Is ‘Islamophobia’ the correct term to use to draw a distinction between legitimate fear and ignorance?

Image courtesy of EMAZE

By Justin K. Thomas

June 27, 2017

The term “Islamophobia” has become politicalized to a degree that perpetrators of global terrorism, such as members of ISIS, have inadvertently been made into victims of discrimination, says one urban and social psychology expert.

“The use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ is almost always a misnomer,” said Harold Takooshian, a professor of psychology at Fordham University and former representative of the American Psychological Association to the United Nations.

“A ‘phobia’ is the manifestation of an irrational fear to a physical or emotional incident that may have taken place in the childhood or at any other point in a person’s life,” Takooshian said. “‘Islamophobia’ does not fall into that category of diagnosis. The word is now used too broadly to classify a psychological reaction to a legitimate threat.”

Takooshian said that using the word “Islamophobic” to describe the fear of a group of people who have carried out acts of violence to frighten populaces and to persuade national governments to change their domestic and foreign policies puts the blame on the true victims–the people being killed, maimed, and emotionally traumatized.

“When someone is trying to kill you, it's okay to have a negative and fearful response to that behavior,” he said. “This goes for potential targets of terrorism as well. Using the word ‘Islamophobia’ shifts the emotion of fear from the innocent victim and places it onto the offender thereby making it sound like there’s something wrong with the person who is suffering from the criminal act.”

Calling the legitimate distress of possibly being the next victim of terrorism, "Islamophobia," is taking the political stance of saying that everyone is afraid of Muslims for no reason, said Takooshian.

“If Islamophobia truly existed,” he said, “we’d have to concede that Muslims are Islamophobic against themselves. Muslims do not want to be killed by members of ISIS just like anyone else. However, we see, read, and hear about victims of terrorism who are Islamic quite a bit and to call their rightful fear ‘Islamophobic’ would be ridiculous.”

Citing information gathered in a study he conducted with Lisa Finnegan Abdolian, titled “USA Patriot Act: Civil Liberties, the Media and Public Opinion,” Takooshian said that the press’ reluctance to report who is actually committing these atrocities has continued to embolden Islamic extremists.

“Mass media has had a hard time reporting on terrorism,” Takooshian said. “This is due to the strong emotions evoked surrounding the issue. Reporters are conformists. They are this way because they do not want to stand out among their colleagues. They want to report a story in such a way that other journalists won't criticize them. This notion of not trying to be observed as discriminatory or ‘Islamophobic,’ has inadvertently helped the extremists’ cause.”

Takooshian also said that their study’s findings suggest that some citizens of the United States are not entirely upset by the act of terrorism.

“In our study, we found that a little over 10 percent of Americans felt that terrorism was an acceptable action to facilitate a change in opinion,” he said. “Also, [in our study] we discovered that some Americans actually believe that as a nation, we should go out of our way to better understand why the terrorists are doing what they are doing in the first place.”

As to genuine tolerance, Takooshian said that some Islamic nations tend to be more intolerant than countries with a predominantly Judeo-Christian culture.

“There are about 50 Islamic-majority member states of the United Nations that are very biased against different cultures residing within their borders,” Takooshian said. “In Judeo-Christian nations, religions tend to thrive and are left alone. Although Christians may not be too open-minded in the sense that they believe there is only one way to heaven and on other topics, they authentically tolerate other beliefs.”

Takooshian also said that there is a direct correlation to the recent terrorist attacks in Europe near the Houses of Parliament in London and the placation of underlying extremist attitudes.

“Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has tried to approach Islamic extremism delicately,” he said. “They have allowed known jihadists to publicly express their views for the sake of maintaining freedom of speech. Some Muslims that live the United Kingdom have taken advantage of English liberty and said that they, ‘really hate Western culture’ and want to overthrow the government and we have noticed that the British people have paid a severe price for that freedom on a couple of occasions recently.”

As to the future of the use of the word “Islamophobia,” Takooshian said that the media and the public’s need to not be seen as racist will continue to play a significant, yet unintentional, role in making actors of terrorism into victims.

For example, in the 2015 San Bernardino County, California, incident, at least three of the assailants’ neighbors said that they did not want to report the activities of the married couple who were implicated in the murder of 14 people to the authorities before the event because they feared that their motives would be perceived as bigoted or xenophobic Takooshian said.

“Words are very powerful when you want to change the message,” he said. “Using the term ‘Islamophobic’ towards those whom we want to show as intolerant has all but stopped the conversation and has put the onus of proof on the real targets of terrorism. The expression has made it so that we immediately assume that people aren’t acceptant of others especially followers of the Islamic faith, which is not the case. 'Islamophobia' has made it so that people are more restrained when talking about terrorism and terrorism is a topic that no one should be afraid of talking about.”