No, Islam is not a race, but Islamophobia is racism

September 24, 2017

by Martin Odoni

One of the most irritating refrains from the anti-immigrant/anti-Islam crowd over the last few years has been the attempt to justify hostility to Muslims by insisting it cannot be racism. The grounds for this claim is that “Islam is not a race”. Even the likes of Richard Dawkins was tweeting it a few years ago.

The sentence is technically true, but if you think about it, the distinction it draws is entirely a quibble. The hostility towards Muslims is still a form of ‘othering’ of a foreign culture. Furthermore, on hearing the word Muslim, the average white Anglo-Saxon Briton will picture something roughly along the lines of this; –

57_thehistoryofislam_saudi_terror_cartoon_75

The image is offensive, as it conflates Muslims with militant Islamists, but also because it is both sectarian and highly racial. In particular, it makes the classic mistake of assuming that Muslim is a synonym for Arab. In the real world, the proportion of Muslims worldwide who are Arabs is under fifteen per cent. As an example, perhaps the most extreme Islamic nation on Earth, the Shi’a Republic of Iran, is a Persian country, not an Arab country (although admittedly there is a very substantial number of Arabs living there). Most Muslims, incidentally, are Sunnis, not Shi’ites, another distinction many laymen in the UK fail to recognise. Only about twenty per cent of Muslims globally are Shi’ites.

So long as people associate a religion with a race, and more particularly with a racial caricature they hold in contempt, then hostility towards that religion is racism, and the religion’s unpleasant features are merely the pretext for racial feeling.

Where the hostility towards a religion is based on an informed aversion towards its teachings and philosophies, then one might argue that it is not racist; but only then if the same hostility is felt towards other religions with equally unpleasant laws. For instance, Christians in Britain First, such as Jayda Fransen, raise reasonable objections to some of the more blood-curdling passages in the Qur’an, but conveniently overlook – refuse to be drawn on – the horrific laws and commands of the God of the Old Testament. Why, if not because Christianity is ‘our’ country’s religion, whereas Islam belongs to ‘people from elsewhere’?

Whether the religion is specifically a race is therefore immaterial. Look at myself; I am a non-practicing Jew – part of Jewry but not of Judaism, entirely on the word of the ancient Prophet Ezra. You could argue that Jewry is not a race at all – Ezra’s somewhat arbitrary convention has it that it is a matrilineal ethnicity – but nobody in their right mind would argue that anti-Semitism is anything other than a form of racism.

I am largely dismissive of all religions to a greater or lesser extent, including Judaism – on analysis I find all the Abrahamic religions in particular very authoritarian and bloodthirsty – but I respect the right of others to worship in their own way, so long as they make no attempt to impose it on others. Islamophobes have no such ‘live-and-let-live’ outlook; not only do they hate the aggressive and bullying militants of Wahhabism, they hate anyone who is a Muslim at all. They cannot see the distinction; any Muslim is a Hollywood-style Arab caricature in their eyes.

What matters when identiying racism is not the doctrine, which is usually just the handy pretext for prejudice, it is the impulse that is driving it. That impulse is ugly, irrational, and hateful. Mere association with ancient texts from the Middle East does not create any fundamental difference to that impulse at all.

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2 Responses to “No, Islam is not a race, but Islamophobia is racism”


  1. While I absolutely agree that Islamophobia is racist in intent, I would take issue with your assertion that the Shi’ite Republic of Iran is the most extreme Muslim nation on Earth – surely that dubious honour goes to Saudi Arabia? And, of course, Saudi Arabia is the home of the most extreme form of Wahhabi Salafism, which has its roots in the Sunni branch of Islam.

    In my mind, I liken the differences in Islam to those within the Christian faith – think Protestant versus Catholic, with extreme Puritans or Jesuits on each side. Now imagine, say, that the Puritans acquire great wealth and influence and use that power to promulgate their version of Christianity across the world. King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump have more in common than either would credit.

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Just to point out, I did say, “Perhaps”. I yield to none in my detestation for the House of al-Saud, but the execution rate in Iran tends to be even higher. It’s hard to measure extremity in this sense, but it’s a close-run contest for the title between the two countries.


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