Some fears about Islam are entirely rational

Richard Dawkins on the perils of outlawing ‘Islamophobia’.

Richard Dawkins

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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A ‘phobia’ is an irrational fear, as in claustrophobia, agoraphobia or arachnophobia, all conditions deserving of sympathy. But fear can be rational, too. An infantryman in a First World War trench would have every reason to fear going over the top. To accuse him of a ‘phobia’ would be uncharitable, to say the least. An Australian suspected of arachnophobia might point out that spiders with a dangerous bite are not rare. In Britain, there’s much less to fear from spiders, so my fear of them could fairly be called arachnophobia. Is there a group of people who, like Australians in the case of spiders, have good reason to fear certain aspects of Islam? If such a group exists, I suggest it would be found among Muslims themselves.

A gay Muslim living in an Islamic country might have reasonable misgivings. There are nine Muslim countries in which consensual homosexuality carries the death penalty. A Muslim woman in Iran might reasonably fear being arrested by the morality police for showing a tendril of hair. In Pakistan or Britain, she might fear violent reprisals from her father, uncles or brothers if she is suspected of consorting with an unsuitable man. In Somalia, a girl might reasonably fear older female relatives who intend to hold her down and take a razor blade to her clitoris. Not phobia, just justifiable fear. In Saudi Arabia, an unmarried adulterer might reasonably fear the prescribed 100 lashes, while a married adulterer can expect the death penalty.

In Britain, phobia is hardly the right word for any fear Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, might feel. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him. His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.’ A Muslim who is losing his faith would have good reason to fear the penalty for apostasy, which is death. When I taxed Sir Iqbal with this on television, he said, ‘It’s very rarely enforced’. That’s good to hear. But a would-be apostate doesn’t have to be ‘phobic’ to still feel a reasonable fear.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia, which was published in 2018, begins with the statement that it’s a form of racism. In a new paper for the Free Speech Union, Tim Dieppe makes the obvious point that Islam is not a race, and he very well develops the inconsistencies that this remarkable solecism leads to.

I would make one further observation. A religion is something you can convert to, or opt out of. Your race isn’t like that. You can’t convert to a race or leave it. The fact that you can’t leave your race means that, if Islam is indeed a race, apostasy is literally impossible. Yet apostasy has to be possible in Islam or it couldn’t be punishable by death. So the statement that Islamophobia is a form of racism is more than just incorrect. It contradicts a fundamental, and incidentally obnoxious, tenet of Islam.

Here I have not considered the issue of freedom of speech. Tim Dieppe covers it so well that I have nothing to add, except this final thought. If ‘Islamophobia’ becomes punishable by law, will it be illegal to even state, as a matter of fact, that a woman in some Islamic countries can be stoned to death for the crime of speaking to a man other than her husband? Will I be arrested for stating the undenied fact that apostasy carries the death penalty?

If so, bring it on. I look forward to defending myself in court.

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and author. The above is an edited version of his introduction to the Free Speech Union’s latest briefing paper, Banning Islamophobia: Blasphemy Law by the Backdoor.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK


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