This article was penned by a friend and guest writer.
It is no grand task to unpick the arguments of a racist. But the task may be a necessary one, here and now in the UK, where the arguments have become all the more convincing for their being adopted by a near majority (polls show nearly half of Britons think “there are too many Muslims”).
First of all, there needs unpicking the claim that hatred of Muslims is not racist, for Muslims do not constitute a race. In fact, they do – the human race – but forgetting that for the moment (as we often do), the conclusion does not follow the premise necessarily, since it may be that one hates a Muslim because of his race.
Then there are those more cautious racists who, having already perceived the above, claim to only hate Islam, but not hate Muslims. If they were sincere in that, you would see from such proclaimers only the utmost sympathy towards Muslims: Mr Griffin likens Islam to a ‘cancer’, but you do not see from him the same attitude towards cancer victims as you do Muslims.
Racist intellectuals will often argue that the beliefs of Muslims lead to terrorism and violent hatred. The problem here is that not all Muslims believe the same thing. There are almost 3 million Muslims in the UK, and the claim that the beliefs of all of them tend to violence does not cohere with the fact that the vast, vast majority of them are living peaceful lives. Furthermore, if we want to know, it is worth asking them (as we often don’t) if their personal beliefs teach them to be violent.
Islamic beliefs are often used to justify violence though. That much is true, but it does not always mean they were the cause of the violence. Except in rare pathological cases, human beings always provide justifications for their actions. Terrorist incidents conducted in the UK always leave me sceptical that Islam is the main cause rather than a conscious justification, given that the perpetrators always suffer from some unfortunate mental health difficulty, usually as a result of minority disenfranchisement, inferiority complex, difficult childhood environment, abuse or neglect. I do not doubt that there are cases where Islamic beliefs are the cause, and I think those beliefs terrible, but cast your mind back to any terrorist act where a cause was given. Almost always it is a political one – a reaction to another episode of violence (and that’s not to mention the cases where the cause is not consciously known, such as with a mental health ailment). The role religion plays in the process is in part to make the perpetrator feel as though he has the moral high ground, and in part to give him the courage to go all the way. Regardless, there is no racism in hating a certain belief; it is hatred of Muslims we are concerned about in this essay.
To jump to what I expect would be the response of a racist to all I have said, it will be argued that hatred of Muslims is justifiable because Islam is a religion you choose, not a trait you are endowed with; acquired, intellectual beliefs, not inherited characteristics. That is to say then, “I hate the person who chooses those beliefs”. I think it a weak, unjust and superficial excuse for hatred of a person, because it takes no account of the circumstances in which religious beliefs are almost always acquired; in many ways it is more accurate to use the word inherited – and that’s instructive. Religious beliefs are almost inextricably linked to upbringing, which is informed by ethnic origin (sometimes called, confusingly, ‘race’). It is the rare Galileo who finds his way out; few even feel incentive to leave. Suffice it to say, religion is not, for most, an intellectual pursuit. It offers any number of cultural identities, community and counsel, a safe hold for ideals and values, and most of all security from haunting fears. Racist intellectuals often see fit to take the friendliest of Muslim passers-by and pin them to an unattractive passage in a holy book that they have never read, let alone read literally. It’s a lovely way to justify hating an individual, while concealing from oneself the true motive for hurting poor Joe Muslim.
Withstanding a tide of racial sentiment can be tough, and so I would offer the following two exercises as a check. The first is to observe the effects of any given remark or behaviour we might suspect. Behaviour inspired by racist sentiment serves only to alienate and tense, make hostile and defensive, and in the end, if it is allowed to reign unchecked, bring destruction to one of two fictitious camps. The second is to simply take any suspect quote or passage containing the word ‘Muslims’ and replace it with the word ‘Jews’. I’m sure there was a time when replacing the word ‘Jews’ with ‘Christians’ was necessary, but a new scapegoat has emerged, he is usually brown or foreign sounding, and it will take time for us to include him within our all-too-limited bounds of sympathy.