Can’t see the trees for the wood – A review of Islamophobia by Dr Chris Allen

Published by Ashgate, November 2010 See here

You would expect a book grandly entitled “Islamophobia” to mention the causes of Islamophobia if not discuss them at length. This book does neither.

It is not clear if this deliberate or whether the idea never entered the author’s head that many people want to know what causes “Islamophobia” seeing this as the key to its cure.

The book’s index gives the first sign that it will greatly disappoint. If you look for key words and phrases, “sharia”, “sex equality”, “marriage”, “polygamy”, “halal”, “politics”, “freedom of speech”, “secularism” ……. you won’t find them.

These topics are missing. They surely provide many of the foremost reasons why non-Muslims are critical of Islam and why it is disliked and mistrusted by so many.

To be fair to Dr Allen he devotes several pages to the Satanic Verses fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini calling for the death of Salman Rushdie for blasphemy. He mentions that the Satanic Verses affair is seen as “…. one of the formative, defining events in shaping how Muslims and Islam have since been known and understood” (p41).

Though he tries to be neutral Dr Allen’s account leaves the impression that the western horror and disgust at the Khomeini fatwa and the deaths and riots that followed were unjustified. It was simply what Muslims did. No call for criticism there.

He even takes the trouble to mention in apparent mitigation the story that some riots were staged (by Muslims) and amateurishly recorded by them for the benefit of the western media. He reports “Despite being poorly produced, within hours images of Muslims burning books on the streets ofEnglandwere broadcast all around the world” (p42).

He also mentions the burqa once (p101)

The target audience

The book needs a sub-title. Something like “A discussion of existing definitions of Islamophobia and a proposal for a new and improved definition” would be a fair indication of what the book is about.

To which might be added “…. by an academic for academics”. Large chunks of the book and many passages are impenetrable.

The publicity is also misleading. The front cover is a dramatic close up photo of a young Muslim’s bearded face stamped all over with stickers saying “muslim”, “terrorist”, “fanatics”, “radical”, “militant”, etc., giving the impression the book is aimed at a popular audience.

A back cover testimonial says “There are insights in Allen’s work that deserve to be appreciated by students from a variety of disciplines, as well as a more general readership”. This book is certainly not a popular work or suited in any way to a general readership (as you will see below).

What does the book achieve?

Dr Allen starts with the definition of Islamophobia from the Runnymede report Islamophobia: a challenge for us all: report of the Runnymede Trust Commission on British Muslims and islamophobia (1997).

“The shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam – and, therefore, to fear or dislike all or most Muslims”. (p15)

And ends up with his new improved definition 180 pages later (p195)

“Islamophobia is an ideology, similar in theory, function and purpose to racism and other similar phenomena, that sustains and perpetuates negatively evaluated meaning about Muslims and Islam in the contemporary setting in similar ways to that which it has historically, although not necessarily as a continuum, subsequently pertaining, influencing and impacting upon social action, interaction, response and so on, shaping and determining understanding, perceptions and attitudes in the social consensus – the shared languages and conceptual maps – that inform and construct thinking about Muslims and Islam as Other. Neither restricted to explicit nor direct relationships of power and domination but instead, and possibly even more importantly, in the less explicit and everyday relationships of power that we contemporarily encounter, identified both in that which is real and that which is clearly not, both of which can be extremely difficult to differentiate between. As a consequence of this, exclusionary practices – practices that disadvantage, prejudice or discriminate against Muslims and Islam in social, economic and political spheres ensue, including the subjection to violence – are in evidence. For such to be Islamophobia however, an acknowledged ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islamic’ element – either explicit or implicit, overtly expressed or covertly hidden, or merely even nuanced through meanings that are ‘theological’, ‘social’, ‘cultural’, ‘racial’ and so on, that at times never even necessarily name or identify ‘Muslims’ or ‘Islam’ – must be present.” (p194)

The Runnymede definition has its limitations. What would you call someone who thinks Islam is a load of nonsense, most of it quite harmless though some of it in certain heads, very dangerous? And he doesn’t dislike or hate Muslims, just thinks the harmless nonsense believers are misguided or foolish.

Dr Allen’s new definition despite being over ten times longer is equally deficient (and you can see why the book is not suited to a popular or general readership).

