The Fruits of Tunisia’s Uprising: An Extraordinary Constitution

 

Tunisia_Constitution

The Fruits of Tunisia’s Uprising: An Extraordinary Constitution

By Garibaldi

Before the Arab Uprisings a narrative almost as well known as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was indoctrinated into the minds of many US and European citizens; the claim that Arabs and Muslims were inclined to tyranny and dictatorship. Columnist David Brooks of the New York Times encapsulated this frame of mind, about Egyptians he wrote, “they don’t have the mental ingredients for democracy.”

Islamophobes were appalled by the uprisings which saw their myths and prejudices regarding “subservient” Arabs and Muslims who either “only know dictatorship or theocracy” fall apart. Bigots such as Deacon Spencer were quick to claim that these nations would quickly be living inIranian-style theocracies.

While the uprisings and revolutions have faltered or are continuing at varied paces in most of the nations that have seen uprisings, the country that birthed the momentous wave of protest and upheaval, Tunisia, has achieved a tremendous milestone: a Constitution through consensus and hard, political work.

Tunisia was well placed for this achievement, considering its history of Constitutionalism,

Tunisia was the first Arab country ever to draft its own constitution – the qanoon al-dawla al-tunisiyya, or ‘law of the Tunisian state’ – which came into force in 1861.”

The process took two years, every jot and tittle was fought over and at times the impasse between the secularist opposition and the Ennahda led government seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster and all out chaos: a happy prospect for those who have a seething hate for Arabs, Muslims and Islam and cheer on whenever they see disorder.

The naysayers were disappointed when the Ennahda led coalition and Nida Tounes negotiated a deal under the auspices of civil society organizations that paved the way for: a resignation of the government, a completion to the Constitution and an interim care-taker government of technocrats until fresh elections will be held later this year.

So what happened when Tunisia passed its constitution? Wallah! The praise has come in from all quarters: The New York TimesFrance24The EconomistThe Washington PostFox News, etc. had forgotten their age old prejudices and “congratulated” Tunisians.

Equally as important as the Constitution is to Tunisians it is also an example to the nations in the region. It shows that if one is ready to negotiate, compromise, to see beyond the simplistic demonizations of one’s opponent, you can overcome religious, ethnic, ideological and political divisions.

The outcome is a document that the vast majority of Tunisians have unanimously accepted and, crucially, has popular legitimacy.

The document isn’t perfect and contains some self-contradictions that highlight fissures and insecurities in Tunisian society. For instance what does it mean to protect ‘freedom of conscience and speech’ and at the same time outlaw takfir (declaring a Muslim to be a non-Muslim)? What does it mean for the state to ensure the “neutrality of mosques” and “protect sanctities?”

On the other hand it is a document that is confident in its identity, history and heritage, enshrines freedom of religion, conscience, individual rights, minority rights, gender parity, and a separation of powers.

It rivals any constitution in ambition and scope, and is more progressive in several ways than our own 226 year-old US Constitution that still contains outdated language stating for instance that slaves are the equivalent of “3/5ths” of a full vote. A few years ago the Congressional reading of the Constitution omitted this section which caused some right-wingers, like Glenn Beck, to throw a fit. Maybe it’s time we had another Constitutional convention ourselves?

The future for Tunisia is still wide open and by no means have Tunisians arrived at a moment in which the aims of their uprising have been fully realized,

Measured against the aims of the revolution, the constitution can be said to have met a number of key expectations. But for those in the marginalized parts of the country, seeking tangible improvement in their social and economic situation, the constitution is not going to do that-not immediately at least-and, in truth, does not guarantee it on the long-run. The state, in Article 12, promises no more than “striving to,” rather than the much demanded “commits to” achieve regional balance within the framework of positive discrimination.

The hope is that the spirit of negotiation, determination and compromise will continue until those aims are reached. However, what can be said is that despite tremendous pressures from the West, regional neighbors and fissures within Tunisian society, Tunisians have made it happen — and that is something not only to congratulate but to emulate.

Video: Tunisia Gets New Constitution

Zionism and Islamophobia: Initial Encounters with Islam and Muslims

by Garibaldi

Introduction

This is the first in a series of articles that will discuss the relationship between Zionism and Islamophobia. The impetus for this series is what many have already observed:

1.) Islamophobic polemics within trends of Zionism, the preponderance of Zionists within the Islamophobia movement, the usage of Israeli state symbols and the symbiotic relationship between anti-Muslim groups in the USA and Israel are a present-day reality.

