

            I hope it won’t be deleted. I will be disappointed and saddened if that happened.

            • 2013-05-03 21:36:41 UTC - 21:36 | Permalink

              Care to engage in a reasoned discussion? Tell me what I have said that is unreasonable or wrong. Let’s talk. Or is reasoned discussion out of bounds for you?

              Is one ONLY an anti-semite if one actually literally murders a Jew? Because that is what you are evidently implying with your link to the BBC article. Am I wrong?

            • 2013-05-03 21:41:26 UTC - 21:41 | Permalink

              It was deleted. I am disappointed and saddened.

              • 2013-05-03 21:48:51 UTC - 21:48 | Permalink

                So I was right. Perhaps there is still hope and you can use your influence to try to persuade Jerry to engage me in a civil debate. Or if he won’t, why don’t you step up to the challenge?

                But do tell me, why do you think Jerry apparently chose to squash your attempt to slip my words through? What is it about my words that would impel him to censor them, and for you, so it seems so far, to avoid any explicit engagement with them?


                Note that more recent comments are found above this mini-thread. Check the previous sub-section where I high-light in bold font the original context of Steven’s point about those living above the “fourth floor” in British apartments.

              • 2013-05-04 00:21:53 UTC - 00:21 | Permalink

                Perhaps there is still hope and you can use your influence to try to persuade Jerry to engage me in a civil debate.

                I’m not sure whether you are genuinely interested in civil debate on this matter, but if you are, two suggestions: (1) don’t refer to others’ viewpoints as “ignorant diatribes” and similar, that is more conducive to shouting at each other rather than to civil debate, and (2) don’t read into others’ viewpoints more and worse than they have explicitly stated, as you have repeatedly done with Coyne etal. That, again, suggests that you are more interested in shouting than discussion.

              • 2013-05-04 18:59:43 UTC - 18:59 | Permalink

                Jerry Coyne has already made it clear that anyone (and he mentioned me in particular) who disagrees with him on this topic can . . . . you know the rest. Other commenters on his site explicitly stated that the idea of rational debate is nonsensical since my views are, from the outset, not rational. It is clear that folks like Jerry Coyne, Steven Carr and you do not want to debate views such as mine.

  • Appollonius
    2013-05-03 23:45:47 UTC - 23:45 | Permalink

    well, regarding the origins of the word “Islamophobia”, in France, we can date it to the beginning of the 20th century: we find it used as early as 1910 in a book discussing French colonial policy towards Islam in Western Africa ( La Politique Musulmane dans l’Afrique Occidentale Française, Paris, 1910), then in a essay regarding Orientalism ( L’Orient vu de l’Occident “Orient seen from Occident”, Paris, 1921) speaking of “islamophobic delirium” when describing a book about Muhammad written by Henri Lammens, a famous Jesuit and Orientalist, who -by the way, has been of great influence on Western historians of Islam (so nothing new as said earlier).

    However, if islamophobia doesn’t automatically equate “racism” (I think for most – sincere – atheists, the charge of “racism” doesn’t apply), in practice, there is no mystery that many (Far Right) racist groups/organizations use islamophobia as a substitute to not face prosecution (for racism, hate speech, etc…) : well, at least in most of European countries, in USA due to the differences in the understanding of “freedom of speech”, it might be different. Anyways, the ones who yesterday attacked North Africans and Africans in France, Turks in Germany, Pakistani in UK, etc…. are the same than the ones who today attack “Muslims” : in their minds, by Muslims they mean (when French) North Africans and Africans, (when German) Turks, (when English) Pakistani, etc… I don’t think they actually care about Islam : their problem is about migrants or descendants of migrants: yesterday they would attack their cultures, their traditions, etc… today their religion…but the main point is the “race”, the ethnicity of their targets. And if in Europe, we would have instead of Muslim minorities, Hindu or Buddhist minorities in the same numbers, we would be speaking about Hinduphobia, Buddhistophobia, etc…but the issue would remain the same: skin complexion, differences of culture, etc…i.e. : racism.

    People who critic Islam the same way they would critic Christianism or any religion tend to not focus on the ethnical, cultural, “racial”, etc… background of “Muslims” and actually adopt a critical/rational approach to Islam (religion, theology, etc…): from my experience, the most “famous” islamophobes in Europa fail to focus on Islam/Religion or the “religious” beliefs of European Muslims (i.e. they don’t give s..t about all that “intellectual” stuff), and tend to speak quite a lot about their ethnic background (race), their supposed backward traditions (culture), etc…and of course, tend to “essentialize” Muslims which seem, according to them, some kind of ant-robot soldiers of a supposed global Muslim army, with no ability to think by themselves, nor any free will-Quran and Sharia being their “operating system”, no ability to adopt an individual (even critical) approach to their own religion, culture, etc… and “by essence”, antagonists towards West (i.e.: towards their own countries in the case of European Muslims so basically a Fifth Column dedicated to the islamization of Europa), etc…etc…nothing new, the main points of islamophobe rethoric are simply “copy&paste” of what you will find in Julius Streicher’s Der Sürmer (Streicher didn’t kill anybody, he simply “wrote” about the Jew nextdoor).

