Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The race to conflate

Secular campaigners are increasingly resigned to the fact that any criticism of Islam will get them branded as racists. Indeed, even Maryam Namazie, an Iranian secularist, was bizarrely branded a racist by the curious tripe that appears on the Islamophobia-Watch website.

Now, it makes perfect sense to guard against and denounce far-right groups (like the BNP) who quite obviously use "Muslim" as a not-too-subtle proxy for any non-white immigrant person (and who is probably not a Christian), but to define Islamophobia as "anti Muslim racism" (as Islamophobia-Watch do) and to include all criticism of the religion under this rubric - and then to shriek that a woman from the Middle East is an Islamophobe (and thus a 'racist') is crazy - especially when the person doing the shrieking is a white male westerner (as Bob Pitt, the editor is).

Now, wasn't Marx's famous comment "Religion... is the opium of the people"? Funny then, when an Iranian communist rages against the religion of her own State (and one not terribly kind to apostates, women, communists and trade-unionists), some white guy - who allegedly is also a left-winger - denounces her as a racist.

How is this allowed to happen? Simple, the conflation of religion and race. The side effects are that religious leaders are automatically elevated to community leaders and secularists are marginalised.

It also allows the absurdity quoted in today's Guardian to be taken seriously:

Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, says "we will not allow the demonising, devaluing or targeting of the concept of Islam which will we (sic) hold very dear."

Now, while it is an utter disgrace that people are demonised and assualted simply because they belong to a religious faith, isn't Mr Shadjareh shifting the goalposts when he says that the concept of Islam shouldn't be criticised?

Surely any concept, any philosophy or ideology (which, after all, Islam in common with all other religions is) should have no more protection than Existentialism, or Scientology, or any other fad or movement - like those annoying people who try to motivate you to work harder for less money by taking you hiking and selling you books like 'Who Moved My Cheese".. but I digress...

The serious issue is that, in a scary echo of the Salman Rushdie affair, we're being told in very robust terms that criticism of religious ideas won't be tolerated.

Funny that the coalition of groups represented by Mr Shadjareh should conclude (in the same Guardian piece) with very sensible advice:

"Criminalising the mere possession of certain opinions is the hallmark of dictatorships, not democracies."
But how does that square with "we will not allow the demonising, devaluing or targeting of the concept of Islam which will we hold very dear"?

That sounds like a threat.

Surely we all have the right to express our opinions - even if they are about Islamic concepts?


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