Islam Is A Religion — Islamophobia Is Racism

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image of a minaret overlooking a desert landscape

Wikipedia contains the following regarding Islamophobia:

Several scholars consider Islamophobia to be a form of xenophobia or racism. A 2007 article in Journal of Sociology defines Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism and a continuation of anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism. Similarly, John Denham has drawn parallels between modern Islamophobia and the antisemitism of the 1930s, so have Maud Olofsson, and Jan Hjärpe, among others.

Since antisemitism was invoked in that passage, I will note what Wikipedia says about that, for reference:

Antisemitism (also spelled anti-Semitism or anti-semitism) is hostility, prejudice, or discrimination directed against Jews. A person who holds such positions is called an antisemite. Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism.

The counter to this point of view, which is invoked by neo-nazis, alt-right propagandists, new atheists, and even some mainstream conservatives and liberals is, “Islam is a religion,” or “Muslims are not a race.” This is often backed with citations of horrifying passages from the Quran, accounts of violence perpetrated by extremists, and images of women covered from head to toe in burqas. This is generally capped off with fear-mongering about Sharia law taking over secular law far and wide.

It is, of course, entirely true that Islam is a religion and that Muslims are not a race. But, that is not a counter to the claim that Islamophobia is a form of racism. This is equivalent to saying that, because black is not a race, that anti-blackness is not racism. But, we know that’s not true, because black people from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds all over the world are subject to anti-black discrimination, and this is practically the textbook definition of racism.

In the context of Islamophobia, the racism that lies at its heart is even more evident when cases of violence against Sikhs are considered. Sikhs are not Muslim. In many regions, Sikhs are very much at odds with Muslims. Yet, too frequently, Sikhs are shot and killed, harassed at airports, told to “go back where they came from,” or subjected to other forms of Islamophobia. Why? Because they are brown-skinned men with beards and turbans.

These Sikh men are never asked their opinions about Sharia law, burqas, the Quran, or anything else. They are not considered as individual humans, but are erroneously assigned to a perceived monolithic category because of their race. White men in kurtas and turbans exiting from yoga studios are not shot and killed. They are not told to “go back to their country.” They are not harassed for forcing “their women” to wear burqas, and they are not accused of trying to spread Sharia law.

Islamophobia is racism hidden beneath a veneer that comprises claims of being opposed to barbarism. But, if it were not racism, Sikh men in turbans, who absolutely do not subscribe to Islam and are further removed spiritually from Muslims than Christians are, would not be getting harassed.

As though that were not bad enough, by engaging in Islamophobia, Islamophobes who genuinely believe they’re not being racist are fomenting an atmosphere of prejudice that asymmetrically imposes negative outcomes on people of color. This, then, means that these Islamophobes are, sometimes unwittingly, participating in a form of systemic racism. Even if unwitting, their refusal to examine their own beliefs means that they cannot be excused for this.

They, too, are racists.

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