2.) There is a confused and malformed understanding amongst some individuals of Zionism on the one hand and its relationship to Islamophobia. Zionism is not understood in its proper historical context: Why did it form? How has it evolved? What is its effect on Jewish and world history? What is its relationship with the ‘other’?

Some who are confronted with the present day reality of Zionist Islamophobia are in denial of its very existence while others propose answers to the aforementioned questions not based on facts but rather emotional, even hysterical inaccuracies and conspiracies.

The Zionist relationship with Islamophobia enmeshes the discussion of racism, nationalism, human rights and the liberation struggle of Palestinians. It will be the task of this series to clarify these concepts and provide a much-needed dose of realism to any analysis of the subject, beyond the histrionics that can at once serve as a distraction and muddle our conscience.

Initial Encounters with Islam and Muslims

“[T]he Zionist view of Palestine has always considered all Palestinians without regard to class, creed, or locations, as bodies either to be removed or ignored (if possible); and on the other hand, that the Palestinian opposition to Zionist settler-colonialism was a national struggle, enlisting, as it did, segments of political life (in various complex ways of course).” (Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims by Edward W. Said, p.10)

The quote from Edward Said accentuates an obvious truth that is important for us to comprehend from the outset: Zionists could care less what creed Palestinians followed. Ever since the publication ofTheodor Herzl‘s (1860-1904) Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) and the First Zionist Congress (1897) Zionists have organized their collective energy on colonizing the land of Palestine, then a territory under Ottoman control.

The fact that a majority of Palestinians followed Islam was generally inconsequential to Zionist aims. Indeed, if the majority of Palestinians had been Hindu we may very well be discussing Zionism and Hinduphobia today.

While it is true that Zionists were not concerned with Islam as such it is vital to investigate what the early ideologues of modern Zionism had to say about Islam and Muslims; at the very least noting to what extent this has a bearing on how contemporary Zionists relate to Islam and how this relationship has developed over the years.

A necessary overview of the history of Zionism will be the subject of the next article in this series but suffice it to say that Zionism formed in the milieu of 19th century European nationalism, in the heyday of Imperialism, Colonialism–and renewed Antisemitism. Considering that Zionism was a product of 19th century Europe, it is reasonable to presume, and has served as the thesis of several historians that the Orientalist worldview with its inherent biases and prejudices pervaded the Zionist view as well.

Influence of the Jewish Golden Age

One important caveat is that there was amongst 19th century Jews Islamophile trends and a recognition of a Jewish Golden Age under Muslim rule, particularly in medieval Andalusia. Jewish historians such as the early Zionist Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) were prominent advocates of an idealized version of the Jewish Golden Age, a history that Graetz and others used to serve as a rebuke to the Christian European treatment of Jews.

In this regard there is a glimpse into the attitude of the most pivotal leader of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, a mercurial figure whose tactics in the Ottoman Empire were well known. One would think his interaction with the Sublime Porte (the seat of Ottoman authority) would reveal much in the way of his view on Islam and Muslims, however it does not.

200px-Spanishhaggadah

It is in Herzl’s Utopian novel titled, Altneuland,(Old-New Land), that we see some semblance of his views on the subject. Herzl portrayed the Arab characters such as Rashid Bey in a patronizing manner, characterizing them as being grateful to the Jewish immigrants for the “immense benefit” they have brought to the land’s Arab residents. In an echo to Graetz’s work we see Herzl describing Bey as regaling visitors to the land on the “tolerance demonstrated by the Arabs toward Jewish immigration, in the best tradition of Muslim society, which was always more tolerant of the Jews than Christian Europe.”

Another anecdote highlights that the Golden Age views were also imparted on the likes of a youngYigal Allon Paicovitch (1918-1980). In a biography on Allon’s life we are told that Allon viewed Christianity with suspicion, as an age-old persecutor of the Jewish people whereas he did not have similar “misgivings” about Islam and Muslims,

“In Allon’s imagination the Crusades were so tied to the Inquisition that when he traveled to Nazareth with his father he was careful not to bend down near a church lest it be understood as kneeling before the cross. He had no such misgivings about Islam, having learned in school that Muslims were tolerant of Jews, with the emphasis on Spain’s Golden Age.” (Yigal Allon, Native Son: A Biography by Anita Shapira p.33)

Allon who would later become the commander of the Haganah’s Palmach (strike force) between 1945-1948. During the 1948 war, he commanded several military operations (i.e. Operation Yiftah, Dani, and Yoav), and he became famous for being one of the engines behind cleansing the most populated Palestinian areas (i.e. Lydda, Ramla, Safad, Hebron hills, Faluja pocket).

