‘Is­lam­o­pho­bia’ - what's be­hind a word

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Sikan­der Amani

There is ac­tu­ally noth­ing ei­ther self-ev­i­dent or spe­cially il­lu­mi­nat­ing in the dis­tinc­tion be­tween what you are and what you choose to be, or in the fact that it would be worse to kill you on one ground rather than on the other. Much to the con­trary, the whole the­ory of hu­man rights rests pre­cisely on the re­jec­tion of such a dis­tinc­tion Europe, the pre­vi­ously lib­eral, open, pro­gres­sive Europe, the con­ti­nent that opened its arms to refugees and vic­tims of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, Europe that prided it­self for its hu­man­ist cre­den­tials, is fast sink­ing into a most de­press­ing and ever stronger anti-im­mi­grant frenzy. Late Novem­ber, small, cosy, choco­latey Switzer­land once again made head­lines by vot­ing yet an­other dis­crim­i­na­tory mea­sure for im­mi­grants: for­eign­ers who have been con­demned by a court of law will au­to­mat­i­cally be ex­pelled from the coun­try af­ter serv­ing their time in jail - a dou­ble pun­ish­ment (im­pris­on­ment then ex­pul­sion), which flies in the face of all non-dis­crim­i­na­tion prin­ci­ples as well as com­mon sense. Need­less to say, the cam­paign reeked with overt prej­u­dices and xeno­pho­bic state­ments, be­cause, of course, Swiss cit­i­zens can never ever com­mit a crime, how could you even think that! As is a well-es­tab­lished sci­en­tific fact, only for­eign­ers are crim­i­nals - wher­ever you are. Fur­ther­more, as many ob­servers as well as thou­sands of vis­i­tors have noted, anti-im­mi­grant speeches are now com­mon­place in France, Den­mark, Spain, Italy, as well as Ger­many. In the lat­est spit­ting out­burst of the nau­se­at­ing Front Na­tional in France, the daugh­ter of the peren­nial leader, Ma­rine Le Pen, com­pared last Fri­day's Mus­lim street prayers to the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of France dur­ing the Sec­ond World War - which is in­sane his­tor­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally, morally. But it goes to show that in­com­pre­hen­si­bly, it has be­come okay to be racist in Europe.

The new el­e­ment, how­ever, is not so much the an­ti­im­mi­grant dis­ease that is catch­ing on like cholera in Haiti; it is in the pro­duc­tion of a pseudo-ra­tio­nal le­git­imis­ing dis­course. France, with its long tra­di­tion of cig­a­rette-dan­gling, long-haired, open-shirt, deep-eyed in­tel­lec­tu­als, is at the fore­front of this move­ment. A cou­ple of weeks ago, a rel­a­tively well-known and fa­mously re­ac­tionary in­tel­lec­tual, Pas­cal Bruck­ner, pub­lished an un­savoury chron­i­cle on 'The in­ven­tion of Is­lam­o­pho­bia'. The col­umn has trig­gered a wide de­bate on the in­ter­net. Bruck­ner's ar­ti­cle starts out con­sen­su­ally enough: Is­lam, like any re­li­gion, is not above crit­i­cism. "Un­til fur­ther no­tice," he says, "we have the right, in a demo­cratic regime, to find some re­li­gions men­da­cious and ret­ro­grade, and not to like them." In­deed we do. Hu­man rights per­tain to in­di­vid­u­als, not to ideas, and hence we have an ab­so­lute right to crit­i­cise, dis­like, eval­u­ate, judge, mock or pub­licly con­demn any set of ideas or be­liefs, in­clud­ing (per­haps above all) re­li­gions. Blas­phemy as a crime is sim­ply non­sen­si­cal. (In­ci­den­tally, we did not re­ally need high-brow pedan­tic Bruck­ner to tell us, ei­ther.)

So far, so good. More trou­ble­some is the next step, where he moves onto the very slip­pery slope of at­tempt­ing to demon­strate that Is­lam­o­pho­bia does not ex­ist. Ac­cord­ing to him, it is but the en­deav­our by Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists to pre­vent the ra­tio­nal and crit­i­cal ap­praisal of their re­li­gion. Let us not dwell on the fact that Bruck­ner does not once ac­knowl­edge the re­al­ity of anti-Mus­lim hos­til­ity in Europe - to do so would ev­i­dently weaken his stance. More in­ter­est­ingly, philo­soph­i­cally speak­ing, is the gist of the demon­stra­tion, which re­volves around the idea that Is­lam­o­pho­bia is not akin to racism, and cer­tainly can­not be com­pared to the anti-Semitism of yore: whereas racism and anti-Semitism at­tack you for be­ing what you are (black, white, Arab, Jewish), Is­lam­o­pho­bia con­demns you for what you have freely cho­sen to be (Mus­lim). This ar­gu­ment cir­cu­lates since the le­gal in­ven­tion of the crime against hu­man­ity in the Statutes of Nurem­berg af­ter the Sec­ond World War, and the Con­ven­tion on Geno­cide adopted by the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in 1948, which saw as the es­sen­tial el­e­ment of geno­cide (or of a crime against hu­man­ity), the "in­tent to de­stroy, in whole or in part, a na­tional, eth­ni­cal, racial or re­li­gious group". This def­i­ni­tion is very in­ter­est­ing - but very trou­bling too. The de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate other types of groups, e.g. po­lit­i­cal or so­cial groups (which means that the mas­sive mas­sacres com­mit­ted by the Kh­mer Rouge in Cam­bo­dia are not, tech­ni­cally speak­ing, geno­cide) rested on the idea that killing peo­ple be­cause of what they are, in­de­pen­dently of their own free will, is a worse crime than to kill them for what they have freely cho­sen to be­come (as is the case with so­cial or po­lit­i­cal groups). In other words, it is worse to kill some­one be­cause he is black, or Jewish, or Tutsi (as was the case in Rwanda dur­ing the 1994 geno­cide) than to kill a po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dent or a 'bour­geois', say. This raises very chal­leng­ing ques­tions, ac­tu­ally. First of all, it is note­wor­thy that 're­li­gious groups' are con­sid­ered on par with na­tional, eth­nic or racial groups - as if re­li­gions were as in­de­pen­dent of the will as eth­nic­ity or race; this is ob­vi­ously un­ten­able, since con­ver­sions are al­ways pos­si­ble. Let us also note that 'race', in­ci­den­tally, is not a sci­en­tific term and can­not be de­fined in any re­motely rig­or­ous way, and does not al­low any pre­cise de­lin­eation of any group.

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