Islam is not a race

By Razib Khan 32 Comments

Update: A reader points out my example may not indicate what I assumed. Another reason why Twitter sucks: easy to misunderstand. The general point though stands.

End update

Over the past generation or so there has been a meme, “Africa Is Not a Country”, which reflects the reality that many well-meaning people don’t know much about Africa, to the point where they confuse a diverse continent for a country.

There is a similar reflex though which to me is redolent of the same intuitions and confusions: making Islam into a racial identity. This is particularly common among two groups:

– the type of people who have Greek statue images in their Twitter profiles

– the type of people who have pink-hair avatars and rainbows flags in their Twitter profiles

I won’t say much about the former.

But the latter is interesting and curious to me personally. Many in my immediate family are Muslims (e.g, parents, the vast majority of my cousins). I come from a line of ulems and Sufi mystics.  The law of the Hanafi tradition is deeply embedded in my family’s culture. Though never a big believer myself in the religion, I had a vaguely Muslim identity until my tweens, and know a bit about the religion intellectually.

To illustrate the phenomenon I’m talking about, recently an Asian American comedian made fun of Catholicism in a sacrilegious manner (I didn’t think it as very funny since it was derivative and unoriginal). In response, some people asked him to insult Islam. To this, he said “how bout you make fun of ISLAM?” (yikes) to straight up rampant racism (yikes).

In other words, engaging in blasphemy against Islam is racism to him (which is blasphemy to a progressive).

It has gotten to the point where progressives have accused me of being an anti-Muslim racist when I suggest that many Muslims are Creationists. Progressives are of course being stupid but note these progressives are often white secular types who in their lives don’t encounter believing Muslims. They have the idea of what Muslims represent to them. It’s about them, not Muslims.

Perhaps others have different experiences, but the way I was raised as a Muslim, the idea that Muslims are a race would be deeply offensive since Islam was presented as the most antiracist and egalitarian of religions. Believing Muslims assert they have a deep connection to the Ground of all Being, not that they are a corporeal identity-group. In contrast, many secular progressives are taking the far-right racialization of Muslims and enshrining it into their understanding of the religion, so that Islam, the belief-system, becomes a “protected class.”

Of course, the reality of what Muslims believe and how they live their life might not comport with progressive expectations, which seem to involve someone just like them, but with a headscarf on. From the perspective of an Islam-skeptic person though the lesson is clear: Islam is now the progressive party at prayer. Though real Muslims often have major issues with progressives and their modern cultural projects, progressives have embraced their idea of Islam and Muslims in the fight against the Greek statue profiles.

We live in a really strange world.

Addendum: As an atheist from a Muslim background I have looked dimly upon Muslims and the Islamic project for much of my life. But progressive revolutionary rhetoric and action have softened my heart toward the religion and the people. It turns out that religion is not the root of all evil.

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32 Replies to “Islam is not a race”

  1. There has to be someone who is connecting what Razib Khan; Scott Alexander; Shadi Hamid; Damir Murasic; Rod Dreher; James Lindsay; and Joe Rogan are saying about the the cruel trajectory of progressive liberalism and new atheism. Who is that person?

  2. I don’t think the example is well chosen — the tweet describes four common retorts to an earlier tweet making fun of catholic mass:

    – “nice one, atheist neckbeard redditor”

    – “you’re going to hell, you will REGRET this”

    – “how bout you make fun of ISLAM?”

    – straight up rampant racism

    He’s saying people are responding to him with (presumably anti-Korean or anti-Oriental) racism, not that people are saying making fun of Islam would be racist.

  3. My understanding is that they intentionally racialize some particular religion to unite people against it by creating racial hatred (or opposition on a racial basis) against it, and also to stop people from converting to that particular religion by making it appear that people from some particular race cannot be believer of that particular religion

    In fact, religion is a positive thing. It is a great tool for maintaining personal,familial and social stability. Even if I were a non-believer, i would support the existence of religion because it overally plays a positive role

    1. If I understand by skimming this link quickly, it is related to the Crusaders and probably in the context of these discussions about Islam. I still don’t understand how it is related to Greek statues unless it is in the context of ‘classical Europe’ mentioned by Omar in the other thread. Crusaders are a complex topic and the question is who was their primary target – muslims who lived close to the holy sites or east Christians and the battle for primacy. There are still, after 800 years, fresh memories on their looting and robbing of Constantinople. Previously mentioned ‘classical Europe’ is a chain of historical fabrications using so-called ancient Greeks as a Trojan horse into ancient past. Even Isaac Newton made a remark that Greeks were ‘introduced’ into history at least 500 years too early. Some processes last for centuries and millennia and they are not visible to observers from today till tomorrow. It is really needed an analytical mind of the highest order to explain different facets of the same story which includes – ‘classical Europe’, Crusaders, ancient world, falsifications of world history (especially Serbian), Aryan issues, current Anglo-American russophobia, deep state, Trump’s impeachment, etc.

