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.

Fear of Islam (Islamophobia)

“I met a Brit one day at an international social, and the first question he asked me seeing I wore the Nigeria tag was ‘do you want to make a dupe of me.’ And he said it three times! In an interestingly serious tone and with a straightened face. The attempt at conversation was over.”

By definition, all phobias have a negative connotation. It is therefore unjust to tag something that could be neutral or rational as permanently negative. Great PR, an erosion of values, and a confusion of meaning could do this.

When one considers the jihads of Muhammed’s era, and subsequent eras, returning in the so-called modern world, people reasonably develop and evolve fears that Islam is a keg of gunpowder. (“When will it not be an era of the so-called violent jihad?” She asked.)

Beyond the connotation, the sense of the use of word Islamophobia is mostly negative—as gleaned from the news and the ‘net. People have been accused of islamophobia as if their fears are all irrational, as if it were a disease to be cured. This is wrong because the use many times assumes inordinate reaction, and ignores that some of those accused of it give well-reasoned and rational motives for their reactions.

When Arab Muslims get ‘extended’ treatment at some airports? It’s nothing personal, and certainly islamophobia—perhaps crossed with the fear of Muslims. It’s a simple principle at work; there is a cause.

The same principle occurs with countries (and peoples) stereotyping Nigerians and checking with extra care their travel documents and luggage at some airports (putting it nicely, some would say). For Nigerians, this is unfair to say the least. And we express displeasure with that country’s policy, and anger against the Nigerians that made something that should be fast and straightforward, hard for the rest of us. Then we trod on saying they’re racist and nigeriaphobic.

Is the principle universally wise?

Would it be right to call islamophobia racism or persecution? Would calling this racism trivialise racism and the experience of blacks in the then apartheid Americas and South Africa. Religious sentiments, funny thinking, and pride calls Islamophobia racism and a persecution of muslims when it fundamentally can’t be.

“People did not just read the book, they read his life. Believing him to have lived the ideal way, to have lived the doctrine, led many to want to follow the same path. With the motivating quotes, regardless of explanations and any counter-quotes, there’s that example of action and life that some prefer to follow.”

What we’ve said generally is that Islamophobia is reasonably a human response to ‘experience,’ and should not just be waived off as unfair to Islam and Muslims, or irrational. We’ve said that it isn’t really a phobia. Issues only potentially arise with people’s response to their fears: whether it leads to reasonably irrational behaviour given the context.

Fear of Islam and fear of muslims are not the same thing. But fear of Islam has led to the fear of, hatred, and prejudice against muslims for many people. We should all kick against this.

Phobia: An anxiety disorder characterised by extreme and irrational fear of simple things or social situations [Wordnet].