Palestinian Muslims: the descendants of ancient Hebrew farmers

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), one of the ‘founding fathers of Israel’ was a hawkish advocate of the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinian Arabs, who stated, “We must expel Arabs and take their places.” (Ben Gurion and the Palestine Arabs: From Peace to War by Shabti Zeveth, p.189)

Interestingly, in Ben-Gurion’s On the Origin of the Falahin he held the view, to be repeated later in his life (in a letter to Charles De Gaulle), that Palestinian Muslim farmers were descendants of ancient Hebrew farmers and that “much Jewish blood flows in their veins.” He describes Palestinian embrace of Islam as a “travesty of [the] times,”

The agricultural community that the Arabs found in Eretz Israel in the 7th century was none other than the Hebrew farmers that remained on their land despite all the persecution and oppression of the Roman and Byzantine emperors. Some of them accepted Christianity, at least on the surface, but many held on to their ancestral faith and occasionally revolted against their Christian oppressors. After the Arab conquest, the Arabic language and Muslim religion spread gradually among the countrymen. In his essay “Ancient Names in Palestine and Syria in Our Times,” Dr. George Kampmeyer proves, based on historico-linguistic analysis, that for a certain period of time, both Aramaic and Arabic were in use and only slowly did the former give way to the latter.
The greater majority and main structures of the Muslim falahin in western Eretz Israel present to us one racial strand and a whole ethnic unit, and there is no doubt that much Jewish blood flows in their veins—the blood of those Jewish farmers, “lay persons,” who chose in the travesty of times to abandon their faith in order to remain on their land.  (Leverur Motsa Ha’FalahimLuach Achiezer, pp. 118-27, reprinted in Anachnu U’Shcheneinu, pp. 13-25.)

There is an apparent contradiction in Ben-Gurion’s statement that Arabic and Islam spread gradually and that Jewish farmers embraced Islam “in order to remain on their land.” The former implies a conscious and free conversion over a period of time and the latter forced conversion. Ben-Gurion’s 1967 letter to De Gaulle would indicate that he advocated the idea of forced conversion.

In either case, Ben-Gurion’s statement is highly interesting in light of the work of Israeli historianShlomo Sand,

Countering official Zionist historiography, Sand questions whether the Jewish People ever existed as a national group with a common origin in the Land of Israel/Palestine. He concludes that the Jews should be seen as a religious community comprising a mishmash of individuals and groups that had converted to the ancient monotheistic religion but do not have any historical right to establish an independent Jewish state in the Holy Land. In short, the Jewish People, according to Sand, are not really a “people” in the sense of having a common ethnic origin and national heritage. They certainly do not have a political claim over the territory that today constitutes Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem.

Sand’s work also concludes that the progenitors of the Palestinian Arabs were the ancient Jews.

This raises numerous questions: if Ben-Gurion held that many of the “Muslim falahin” were descendants of indigenous Jews why didn’t this factor into his ideology and how did he square this with advocating their expulsion? According to his own ideology aren’t Palestinians more entitled to live in their ancient homeland than European settlers? Do not the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homeland?

One can also see the kind of disdain which Ben Gurion held for the “spirit of the Levant” in popular views that he and many fellow Zionists expressed in regard to “Eastern/Sephardic Jews,”

Ben Gurion…described the Sephardi immigrants as lacking even “the most elementary knowledge” and “without a trace of Jewish or human education.” Ben Gurion repeatedly expressed contempt for the culture of the Oriental Jews: “We do not want Israelis to become Arabs. We are in duty bound to fight against the spirit of the Levant, which corrupts individuals and societies, and preserve the authentic Jewish values as they crystallized in the Diaspora.”…Ben Gurion who called the Moroccan Jews “savages” at a session of a Knesset Committee, and who compared Sephardim, pejoratively (and revealingly), to the Blacks brought to the United States as slaves, at times went so far as to question the spiritual capacity and even the Jewishness of the Sephardim. (Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victimsby Ella Shohat, p.4-5)

Imagine, if these were Ben Gurion’s views about the “Oriental Jew,” how much more magnified was his animus towards native Arabs and Muslims?