    Main problem being that Islamophobes can take advantage (at least in Europe) of various current issues which are intertwined: immigration debate, radicalization of some elements of European Muslim youth, economical crisis, identity dilemma (globalization, European Union, etc…), and of course Human Rights issues in the Islamic world: so basically, there are plenty of ways to disperse “islamophobic memes” and of course, every time you can use as an excuse ” it’s for a good cause ” ‘Women condition, Human Rights, Democracy, to free Muslims from barbaric superstitions, etc… “it”s for their good” same paternalistic motto as during the Colonial era) when actually politically the islamophobe speech simply applies the good ol’ recipe of the “scapegoat stew”: it appears that Muslims can be “cooked” in many ways : as they clearly are perceived as the “Other” (by their ethnicity, cultural background, religion, etc…), and to make it worse there is some historical background here (clash between Christianism and Islam, Colonialism…).

  • anon
    2013-05-04 15:12:40 UTC - 15:12 | Permalink

    “we would be speaking about Hinduphobia, Buddhistophobia, etc…but the issue would remain the same: skin complexion, differences of culture,”

    Appollonius makes a good point—that perhaps existing problems of racism and xenophobia have not been solved, they have just taken on a new target. This was sometimes noted in the U.S. when Obama first became President and he was accused of being “muslim”. It was noted that saying the obvious—that he was “black” would have been considered wrong. If this assumption/observation is correct—and those in the African-American community in the U.S. think so—then the problem of racism wasn’t “solved”—it had just gone underground and resurfaced again with a new vocabulary.

    Unless there is a drastic meltdown of current technologies—which is highly unlikely—globalization will continue…..I don’t think this trend is reversible—-so humanity will have to negotiate a way of defining individual and group identity in a larger context of shared humanity.

    In Western history, there was a time when intellectuals wrote and spoke to promote a new vision/paradigm where pursuit of knowledge, liberty and equality were honored values. (age of Enlightenment)….perhaps we need something of this sort again…..but based on today’s conditions/circumstances and problems…….?…………

    I also want to stress a point touched on in the post—today Islamophobia (prejudice) is not limited to words/ideas—it can have detrimental consequences….such as U.S. (domestic) policies on government spying, entrapment…etc and European court (?) decisions on upholding the minaret ban (Switzerland) and hijab ban (several countries). That is why it is important to separate words/ideas that justify prejudice from those applied as constructive criticism.

    • Appollonius
      2013-05-05 10:42:58 UTC - 10:42 | Permalink


      well, I will only speak about France concerning this “unsolved” racism problem: in France, it’s quite evident that our colonial history produced conceptions/perceptions which are still active, mainly due to the fact that the Algerian War is still very “fresh” in memories, whether we’re speaking about Native French who served during this war, or French/Migrants from Algerian descent.

      For example, the former leader of the main French Far Right party (Front National) did serve during the Algerian War (has even been accused to have practiced torture), and for example among the historical and most fervent supporters of this party, you will find many people belonging to the “Pieds-Noirs” group (i.e.: Pieds-Noirs> “Black Feet” is the name by which we refer to French and European citizens who lived in French Algeria before its independence, and then settled in France): and to support what I was saying earlier “islam” wasn’t until recently such a “big deal” for this party: I would say its main “problem” was always “officially” with migrants, in practice with “Arabs” and other dark-skinned people (and earlier in the history of this movement: prejudice towards Jews), independently of their religion (many founders of this party did collaborate with the Nazis, you even found Waffen-SS from the French SS “Charlemagne” division).

      The islamophobic rhetoric had been introduced recently to “surf on the wave” and grab more adherents and sympathisants (mainly from the mainstream French Right), notably due to the way our former president (Sarkozy) played on “Laïcité“, and with the French Muslim communities (for the same purpose : to grab votes from the Far Right: Muslims being pawns in all this political business): main reason is that the conceptions were (and still are) the same than during French Algeria: “race”.

      To make it clearer, during French Algeria, even if Algeria wasn’t considered as a colony but as part of France (Algerian provinces were French departments as any Metropolitan France departments), there was a strict distinction between Non-Muslims and Muslims: Native Muslims were “French” by nationality, but didn’t have French citizenship: instead (and that’s the best part) they had a “religious status” (i.e.: Muslims, submitted to Quranic Law), to get French citizenship, they would have to renounce to this “status”, basically (I simplify) to be French citizens, in practice, they would have to turn “apostates”; consequently few became French citizens, until 1944-1947 where finally they could be French citizens without renouncing to their religious status; for Native Jew Algerians, both French nationality&citizenship were given to them in 1870, of course French settlers would be citizens, but also settlers from Europe (Spanish, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Maltese, etc…) who had been earlier naturalized. However, even if a Native Algerian would choose to give up his religion, his “race” would never allow him to be actually considered as French: a very revealing example being the way France treated the group known as “Harkis” : Muslim Algerians who were loyal to France during the Algerian War. First, after the independence of Algeria, France simply left most of them to their fate (= death) in Algeria, then “transfer” to France into internment camps (transfer was a word specifically chosen, for Pieds-Noirs instead it was repatriation, Harkis had no “legal” right to stay in France, thus they were interned, camps which were most of the times in the middle of nowhere and still exist, even if they evolved in actual “towns” and communities, and they had to wait until 1994 for their services to France to be recognized, and 2005 to receive damages/compensation.

