Sunday, 9 June 2013

Islamophobia is Wrong Word to Use

By: Sandbad

As a basic requirement in a society which advocates freedom of thought and speech, Islam like any other ideology or religion should be kept susceptible to criticism and must not be exempted from it.  In reality however by using this term in many occasions genuine criticism of Islam is dismissed as some sort of racist abuse and showing concern about Islamism is often taken as an exaggerated, biased and phobic reaction.

Same negative weight this term has gained itself in public opinion is holding many back from publicly expressing their opinion about Islam as they fear to be accused of Islamophobia.

But not all the criticism directed at Islam is biased and made under a racist agenda. So should we continue using this word in the same capacity as it is currently used? I think we should not.

The word Islamophobia:

Islamophobia is a compound word created by combining ‘Islam’ and ‘phobia’. The word ‘phobia’ is derived from Greek word “phobos” which means fear.  In clinical psychology ‘phobia’ is used in combination with other words in order to create names for different types of anxiety disorder (eg. Arachnophobia – fear of spiders)

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘phobia’ as: an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation”

According to this definition one expects the term Islamophobia to specifically refer to an anxiety disorder where a sufferer has a disproportionate fear, dislike or aversion from the ideology and religion of Islam however the usage of this term is often extended to refer to a racist type of hatred and/or aversion from Muslim individuals and groups.

Oxford dictionary defines ‘Islamophobia’ as a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.”

In my opinion there are two major reasons usage of word Islamophobia has to be avoided:

Firstly this word is created by ignoring the complicated dynamic which gives shape to Islamic world by generalizing the word “Islam” in a simplistic manner.  

Secondly by using the term “phobia” it is implying that any fear from Islam is illogical and disproportionate. And by this it transfers a prejudiced and subliminal message that like any other anxiety disorder the fear of Islam is also just a phobia which worth no further investigation or discussion but treatment as an illness.

What the term Islamophobia is generalizing:

Ethnic diversity of Muslim Word: Muslim world in itself is very ethnically diverse. This is to a level that in terms of culture and ethnicity often two distinct Muslim groups have little in common.  For example an Uzbek Muslim is world apart from a Sub Saharan Muslim in terms of ethnicity, tradition, customs, language and etc.
This means as Islam is a religion followed by many ethnic groups in a vast geographical area it just doesn't make sense to use the term Islamophobia in order to refer to a type of racism.

Distinctiveness of Islamic schools of thought: Letting apart the ethnic diversity of Muslim world, the Islam in itself is a very general term which may refer to any of several Islamic schools of thought commonly practised.

Followers of each Muslim school of thought have their own distinct believes sometimes in total contrast and despise of another group. For example in Salafi school of thought followers of Shiism are considered to be heretics and are punishable for their heresy as seen adequate in Islamic penal code.
So even in ideological terms the word ‘Islam’ alone is not indicative enough to refer to a specific and defined set of beliefs.  In my opinion any generalization to this level has to be avoided as a matter of principle.


But is fear of Islam can be considered a phobia? For example is it really disproportionate and exaggerated to fear to be subjected to Sharia Law?

What if an apostate is aware that in Sharia Law apostates are punishable by death? What if a nine year old girl is at risk of being sold into marrying a man older than her grandfather? What if a wife is repeatedly beaten by her husband and she knows that her husband is only using his legitimate Islamic right in order to beat her up? What if the same wife is also aware that her husband is allowed to marry several other women while he is still married to her? What if a woman has to wear Hijab in 42 degrees hot summer day of Tehran?

What about discrimination against women in inheritance and divorce laws? What about homosexual and members of religious minorities? What about members of an unrecognised religious minority? (Baha’i faith in Iran) What about punishments like stoning for adultery? Flogging for drinking alcohol or body mutilation for thieves? What if ‘infidel’ people of a neighbouring territory fear their Muslim neighbours to come jihad-ing on them?

Is fear involved in any of above cases a phobic fear as term Islamophobia implies? Are these affected individuals in need of psychotherapy to be relived from their disproportionate and phobic fear of Islam? Or is it just common sense for them to fear Islam and Islamic law?

Muslim Point of View

To my experience when it comes to controversial Islamic rules (some mentioned above) Muslims disregard of their ethnicity/race and school of thought are divided in two major groups:

First group follows Quran and Hadith line by line and apply Islamic law and Islamic penal code as they were commonly and historically applied. They are ‘fundamentalists’ and have little or no concern about reaction of outside world in response to applying rules which according to modern convention of human rights are considered brutal and inhumane.

In some Islamic countries where political system is heavily influenced or completely controlled by fundamentalists (such as Iran and Saudi Arabia) citizens are regularly sentenced to flogging, stoning and body mutilation and despite all international pressure these countries resist to change their official penal code which is taken directly from Sharia Law. This is because in fundamentalist point of view Islamic law and moral code is something which cannot be disputed or changed even if it is genuinely immoral and in violation of modern standards.