  4. One way of shutting up any cultural practices of Islam is to call it ‘racist’ so that it sticks easier than cultural criticism. For example, many people in the west or India don’t like halal practices- in the west chiefly due to halal being cruel to animals being killed. In the west even meat eating itself coming under criticism now, from ecological angle , esp beef. All this criticism can be shut under ‘racism’

  5. I think using the language of racism and race to talk about Islam is not a statement about Islam. It is a statement about how narrow the analytic abilities of American progressives have become. Their biggest success of the 20th century was the campaign against Jim Crow. (even though they didn’t start it or lead it). After that every social issue was turned into racism and discrimination. Disabilities. Homosexuality. Islam is no different. Once it is turned into a race, the answers are automatic.

    1. You seem to have struck a chord. Americans in general don’t like to talk about race because of obvious reasons. Racism attracts a lot of attention in USA with consequences potentially that might derail the rest of your career. Given this prior, it’s easy to fight anything that you don’t like by painting it with racism. Hence, Islam is being classified as race by the ‘progressives’.

    2. You seem to have struck a chord. Americans in general don’t like to talk about race because of obvious reasons. Racism attracts a lot of attention in USA with consequences potentially that might derail the rest of your career. Given this prior, it’s easy to fight anything that you don’t like by painting it with racism. Hence, Islam is being classified as race by the ‘progressives’.

  6. ‘In other words, engaging in blasphemy against Islam is racism to him (which is blasphemy to a progressive).’

    I think I disagree partially with this. ‘Pogressives’ of today are the vanguard against any criticism of Islam and they make you look like a racist by camouflaging blasphemy with racism.

  7. Perhaps a comparison would be how much are other religions, in particular, non-Christian religions racialized (I’m assuming that “Christian” has not been racialized as “European” or “white” for a long time since colonial times, since no one bats an eye in surprise of a Christian of any race, black, brown, Asian, native etc., especially not stateside though I do hear about the annoyance of say, immigrant Keralite Christians or similarly Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians being assumed to be “recent” converts by American whites, who then respond by arguing their “lineage has been Christian” longer than theirs, so some kind of racialization is going on). Also, there is still occasional (though limited to some circles and some parts of the political spectrum on both ends) discussion about whether most Jews are “considered white” as a label, and also about if Sephardic/Mizrahi are Middle Easterners, and you’ll often even hear Ethiopian Jews brought up in these discussions.

    I know by stats, most people’s stereotypes are based on priors such as the fact that most Hindus are brown, most Jews of European/Middle Eastern descent, most Buddhists East Asian (though in the US, many white converts exist), but it’s interesting how the rule of thumb or stereotype people use that most people of a religion by chance or geography happen to be of a certain race then suddenly morphs into racializing that religious group (even when the group is not an ethnicity and a religion the way Jews and Sikhs are).

    On the issue of Islamophobia and racism being conflated, I’d be interested in how generalizable is the trend that if you critique a religious group that is by numbers mostly non-white, the criticism is seen as racist. Do people still say making fun of Buddhists is “racist” in the west? What about say, making fun of the Rastafari movement, which came out of Jamaica and has strong ties with black identity there.

    When and how does religion and race get bundled together as an identity? Perhaps there’s no rhyme or reason and it’s just political convenience.

    1. This makes the most sense to me. In the cultural milieu i grew up in, Islam was not being critiqued theologically. Its more the the idea of a non-sociable, hygiene-challenged, frumpy brown horde. Hindus might as well be part of that category in their mind, as much as a very white presenting levantine muslim is not.

    2. Diasporan
      immigrant Keralite Christians or similarly Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians being assumed to be “recent” converts by American whites, who then respond by arguing their “lineage has been Christian” longer than theirs, so some kind of racialization is going on)

      Same with ability to speak English in the US. On and off I would get comments like your English is very good.
      I would reply that my family has been speaking English since at least the 1850’s.

      Depending on the tone etc of the question would add, long before most Americans could speak English.

      Then some time would drive a bigger nail, by saying most of the family were sent to Uni in England.

