What’s a better term for this than ‘islamophobia’?

TW: cissexism, islamophobia, drone strikes

I’m sorry if I’m spending too much time on the controversy surrounding Julie Burchill’s cissexist opinion piece defending Suzanne Moore’s cissexist comment, but there’s a lot to sift through there. Last week, I had to rant about how both of them were using the same silencing and dehumanizing techniques that are routinely used against all women, and so it was worth asking whether they really wanted equality and liberation or simply personal empowerment. Earlier today, over at Velociriot! it felt pertinent to note that if we’re going to have a conversation between flavors of feminism about appropriation of femininity, transgender women aren’t really the people Burchill in particular seems to be thinking about. Instead, the image that she seems to be conjuring up has mostly been created by cisgender men performing drag routines, which is maybe a phenomenon we can talk about as having potentially misogynistic readings.

But going back to the heart of it – Moore’s original comment and subsequent twitter arguments – there’s even more going on. For instance, we get this lovely argument:


(Moore casting doubt on twitter about the existence of transphobia and islamophobia, from here.)

Now, I’m willing to concede that transphobia and islamophobia are terms that I’m not entirely convinced of the usefulness of. For one thing, they conflate what for many people are chronic psychological conditions (agoraphobia and acrophobia, among others) with bigoted philosophies, which seems virulently abilist. For another, the obvious alternative to “transphobia” is “cissexism,” which I strongly prefer as it emphasizes the belief in the superiority and default status of cisgender people. So, my issue with both of those words is the terminology, not the underlying concept.

And, while I have a whole lengthy backlog of posts about that issue, I think it’s rather chilling to insist that there is no bigotry against (actual or perceived) Muslim people on the basis of their religious background. In the past three days alone, there’s been more than enough incidents of hostility towards the mere existence of Muslims that it’s difficult to even conceptualize the privileged bubble within which Moore must live. On Saturday, a future member of Israel’s Knesset, Jeremy Gimpel, on a hybrid radio-television show called for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the mosque on the otherwise barren Temple Mount in Jerusalem. His reasoning was quite illuminating, as he explained that other non-Jewish religious sites in the city “blended in” with the rest of the city, but the Dome of the Rock was just too distinctive and too dissonant. Prominent Muslim sites apparently have a special sort of non-Jewishness to them that even the Church of the Holy Sepulchre doesn’t. So far, Gimpel’s political party has continued to support him in spite of his various controversial statements on the issue.

On Sunday, the US government fired on a group of eight people in Yemen, with only two of them (at least by public announcement at this moment), having been confirmed members of an Al Qaeda affiliate. The remaining six, presumed to be Muslims, were deemed acceptable losses of life. Whether this is because they were Muslim, because the intended targets were Muslim extremists, or some combination of the two is unclear. Still, it’s hard not to see either a devaluation in the “collateral damage” to Muslim communities in the parts of the world subject to drone strikes or a uniquely panicked reaction to extremists who are Muslims.

Today, President Obama was sworn in for the fourth time and his second presidency. The last time around he officially took the oath as Barack Hussein Obama, keeping both with the tradition of most past presidents of using their full name and the Arabic-origin name his Muslim father bestowed on him. This time, however, he was merely Barack H. Obama. His middle name, an indicator of his kinship to Muslims, is a liability, rather than an incidental facet of his life. It’s evidently quite important (and politically toxic) that his middle name can be traced back to the language in which more than a millenium ago a certain Mohammed (peace be upon him) preached.

So while I might concede that the term is a poorly thought out neologism, I have to disagree that the phenomenon isn’t a real part of the world that impacts Muslims in myriad ways. This particular form of cultural racism should have a specific name by which we could refer to it, so I’ll ask Suzanne Moore and the internet at large to help me out and let me know if they have a better way of denoting the cultural racism against Muslims that’s quite fashionable as of now.

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