After Islamophobia, what word should go next: Racism? Relativism?
From Sign and Sight:
The French writer Pascal Bruckner wants to forbid a word. Which sounds more like a typically German obsession. But for Bruckner, “Islamophobia” is one of “those expressions which we dearly need to banish from our vocabulary”. One asks oneself with some trepidation which other words we “dearly need” to get rid of: Right-wing populism? Racism? Relativism?
I personally have never made a secret of my Atheism, and I have at different times and for different reasons criticized Christianity, Islam and Judaism. (And I have been accused of Christianophobia, Catholophobia and Islamophobia.) But if someone were to suggest that there was no difference between my – I hope – reasoned, if occasionally unfair and polemical criticism of ideas and institutions on the one hand and the denigration of a whole group of people, as in the case of Thilo Sarrazin on the other, then I would have to conclude that the PISA studies were wrong, which gave France a middling place among the developed countries as far as reading and understanding texts is concerned.
Call it what you will: there is a form of criticism of Islam which is attempting, via expressions such as “Islamic culture” on the one hand and “Christian-Jewish Leitkultur” (guiding culture) on the other, to establish the concept of two different classes of European citizens. This attempt is driven by an irrational fear, which is comparable to McCarthy’s Anticommunist hysteria and which I call “Islamophobia”. (And, yes, there were Communist spies in the US Government, and yes, there are Islamist terrorists. But hysteria and fear are not good advisors in the struggle for an open society and against its enemies.)
I’m open to suggestions for better words. But anyone who denies that the process of exclusion and denigration that I’ve sketched is in fact happening, is obviously suffering from a kind of delusion, a disconnect from reality; and for that person, it is only logical to wish to forbid the words that might remind him that reality exists.