Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Discrepancies around the Use of the Term "Islamophobia"

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Discrepancies around the Use of the Term "Islamophobia"

Article excerpt


The systematic distortion of the Arab and Muslim world's image, along with the processes of essentialization and homogenization of a population otherwise increasingly plural and diverse, has given way to the appearance of a number of concepts and/or terms meant to describe new processes and new social realities.

Events such as the Iranian Revolution, the 'Gulf Wars,' the GIA attacks in France, the Taliban, the Salman Rushdie Affair, the murder of Theo van Gogh and the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, etc., have put forth a violent image and a militant Islam totally opposed to Western values of civilization and democracy. This image and the historic stereotypes have often shaped a single justification, based on which the various prejudices and acts 'prior' to what is currently known as Islamophobia (1) are consciously or unconsciously justified.

Nowadays and as a result of the September 11, March 11 and June 7 attacks, the "circle has closed" vis-a-vis Western prejudices, greatly strengthening the "essentialist stigmatization of the Muslim world" (2): the entire immigrant population living in neighbourhoods and cities has come to be identified and compared with 'the terrorist,' and a national and international alarmism has emerged, leading to the rejection of Muslim communities and anything associated to Islam. For this reason Muslims in Europe have been particularly liable to be targeted by diverse prejudices and stereotypes, gradually consolidating use of the term Islamophobia and hence Islamophobic acts.

However, although the concept is increasingly widespread, it seems especially hard to define in practice just what Islamophobia is, as it is often put on a par with other processes such as racism (anti-Maghrebi, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, etc), hostility to Islam and xenophobia, etc., and confused with or likened to terms such as 'Maurophobia,' 'Moorophobia' or 'Arabophobia.' This has given way to a wavering definition, with no consensus as to either its definition or legal formulation, reaffirming both the emerging and changing social reality and the broad ignorance at different levels over what is taking place in our societies, regions and neighbourhoods, etc.

Parallel to this a line of thinkers and academics has emerged (3), who assert that use of the term Islamophobia is increasingly more controversial, given that it often serves to contain very diverse phenomena running from xenophobia to the fight against terrorism. Although the term mainly refers to instilled fear and/or hostility towards Islam, it also encompasses the practical consequences of such hostility vis-a-vis discrimination (both positive and negative), prejudices, discourse and the less favourable treatment of Muslim individuals and communities, and the exclusion of same from political/social mainstreams.

In this article we shall deal with this sort of criticism and/or discrepancies around use of the term Islamophobia, though not without making clear that from our standpoint the term was coined because there is a new reality which needs a name. This reality must be described and defined, for objectively (4) the prejudice against Muslims has grown considerably and so quickly and exponentially that in recent years a new term had to be coined into the vocabulary, able to identify and act against a wide range of acts and attitudes which particularly oppose the Arab and/or Muslim communities residing in Europe and the West.


Terms/concepts are theoretical constructions derived from a given reality which can capture and synthesize aspects of that reality. They can respond to social constructions resulting from processes of interaction among different individuals (their own identity and practices) or to historic constructions which in an adjustable manner are organized and modified in time and in space. Presumably we should understand the term Islamophobia to be a way to 'read' what is going on, a way to express the (current) reality and account for its practices. …

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