And what about those who hold critical views on Islam regarding the topics that Dr Allen fails to mention. For example:

Missing topics

Sharia courts: Sharia “courts” are divisive encouraging further segregation. Muslim women are pressured to use a sharia system totally biased in favour of men in divorce, distribution of assets, financial support, and the custody of children.

It is easy for a Muslim man to divorce his wife, but very difficult for a wife to divorce her husband. Muslim women who seek divorce are subjected to an interview process, pressured to remain married and risk losing quite possibly their only financial wealth by being forced to return their dower.

There is growing evidence that these “courts” impinge on cases of domestic violence, a criminal matter, and are forcing Muslim woman to live within violent husbands.

The men, and they are all men, who oversee these sharia courts are often uneducated foreign imams who have little understanding ofBritainand wish to retain their power over Muslim communities by making them even more isolated.

Marriage: UK places of worship and other establishments that perform religious marriages can register to perform civil weddings and thus provide the civil marriage recognised in English law, at the same time as the religious marriage.

It is believed considerably less than 20% of mosques have registered to have their marriages recognised. Thus the great majority of Muslim marriages have no legal validity in English law which is something the wives frequently only find out when their “marriage” breaks up and the wife has no legal rights to property or inheritance.

This is a problem unique to Islam in this country. Sikh Gurdwaras andHinduTempleshave all registered under the Marriage Act so as to ensure that their marriage ceremonies are valid in English law.

Also concerning marriage, surveys show that over half of Muslims would not marry a non-Muslim, thus encouraging segregation and the troubles that segregation inevitably brings.

Polygamy: Polygamy is illegal in the UK, yet polygamous marriages are recognised and supported by the UK social services if they did not take place in the UK. A harem, it appears is legal and, indeed, subsidizable by the UK taxpayer.

Halal: The toleration of halal slaughter without stunning makes a mockery of democratic processes. A lot of people might not be too bothered, some may have strong feelings, but a regulation, a law, exists for a reason. What is the point of having it if a large part of the population can simply ignore it?

Secularism: Many Muslims believe Islam provides a complete political system. A conscientious Christian might say that Christianity is the basis of his politics but when a Muslim says the equivalent an alarm bell goes off. Christians, as do many others, want to bring a certain morality to politics, they don’t want to take it over.

It really is very simple. The key to true democracy and the progress it brings is that people can peacefully get rid of governments they don’t like. Can you imagine any government or ruling class believing it is the party of God peacefully giving up the reins of power? Just look at Iran.

And there is the daily flow of news from societies dominated by Islam such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

  • Saudi Arabia’s religion police step up crackdown on women drivers;
  • A woman should not report rape unless she has four witnesses;
  • Fears grow for lawyer of woman inIranstoning case;
  • Iran: Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Christian priest;
  • Necklace ban for men asTehran’s ‘moral police’ enforce dress code;
  • Fatwa body bans mingling of sexes;
  • Pakistani Muslims demand a ban on the Bible;
  • Female Saudi doctor appeals to top court for right to choose a husband;
  • Iranto blind criminal with acid in ‘eye for an eye’ justice;
  • Iranto make university courses more Islamic;
  • The Latest Enemies ofIran: Dogs and Their Owners;
  • Pakistan’s blasphemy vigilantes kill exonerated man;
  • Muslims told to ignore calls for change because ‘democracy goes against Islam’;
  • Women’s Suffrage Movement Is a ‘Machination’ of the Enemies of Islam;
  • Man sentenced to death, boy arrested for blasphemy.

And we have the regular output of Islamic scholars and spokespersons. For example:

…. the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of Shari’ah is downright apostasy.” (Yusuf Al-Qaradawi)

and a remarkable admission that the “Religion of Peace” hasn’t always been so.

“Islamic experts assure me there is no prohibition of warfare during Ramadan. …. War for the furtherance of Islam and against non-believers is considered ethically acceptable by scholars, even during the month of fasting and prayer.” (Abdel al-Bari Atwan is the editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi)

There is more than enough here to give rise to plenty of rational criticism of Islam.

Perhaps Dr Allen should write another book (a more readable one) about how to describe the attitude of these critics that doesn’t mean or imply they are hateful or racist, that recognises they are fair-minded and well-informed, and they are far more significant than “Islamophobes”, and there are possibly many things wrong with Islam.