      Here the important thing to keep in mind is:

      first that Muslims were excluded from citizenship due to their religion,

      secondly that French conquest changed the nature of Islam and the relationships people had with their religion:

      the French colonial power used Sunni Orthodoxy to reinforce its control on Native Muslim Algerians (it even started a policy of forced Arabization: Berbers (Kabyles) had to use Arab names (in some cases, some of them would still carry Latin/Roman names but had to change to Arab names), when before the conquest such religious control didn’t exist (or at least not in such a way) due to the fact that before the conquest Sufi brotherhoods and Sufism were the principal brand of Islam (so more “flexible” than strict orthodoxy), and the political power wasn’t theocratic but more or less “secular”:

      such elements may appear benign but for example, the substitution of traditional forms of Islam (whether you call it “folk Islam” or you speak about Sufism/Sufi brotherhoods) by Sunni Orthodoxy completely changed a) the nature of Islam, b) the nature of religious power, and c) the nature of the society and its relationships to religions:

      what happened in Algeria happened elsewhere in the Islamic world:

      in other parts of North Africa conquered by French or Italians (Libya), in Africa ( for example: Mali), or in Caucasus and Central Asia conquered by Russians: in all those cases, at that time the resistance to invaders wasn’t led by “islamists” or wahhabi-jihadi but mainly by Sufi brotherhoods: thus, they had to be destroyed, and colonial power had to be supported by strict Sunni Orthodoxy: by definition less “flexible”, and less influenced by cultural particularities (i.e. more inclined toward a “panislamic” perspective than toward “local” forms of Islam): here you can find already some historical “seeds” which will facilitate later (contemporary era) the implantation of fundamentalist/extremist forms of Islam (for sure not the only reason, Wahhabi proselytism helping, however it made the “land” fertile for this particular religious evolution). And nowadays, again this substitution of traditional/local forms of Islam, less orthodox, more flexible, etc… for more extremist/fundamentalist brands of Islam is happening, and again with support from Western powers, for again the same reasons: power and hegemony, and control.

      Now going back to the situation in France, those colonial conceptions are still in many minds, or at least still affect both French non-Muslims and Muslims (as most migrants and their descendants have origins in former French colonies, which were mostly Muslim countries): basically Arabs (North Africans) and Africans, and thus often Muslims can’t “really” be French (even if they have the nationality), and Islam has to be “under control”:

      that’s why even if the majority of French “Muslims” * never asked for any “French Muslim council”, the State pushed for the creation of a French Council of the Muslim Faith to represent French Muslims : in practice the overwhelming majority of French Muslims don’t participate to the elections for this council, thus this council mainly represent either Muslim organizations linked to foreign states (i.e.: countries from which migrants came) or interests of some islamist organizations which use this lack of interest to gain more “representativeness”, that’s also why instead of elaborating efficient policies to handle the various issues in French suburbs (more or less ethno-social ghettos), the State tried to use Islamic leaders/organisations to handle the turbulent youth (like in good ol’ colonial times), that’s why even the “burqa issue” in France was only about less than 350 women (as a reminder, France has the biggest Muslim minority of the West), during almost two years the whole political, mediatic, intellectual, etc… “circus” was mobilized, etc…etc…

      The irony here being that posters from the Colonial Era would promote the “whole-face covered woman” as the model of the Muslim woman, even if in North Africa (mainly Berber background) or Western Africa , it wasn’t really the rule, and even if the North African “haïk” (which covers the whole body) used in those colonial posters historically appeared for reasons which had nothing to do with islam or religion, but to protect women during the raids of emperor Charles V on North Africa’s coasts.

      And the fact that in France, we have a particular concept/principle: Laïcité makes it quite complicated. Laïcité not being understood in the same way according to your views, and almost never understood by non-French: for example, the earlier ban of the veil in public schools can’t be automatically assimilated to “islamophobia” (as you seem to do): it was maybe a particular interpretation of the extent of Laïcité in the context of public schools, regarding the “anti-burqa law”, I would say our former president was more demagogic than islamophobe on this issue, if promoting the burqa would have served his ambitions, he would have pushed for public campaign promoting the virtues of burqa…however, the formulation of the law has no religious content (forbidden by our Laïcité) thus now it’s forbidden for everybody in France to completely cover your face (well, not the helmet for the moto): however as said earlier, that was really some demagogic move, as only some 350 or so burqa were counted in France, and only 2000 more or less other variants of whole-covering garments were counted: thus, the stupidity of this law and of the “national debate” around it…when the daily life context shows that this “burqa” thing isn’t really typical of the way French Muslims practice or understand their religion, anyways it gave weapons to all extremists: both Far Right and Islamist got a victory with this law…

      * (I use quotation marks for “Muslims” as in France, ethnicity/religion based statistics are forbidden, so the number of either French “Muslims” or “Muslims” living in France can only be deduced from immigration statistics/countries of origin, then anybody coming from a Muslim country will be counted as Muslim, when in practice only 20 to 30% of French Muslims declare themselves as “practicing believers”, the big majority being “cultural Muslims” (i.e.: avoiding pork, having “Muslim/Arab” names, and when following Ramadan more as a familial/cultural tradition than for religious reason)

      p.s.: dear Neil, sorry for such a long comment…

      • 2013-05-05 20:36:08 UTC - 20:36 | Permalink

        Longer posts are best broken up into sub-units, and I’ve made a few touches on it to try to highlight a few of the particularly interesting details. Thanks for the info.

