I’ve just come across a video from Pat Condell on Richard Dawkins’ blog that I thought demanded a quick and very specific debunk. Condell is Youtube’s resident outspoken atheist and is clearly not a fan of Islam. I’ve seen several of his videos and broadly agreed with most of the content. However, in his video, he repeats a common misconception; that “Islamophobia” is a neologism of “the last few years” and the work of “Islamic Supremacists and their left-wing enablers”, “cultural Marxism” and “political correctness”. As a simple Google Books search shows, the first of these claims at the least just isn’t true.
There’s precious little online that credits “Islamophobia” as being any older than the 1980s, but I’m not the first to bother to check this. A commenter on another (this time written) criticism of the word and its application must have done the same 10-second piece of due diligence:
“While I don’t disagree with every point the quoted article made, its assertion that the term ‘Islamophobia’ was invented by the Iranian fundamentalists at the end of the 1970s is simply false. A quick Google books search shows that Bernard Lewis wrote about the “new phenomenon, sometimes called Islamophobia” in his book “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” in 1953. Nor did Lewis invent the term, as it also appears in an article from the Journal of Theological Studies in 1924.”
The relevant journal article quote is this, in Vol.26, p.102;
“Certain writers in particular are blamed for their ‘ Islamophobia ‘. Mohammed, our authors complain, is called an epileptic, a charlatan, one suffering from hysteria, a socialist obsessed with the idea of an impending judgement. In reality he was a socialiste religieux.”
The wording implies that the word was in currency even in the early 1920s, amongst theologians at least. No doubt the modern widespread use of the word to chill criticism (which I readily acknowledge does exist and deplore) is a 1990s and especially post-9/11 phenomenon, but the word itself is well-established. Even if it were of very recent coinage, that wouldn’t automatically negate its worth as a word. The circumstances of its origin and its subsequent usage would do that. I don’t have access to the full 1924 book review, but it’s clear from the context that the word is being used by Muslims against Christian writers questioning not the practices of Islam, but the holiness of its founder. In other words, if it was coined as a means of silencing criticism, it was boring theological criticism. It would take some scholarship to demonstrate whether the word originally had greater and more sinister meaning than this, or if not, when this shift occurred. But of course it’s far easier to deny its validity across the board – indeed, its very existence, as Condell and others have done. For sceptical atheists (for the two are by no means synonymous), this rhetorical approach leaves a bad taste in the mouth.