Exorcising the Islamic Soul From Palestine

Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) the founder of the Revisionist movement within Zionism was perhaps the most explicitly unabashed and hawkish modern Zionist proponent of colonialism, racism and expulsion; central subjects in many of his writings and speeches. Jabotinsky is most famous for his exposition of the “Iron Wall” ideology that no compromise with the Palestinians was possible. Revisionism would eventually spawn the Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists which made names for themselves by using terrorism against innocent civilians.

Lenni Brenner, writing in 1984 noted that Revisionism, once considered the lunatic fringe of Zionism“is now the dominant ideological tendency in present-day Zionism.” (The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism From Jabotinsky to Shamir by Lenni Brenner)

I would argue that this holds true today as well (and add Religious Zionism is on the rise), as we have seen with the administrations of Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and high profile politicians such as Avigdor Lieberman and others.

Jabotinsky’s views were quite emphatic in their degradation of Arab society, especially Muslim society: here he responds in a vitriolic manner to Max Nordau’s (1849-1923) statement that Muslims and Jews share a kinship,

“When he [Jabotinsky] approached Nordau during the war about the establishment of a Jewish legion which was to fight against the Turks, he was told, ‘But you cannot do that, the Muslims are kin to the Jews, Ishmael was our uncle.’ ‘Ishmael is not our uncle’ Jabotinsky replied. ‘We belong thank God, to Europe and for two thousand years have helped to create the culture of the west.’” (A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel by Walter Laqueur, p. 228)

In his famous “Iron Wall,” Jabotinsky alludes to his belief in the deficient “spirituality” of Palestinian Arabs,

“Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will” (Iron Wall by Jabotinsky)

A theme in Jabotinsky’s views is his emphasis that Jewishness is opposed to the East and a “part of the West,” (of course he is speaking only of European and American Jews and completely ignoring Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews), he also alludes to Islam as some sort of demonic spirit that must be exorcized from “Eretz-Yisrael,”

“We Jews, thank God, have nothing to do with the East. . . . The Islamic soul must be broomed out of Eretz-Yisrael. . . . [Muslims are] yelling rabble dressed up in gaudy, savage rags.” (Expulsion of the Palestinians by Nur Masalha, p.29)

Anti-Judaism as Anti-Islam

Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), one the founders of Brit Shalom, was a proponent of warped racial theories and eugenics who despite his bi-national views still supported the expulsion or in the euphemism of his day “transfer” of Palestinians. Ruppin, like many of his peers and contemporaries was very severe in his criticism of traditional Judaism. In Ruppin’s view Judaism’s main fault is that it is “similar to Islam,” in that it is supposedly anti-intellectual, opposed to criticism and modern science.

Ruppin explained the success of Hassidut as a result of the hard material conditions of the Jews in Eastern Europe: “The spiritual energy of the Jewish people created an imaginary world when the real world was lost to him.” This was the reason the Jews took refuge in the mysticism and superstition offered them by the Hassidic Rabbis.

As already mentioned, Ruppin’s views concerning the Jewish religion were identical to those of Haeckal and Bismark regarding Catholic clericalism. Ruppin, indeed, saw a similarity between Judaism and Catholicism since both of them he believed, were based on prayer, and from that concluded that, like Catholicism, Judaism was still anthropomorphic. However, the most important fault he saw in Judaism was its similarity to Islam. Jewish Orthodoxy and Islam had the same type of faith, a “blind faith,” which did not permit any critical doubts and rejected all the discoveries of modern science. These characteristics differentiated them from “the protestant skeptic type of faith of our times.” What defined the Jewish worldview, according to Ruppin, was its lack of skepticism, its fear of any doubt and its inability to cope with conflicting thoughts: “As soon as he begins to doubt, his fate is sealed, his secession from orthodoxy is a necessary result. The skeptic will never more be a pious Jew.” (Arthur Ruppin and the Production of Pre-Israeli Culture by Etan Bloom p. 79)

These views are, to say the least, overly simplistic and presumptuous, disregarding the variegated and complex nature of both Judaism and Islam.

