In a huffingtonpost article, “The Phobia of Being Called Islamophobic” (28/4/14) by Ali A. Rizvi a Pakistani-Canadian writer is saying that Muslims in the west are using Islamophobia label to suppress genuine criticism of Muslims and Islam. He is saying that just as powerful Jewish groups have suppressed objective criticism of Israel’s policy and practice by the Anti-Semitic label in the past decades, Muslim groups in the west are now seeking to quash all criticism of Islam and Muslims. In Author’s own words
“In addition to calling out prejudice against Muslims (a people), the term “Islamophobia” seeks to shield Islam itself (an ideology) from criticism. It’s as if every time you said smoking was a filthy habit, you were perceived to be calling all smokers filthy people. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. But when did we start extending those rights to ideas, books, and beliefs? You’d think the difference would be clear, but it isn’t. The ploy has worked over and over again, and now everyone seems petrified of being tagged with this label.
The phobia of being called “Islamophobic” is on the rise — and it’s becoming much more rampant, powerful, and dangerous than Islamophobia itself.”
The main example the author puts in the article is a recent, much publicized episode about Brandeis University and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Those who are not familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali should please look her up in Wikipedia). The latest controversy began when Brandeis University, a well-known Liberal US university known for its progressive Jewish roots, decided to confer honorary Doctorate to Ayann Hirsi Ali and few other noted personalities.
The decision immediately drew widespread condemnation from different groups, some of them Islamic, because of Ms Ali’s widely known anti-Islamic views. Bloggers and students took the initiative in protesting the decision of Brandeis University and then Muslim advocacy groups joined them. Council on American-Islamic Relations contacted its members though email and social media, and urging them to complain to the university. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR said “She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide. I don’t assign any ill will to Brandeis. I think they just kind of got fooled a little bit.”
Even the faculty of Brandeis University joined the protest. In a publicized open letter signed by many of them, they said,
“Dear President Lawrence,
We are writing to urge you to rescind immediately the invitation to Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali for an honorary doctorate, a decision about which we are shocked and dismayed, owing to her virulently anti-Muslim public statements.
A few of many examples will suffice. David Cohen quotes Ms. Hirsi Ali as saying: “Violence is inherent in Islam – it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder. The police may foil plots and freeze bank accounts in the short term, but the battle against terrorism will ultimately be lost unless we realise that it’s not just with extremist elements within Islam, but the ideology of Islam itself….Islam is the new fascism” (LondonEvening Standard, 2-7-07).
We are filled with shame at the suggestion that the above-quoted sentiments express Brandeis’s values.
We are saddened that Brandeis would choose to honor such a divisive individual at commencement, a moment of unity for the Brandeis community. Her presence threatens to bring unnecessary controversy to an event that should rightly be about celebrating Brandeis’ graduates and their families.
The selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus. It also obscures the hard work on the ground by committed Muslim feminist and other progressive Muslim activists and scholars, who find support for gender and other equality within the Muslim tradition and are effective at achieving it. We cannot accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.”
Faced with such diverse criticism,Brandeis University withdrew the decision to confer PHD to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Its statement said, “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue. Universities consider it important to make a distinction between inviting a speaker who may air unpopular or provocative views that the institution does not endorse, and awarding an honorary degree, which is more akin to affirming the body of a recipient’s work.”
Immediately after Brandeis made this decision to withdraw, the right wing and anti-Islam dedia in USA erupted in furious condemnation. A sample of their view of the matter.
“conservative media figures have rushed to defend Hirsi Ali, some using her life experience to explain away her Islamophobic comments. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called the move an “example of a war on women” and argued that the university had “caved to Muslim thugs.” Fox News’ Sean Hannity said the university’s decision was an “example of left-wing appeasement.” On April 10, Fox contributor Monica Crowley asked, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are people who, like Ali, have left the faith and are willing to courageously speak about it? And yet when somebody does show the guts and gets out there to do it, this is how they’re treated?”
This view of ‘Muslim thugs’ using Islamophobia label to stop debate and discussion of Islam is the main topic of the article I first mentioned. Reading the article in the morning, I got reminded of the famous Aesop story of ‘Cry Wolf’, how the boy cried wolf when the wolf is not there. But the problem is that often the wolf is really there, waiting to devour the herd of sheep. One can easily find lots of example of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s deeply prejudiced and hateful words against Islam and Muslims. Just a small sample here would suffice.
In An interview with Reason magazine in 2007 is where she elaborated her view on Islam most clearly.
“Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?
Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to have them all closed, but my party said it wouldn’t fly. Top people in the party privately expressed that they agreed with me, but said, “We won’t get a majority to do that,” so it never went anywhere.
Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which guarantees that religious movements may teach children in religious schools and says the government must pay for this if minimum standards are met. So it couldn’t be done. Would you in fact advocate that again?
Hirsi Ali: Oh, yeah.
Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—
Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down. Yeah, that sounds absolutist. I think 10 years ago things were different, but now the jihadi genie is out of the bottle. I’ve been saying this in Australia and in the U.K. and so on, and I get exactly the same arguments: The Constitution doesn’t allow it. But we need to ask where these constitutions came from to start with—what’s the history of Article 23 in the Netherlands, for instance? There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists. They had no idea.
We all know of the Norwegian Islamophobe Anders Brevik who killed 80 young kids and adults because he felt Europe was silently falling under Muslim domination. Ayaan Hisri Ali was an inspiration for Brevik. Hirsi Ali later in a speech said that she should not be blamed for Brevik’s hate crime but the culture of silence about true nature of Islam.
“[T]hat one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.”
We can really see that sometimes Islamophobe label is very appropriate. People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali promote hatred and intolerance that should not be awarded recognition in a democratic society. But the most important take in this episode is how Islamophobia has fallen from fashion to stigma in US public life. 8-10 years ago, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s views would have been mainstream and Muslim groups would not dare to be very vocal against such bigotry. If if they protested, their protest would have been drowned by a flood of anti-Islam rhetoric from the right and the left. But the world has changed and particularly America. Muslims and Islam are increasingly seen as essential part of American life.
A blog post in Economist magazine perhaps gives the best verdict of the latest Ayaan Hirsi Ali brouhaha from a detached point of view.
“ In deciding to rescind its offer of an honorary degree to her, Brandeis was in part drawing a line between the kind of discourse on religion that is acceptable in mainstream American intellectual life, and the kind that has arisen over the past decade and a half in the Netherlands. The university was not silencing Ms Hirsi Ali; it still invited her to come to the university to “engage in a dialogue”. As Isaac Chotiner puts it, the “controversy isn’t about shunning someone from polite society. It is about giving a person an honorary degree.” Asking Ms Hirsi Ali to speak to students at Brandeis is a great idea; giving her an honorary degree as part of graduation ceremonies suggests that Brandeis thinks calling for a war on Islam is an acceptable statement within the bounds of normal political and social discourse. The fact that such statements are not welcomed in American public discourse is one reason why the American model of integration and tolerance works better than the Dutch model, and why the Netherlands continues to be wracked by tensions over Islam and integration—years after those tensions forced Ms Hirsi Ali herself to leave.”