What’s up with all the Islamophobia?

I have a fear of heights.  This fear makes it hard for me even to climb ladders. I know it sounds silly and irrational but that is what fears often are – irrational.  Yes, some fears are valid and they do serve a purpose – for example a fear for snakes and spiders as some of these truly pose a danger to humans.

But many fears are hard to justify or accept, especially when they affect  our relationships with other people.  One such unhelpful fear is Islamophobia (recall that phobia comes from a Greek word for fear).   This phenomenon entails a distrust of all things Muslims and a belief that Islam is inherently linked to terrorism.

Islamophobia manifests itself in many ways.  Some people are calling for a ban on Muslim immigration (a la Donald Trump) and polls in Australia show similar sentiments.  Others lash out immaturely by vandalising posters as has happened at the University of Calgary.  In Belgian a recent poll showed that 17% of Flemings think Islam should be banned in their country.  Don’t get me started on what is posted online.

Phobias of course come from somewhere.  Humans have a knack of fearing the other.  We in Canada have a checkered past, whether it is our treatment of the Chinese during the building of the transnational railroad and the imposition of the head tax or our internment of Ukrainians and Japanese during the world wars.  We fear what we think poses a threat to us whether or not that threat is real.

The current wave of Islamophobia did not arrive in a vacuum.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and all the other events since that time have made people afraid that this violence will come to them, to their towns.  There is no doubt that terrorism is real and that we must confront it, but the perception of the terrorist threat is widely disproportionate to reality.

And yet Islamophobia continues.  More worryingly, it has deleterious effects on our society.  It says to Muslims that they are not part of Canada and not wanted.  It leads on some occasions to serious violence against innocent people.  Furthermore, while I am skeptical that it plays a significant role in the violent radicalisation process, it nevertheless makes Muslims less open to talking about terrorism and even less likely to cooperate with authorities to identify the few who really are terrorists.  And without the assistance of communities to identify those on the path to terrorism our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies will have their work cut out for them.

There are other reasons to challenge Islamophobia.  It goes against the grain of the great Canadian experiment, one that is the envy of the world.  It undermines those who can make a significant contribution to our society.  And, if left to fester, it can lead to some pretty scary scenarios and history tells us that fear and hatred can foster unspeakable horror (the Holocaust is one example).  We as Canadians and as global citizens have a duty to stand up to this open sore in our midst.

What about Muslim communities?   What can they do?  Well, for one they can continue to educate the rest of the country as to who they are and what they represent.  Islam is still new enough here that ignorance about it is widespread.  They can also oppose those in their communities that espouse intolerance and hatred – a kind of Westphobia.  Yes, these do exist in Canada, even if they are not that numerous.  And they range from narrow-minded Salafists to the tiny minority who subscribe to terrorist ideologies.  Western Muslims must continue to demonstrate that this small aberrant group does not speak for Islam and that their ideas are not welcome in Canada or anywhere for that matter.

We will never get rid of ethnic-based phobias.  These fears seem to be part of the human condition.  Nevertheless, in the absence of complete victory we can still make progress and lessen the impact that this scourge has on our nations.





By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

One reply on “What’s up with all the Islamophobia?”

I’m glad you blogged about this, as I think this one label is causing a lot of anger in Western societies and leading to communal tensions. And I think you are wrong. The reasons are that, apart from “Islamophobia’ being a made up word, it is not clear that it actually describes anything that, in a democratic and liberal society people should be criticized for feeling.
Instead, saying someone is engaging in Islamophobia is being used to stifle discussion and free speech and prevent important questions being aired. It is, to use an old fashioned term, a thought terminating cliche. It is used to intimidate to vilify in its own way; and close down discussion.
Be sure here: I do not for a moment defend vilification or hate speech; that is and should be illegal and punished. (We know describing non-Muslims as dhimmi, kaffir and such like is also hate speech).
Saying people who reject Islam because it expresses values or promotes a way of life and law that a person thinks is wrong or not to their taste is no more phobic than say, rejecting Marxism (Marxophobic?), Communism (Communophobic), Nazism (Naziophobic) or not liking say, sheep (ovineophobic).One may have reasons.
To do so is also to assume that Islam is so perfect that a person rejects it out of irrational fear rather than for principled reasons.
You cited a survey from Australia. I looked into that and the rejection of Islam is not that people are irrationally afraid, but that they think Islam is not compatible with democracy and liberty. And some Muslims have given the impression that it is. Calls for curbs on freedom of speech have certainly fueled this view – particularly if they say that ANY discussion of Islam or its ‘truth’ is blasphemous and is to be forbidden.
And as you may know – I’m not sure whether you have visited Australia – I have and I’ve traveled round a lot – There’s no doubt they are a no-nonsense bunch – I saw this attitude among a lot of them; but few people on Earth are as free. When there I saw folks get very cranky when their freedoms were threatened. No one was going to tell them what to think; or say.
A Muslim friend of mine made this point: Given that some Muslims have come out and rejected democracy, secular society and freedom of speech, are we then to label them ‘libertophobes’ – people who have an irrational fear of liberty? Or ‘democratophobes’ – irrational fear of democracy? It seems we should. We can then retreat into our respective corners and start throwing heavier things.
While ‘phobia does, is often, used in ordinary language to, mean something like, “an extremely strong dislike or fear of someone or something” [] it is also used in other ways:
+ in psychiatry an abnormal intense and irrational fear of a given situation, organism, or object.[]
+ a very strong irrational fear or hatred of something []
+ An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something. []
I would be surprised if you were really saying that people who reject Islam are suffering an “abnormal, intense, extreme, and irrational fear, hatred or aversion”. People may be feeling an intense or extreme hatred, aversion or rejection, but it could be the result of a rational appraisal and rejection. I do not think that people are as ignorant of Islam now as say, five years ago. The comments sections of the better dailies suggest people are reading up on it and are finding in it a bunch of ideas they find distasteful. These are not the lunar right; but ordinary folks.
Just as people rejected communism or Nazism; or totalitarianism (and they may not have read Das Kapital or Mein Kampf), people may reject Islam without reading the Koran – but know enough about it to know it is not for them. My reading and experiences suggest the rejection of Islam, by people in Europe, Canada, the UK, the US and Australia, is the latter. Its not always – or even in most cases, irrational. So, it may be more accurate not to assume their rejection is irrational, and label – wrongly – people who reject Islam as phobic.

Leave a Reply