A tale of two phobias

Growing up learning about homo erectus and homo sapiens, the word ‘homo’ referred to “any living or extinct member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage.”[Wordnet]. Not homosexuality.

A little later, hearing about claustrophobia, the word ‘phobia’ joined ones store of words, and got assigned the meaning: irrational and/or obsessive fear.

So homophobia as a word with the common (and derogatory) meaning, of fear, dislike, or hatred, of homosexuals, would be funny and false given the above meanings for its component words. You can imagine the assumptions made by that label, given an understanding of agoraphobia.

A review of the popular press shows the word applied to people who speak out against homosexuality and its ‘regularisation.’ It doesn’t follow.

The common use of the word, homophobe, is derogatory and not purely descriptive (as with normal phobia words). So that with its interpretation solidified, it amounts to unfairly maligning peoples actively expressing opposing ideals. Homophobia isn’t as anything to be cured.

Then comes Islamophobia, a new word too. A number of people see some sense in this one given a much more than correlation between Islam and ‘terrorism’ or ‘violent jihadism.’ So that, at least, it isn’t necessarily irrational to be an Islamophobe (whatever that means in reality).

Islamophobia, we gather, is also used in a derogatory sense. And it’s certainly a great word for PR. Though the PR is okay to pursue using the term, there are issues with the semantics of the word.

Because it is sometimes hard to distinguish Islam (the religion with its tenets, as variously understood) from Muslim (the practitioners or believers), let’s frame a new word: call it ‘muslimophobia’…. Then say that islamophobia might actually have been used to describe muslimophobia.

While victims of Islamic terrorism, and other peoples living in zones where Islamic terrorism and terrorists are rife might yield to having near phobic fears, Muslims (some of whom have been victims of such terrorism) do not have the luxury of islamophobia or muslimophobia.

To highlight a subtheme of this piece: It is possible and not abnormal to love and freely relate with others while still disliking their opinions, appearance, actions….

Semantics: it matter way too much.

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