Consider, if you will (I hate that phrase!), this headline below from the February 1 Huffington Post; the article is by Craig Considine, a sociologist at Rice University in Texas. Click on the screenshot to go to this horribly muddled article:
First, we need to consider exactly what behaviors Considine considers “racist”. First, I won’t agree to use the word “Islamophobia” to mean “bigotry against Muslims”, as the term, if it has any meaning, means “unwarranted fear of Islam.” That’s not the same as “bigotry against the faith’s adherents”, which I call “Muslimophobia” or “anti-Muslim bigotry.”
No, the behavior that Considine equates with racism is this:
“. . . bigotry against Muslims, or, as the author notes, discriminating against others not (simply because of the color of their skin (or other phenotypes) but because of their beliefs and practices associated with some ‘imagined culture’.”
His argument is that this discrimination is not only Islamophobia but racism. But how can bigotry against Muslims be racism if Muslims aren’t a race? Indeed, the notion of “race” to many Leftists, including Considine, is odious, so they argue that races are “purely cultural constructs.” Here’s Considine mouthing that misleading mantra:
You see, there is no such thing as race or races, traditionally understood. Scientists long ago proved that race is not a biological reality but a myth, a socially constructed concept. Yet, despite the data, human beings have been programmed to associate specific things to certain “racial groups”; things like intelligence, work ethic, family values, and behavior. As such, we have been brainwashed to think that some groups are inherently better than others, and that the White race — to be frank — is better than all.
Check the link for his assertion. Well, it’s not that simple. As I’ve said repeatedly, human populations are distinguishable by their genetic constitution, or rather by the average frequencies of different forms of genes in each group. The analysis of human genetic differences has gone so far that we can determine with substantial accuracy the ethnicity and ancestry of an individual by sequencing their genes. (If we couldn’t do that, 23AndMe would be out of business.)
And we can even cluster humans into groups based on genetic differences, but there’s no hard-and-fast boundary for how many groups, so we can’t unambiguously say that “individual X belongs to race Y”. The paper in the previous link, however, shows five pretty well demarcated genetic clusters that correspond to the geographic regions of Africa, Europe + Middle East + Central/South Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, comporting well with both traditional ethnic distinctions and the history of human geographic isolation.
This means that although there is some subjectivity in how you group humans into clusters—for we have clusters within clusters within clusters—the notion of genetically differentiated populations is real, not a social construct. You can say that “race—better yet, the “number of genetically differentiated groups”—is a subjective issue, but not that it’s a social construct.
The “social construct” theme may be useful in dispelling the old idea that human populations are drastically different in their genetic constitutions and can be unambiguously divided into objective and discrete groups, but it’s more often used by the egalitarian Left to dispel the notion of human genetic differences. And that’s based on the ideological position that all races are equal in every way. (My view is that they should be equal in how we treat individuals who belong to different groups.)
But no matter what you call a race, Muslims aren’t one of them, for there are Muslims in Indonesia, in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, in India, and in Africa; and there’s no way they’re going to fall into one fairly homogenous genetic cluster. That’s because Islam is a religion that has spread not just vertically, along with people’s genes, but horizontally, by conversion and conquest. If you did analyses based on genetic clustering, you’d never find Muslims coming out as a group that’s distinct from other groups. Considine dimly recognizes this:
Muslims are a diverse religious grouping, and, in fact, one of the most heterogeneous populations in the world. In theory, the ummah – or global Muslim community – is made up of many “races.” Moreover, not all Muslims are simply born “Muslim,” like people are born White or Black. Muslim identity is something that one can acquire through conversion. In this sense, Muslim identity is nurtured and not natured.
How, then, can you reject the notion of races as mere social constructs, recognize that Islam is a belief system and not a “race”, and yet still call bigotry against Muslims “racism”?
And why would you want to do that?
The answer to “how” question is that you simply redefine races and racism; races are now “cultural groups” and racism is “discrimination against cultural groups”. As Considine notes:
According to [Stuart] Hall, there is a new type of racism — “cultural racism,” which is my focus here. Racism is no longer about race (skin color) but culture. People are Othered and discriminated against not (simply) because of the color of their skin (or other phenotypes) but because of their beliefs and practices associated with some “imagined culture.”
Cultural racism, therefore, happens when certain people perceive their beliefs and customs as being culturally superior to the beliefs and customs of other groups of people. Cultural racism, in-turn, reproduces the idea of “the hierarchy of cultures,” meaning, in the context of current affairs, that “our” Western culture is superior to “their” Islamic culture. This way of thinking is problematic because it essentializes diverse classifications like “Westerners” and “Muslims.” It creates a binary of “Western = civilized” and “Islamic = uncivilized.”
