måndag 1 februari 2010

Is Islamophobia racist?

To answer this question it is first necessary to define both Islamophobia and racism. A phobia is an irrational fear, and Islamophobia presumably means irrational fear of Islam. Racism means an irrational dislike of people of another race. Race is difficult to define but it would generally be agreed that people can be classified according to superficial physical characteristics like skin and eye colour. It is by these external features that people would be recognised as members of a particular race. Most of the characteristics of the different races seem to be adaptations to climate and are not something that any reasonable person should find disturbing. Examples of races would be white Europeans, Negroes, Australian Aborigines, etc, although vast numbers of people have a blend of those features which are regarded as racial markers, and indeed large areas of the world are populated by such. Ethnicity, which merges into but is separate from, nationality, is loosely related to race but goes further in extending the distinctiveness to cultural characteristics such as language, customs and possibly religion. Examples of ethnic groups are Tamils, Arabs, Jews and Roma, whilst national groups such as people of Irish or Polish descent tend to be regarded as an ethnic groups. As with plant and animal species, race and ethnicity are loose concepts.

Followers of Islam tend to be members of particular ethnic groups and historically have their origin in the Middle East and Africa. They therefore possess the characteristics of people from those parts of the world. But not all people from those parts of the world are Moslems; large numbers of Arabs are Christian, and both these, and the Jews who formerly lived in Moslem Arab countries, were indistinguishable from their neighbours in every respect apart from their religion and the customs pertaining to those religions.

A choice, not a race
It may be that dislike of Islam is sometimes, possibly often, based on nothing more than racial prejudice. That is to be condemned. But Islam is a body of doctrine and as such, its followers cannot expect their beliefs to be exempt from the same scrutiny as would be applied to other beliefs such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Marxism. Islam is a choice, not a race. Fear of accusations of racism should not be allowed to stifle honest discussion on this subject. It is no more racist to be against the teachings expressed in the Koran than it is to be against those contained in Das Kapital or Mein Kampf.

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Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor Bishop of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton for 23 years ...