        I note your observation that a racial issue appears to have morphed into a religious (anti-Islamic) one relatively recently. It is also significant that no-one in the West though Islam had any relevance to them until 1979, with the Iranian revolution. (And this, of course, was the direct result of the cruelty of the Shah’s regime that effectively snuffed out all remaining secular opposition — and which was forcibly imposed on Iranians after they democratically voted for a party promising to protect Iranian resources (oil) for the primary benefit of Iranians.)

        • Appollonius
          2013-05-06 00:35:14 UTC - 00:35 | Permalink

          @ Neil

          ” I note your observation that a racial issue appears to have morphed into a religious (anti-Islamic) one relatively recently. ”

          I think a good way to support this “racial” argument is to observe the evolution of colloquial language (notably racial slurs/pejorative terms for a specific group) in a society (and in this case, in French society):

          For example, even we have long historical relationships with the Muslim world (the peak being the Colonial era with a French empire mainly composed of Muslim lands): until very recently, we didn’t have any derogatory terms for Muslims, on the other hand we had/have plenty of racial slurs for “Arabs” (i.e.: North Africans): so basically the perception of “Arabs” was always racially based, not religiously based. To support this point, we have plenty of derogatory terms for Catholics, due to our long fight against the Church, and traditional “anti-clericalism”, same for the Jews.

          The very use of the term “Muslim” for French of North African descent, or North Africa migrants is also very recent: up to the 90ies, I almost never heard for example the term “French Muslim”: we would speak about French of “immigrant background/origin”, but no religious denomination.

          This simple detail might appear benign, however everybody knew and still know to who one refers when using the wording “French of immigrant background”, as it mainly (if not only) applies for French with North African/African background, whether they are first, second, third, fourth generation French doesn’t change this fact: there is an actual “racial” distinction working here as for example if one is French from Italian, Spanish, Polish, etc… descent, so “White/European” origin: no one would refer his/her “immigrant” background: for French with North African roots, that’s almost automatic. So basically, even after all those decades of presence in France, and having roots nowhere but in France, French of North African descent (same applies for French of African descent: “Blacks”) are still not perceived as “actually” French, or at least as much as a French of Spanish, Italian, Polish, etc… descent would be.

          To make it clearer, in France, we don’t use terms such as Spanish French, Moroccan French, etc… like in USA with Italian Americans, German Americans, etc… it’s either you’re French or not, except for French “Muslims” whose immigrant background is constantly reminded.

          Thus, here the distinction is clearly “racial” and its has strong repercussions for a great number of French youth with North African immigrant background, who even being French for the third or even fourth generation are still called “Français d’origine immigrée” (French of immigrant origin), even when they actually have no relationships with countries of their parents, grandparents…, no knowledge of Arabic or Berber language, and superficial knowledge of Islam. No wonder then that some start looking back on those roots (constantly evoked and reminded by the society they’re part of) and that some enter into some kind of “re-islamization” process, which may lead to radicalization

          i.e.: in a way, they are a bit in the situation of new converts, and quite often new converts tend to be quite more radical than the average believer, plus there is quite often resentment (and even despise) for their own parents, grandparents, who are perceived as having been “weak”, considering that they gave up on many things, hoping to be at least conceived as equal to other French citizens, which didn’t turn to be the actual outcome. Of course, many other elements are acting too (urban socio-economical segregation, sectarian ghettoization, influence of foreign states (secret services of North African countries or Turkey had always been very active in monitoring migrant groups living in French suburbs), and islamist proselytism…plus as French, they face the same challenge than any French (unemployment, economic crisis, etc…)

      • anon
        2013-05-05 21:50:48 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

        Wow!! that was very interesting. Thanks. I was under the impression that problems in France were about culture rather than race but perhaps these tensions have equal parts of both……

        It is interesting how history repeats itself with the U.S. now backing extremist again. —-But it is also frustrating that the West creates the problems and then leaves a mess behind for others to clean up!…..So I hope that they wise up now and help to clean up extremism rather than support it.

        Hijab—I was looking at the European Courts (not France) decisions and the reasoning that went into upholding the decision was something along the lines of hijab being about oppression of women and this went against European human rights……the reasoning is completely contradicted by Muslim women (in the West) who say they wear it out of choice and apparently this voice/agency of Muslim women was not taken into account at the time the European court made the decision…..

        If France is interested in a smooth working relationship with its Muslim population and developing “French Islam”—it needs to have a Muslim organization that French Muslims will respect. It also needs to develop a higher education system that can create Muslim scholars…..on the other hand, with only 20-30% practicing, it may not be worth the effort?……..

        Sufi—Sufism began as a “reform movement” because some Muslims felt that Islam was loosing its spirituality because of too much focus on “law”. Traditionally Muslim scholars (for mainstream Islam) have been Sufis themselves or have knowledge of Sufism. I am not a Sufi myself but I do acknowledge that Muslim scholars who are Sufi or have studied Sufism are more tolerant and pluralistic.

