The Denial of Islamophobia

Faux liberal and pro-occupation advocate, New Republic editor Martin Peretz is back at it again.

Last fall, he caused a firestorm with his racist comments that “Muslim life is cheap” in a piece lambasting the New York Times for speaking out against anti-Muslim prejudice and defending constitutionally-protected religious rights.

Sounding more like a slumlord than a former Harvard assistant professor, he wrote at the time:

I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Peretz, who was slated to be honored by Harvard prior to the controversy, was roundly rebuked for his offensive comments, with Harvard put under intense pressure for honoring a bigot. Harvard students rallied outside his ceremony which several professors and staff boycotted; disgusted alumni returned their certificates to the university. Though the ceremony took place, his acceptance speech was cancelled.

But that humiliation has not stopped Peretz from his downward spiral to kookdom. On Monday, he dished out some raw Islamophobia-denial in a gullible column entitled “The Invention of Islamophobia”:

Anyone who suggests that there is a war being waged by Muslims in their own lands and in the lands in which they have settled–these last, by the way, are the really aggressive “settlers”!–against rationalists and true liberals, traditional conservatives and Islamic dissenters, Christians and Jews is likely to be labeled an “Islamophobe.” I have been, and thousands of you out there, perhaps millions, have been so labeled…or almost. And, at dinner with friends, have anyone of you just raised questions about the tyranny of silence which the “politically so correct” are trying to impose on those who are fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs and then not found yourselves attacked as at least “intolerant” and perhaps even a bigot? Or, yes, even an Islamophobe.

He goes on to claim:

Islamophobia–that is, the word itself–is meant to silence you. It has already silenced President Obama, hasn’t it? He hasn’t even spoken up for his fellow Christians who in recent weeks have been victimized in Iraq (where maybe we still wave some sway), Egypt (our very expensive ally), Nigeria, Pakistan et al.

(Actually that’s a lie. “President Obama, in a statement, called the attack ‘barbaric and heinous,’” the AP reports. But that’s not our topic.)

Allow me to clarify a few things for the confused, self-victimizing Peretz.

Firstly, being “fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs” does not constitute Islamophobia.

In fact, most Muslims in the world would admit to being afraid of this admixture.

I understand that it is difficult for stereotype-minded individuals to understand that other people are largely just like their own – that is, with their share of some bad who do bad things and a good majority who fear bad things – but that is what makes them bigots.

Bigots, by definition, tend to not only fear the bad apples in “other” group – which would be understandable – but they tend to go further by propping them up as the headline for the entire group, even if the bad apples are a small percentage.

And so for a certified bigot, all Blacks are street criminals, all Latinos are gang bangers, all Jews are greedy, and all Muslims mix faith with bombs.

As such Islamophobia is just another form of bigotry – in this case, bigotry against Muslims. But here’s the point Mr. Peretz, like other forms of bigotry, it is not so much about criticizing something as negative (as you cheekily posit), but the generalization of what is negative to all members of the group (which you and others demonstrably indulge in).

So when Peretz talks of a war being waged by “Muslims in their own lands and in the lands in which they have settled … against rationalists and true liberals, traditional conservatives and Islamic dissenters, Christians and Jews” without context, scope or qualification – as if all 1.4 billion Muslims are waging a war against all the billions of liberals, conservatives, Christians and Jews in the world – then Peretz is engaging in simplistic and vitriolic generalizations against Muslims that certainly constitute Islamophobia.

There is another related indicator of Islamophobia: selectivity.

So when Peretz is “fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs” only when that faith is Islam, but not when that faith is Christianity, Hinduism, his native Judaism or some other faith, then chances are Peretz is mired in Islamophobia.

Funny enough, there is one more common indicator of Islamophobia: criticizing those who resist the trigger-happy generalizations of Muslims as supposedly “succumbing to political correctness.” In that warped world view, the bigoted are the courageous freedom fighting patriots, and those responsible souls who say “no thanks” to generalizations are the weak-kneed politically-correct liberals who are going to bring America down.

So no, Mr. Peretz, before you start crying victim and feeling sorry for yourself as someone who is ridiculed for daring to speak out against the evils of Islam and Muslims and against the oversensitivity of the poor old politically correct masses, perhaps you can explain to us how opposing an American Muslim mosque for the alleged transgressions of Muslims in medieval Muslim lands is not a double generalization across time and space for which you should rightly be ridiculed and dismissed?

Islamophobia – that is negative stereotyping, bigoted expressions, and rampant generalizations against Islam and Muslims – is not only a sad reality in America today but one that is hard to miss just reading through the news headlines in 2010, let alone the third page. Not coincidently, those who are leading the Islamophobic movement in this country are the same people now leading the Islamophobia-denial movement. And in truth, Martin Peretz, though a member of the club, is not at the top of the list.

Whether anti-semitism or Islamophobia, those who coined the phenomenon did not “invent” the phenomenon, they simply called it out. It is an insult to Harvard, that someone like Peretz does not possess the requisite intellectual fortitude to tell the difference.