“Islamophobia” At McMaster?

September 2016

In mid-April of this year we attended a presentation entitled “Challenging Islamophobia on Campus,” given by two young women, both employees of the Office of Human Rights and Equity Services (HRES) at McMaster University. This meeting, billed as a “Workshop,” attracted about ten participants; it was the second of two designed to present insights gained from an initial Muslims-only event that took place in December 2015.

Our first difficulty was with the use of the term “Islamophobia,” especially in an institution of higher learning, where careful, dispassionate use of terminology and precision of thought are supposedly respected. A “phobia” is an irrational fear, and so the portmanteau word “Islamophobia”, if it means anything, means “irrational fear of Islam.” In fact, it is rather obviously an oxymoron:

  • terrorist attacks, motivated by Islamic ideology, foiled or successful, are commonplace daily occurrences throughout the western world;
  • fifteen or so countries are under direct unrelenting assault from various Islamic terrorist groups;
  • in several European countries, especially France, dozens of suburbs across many cities are controlled by radical Islamists and the illegal drug trade, and have become no-go zones for police;
  • those who publicly criticize Islam, whether Muslim, ex-Muslim or otherwise (Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Robert Spencer) require round-the-clock protection from assassination attempts blessed by Islamic authorities;
  • sharia law, with its attendant persecution of women, homosexuals, infidels, and apostates is the norm in the 56 nations of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a United Nations lobby group that wants criticism of Islam to be declared illegal in every country on earth.

As Hirsi Ali says on page 3 of her recent book Heretic, “Islam is not a religion of peace”: fear of it is perfectly rational.

The neologism “Islamophobia” dates to about 1991; in 1997 the Runnymede Trust in the UK attempted a definition of the term, now described by Abdur Rahman Muhammad, one of its formulators, as “a thought-terminating cliché conceived in the bowels of Muslim think tanks for the purpose of beating down critics.” Certainly, while the term appears to refer to criticism of Islam—a right that a free society must respect and protect—, nevertheless, in the context of the HRES meetings, it was taken to mean unprovoked harassment of Muslims or vandalism of mosques—behaviour that the customs and laws of a civilized society should inhibit and punish. The McMaster employees who handled the HRES presentation, both of them hijab-wearing Muslims, seemed entirely oblivious to these ideas and distinctions.

A second major difficulty with the HRES presentation was the clear indication of bias: since the first meeting was Muslims-only, it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that HRES was on

a fishing trip, promoting rather than “challenging” “Islamophobia” on the McMaster campus. Indeed, when questioned as to the origin of the HRES initiative, the two presenters openly acknowledged that the series of meetings was a consequence of their own religious observance. A curious way for HRES policy to be formulated and HRES activities to be conducted: if two of the eight HRES employees had instead been black, or homosexual, would we instead be “Challenging Racism on Campus” or “Challenging Homophobia on Campus”? Since historically anti-Semitism on Canadian campuses, including McMaster, has been much more of a problem, exacerbated in recent times by annual Israel Apartheid Week and Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions extravaganzas, why were these two HRES officers not holding Jews- only meetings in order to “challenge” anti-Semitism on campus?

Most of the presentation itself did not relate to McMaster. The presenters began by describing instances of supposed hostility to Muslims that they had themselves experienced during their formative years in England and Canada. Much of this was vague and could just as well have been related to their mild brown skin colour or to other factors entirely. To be asked “Where do you come from?” they found offensive! A form of “micro- aggression,” no doubt. Slides were shown of anti-Muslim material on social media, but no mention was made of the fact that, according to 2013 statistics, anti-Semitic hate crimes in Canada occurred at three times the rate of anti-Muslim hate crimes, even though the Jewish population is only one-third that of the Muslim. Despite the feedback from the December meeting, evidence of hostility to Muslims on the McMaster campus seemed virtually nonexistent: there was some talk of Muslim women feeling more “comfortable” walking together, especially late in the day, but it was not made clear what justification there might be for such feelings.

We left the meeting pleased that apparently anti-Muslim prejudices were not a significant factor on our campus. One less problem to worry about. On the other hand, we were, and remain, deeply concerned that the campus organization formed to encourage and ensure even- handed impartial treatment of everyone on campus should itself be not only biased, but moreover apparently incapable of thinking clearly about the issues and policies that constitute its mandate.

In mid-May we wrote to the McMaster president expressing our concerns, but received no reply.