        60% of Muslims are in Asia—and in this region the youth population is coming of age—it will perhaps create change—and I hope this change will be for more tolerance and pluralism.

        @ Neil—thanks for highlighting some of the interesting stuff, made it easier to read…..

        • 2013-05-05 22:32:25 UTC - 22:32 | Permalink

          It is interesting how history repeats itself with the U.S. now backing extremist again. —-But it is also frustrating that the West creates the problems and then leaves a mess behind for others to clean up!…..So I hope that they wise up now and help to clean up extremism rather than support it.

          History repeats itself because the same power interests are constantly in play; only the faces at the same tables change. Iraq was a success for the U.S. The primary reason for invasion was to remove Iraq from being an influential power in the Middle East. By leaving it torn and divided they have achieved exactly that. It would have been nicer to have had a bright beaming pro-American democracy with a new flag made up of the stars and stripes and the star of David, but no-one seriously planned for that. Now that Afghanistan looks like it’s finally settling down to some sort of balance between warring forces it is finally in Western interests to pull out of there, too. Again, it would have looked better had a pro-American government been established with unchallenged authority, but “plan B” still delivers the primary goal. The mess is the practical option that delivers the desired results in the real world where ideal dreams will always remain fantasies.

          • anon
            2013-05-06 19:29:27 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

            The U.S. had also interfered in South America and had left it a mess, its record in the Middle East looks even worse….and now the U.S. wants to “pivot” to Asia-Pacific. It is a troubling scenario. I can only hope that this region will be smarter and opt for peace rather than get sucked into wars. However, economies are in an upward swing, and with more young people entering the job markets—the tax base will increase meaning larger budgets for government and that could mean “new toys” for their military. Territorial disputes with China aren’t helping matters either.

        • Appollonius
          2013-05-06 00:42:14 UTC - 00:42 | Permalink


          ” If France is interested in a smooth working relationship with its Muslim population and developing “French Islam”—it needs to have a Muslim organization that French Muslims will respect. It also needs to develop a higher education system that can create Muslim scholars…..”

          That would be basically a violation of Laïcité: one of the core principles of Laïcité (which isn’t simply secularism) is that the State do not recognize ANY religion: for example, the French Republic doesn’t “legally” recognize the Catholic Church as such: the Pope is recognized only as head of state of a sovereign state (Vatican); in practice, when it’s about religious business (like “church rental”, as most of churches in France are property of the State, thus Catholics have to rent them) the State doesn’t deal with the Catholic Church but with “associations” representing Catholics.

          Thus by virtue of the Laïcité, the State wouldn’t have (and shouldn’t) any part in the development of a “French Islam”, neither in the creation of any Muslim organization (that’s why the “forced” creation of a French Muslim Council was a kind of violation of Laïcité, worse being that French Muslims didn’t actually ask for it), and of course there is basically no way to create an official Islamic cursus to form French imams/ulemas: all those measures you are speaking about would put French Muslims in an unequal position with French of other religious denomination, and may look like a bit like some colonial-like policy.

          To make it clear, according to Laïcité, State has nothing to do with Religion, and religions have no political role or influence on the State (that spares us for example to see a candidate hanging out religious leaders pastors to prove his religious fervor and grab some more votes, like in USA): Religion is a private affair in France: and when State starts forgetting this main principle: problems start. French Muslims should be treated like any other French, and the development of a French Islam should be their own concern, like for French Catholics, Protestants, Jews, etc…once the State (French or foreign states in the case of Islam) starts interfering in religious affairs, Islamists take advantage of the situation: i.e.: classifying as kufar, heretics or either apostates adherents of those State-monitored forms of Islam, thus I have enough confidence in French Muslim communities to be enough mature and evolved to not need any help from any state in developing a form of Islam adapted to the French reality and French Muslim realities.

          • Appollonius
            2013-05-06 01:44:52 UTC - 01:44 | Permalink


            a short comment (I promise) about your remark: “It is interesting how history repeats itself with the U.S. now backing extremist again.”

            well, there are many examples of this “repetition of History”: for example, one usual “islamophobe meme” refers to the Barbary pirates (I read a comment here under another article, referring to the Barbary pirates, and under this post, a link to an article by Rizvi, starting with a reference to Barbary pirates) however some crucial elements are always forgotten about this historical issue:

            a) the most notorious “Barbary pirates” weren’t Muslims or of Muslim background, but Europeans (and actually “WASP” Europeans: i.e. Dutch and English, who are at war with the Spanish (Catholic) Crown):

            example, Murat Reis the Younger, the most famous of the “Salé Rovers” (a kind of Pirate republic in Salé-Morocco) had for actual name Jan Janszoon Van Harlem, the funny thing being that among the descendants of this famous “Barbary pirates” who did sack Baltimore, you count some of the most “WASP” American families (like the Vanderbilt),

            others were for example

            — Suleyman Reis whose actual name was Ivan Dirkie De Veenboer,

            — Yusuf Reis real name was John Ward (the Disney character Jack Sparrow has been inspired from him),

