Having laid into the nonsense term “Islamophobia”, it’d be useful to mention those cases where anti-faith is a cover for true bigotry.
First, anti-Christianity and the american class system. You may know the joke: Old sociology professor meets one of his young stars in the states. Asks him what he’s doing. The kid responds, “Well, I’m studying the American class system”. The professor: “Really? I didn’t think they had a class system in the states.” “Oh, no one does. That’s how it survives.”
I’ve had this experience a lot online. I will be discussing some minor point with some member of the American middle class, and after I demure from the accepted line, I am informed that, as knuckle-dragging, ill educated bumpkin I, naturally, cannot understand, and that if only I had gone to college, I would get it. Then when I, a little piqued by this, inform the person of my real qualifications, I am greeted with a howl of indignation about elitism, snobbery, how dare I etc.
This stance isn’t hypocrisy, or isn’t only hypocrisy. It’s US class system at work. There seems to exist within many members of the US middle class a deep envy and resentment of those above them, and a deep hatred and fear of those below. I imagine that everyone here knows Bill Maher. Next time you have a chance, listen to how he describes the working class. He talks about a group of funny people who come from elsewhere. Who have weird customs and nasty food. Who – and this is a dead giveaway – have poor hygiene and depraved sexual habits. Of course, when pressed he will admit that they aren’t that bad really, just not that bright and easily mislead, and of course, some are quite alright…
This stuff isn’t no better than racism. It’s no different than racism. And it does not good to object that both parties are “white”; the most vicious racial hatreds arise when there is very little difference.
It is very easy for this to hide underneath a mask of being anti-Christian, especially anti American christian. Long before A+, long before even elevatorgate, I had grown revolted with the fools on FtB, especially P.Z. Myers. Spend some time browsing through the posts and especially the comments there and you will this filth writ large.
I have evolved a few tests of whether or not someone is serious about their anti-religion or whether they are simply looking for a way to disguise their bigotry. In this case, I would say that the test is firstly, whether they are able to take on Christian fanaticism from elsewhere, in particular Africa and Russia where the Church still holds terrifying power, and secondly, whether they can train their criticism on the religion of the non-working class, especially on the political class they support. Quick: when was the last time you heard one of the FtB complaining about the bible thumping Al Gore and Bill Clinton? For myself, I have only seen the Hitch and Francis Wheen take them on (both of them members of the political left, for the record).
The question of anti-Judaism and antisemitism is another thorny one. Anti-Semitism is even more toxic and dangerous than regular racism. Every place this paranoia has risen it has been disastrous for anyone even close to it. That does not mean that one should not criticize judaism; apart from anything else, the anti-semite can usually tolerate the fascist branch of Judaism quite well.
How can one tell when one is the other? Well, a good rule is that if, in a comic against circumcision, you have a blond, blue eyed superhero facing off a bunch of sinister, hooked-nosed, child-stealing rabbis, then you probably have crossed the line. Yes, seriously.
For the record, this works in reverse, on the question of Israel. I always find it useful to find out from my fellow Zionists which Israel do they support. The secular, democratic nation with a record in science and technology that is practically unequaled? Or the racial state enshrined by biblical prophecy? This is not a nothing question, as there are even some neo-Nazi groups that will defend Israel (again: yes, seriously), including the BNP.
Finally, Islam. Getting the obvious out of the way, yes, accusations of racism are constantly used to shut down criticism of Islam, and it is a pathetic and contemptible tactic. Most people do not decide to take on a death threat for the rest of their life out of mindless bigotry. That said, there are those for whom being anti-Islam is a mask for something else. For instance, I believe that my transatlantic cousins have something called Chris Matthews that walks like a man. During the the Dubai ports question – well, see for yourself:
What does not seem to enter the minibrain on display is that the problem with Jihad is a matter of religion, not race. Dubai hosts far fewer jihadists and other members of the Islamic far right than Britain does. I know that from personal experience; down the road from where I used to work you can find truly terrifying mosques, and the internet cafes often have young men crowding around HAMAS and Hezbollah recruitment videos. Pretending that this is just a problem with the ay-rabs is grotesque.
In the Old World, as I have indicated before, this problem is with parties that are simply flat-out anti-immigrant, and now have a very good excuse. I would make the test here one of internationalism. If someone is genuinely anti-Islam, then they should be opposed to its cruelties in other lands as well, and also have no animosity towards non-Muslim immigrants. In particular, the acid test for me is their attitude towards the great neglected half of Western civilization, India. Someone who believes in defending India, and also values the Hindu and Sikh diaspora (as well as the atheist – never forget that India has the largest atheist movement in the world), is fantastically unlikely to be just an unwashed bigot.
Given the range of the problem of religious reaction, it can seem like an extra chore to have to police our own ranks. Nonetheless, it is necessary, if we are to succeed.