Sunday, January 18, 2015

Je suis Charlie? Then challenge the Islamophobia industry | Brendan O’Neill | spiked

If Europe really wants to pay tribute to the journalists and cartoonists massacred in Paris last week, it could do worse than ditch the term ‘Islamophobia’. For this empty, cynical, elitist phrase, this multicultural conceit, has done an untold amount to promote the idea that ridiculing other people’s beliefs and cultures is a bad thing. In fact, the widely used but little thought-on i-word has pathologised the very act of making a judgement. It has turned the totally legitimate conviction that some belief systems are inferior to others into a swirling, irrational fear — a phobia — worthy of condemnation and maybe even investigation by officials. That those two gunmen thought Charlie Hebdo’s ‘Islamophobic’ cartoonists deserved punishment isn’t surprising — after all, they grew up on a continent, Europe, that is so riven by relativism, so allergic to making moral judgements, that even saying ‘Islamic values are not as good as Enlightenment values’ is now treated as evidence of a warped, sinful mind, as a crime, effectively.

The Runnymede report makes clear the key concern of those who invented the idea of Islamophobia: that it is wrong to be judgmental about non-Western values or to elevate the West’s way of life over other people’s ways of life. As this defining document puts it, one sure sign of ‘Islamophobia’ is a view of Islam as ‘inferior to the West’. Those who speak of a ‘clash of civilisations’ contribute to the climate of Islamophobia, it said. In order to challenge Islamophobia, Runnymede suggested to the cliques of academics, coppers and officials it sent its report to that they should encourage people to understand that Islam is ‘distinctively different, but not deficient’ and is ‘as equally worthy of respect [as Western values]’. Furthermore, it said, we brave warriors against Islamophobia must challenge the idea that Islam’s criticisms of the West are without foundation and should instead encourage people to consider and embrace ‘[Islam]’s criticism of “the West” and other cultures’.
What we have here is not any traditional campaign against racism, launched by communities themselves and aimed at irrational prejudices; rather, this is a censorious assault on certain ways of thinking, on moral judgment itself, launched by the most upper echelons of Western society. In chastising the belief that Islam might not be as great as what are called Western values, but which are in fact the pretty universal values of democracy and liberty, and insisting that Islam is in fact worthy of ‘equal respect’, the Runnymede report was designed to promote relativism and self-censorship, not equality or social progress. The term Islamophobia, from the very outset, encapsulated even the act of saying ‘this way of life is better than that’ or ‘Islam is not a fantastic belief system’ — completely legitimate moral viewpoints, whether you agree or not.

But we must be free to blaspheme. And to ridicule. And, most importantly, to discuss and judge and discriminate between values we think are good and those we think are less good. Western societies will never rediscover their sense of purpose or mission, far less the Enlightenment spirit, so long as the very act of bigging up one’s own democratic and liberal values over the views of others is treated as tantamount to a speech crime. Je suis Charlie? Then challenge the very thing that contributed to the massacre of those Charlies: the stifling new culture of relativism and self-censorship that has given some people in Europe the foolish and dangerous idea that they have the right to go through life without ever hearing a sore word about their belief system. 

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