            — Simon Reis was Siemen Danziger,

            — another famous “Barbary pirate” was Sir Henry Mainwaring (member of the House of Commons, officer of the Royal Navy and whose “pirate base” to attack Spanish boat was in La Mamora/Morroco), etc…etc…

            b) the Barbary piracy reached its peak, not because of some Muslim urge for some kind of “water jihad” (until the 14th/15th century, Mediterranean piracy was mainly a Catalan/Sicilian thus Christian business, North African Muslims until the rise of Ottoman Empire lacked navy skills and technology to compete with Europeans) but due to geopolitical issues in Main Europa > conflicts between Dutch Provinces with Spanish Crown, and between England and Spain: thus those Protestant powers found a very efficient way to harass Spain, and many Dutch and English sailors migrated to North Africa where they started their piracy business:

            the fact that North Africa coast towns where both the main location of exile of Spanish/Portuguese Muslims and Jews (expelled) + Moriscos and had endured for already some centuries raids/attacks (which captured slaves too) from European powers helped even more to find common interests (and recrues) between Protestants and Muslims who at that time were allied! (to such a point that we even have the term “turco-calvinism” to define this Protestant-Muslim alliance)

            c) if Christians ended as slaves in North Africa, North African Muslims too ended as slaves in Europa (sometimes even further : in Americas, the most revealing are the 500 or so Muslim slaves, Francis Drake found in Carthagena/Colombia and left in a very “emblematic” colony for US history: Roanoke): the only difference is that Muslim slaves are never evoked, even their number is very close of the number of Christian European slaves in North Africa (we speak in both cases of estimates around of about 1-1.5 million of those “Faith slaves”), thus it wasn’t only a Muslim affair/particularity

            d) again, this alliance Protestants/Muslims ended very badly for Muslims (conquest of North Africa) and again Muslims are the only “bad guys” in History books…

            • Appollonius
              2013-05-06 02:17:38 UTC - 02:17 | Permalink

              wikipedia link providing a short insight on this historical “Barbary Pirates” issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Turkish_piracy

              • Appollonius
                2013-05-06 10:54:50 UTC - 10:54 | Permalink

                for a more complete appreciation of this Mediterranean Piracy Era, I should have added that it actually did exist a “religious institution/order” which ended being fully dedicated to piracy and slave trading: the Knights of Malta, whose main occupations were piracy and slave-trading (mainly Muslim slaves, but also Jews (particularly appreciated), and Christians either of the “wrong church” or who were at the wrong place, at the wrong time): at one point, they pushed it a bit too much (attacking European boats) and started to become a real “pain in the a..” even for the European powers (which basically stopped financing them), and not only for the Turks …Their flourishing business continued until Napoleon came (1798), kicked them out, closed the slave markets and abolished slavery….

          • anon
            2013-05-06 19:14:55 UTC - 19:14 | Permalink

            Thanks for the explanation.

            I understand Laicite is important to the French people (and as French citizens it would be important to French Muslims too). I was not talking about state interference…but more in the sense of co-ordination.(not colonialism, but partnership) Some Muslim-Minority countries outside of the West already have such a system. On the other hand—as you said…..eventually such a system will develop on its own if the need arises. I am pleased to know that French Muslims are doing well in France.

  • 2013-05-05 02:47:14 UTC - 02:47 | Permalink
    • 2013-05-05 09:02:39 UTC - 09:02 | Permalink

      Coel, you are continuing to uncritically swallow anything you read that arouses feelings in your viscera.

      Ali A. Rizvi is a very widely known stooge of the anti-Islamic movement. I once belonged to a cult from which many members left. Some who left remained extremely bitter and savagely attacked all of Christianity on the basis of their experiences. But do they really speak for all of Christianity?

      Now I can accept that much of what he says is true to some extent, but what we learn when we attempt to get a more comprehensive understanding of Islam is that among Muslims themselves there is emerging — especially among Muslims in Western nations — a very active debate and self-reflection on their traditions. Don’t you think it a good idea to check to see what others say, too. To get a rounded picture from a variety of sources? I don’t see any interest in learning about Islam and Muslims among people such as yourself, but only in sucking up anything that reinforces your current feelings.

      What I see in comments here are very often attempts to drown out, hide, ignore, the contents of a post by directing readers to a video-clip or news headline that — as Esposito himself reminds us — is designed to emphasize the conflict, the violence. Now the conflict and violence really are real events. I’m not denying that. But the problem is that they are not the whole story. The media does not publish the complexity of Muslim reactions to that violence or hate speech.

      So the public is getting a distorted — an Islamophobic — picture. In their minds Islam has even come to mean a single entity. There is no more a single “Islam” than there is a single “Christianity”. The media knows that to keep reader attention they need to continually present drama. Calls for peace, reform, the widely diverse views of Muslims, are not good media-grabs.

  • 2013-05-06 17:27:33 UTC - 17:27 | Permalink

    Let me join in and also add a news-link for thought: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/nov/09/blasphemy-laws-darkening-pakistan-skies

    Again we find angry mobs on a destructive rampage against a school; again the spark that ignited their anger is the suspicion of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad; again we are in South Asia. But this time, we have a thought-provoking commentary packaging the news. We learn a bit more of the complex factors that are involved.