Judah Leon Magnes

Judah Leon Magnes (1877-1948), a prominent American born Reform Rabbi, was a life-long pacifist, proponent of a bi-national state and vocal critic of attempts to create an exclusive “Jewish state.” Towards the end of his life, in 1948, he withdrew from the AJJDC for ignoring his plea to help Palestinian refugees.

Rabbi Magnes no doubt wrote the following with good intentions,

“It is in derogation of the actual importance of the living Jewish people and of Judaism to place them on one side of the scale and have it balanced by the relatively unimportant Arab community of Palestine. The true parallels and balancing forces are Jews and Judaism on the one side, and the Arab peoples and even all of Islam on the other. In this way you get a truer perspective of the whole and you increase the significance of Palestine as being that point where in this new day Judaism meets Islam again throughout all its confines, as once they met centuries back to the ultimate enrichment of human culture.” (Like other Nations? retrieved from The Zionist Ideaed. by Arthur Hertzberg p.447)

Magnes attempts to relay a hopeful and positive vision of the future in which Judaism and Islam meet together “to the ultimate enrichment of human culture,” but one cannot help but also note the glaring condescension towards Palestinians, crassly described as the “relatively unimportant Arab community of Palestine.”

Religious Zionism

Religious elements, both Orthodox and Reform were generally late to join the political Zionist caravan which was led mostly by secular and non-religious Jews. In time however the religious sects would, with notable exceptions, reconcile themselves to Zionism through compromise and accommodation with the state of Israel.

Instrumental in this process was the main ideologue of modern Religious Zionism, Rabbi Abraham Itzhak Kook (1865-1935).

“Kook saw Zionism as a part of a divine scheme which would result in the resettlement of the Jewish people in its homeland. This would bring salvation (“Geula”) to Jews, and then to the entire world. After world harmony is achieved by the refoundation of the Jewish homeland, the Messiah will come.”

Historically Judaism’s relationship with Islam and attitude towards Muslims has been unique. Maimonides formulated the decisive majority opinion that Islam like Judaism was definitely a monotheistic faith, this had all sorts of repercussions for Halacha (Jewish law). For instance Jews could worship in a mosque whereas they could not worship in a church, Jews could take benefit from wine handled by a Muslim whereas they could not by a Christian.

While Islam was viewed as special this should not mislead us into the relativist belief that Judaism advanced some sort of Perennialist theology. Indeed, like all religions Judaism in its Orthodox form is exclusivist, especially when it comes to the ‘Promised Land.’

In fact there are sources within Orthodox Judaism that can be used to dehumanize the non-Jew, to view and treat the non-Jew as inferior and unequal. We have witnessed many such cases in the past few decades with the rise and expansion of extremist Jewish fundamentalism in Israel.

Early modern Religious Zionists were not immune from expressing such racist views. Rabbi Kook has been quoted as saying that the souls of non-Jews are inferior “in all different levels” to that of Jews. (Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel by Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, p. xix)*

In the wrong hands such attitudes can reinforce the mentality and culture that produces and celebrates terrorists such as Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, that offers no compromise when it comes to dismantling and evicting settlements and reaching a just solution to apartheid occupation.

Reconciliation?

I believe it is appropriate lastly to cite Yitzhak Epstein (1862-1943), one of the few Zionists who was a Palestinian. Epstein lived with Bedouins for eight months, an experience that led him to publish two books in Hebrew on Bedouins. At the same time he worked in intelligence gathering for the Jewish Agency Political Department and became a leading “Arab specialist.”

Epstein uttered what I believe are prophetic words regarding his belief that Zionists must reconcile themselves to the “peoples of Islam.”

“We must reconcile ourselves to all the peoples of Islam; if we don’t we are lost.”(Palestine Jewry and the Arab Question by Neil Caplan)

If one were to ask if such a reconciliation has been reached today the question would be treated as rhetorical, as present day circumstances reveal the answer to be a resounding “no.” The question is why is this the case? Why are so many Zionists today violently opposed to Islam and Muslims, in fact holding onto the belief and strategy of a war with Islam? (This will be answered in a future article in this series).

Conclusion

This article has not exhausted the topic of the initial encounters between modern Zionism, Islam and Muslims, for instance I have not discussed the work of Zionist authors such as Moshe Smilansky(1874-1953) who wrote a number of novels involving Arabs and Muslims. It does however uncover what I feel are fairly representative views from a wide spectrum of currents; Socialist, Revisionist and Religious–including very influential leaders of Zionism.

