People have been pointing out in comments that there were a good many items in Marc Mulholland’s post that I neglected to mention. True enough. I was short on time, for one thing, and I think I have a sort of built-in idea of the maximum desirable length for a comment here. I don’t like article-length blog posts, on the whole. So I didn’t dispute everything I could have disputed.

And perhaps I didn’t stipulate as much as I could have either. I could have made the same stipulation that Norm does in his post on the subject

There’s a central point in what Marc is saying which I would not contest, and this is that in the tense political climate we all now inhabit, it is important to avoid doing anything to feed ethnic or religious prejudices and hatreds. In so far as Muslims are on the receiving end of these, they must be defended – as would go for any other group.

Sure. Of course. But then it becomes all the more important to get clear about exactly what we’re talking about – about what we mean by ‘groups’ and ‘communities,’ for example. Something Chris Bertram said in comments may illustrate the point:

Perhaps if Mulholland had made his point using the example of true generalization about African-Americans made by certain types of conservative Republican it would have been clear to you.

Yes but that’s not a good analogy, because it’s a different kind of thing from what Mulholland is talking about. What kind of true generalization could one make about African-Americans, after all? Seriously. I can’t think of any – apart from the definitional one: that they are Americans who are at least partly descended from Africans. Go beyond that and there just aren’t any true generalizations available. And the same is true of Muslims, especially given the way the term is usually used, so that it includes secular and atheist ‘Muslims’. It would be pretty risky to generalize even about what all Muslims believe, just as it would be risky to generalize about what all Catholics believe. But Mulholland doesn’t talk only about Muslims or Catholics in his post, he also talks about Islam and Catholicism – and that’s a different subject. Note, just for one thing, that there is no equivalent word that one can use in the case of African-Americans. There is no religion, ‘African-Americanism.’ And if there were, people being what they are, not all African-Americans would agree about it; hence the epistemic as well as moral and political riskiness of saying what all Xs believe. But it is possible to talk about the tenets of Catholicism or Hinduism or Islam. There is still room for debate, but at least there is something to say. Mulholland neglected to make this distinction in his post; I think that’s where a lot of the muddle starts. So, of course I agree with Norm’s point, but (as Norm goes on to point out) Mulholland said far more than that.

The fact that every outlook is an outlook, has a genesis and a social and cultural milieu, no more means that all such outlooks should be taken as equivalently valuable, than does the fact that different explanations of empirical phenomena (like the movement of heavenly bodies or the causes of illnesses) have a genesis and a ‘sociology’ mean that all of these, these would-be explanations, are equivalently valuable. Marc needs to resolve for himself the tension between his seemingly pejorative ‘ahistorical “rights”‘ (with the rights in scare-quotes) and his more favourable ‘generally accords with universal values’. Meanwhile, there are many who will feel that, however the conception of universal rights has made its way in the world historically, it’s a damn sight better as the basis of a political order than are alternative conceptions of things which allow for brutal invasions and oppressions of the human person…Avoiding Islamophobia and every other kind of such phobia has got to be consistent with criticizing various cultural and religious outlooks for the ways in which they victimize or oppress human individuals.

That’s what I’m saying.

Jonathan Derbyshire also has a skeptical post on Mulholland, along with the SWP’s Nazi-Soviet Pact with fundamentalist Islam. (And to think that I used to be a sort of wannabe Trot myself. Well, I have a thing for the Old Man, I admit it.) Jonathan also links to a review of a book on relativism which I haven’t read and clearly need to immediately.

Now, back to the Mulholland piece for a moment. One thing I wanted to comment on yesterday and didn’t, was the question of truth.

Islamaphobia is often defined as slanderous untruths. I think there is an excessively narrow definition of Islamophobia at play here. It is not right that simply stating ‘the truth’ is sufficient to clear one of Islamophobia…If ‘truth’ about a community is expressed intemperately and one-sidedly, and that community is already under a burden of suspicion and disadvantage, then one must conclude that this is a freedom of speech exercised in such a manner to oppress and marginalize the group. I think its a cop-out to argue that attacks on beliefs are different from attacks on inherited characteristics such as colour etc…

Well, again – inevitably – we’re back with definition problems. What does he mean by ‘”truth” about a community’? If he means some statement about all Muslims, then is such a truth even possible? Again, I can’t think of any that wouldn’t be just tautologous. All Muslims are Muslims (and even that would depend on a very broad definition of Muslim, to include some sort of ethnic component, which of course is tricky since Muslims come from all over the globe). Or does he mean (as seems more likely) factual statements about what some Muslims do? But then – what? He wants truths like that to be concealed? So that, even if it is true that, say, a given Muslim man murders his daughter, that fact should be hushed up or played down, in order to avoid Islamophobia? Well…just for one thing, what about the daughter? And what about all the other daughters? They’re part of the ‘community’ too. Maybe they would find it ‘daughterophobic’ to play down daughtericide, and maybe they would have a point. And that’s just for one thing. I think the idea that ‘simply stating “the truth” is [not] sufficient to clear one of Islamophobia’ is a pretty risky idea, both epistemically and morally.

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