  • anon
    2013-05-06 20:53:16 UTC - 20:53 | Permalink

    Barbary Pirates/Islamophobia—

    Appollonius has given a very interesting and thorough background but if I could add a few points…….

    1) Americans also engaged in Piracy against Britain (Privateers were engaged in piracy with the knowledge of U.S. congress)

    2) Thomas Jefferson wanted a war with the “Barbary” nations (North Africa) instead of signing a peace treaty—see his letters.

    3) The quote in the piece by Rizvi is only partial. (the full letter is on the net) The paragraph after this one claims the ambassador saying that the Devil makes the piracy successful…..which is very strange if the whole thing is for “religious reasons” unless the Ambassador is implying that “Islam is from the devil”. (the phrase “law of the Prophet”—is also strange—as well as other things……..)

    My speculation is that perhaps this may have been propaganda.—when Jefferson became President—he did go to war with Tripoli (1801)—and if I got my history right—-a peace treaty was concluded in 1805.

    —This is part of a letter written in March 1786 by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. (Its on the net—commons wikimedia)

    We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the Grounds of their pretentions to make war upon Nations who had done them no Injury, and observed that we  considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any  provocation.

    The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their prophet, that it  was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever 

    they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every  musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

    That it was a law that the first who boarded an Enemy’s Vessell should have one slave  more than his share with the rest, which operated as an incentive to the most desperate  Valour and Enterprize, that it was the Practice of their Corsairs to bear down upon a ship,

    for each sailor to take a dagger in each hand, and another in his mouth, and leap on board, which so terrified their Enemies that very few ever stood against them. That he verily  believed the Devil assisted his Countrymen, for they were almost always successful. We 

    took time to consider and promised an answer, but we can give him no other than that the  demands exceed our Expectations and that of Congress so much that we can proceed no further, without fresh instructions

    • 2013-05-06 21:23:51 UTC - 21:23 | Permalink

      So many commentators are quick to point to single issues as the simplest (and simplistic) explanations but they fail in this case. None of them can explain why such terrorist activity has sprung up in recent times. If these simplistic explanations were valid then they only create more questions and mystery.

      I learned in high school history classes that historical events are invariably explained in terms of multiple causes; background and immediate causes, etc. I think that’s still valid because the more you get to know people the more you realize there is very rarely some simple thing alone that explains their behaviour.

      I hope to be posting more on this topic soon — but I want to be sure what I post is grounded in research and is able to point readers to data and research they can follow up themselves if possible.

      • Appollonius
        2013-05-07 00:49:09 UTC - 00:49 | Permalink


        regarding research on those topics (Mediterranean Piracy and slavery): some points I would like to present:

        a) regarding Barbary pirates, there is a big amount of data, resources and research (however one has to select between works which offer an objective perspective from works which still support “national myths” – like in France, piracy as the supposed reason for conquest of Algeria, when the main reason was quite usual: the treasury of the Dey was quite full, and France needed some money…)

        b) same applies if you look for research works about Christian slaves in North Africa:

        1. there is a lot of historical sources (first hand account by enslaved Europeans: in the 19th, those “slave narratives” were very popular: the main reason is that more or less half of enslaved Europeans eventually returned to their country, family, and some actually made a living with their captivity story (writing books, public lectures, etc…) …that didn’t apply for Muslims: almost none did return to their countries of origin (i.e.: except some members of the Ottoman upper class managed to return to their country)

        2. there is also quite many scholars work on this topic

        c) regarding Muslim slaves in Europa (Moors/Turks/Africans): there is basically nothing; same applies for Muslim slaves in America, even it’s a topic which is a “tiny bit” more studied since some years, some studies in USA regarding American Muslim slaves : very few about African Muslim slaves, even less concerning Moors/Turks slaves in Colonial America and then USA: even if the first “African” slave – known by name: Mustapha Zemmouri aka Estevanico- who set foot on what will become USA (more precisely Texas) was a Muslim Berber Moroccan, captured by Portuguese slave traders, and later sold to a Spanish master

        > however most of scholarship concerning this topic (Muslim slaves in America) comes from Brazil (so it’s often in Portuguese) due to historical Muslim slaves uprisings and revolts, the most known being the “Great Revolt” or “Malê Revolt” (1835), and also that it’s still a quite “fresh” memory (the last Muslim slave in Brazil was still alive around 1930)

        > regarding Muslim slaves in Europa, there are of course historical sources (but one has to dig in archives, and some history books where usually it’s evoked in very few lines “no big deal” perspective) as it was actually very common (European galleys, even the Pope’s galleys, would mainly use Turks/Moors slaves as oarsmen, Muslims would be also use for farming, mining, etc… and some would be “royal slaves” or “royal Moors” : European courts liked to have Moor/Turk slaves to display), yet this topic seems to interest only very few scholars:

