Posted in Opinions

Stop labelling critical thinkers ‘Islamophobic’

What happened to productive discussion and free speech?

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Image Credits: E-spaces.eu (Flickr)

Islamophobia: a word often used by prominent politicians, scholars, journalists, and within social justice circles. However, this term has sadly and quickly become a means of censorship.

Before everyone grabs their pitchforks, I am in no way suggesting that bigotry against Muslims is non-existent. If Donald Trump’s popularity and his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US is any indication, it’s obvious that hatred towards Muslims is a very real issue that must be addressed.

A persistent problem on college campuses across North America is that critical thinkers are labelled as bigoted, racist, or sexist. These words kill dialogue. This has essentially led to a lack of free speech and has seriously stifled intellectual debate.

Islam is an ideology like any other. It promotes certain values, beliefs, and behaviours while condemning others. This is no different from the ideologies of communism, fascism, or capitalism, which we are encouraged to criticize.

However, criticism of Islam as an ideology is met with outrage and condemnation. Being critical of Islam can be a part of intellectual debate, yet those who are courageous enough to speak out against the possible violent interpretations of the Quran are labelled Islamophobic. Those who question religious teachings and the promotion of anti-liberal values, such as homophobia, are silenced in fear of being seen as bigoted and having their reputation ruined.

Islam is no different from the ideologies of communism, fascism, or capitalism, which we are encouraged to criticize.

If you disagree with the tenets of a religion, it is OK to dislike it and to call it out. This dislike of an ideology is often conflated with dislike of Muslims, but Muslims are not an ideology. They are people, and being critical of Islamic teachings is not the same as bigotry against Muslims as people.

Moreover, when author and philosopher Sam Harris suggested that a small percentage of Muslims in a specific country could actually agree with stoning as a punishment for adultery, he was met with anger. Rather than questioning whatever studies he has drawn from, or debunking his sources or interpretations, some people seem to jump on the Islamophobia bandwagon to avoid any kind of debate on the topic.

I speak from personal experience when I say those who question Islam are often labelled Islamophobic. On Chitter, a social media app used by many SFU students, I — among others who debate about religion — have been critical and called out what I believe to be violent religious teachings. For this I have been labelled “Islamophobic.” I’ve been the target of anonymous posts and downvotes. Although this does not seem like a huge issue, it speaks volumes about university attitudes towards critical thinking.

As I said, bigotry against Muslim people is a real issue. In a university context though, Islamophobia seems to be a term used to shut down any discussion about Islam and its place in modern society.
Canadian campuses have been promoting censorship of views, to which some take offence. However, this is no reason to end all discussion. Labelling critical thinkers as Islamophobic must end if students truly believe in the liberal ideals of free thought and free speech.

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