While this discrimination may be bigotry, it has nothing to do with “race”, as we’ve viewed conventionally recognized races. And there are other problems as well. What, exactly, is Muslim “culture”? Are the “beliefs and practices” entirely to do with worship, like praying five times a day? In that case it’s religion and not culture itself that is the object of discrimination. And if you’re just criticizing those religious beliefs and practices, it’s not bigotry but simple criticism. If you discriminate against people because they fast on Ramadan, for instance, then yes, that’s bigotry. But it’s not racism.
Further, “customs” and “culture” are far from homogenous among Muslims. A Muslim in London has a very different “culture” from a Muslim in Somalia, and both differ from Muslims in Indonesia. None of them practice Saudi Arabian Muslim “culture”, which mandates burqas for women, no driving for women, discrimination against gays, mutilation of criminals, and the use of religious police to enforce their “culture”.
And is it bigotry and racism to argue that many aspects of Saudi Muslim culture are not as good as aspects of liberal Western culture? Is it bigotry and “cultural imperialism” to decry the veiling of women, the beheading of criminals, and the demonization of gays—part of Saudi Arabia’s “culture”—as inferior to Western culture? I don’t think so. The view that the world is becoming more “moral,” as Steve Pinker tells us, means that we have to have a basis for judging “morality” (I construe it roughly as “societal well being”, which comports with Pinker’s view); and if you have such a basis you can judge cultures on a morality scale. Saudi Arabia flunks, big time.
To buttress his equation of “racism” with “bigotry against culture”, Considine simply asserts it, over and over again, as if it were self evident, or quotes others:
Bobby Sayyid, another favorite thinker of mine, argues that Islamophobia is undoubtedly a form of racism. He regards it as a type of racism that “takes up the white man’s burden for the new American century.”
Let me be clear here. There is nothing rational about Islamophobia. Treating Muslims poorly because they are Muslim is racism. It is that simple. If someone gives a Muslim women wearing the hijab a dirty look, sorry, but you are racist.
No, it’s not that simple. And, after describing a Sikh who was assaulted in Chicago for wearing a turban, so that people mistook him for a Muslim, Considine makes the assertion again:
A cultural symbol, in this case, was used as a signifier to judge an entire group of people, however wrongly. Is this racism? Most definitely. Even Sikhs suffer from Islamophobia.
But then Considine admits this:
Now is the time to teach youth that racism is much more than the white-black dichotomy. Racism is changing in its form, but the beast is still very much alive and well.
Well, if racism is changing its form, it’s because people like Considine are trying to redefine the word—just as the term “violence” has been expanded to mean “criticism of my beliefs”. But why won’t the word “bigotry” do here, especially since Considine and his fellow social justice warriors don’t even accept the objective existence of races?
And that brings me to the second question, “Why would you want to redefine racism?”
The reason is simple.
“Racist” is the worst word—the greatest insult—you can throw at a liberal. If you can expand the term “racism” to cover discrimination against any group, including those with different “cultures”, then all forms of bigotry ultimately become racism, including discrimination against those Christian sects that specifically practice faith healing, or handle snakes. And there’s no defense against being called a “racist,” especially if every criticism of your own views can be deemed racist.
There’s no doubt what Considine is doing here: trying to change the meaning of a word so he can use it to tar those who criticize a diversity of religions, behaviors, or cultural practices. Some of that criticism is pure bigotry, but some of it is rational discourse. Considine is trying to lump these together so he can dismiss them in toto.
This is what I suggest:
- The term “racism” should apply to discrimination based on genetic differences between groups, whether you conceive of those groups as “ethnic groups” or “races.”
- The term “Islamophobia” should be ditched, as it is universally used to mean bigotry against Muslims, not against Islam, which as a faith cannot be discriminated against. (Only its adherents can.) The proper term is “Muslimophobia,” or, better yet, “anti-Muslim bigotry.” Too many things are conflated under the “Islamophobia” term.
- People should stop flatly asserting that “races” are “social constructs.” There are pretty diagnostic genetic differences between people in different parts of the world, and we should recognize that. Those differences are profound enough that they can be used to diagnose someone’s ancestry and geographic origin. However, the idea that there are a fixed number of unambiguously diagnosable genetic groups is indeed a social construct, but the “social construct” term confuses the subjectivity issue with a different false claim: that “there are no reliable genetic differences between groups—all distinctions between populations are simply made up.” The flat assertion that races are social constructs overlooks the genetic data, and misleads people into thinking that geographic populations don’t differ phenotypically and genetically (the phenotypic differences are, of course, based on genetic ones). The situation is more complex than can be summed up in the “social-construct” mantra.
Finally, I’m starting to wonder if sociology departments are much more useful than theology departments.