        so the best is to simply use the main source Islamophobes use when they provide estimates about the number of European slaves in North Africa, and then it’s a bit “one shot, two birds”, 1. you can demonstrate their hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty by the fact that they intentionally ignore the estimate -and historical fact- regarding Muslims (Turks/Moors) enslaved by Europeans and 2. you can have research-based data concerning Muslim slaves in Europa: the main source being the research by professor Robert C. Davis (Ohio University) who first started to research on Christian slaves in North Africa, to finally come up with the idea of “faith slavery” when observing that it was actually a “two ways” business/issue and that Muslims (as well as Jews) too would end up as slaves in Europa, and that slavery was based on religion rather than race : his estimates for victims (both Christians and Muslims) turn around 3 millions: around 2 millions of Christians, and one million of Muslims (but main difference: around half -more or less – of Christian slaves did return, when there was almost never any possibility of return for Muslim slaves)

        here link on a short article evoking his research:


        and link to his book regarding this topic


        his first book was more focused on Christian slaves in Muslim North Africa:


        however, that’s more or less what you can esaily find regarding the fate of Moors/Turks enslaved in Europa, or ending in Americas…there is no lack of resources (I even found digging in French National Archives, letters from the Dey of Algiers complaining to king Louis XIV about the absence of reciprocity concerning religious burial: i.e.: the Dey would allow Christian burials for Christian slaves, while Muslim slaves either on royal galleys or working in the royal navy arsenals of South France would have no burial at all: according to later letters from a French official in charge of this issue, nothing changed, as for another example I even found a Muslim slave in Liechtenstein: the “royal Moor”…there is also the famous “Pope’s slave” Leo Africanus: Berber Moor..) my argument being is that for all the centuries slavery existed in Europa, resources exist…one may wonder why such a topic is basically ignored…)

    • Appollonius
      2013-05-07 02:58:09 UTC - 02:58 | Permalink

      @ anon

      when one starts digging into History, quite often a rather different picture appears, sometimes one needs to simply “adjust” the focus or zoom: as we say in France: “the Devil is (hidden) in the details”…

      For example, concerning USA and the Barbary wars, one would say that there is some irony in History, or that History has some kind of twisted humor:

      1. the main reason USA had the sufficient means ( navy forces) to enter into those wars, was due to other pirates…pirates from a country which was the less likely to attack USA: France. Between 1798-1800, (Revolutionary) France and USA were at war : main reason, USA didn’t feel any obligation to pay its debt to the French Republic, as the US debt was according to US Congress owed to the French Crown not the French Republic, thus started the “Quasi-War” between France and USA, during which French privateers took in less than a year more US ships that the Barbary pirates ever took…Thus, to fight the French pirates, USA needed to recreate the US Navy , purchasing and building war ships…

      The irony here is that this “Quasi-War” not only provided the means for the coming Barbary wars, but also created a kind of jurisprudence in USA, concerning the warmking decision power between the US Executive and Legislative branches: i.e. it was the first case of a presidential unilateral decision in war context (i.e. without consultation of the Congress)…again, one could speak about repetition of History….

      2. the “funny” side being that the first country to ever recognize USA a sovereign nation was and Muslim and the location of many “Barbary pirates” bases: the Sultanate of Morocco (1777), Morocco being the nation with which USA has the longest unbroken treaty until today (1787) and where is located the oldest US diplomatic property…the positive side of those friendly relationships being that at that time, it led to the freedom of some (very few) Muslim slaves in USA : a famous being Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori aka “Prince among slaves” who wasn’t Moroccan but from modern Mali, thus under Moroccan sovereignty, less know a group of “Moors” in South Carolina who defended their case in court, and got freed as subjects of the Moroccan Sultan, from what we know they settled in USA…

      • Appollonius
        2013-05-07 03:20:23 UTC - 03:20 | Permalink

        correction: Ibn Sori was from modern Guinea (historical Imamate of Futa-Jallon), however considered the Moroccan Sultan would consider him as his “subject” (Moroccan suzerainty on Mali and other parts of Western Africa was at that time only “symbolic”, the Sultan had no more real power: he was basically the only one actually believing it), did help to his freedom, due to US-Morocco relationships.

  • Alceste
    2013-08-06 18:48:06 UTC - 18:48 | Permalink

    Actually, the person who introduced the term “islamophobia” into contemporary political language was Khomeini, who used it as a rhetorical means to demonize people who opposed his brand of islamism, and Islamic imperialism and suprematism more generally. Cf. http://tinyurl.com/nxe6tww

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-08-07 10:36:32 UTC - 10:36 | Permalink

      I suspect “Islamophobia”, if indeed that word was used (was Khomeini speaking in English?), was not picked up by the English speaking world until, as per the post above, . . . . But if Khomeini uttered a word that was translated universally as “Islamophobia” and if we can see that this was the origin of the term (via a study of textual analyses) I will happily revise my view.

  • David Ashton
    2015-07-24 12:12:00 UTC - 12:12 | Permalink

    Some “dislike” i.e. adverse criticism of self-identified Islamic beliefs and practices might not be “UNfounded”. The suffix “phobia” is itself questionable with its implication of mental illness. There is a danger that it can be used not to assist accurate study, objective research and comprehensive political approaches but to deter or restrict them, in the same way that terms like “antisemitism”, “racism”, “sexism” and “homophobia” can, have been, and are, sometimes used. Words should be used to define phenomena with exactitude. Social phenomena should not be category-crammed into imprecise, merely pejorative, war-worn, prohibitive or personally defamatory words.

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