It is helpful in the context of the period discussed in this article to speak about Zionism in relationship to the paradigm of Orientalism, in fact there is a wealth of historical literature on this topic over the past few decades. The imagination of Zionist literature, film, ideology and political policy has been infused with Orientalisms of one variety or another from the very beginning,

“Several writers on Israel and its neighbors have suggested in recent years ways to apply Edward Said’s fascinating thesis on the connection between Orientalism as a profession and deep-seated anti-Islamic attitudes in the West in general. Aziza Khazum has shown how the history of the Jewish people in modern times can fruitfully be described as a continuous series of “Orientalizations,” that is, an elite trying to block the advance of an upcoming minority group by dubbing it “Oriental,” meaning devoid of “real” culture and hence not worthy of equal treatment. Ella Shohat has applied the same idea to the history of early Zionist films, where the Arab is depicted as a brutal and cultureless creature whose objection to Zionism lacks rational grounding. Said himself first analyzed Orientalism as a cultural outgrowth of the West and then started to apply that idea to the Zionist venture itself.” (Zionism, Orientalism and the Palestinians by Haim Gerber, p.1)

I have not in any depth covered the deep racism against the indigenous Palestinian Arabs, seeking to separate that out from views regarding Islam and Muslims; at times it is not possible, as the two are interwoven. What we have then are attitudes that comport to well known bigoted Orientalist racism, stereotypes, prejudices, and a few romanticized notions of the ‘other.’

The view of many of the early leading Zionists is a reaffirmation of the presumed ontological distinction between West and East, i.e. that the very being of Western Jews is essentially different than that of the Palestinian Arabs and Muslims.

*I want to point out clearly that I in no way support Shahak’s bigotry against Judaism. I am only leaving up the citation since the quote by R. Abraham Kook is authentic.

“Islamophobia” is not a Neologism Anymore–it’s Mainstream

Islamophobia definition
Islamophobia

“It isn’t Islamophobia when they really are trying to kill you!,” goes the oft quoted refrain of Islam haters when their bigotry and wild-eyed conspiracy theories are brought to the fore. Setting aside the inherent prejudice implied by the usage of “they,” the heart of the quote is, Islamophobia.

The first occurrence of the term Islamophobia “appeared in an essay by the Orientalist Etienne Dinet in L’Orient vu de l’Occident (1922),” however it did not enter into “common parlance” until the early 90′s.

“Islamophobia”, like many other words in the English language is imperfect and hence subject to criticism. This criticism however does not mean, as some suggest, that it should be discarded and a new word or phrase take its place.

Islamophobia is not as contested a term as it once was, especially since the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, (Thanks Pamela???). Before the controversy there was much discussion on whether Islamophobia was a term that was imprecisely applied to a wide range of phenomena, from “xenophobia to anti-terrorism.”

The fog on one portion of this debate has been lifted, if not since the Islamophobiapalooza (to quote Jon Stewart) of 2010, then certainly since the killing spree by anti-Muslim/anti-socialist terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. It is clear that there are a lot of unfounded and completely bats**t crazy, *cough*, I mean irrational and unreasonable beliefs about Islam and Muslims in the world today.

It is also clearer that a certain segment of critics of the term Islamophobia always had nefarious intentions. Under the guise of the labels “anti-terrorism” and “pro-freedom” they trumped up an Islamic threat that would emerge like the Borg and conquer the Western world, either spectacularly or slowly over a period of many years. The Islamophobesphere, led by the likes of Robert Spencer’s JihadWatch, Pamela Geller’s AtlasShrugs, Fjordman’s Gates of Vienna, Daniel PipesMiddleEastForum and backed by billionaires such as Aubrey Chernick coalesced into an organized trans-Atlantic anti-Muslim movement that inspired Breivik and will inspire more like him.

Islamophobia is a phobia? Does it Matter?

The supposedly still not-so-clear part about this debate concerns the breakdown of the term Islamophobia. Is Islamophobia a phobia? Does Islamophobia as a descriptor of an existing phenomenon need to be an actual phobia in the same sense as the psychological traumas of arachnophobia, xenophobia or acrophobia? Is the term Islamophobia too vague?

