Definitions, loyalty oaths, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, is demanding that universities sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism:

A “definition” is (quoting Oxford Dictionaries) an “explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase”. And dictionaries give clear and succinct definitions of anti-Semitism:

So let’s consider the IHRA’s version. After asserting that:

In order to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is.

… they announce their definition:

“A certain perception”? What perception? We’re not told. Which “may be” expressed? That’s vague. And the second sentence gives no further clarification on what anti-Semitism actually is (telling us only that it is directed against Jews … or against non-Jews).

Perhaps realising that their definition clarifies little, the IHRA continue with a list of “contemporary examples of antisemitism”, but then demur, saying only that the examples …

… could, taking into account the overall context, …

… be manifestations of anti-Semitism. So, alternatively, they might not be?

Am I being an utter pedant in pointing out that the IHRA “definition” isn’t actually a definition? At most it’s a commentary about anti-Semitism, and a rather non-committal one at that. But, if acquiescence to such declarations is being demanded under threats of defunding then we should be entitled to scrutinise them.

Yes, I, personally, would readily concur with the IHRA’s “commentary”, since it commits me to rather little. Equally, though, the lack of substance means that the demand that it be adopted amounts to little more than virtue signalling.

I have a knee-jerk aversion to required loyalty oaths and coerced professions of faith. Yet such declarations, often highly ideological, are being increasingly demanded within universities. For example, the issue of whether a university is suffused with “systemic racism” would seem to be a matter requiring careful evaluation of actual evidence. Yet often the person making the most elevated claims of racism is regarded as thereby the most virtuous, and even suggesting that the matter should be evaluated on the evidence is regarded as disloyal and reprehensible.

Given the widespread acceptance of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, it is no surprise that Muslim groups want one of their own.

The UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims came up with:

This has the merit of actually being a definition — at least it does if one interprets it as saying that if the motivation is racist, then (and only then) is it “Islamophobic”. However, I suspect that what they intend is much the reverse: if you criticise Islam or cultural practices of Muslims then you are being racist (in which case it’s a claim, not a definition).

Thus the definition suffers from all the usual problems with the term “Islamophobia”. It conflates criticism of ideas (Islam) with attacks on people (Muslims). It insinuates that criticism of Islam (the religion) is an irrational and unreasonable “phobia”. And it tries to suggest that adherents to that religion are a race, and that criticism of the religion is inevitably motivated by racism — this last being an attempt to claim victim status by co-opting today’s universal rejection of racism.

This dual meaning of the term “Islamophobia” is deliberate, put there by those who originally coined the word in an attempt to disallow criticism of the religion. The duality is reflected by dictionaries:

So “aversion” to Islam (the religion) or a “dislike of Islam as a political force” is irrational and a phobia? Worse, criticism of the religion and its effect on politics is being bound up with bigotry towards people. And yet many ex-Muslims — people from those very communities, and so the last people to have a racist antipathy towards them — are among the harshest critics of Islam.

Read Yasmine Mohammed or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Ali Rizvi to see how a strong rejection of Islam as a harmful ideology combines with concern for the communities — their own communities — who are under Islam’s yoke.

As Yasmine Mohammed writes:

People in Muslim-majority countries are jusy trying to progress their culture in the same way that Western cultures have. You have been able to fight for women’s equality. We just want to do the same. Why is it that when we try to progress, suddenly it’s a bad thing? We get called Islamophobic for criticizing Sharia and pushing for change. Why should we have to retain our misogynist, homophobic cultures? […] The Muslim world has been shielded from criticism for so long. How will progress ever happen if criticism is considered bigotry?

The term “Islamophobia” is a propaganda word, and should be avoided by anyone who cares about the right to criticise religions. The insidious nature of the word has been pointed out time after time by secularists, and yet, sadly, it has now been adopted wholemeal and uncritically by the mainstream media and politicians.

1 thought on “Definitions, loyalty oaths, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

  1. Roger

    One can be against Islam, the religion. Those who subscribe to other religions are presumably not in agreement with Islam. One can also be against Islam, the political force, without necessarily having any opinions about the religion.

    But no one says Islam is a race. There is no Islamic race. Whatever your disagreement with Islam, it has nothing to do with racism.


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