By Qanta Ahmed
December 15, 2016
The shocking news that a young Muslim woman fabricated her reported assault by anti-Muslim attackers in the New York City subway offends me as a Muslim woman — but not in the way you might expect.
Yasmin Seweid’s claim that drunken, Donald Trump-cheering assailants ripped off her Hijab inspired a wave of commentators to loudly decry the purported incident as “Islamophobic.”
Her sympathizers surely meant well. In fact, though, both the hoax and the reaction to it played right into the hands of fundamentalist Islamists seeking to silence dissent, and are hurting the cause of anti-Islamist Muslims like me who are fighting for the soul of the faith.
While it’s common to use the term “Islamophobia” interchangeably with anti-Muslim xenophobia, Islamists define it very differently: as any act of scrutiny or examination of structures, institutions, policies or manifestations claimed to be Islamic.
Muslim commentators such as Stephen Schwartz, a Sufi and director of the Centre of Islamic Pluralism, and Muslim political scientist Bassam Tibi, know better. Both have exposed Islamophobia as a concept systematically built up and exploited by fundamentalist Muslims to shut down any criticism from within.
Take as one distressing example the execution in Pakistan of newspaper magnate and governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who was assassinated in 2011 following his calls to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and to grant clemency to a Christian woman facing the death penalty for purported blasphemy.
Islamist imams had deemed such actions Islamophobic and thereby punishable by death.
Until Taseer’s shocking murder, the United Nations passed multiple resolutions, over a dozen years, to criminalize Islamophobia as a human rights violation. That stopped with recognition that human rights violators within Islam were exploiting that pretext to carry out their own atrocities.
To Islamists and Islamist-sympathizing Muslims, Taseer’s offenses against Islam and an attack on a Hijab-wearing woman on the New York City subway are both forms of Islamophobia, both outrages committed by infidels against the faith.
In seeking to define Islamophobia as widely as possible, they seek especially to establish its moral equivalency to anti-Semitism, perhaps hoping even to eclipse anti-Semitism.
But there can be no equivalence. Islamist anti-Semitism is always a lethal genocidal assault, not only on the person but the very right to an existence of Jews. In contrast, Islamophobia is a manipulative political construct to serve totalitarian aims.
Chronic and haphazard cries of “Islamophobia” silence even Muslims like me seeking to unveil Islamism, with our insights and criticism deemed Islamophobic. This was the motive of Iran in the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his 1989 book “The Satanic Verses” — the ancestor of more recent assaults on Islamophobia.
Indeed, Rushdie told the French magazine “Le Point” earlier this year: “Today, I would be accused of Islamophobia and racism. People would say I had attacked a cultural minority.”
Iran’s clever construction has grown more pernicious over the decades. Americans and our authorities — our tireless NYPD and other law enforcement — must learn about the entire tangle of Islamophobia, an education I would be honoured to share if it serves my city and our protectors.
Attacks on veiled women are deplorable and xenophobic, as are all other crimes conducted out of cultural or other hate. But Islamophobia they are not. The sooner we realize Islamophobia cries wolf, the better.
Qanta Ahmed is author of “In the Land of Invisible Women.”