According to Dr. Jalees Rehman, ‘Islamophobia’ is not a phobia. He quips that there is a danger that “without a reasonable effort to delineate what is and what is not ‘Islamophobia’, this term could be easily used to stigmatize or suppress legitimate criticisms of Muslim society, culture or theology.”

This is not necessarily true, there is a fair amount of effort to delineate “what is and what is not ‘Islamophobia.’” We do it on our site all the time (this seems to be true of other sites that tackle Islamophobia as well). As many of our authors have pointed out “mere criticism of Islam and Muslims” is not at issue, what crosses the line into Islamophobia is irrational and unreasonable beliefs, statements or actions directed at Islam and Muslims.

For instance stopping the construction of a Mosque may or may not be Islamophobic. In some cases it may really be a zoning issue, or as in the scenario of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the attempt by opponents of the mosque to have it stopped by declaring the site a “Landmark” was based on their irrational belief that the developers were building a “victory mosque.”

The argument also suffers because the same could be said of other terms that describe hateful phenomena. We are not going to stop using anti-Semitism because some fail to delineate “what is and what is not ‘anti-Semitism.’” Or because the term excludes Semites who are non-Jews.

The other part of Dr. Rehman’s critique of Islamophobia regards the psychiatric concept of “phobia”:

[a]nother troubling aspect of this neologism is the fact that it invokes the psychiatric concept of “phobia”. Phobias fall under the category of anxiety disorders and describe pathological fears; while many know the term from the infamous expression “arachnophobia” (pathological fear of spiders), many different types of phobias have been observed in patients. The standard manual of the American Psychiatric Association is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR) and refers to “Specific Phobia” as a,

“Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).”

There are additional criteria that characterize a phobia, but I find the following one extremely interesting: “The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable for discussing the term.”

This is the strongest portion of Dr. Rehman’s critique though it misses the point. Is the Islamophobes fear of Islam “marked” and “persistent,” is it “cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation?” Does “the person recognize that the fear is excessive or unreasonable?”

According to Dr. Rehman, “anti-Muslim fears, hostility or prejudice do not really constitute a ‘phobia’ in the psychiatric sense.”

Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg in their book, Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, on the other hand seem to remark that though Islamophobia is not a “phobia” in the strict psychological sense it nevertheless is a reflection of a social anxiety,

Islamophobia: “anxiety of Islam”? Can this really be compared to individual psychological traumas such as acrophobia, arachnophobia or xenophobia? The authors believe that “Islamophobia” accurately reflects a social anxiety toward Islam and Muslim cultures that is largely unexamined by, yet deeply ingrained in, Americans. Instead of arising from traumatic personal experiences, like its more psychological cousins, this phobia results for most from distant social experiences, that mainstream American culture has perpetuated in popular memory, which are in turn buttressed by a similar understanding of current events. (p.5)

There is another reason to differentiate Islamophobia from the strict psychological connotations of phobia that has hitherto not been mentioned in the discussion. Phobias such as arachnophobia are uncontrolled, and it is not something that the one who suffers from really enjoys. However Islamophobia, in many instances, especially the organized variety is motivated.

Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Anders Behring Breivik, Geert Wilders, the EDL, SIOA and others are motivated by a hate for Islam and its practitioners. They are motivated by the romantic notion that they are a select group of superheroes who are saving Western Civilization from Muslim domination, and they hope in the process to become famous (and rich) in their cause.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, the discussion of whether or not Islamophobia is a phobia in a psychiatric sense misses the point. The discussion borders on the pedantic since the term Islamophobia is by now understood to refer to irrational and unreasonable beliefs, statements and actions directed toward Islam and Muslims. The line that distinguishes “Islamophobia” from “criticism” of Islam and Muslims is self-evident.

Furthermore, “Islamophobia” has crossed the threshold of acceptability into the mainstream, and in those instances in which their may be vagueness, employing “anti-Muslim” or “anti-Muslim Islamophobia” suffices to describe the phenomenon. Rather than get bogged down in trivial semantics or useless details, let us remember that language is never perfect. When a word organically captures the sense and reality of an existing phenomenon, as is the case with “Islamophobia,” it is important to understand its imperfections but not to be distracted from all it offers.

