The systematic demonisation of Muslims has become an important part of the central narrative of the British political and media class; it is so entrenched, so much part of normal discussion, that almost nobody notices. Protests go unheard and unnoticed.
No it hasn’t; no it isn’t; no they don’t.
As a community, British Muslims are relatively powerless. There are few Muslim MPs, there has never been a Muslim cabinet minister, no mainstream newspaper is owned by a Muslim and, as far as we are aware, only one national newspaper has a regular Muslim columnist on its comment pages, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown of The Independent.
What does it mean to be powerless as a community? What is a community? Who decides? What is not a community? Who decides that? How many dentist MPs are there? Has there ever been an engineer cabinet minister? Is any mainstream newspaper owned by a computer programmer? Or what about chess players? Fans of Herodotus? Bird watchers?
Why are people supposed to be powerful as a community and what does that mean and who decides and what are the criteria? Is it possible that this way of thinking is stupid and parochial and ill-advised? Swap ‘Christian’ for ‘Muslim’ and it can look downright insane. So why is it any saner when used of a different religion? Why is it considered right-on to conflate one religion with a ‘community’ when it’s not at all right-on to conflate a different religion with a ‘community’? Or, in short, why don’t people think about what they’re saying?
Islamophobia – defined in 1997 by the landmark report from the Runnymede Trust as “an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination” – can be encountered in the best circles: among our most famous novelists, among newspaper columnists, and in the Church of England.
That’s the key move, of course, but it’s also the stupidest. The landmark report from the Runnymede Trust can define any old thing any old way it wants to; that doesn’t make it a valid definition; and people have been pointing out and pointing out and pointing out that that’s a bad and deceitful and misleading definition. If you want a word for ‘an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims’ then it would have to be Muslimophobia, not Islamophobia; Islamophobia means – this is too obvious even to say, but there’s the Mail columnist (eh?) getting it wrong – dread and dislike of Islam.
Its appeal is wide-ranging. “I am an Islamophobe,” the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote in The Independent nearly 10 years ago. “Islamophobia?” the Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle asks rhetorically in the title of a recent speech, “Count me in”. Imagine Liddle declaring: “Anti-Semitism? Count me in”, or Toynbee claiming she was “an anti-Semite and proud of it”.
No, no, no, no, no, no. Bad Peter Oborne. No. It’s not the same thing, it’s not comparable, it’s not parallel. Surely you understand that. Islam is a religion, with particular ideas and rules; we are all allowed to dislike it. Semitism is not a religion. Don’t. be. silly.
Its practitioners say Islamophobia cannot be regarded as the same as anti-Semitism because the former is hatred of an ideology or a religion, not Muslims themselves. This means there is no social, political or cultural protection for Muslims: as far as the British political, media and literary establishment is concerned the normal rules of engagement are suspended.
No it doesn’t. It’s quite common to distinguish between Muslims and Islam. Go play war games with your Martin Amis and Ian McEwan dolls.