The second group of Muslims are self proclaimed ‘progressive’ bunch who tend to believe controversial and brutal Islamic law and penal code are enforced only by fundamentalists of the first group as a result of first group’s misinterpretation of otherwise moral and advanced Islamic law. 

The progressives in second group are often apologetic about the fundamentalists’ behaviour and they often take their own interpretation of Islamic law as the correct version. An interpretation which in many occasions is unlike anything historically practised by any Muslims.
Members of second group are also likely to believe that the actions of first group has wrongly given a negative and scary image to Islam in public opinion and that Islam is in fact a kind and tolerant religion unlike what the fundamentalist has shown it to be.

This clash between progressives and fundamentalists is an old trend. But it is still unheard of that a progressive cleric officially rejects the brutalities historically practised by Muslims as wrong doings of early Muslims or prophet or Imams and replace them by more modern and moderate rules.
At the same time the progressive Muslim clerics chose to be vague about controversial parts of Islamic law and Islamic penal code if they are forced to talk about this subject and they apologetically try to justify them.

I leave the reader with this question:

Is it a phobia to be scared of a religion that its self proclaimed progressive movement is being intentionally vague and dishonest about its controversies instead of actively trying to clear them up?

Monday, 3 June 2013

A Quick Look at Occupy Gezi movement from an Iranian Perspective

By: Sandbad

I went to Manchester Solidarity with Occupy Gezi demonstration on 3rd of June. Main reason to go was to speak to supporters of this movement first hand in order to find out what their demands are as recent incidents in Turkey has given rise to many debates in Iranian diaspora.

Some Iranians saw this as a populist and revolutionary movement with an uncertain goal which is in total ignorance of economical achievements of Erdoğan government. In online debates on several occasions Occupy Gezi was compared to Iranian revolution of 1979 which only made the situation worse in Iran both in political and economical terms by handing the country over to unprogressive and Islamist elements of society.

Speaking to some Turkish friends who were at the solidarity event in Manchester this doesn't seem to be the case for Turkey.

What I realized today was that even though there was some degree of uncertainty about the ideal outcome of this uprising but Occupy Gezi movement was in no way after change of political regime in Turkey. Most of protesters were carrying Ataturk pictures and this was an indication that their demands however not quiet clear but was not beyond the current constitution and political structure in Turkey.

Those who I spoke with were more concerned about out of proportion reaction of Turkish police against peaceful protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul and as I was told this was not the first time in recent times that the police had reacted to peaceful protests in such a manner.

Also there was a strong worry amongst protesters that the Islamist ruling party of Erdoğan is following a crawling policy by gradually taking control of entire political structure by installing its loyal friends in important and critical positions. There was an affirmation that Erdoğan hasn't yet been in breach of any laws in doing so however the protesters were worried that he was at a stage that he could attempt breaching the law in pursue of this goals.

Some of the protesters were fearful that Erdoğan is gradually Islamizing the way of life in Turkey and they were pointing to recent limitations set on sale of alcohol and the day after birth control pills and abortion.

Also they were concerns that Erdoğan’s actions will facilitate involvement of religion in politics of the country.

There also was a strong believe that Erdoğan is abusing power by licencing people near him to develop Gezi Park to a shopping mall. Also number of demonstrators were suspicious that Erdoğan has personal interest in that project and that's why he insists on Gezi Park's development to continue despite the demonstrations..

Some of the protesters believed that Turkish media were ordered not to cover the recent demonstrations also some believed internet speed in Turkey have been intentionally lowered in order to make it harder for protesters to get in touch with the outside world.

After spending an evening with Turkish protesters in Manchester my impression is the demonstrations are justified and necessary. I don’t think there is a demand to change the political regime in Turkey and I think if there is any intention on Erdoğan side to Islamise Turkey and to take over the whole political system before the next elections this demonstrations can possibly discourage him from such endeavor. 

In addition these demonstrations will show the Islamists within Turkey that the secular demands are strong and there will be fierce resistance against their possible charge to political power.

So I am personally supportive of the demonstrations. 

The Manchester demonstration I have attended today went peacefully. The slogans were against fascism, against acts of dictatorship protesters believed was committed by Erdoğan and chants for him to resign. There was a dose of nationalism involved as well but not to a level that I feel I was amongst a group of rightists.

Also a quick compare of situation in Turkey with Iran, I think Erdoğan reaction is nowhere near as brutal as an Iranian possible reaction to a similar uprising in Iran could be. We remember what happened in summer 2009 in Iran so I won’t go into much detail. As an example in Turkey if Erdoğan reduces the internet speed (shall this be the case as I was told) in Iran internet and mobile networks go completely offline whenever there is slightest of political unrest.

Also even though it has been a massive and national wide protest and I have to agree the police reaction were out of proportion on occasions the cost on human life was minimal (and mainly by accident) when compare this with hundreds of Iranians who were killed during 2009 unrest (many of whom were fired at with intention to kill) I have to agree that Erdoğan's evil is in no way comparable with his Iranian counterparts.