The Great Blog Wars: Andrew Bostom vs. Robert Spencer

Happier times, Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer

Happier times, Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer

Wow. How the mighty have fallen. It might be too early to call it the end but it looks like ex-booze buddies Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer are at each others throats. Bostom is accusing Spencer of plagiarism, and Spencer is replying that he is “miffed” by the accusation.

The sorry fact is that both of them plagiarize from Orientalists who have made the same arguments and presented the same research centuries ago.

Spencer wrote on his blog yesterday in reference to Bostom,

Department of Corrections: No plagiarism

It is a shame that this kind of thing has to be done, but occasionally it must.

A certain writer claims that I plagiarized his work. He presents no direct evidence (i.e., textual comparison) to support his claim, and that is because he cannot do so: I have not plagiarized his work, or anyone else’s.

The above is a reply to Bostom’s withering attack on Spencer’s theft of his work. Bostom refers to Spencer as the “little king,” and “swine.”

The Little King

This fine morning, what did I see?

Little King Plagiarist, running behind, desperately…to plagiarize me.

From here (mostly)herehereetc.etc.etc.

Update: The Little King Doth Protest My Original Posting

According to Webster, there is no doubt The Little King “plagiarized,” and therefore is a “plagiarist.”

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plagiarize

transitive verb: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source intransitive verb : to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

The plagiarism, and accompanying complete lack of attribution are so obvious one need go no further than review Jihad Watch postings by The Little King himself, from 2007 and 2008

The Little King posted my review/essay on “Jihad and Jew Hatred,” and subsequent debate with Matthias Kuntzel—the earliest and most definitive debunking of the bizarre, ahistorical “Nazi-origins” of Islamic Antisemitism (and modern jihad) theory,  in December, 2007

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2007/12/kuntzel-vs-bostom-on-islamic-antisemitism-print.html

One can also simply go to Jihad Watch and see the following extensive material on the Antisemtic motifs in the Koran, hadith, and sira drawn from the opening survey of The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism from two essays posted there by The Little King in 2008:

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2008/04/antisemitism-in-the-hadith-and-early-muslim-biographies-of-muhammad-motifs-and-manifestations.html

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2008/04/antisemitism-in-the-quran-motifs-and-historical-manifestations.html

Update 2. Oy vey, this is tedious and obnoxious! Some important clarification is required to jog the Little King’s apparently lapsed memories. Here gentle reader you will find it edifying to go online and read a copy of The Little King’s “Religion of Peace,” published in 2007. On pp. 125-126, he uses a block quote from Lawrence Wright’s, The Looming Tower, that has also appeared in some of my essays, and in “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.” But who does the Little King himself cite as his source for this Wright quote?  Proceed to the citation for the reference (ref. 80) to this quote on p. 232 of “The Religion of Peace” and you will see this: “Quoted in Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, 2007” Now my Islamic Antisemitism book was delayed in publication till 2008, but Little King was given an advance copy manuscript that he read, and it provided him with the Wright quote and six other sources for that chapter, including primary sources, which are cited on pp. 232-233 of his 2007 book.

Apparently Little King is now claiming I got the Wright quote from him!

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2010/04/department-of-corrections.html#comment-664221

“My (i.e., Little King’s) April 21 article is a chapter from my 2007 book “Religion of Peace?”. If Bostom used the quote from “Looming Tower” in a 2009 piece, he got it from me (i.e., Little King).”

At least as egregious, is this unattributed material which comes from The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, (pp. 259-260):

Notably, Maimonides directed that Jews could teach rabbinic law to Christians, but not to Muslims. For Muslims, he said, will interpret what they are taught “according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [F]or this reason … they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them.” But the Christians, he said, “admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact”–as opposed to the Islamic view that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their scriptures. Christians, continued Maimonides,” do not find in their religious law any contradiction with ours.”

Indeed, Spencer quotes and paraphrases without attribution from, specifically, footnote 222 of a magisterial 70 pp. 1937 essay by Georges Vajda on the Antisemitic motifs in the hadith. My first time English translation of Vajda’s unique, seminal work required both French and Hebrew text translations of contents within this single, complex footnote.

And I will cast no more pearls before such “royal” swine.

Hilarious. I love how nasty these Islamophobes get with one another when they turn on each other.
Spencer continued to comment,

Well folks, sit back with a bag of popcorn and enjoy the fireworks. Who knows maybe Barack Obama can bring the two back together over some beers on the White House lawn.