  8. In America, every brown person is a Mexican, including all them Guatemalans, Columbians, Brazilians, etc.

    Unless they happen to be non-Christian, in which case they are a Muslim.

    Beyond that the word has no meaning. Even educated people don’t know and don’t give a shit that on the opposite side of the world there’s people with various religious beliefs unrelated to Islam. If you try to tell them your religion has less in common with Islam than their own they won’t believe you. Whenever some redneck wants to randomly assassinate a Muslim they always shoot Sikh people, except that one time in Kansas when they shot some South Indian techies. I see brown people (like my Dad) enthusiastically trying to educate the white folks about the ways of the browns. 2 decades after Sept 11 and approaching my 4th decade of living in this country I personally see no change in the awareness with regards to geography so I don’t waste my time with that shit. In fact I get annoyed now if non-browns ask questions like, “Where in India are you from?” or start talking about Diwali or whatever.

  9. There is a difference between criticism of Islam as a religion and discrimination against Muslims as people. In that sense, Islamophobia is equivalent to antisemitism. Antisemites do not intellectually critique the ideas of Judaism but hate Jews as a people. Islamophobes also do not offer intellectual analysis of Islam but rather harbor hostility against Muslims, especially those with visible markers of their identity (such as the hijab).

    Progressives defend Muslims because leftist politics is based on advocating for the underdog. In the West, that includes the Muslim minority. One doesn’t have to necessarily agree with someone’s views to believe that they should not be targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation etc. At a time when the right-wing in the US is increasingly linked to white nationalism, it is only natural that the left would see itself as the defender of all minority groups.

    1. There is a difference between criticism of Islam as a religion and discrimination against Muslims as people. In that sense, Islamophobia is equivalent to antisemitism. Antisemites do not intellectually critique the ideas of Judaism but hate Jews as a people. Islamophobes also do not offer intellectual analysis of Islam but rather harbor hostility against Muslims, especially those with visible markers of their identity (such as the hijab).

      islam is a religion. muslims are the people. therefore islamophobia is a stupid term dumbass.

      Progressives defend Muslims because leftist politics is based on advocating for the underdog.

      yes. unless it’s ukrainians dying in a famine, cambodians being liquidated for wearing glasses, or the 20 million people who died in mao’s great famine. also the starving venezuelans.

      1. You are being unnecessarily pedantic. Islam is a religion just as Judaism is. Both “Islamophobia” and “antisemitism” refer to prejudice against Muslims and Jews as people not to theological critiques. People who attack women wearing hijab are not engaging in deep theological analysis but rather simply reacting in hatred against a stereotyped outgroup.
        Maybe we need a separate word for anti-Muslim prejudice but for right now “Islamophobia” it is.

        1. Islamophobia is analogous to homophobia. Homophobia doesn’t refer to literal fear of the lgbtq community but to prejudice against them. Similarly Islamophobia refers to prejudice against Muslims not literal fear of Islam.

          The term may be imperfect but we all know what it means and the phenomenon itself is definitely real. Dismissing the term is a right wing canard.

          1. \but to prejudice against them. \
            Exactly, what is prejudice call by that name – anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Hindu or anti-Black prejudice whatever.Africans have suffered till date from many other races , and there is no Afro-phobia.
            By investing terms like Islamophobia , leftists and liberals are just losing credibility

    1. This is due to disgusting leftist political culture of UK. A labour MP of Pakistani origin said there is a problem with Pakistani communities – she was immediately suspended by Jeremy Corbyn.

  10. “You are being unnecessarily pedantic. Islam is a religion just as Judaism is. Both “Islamophobia” and “antisemitism” refer to prejudice against Muslims and Jews as people not to theological critiques”

    …and the point goes to…Kabir!!

    Of course when people say “islamophobia” they mean prejudice against muslims as a people. Even people with +1 sigma IQ can understand that.

    Far too often razib browbeats people around here by resorting to semantic jugglery. The gist of Kabir’s argument was clear, if one chooses to see it.

    1. \“islamophobia” they mean prejudice against muslims as a people.\
      Why give it a pseudo clinical name like *phobia.

      Phobias are irrational fears, of say snakes or open spaces, closed spaces, etc. Person with such a phobia can’t stand such a situation or even a mention of it.

      It is perfectly rational fear of group which goes about demanding death or beheading of an innocent man – in some cases beheading are actually videoed and put on the internet or causes suicide bombers within a host society or demands 4 wives, whippings etc.
      When that group stops making outrageous demands in conflict with basic values of the host society , I guess there will be no fear

      1. Does the term “homophobia” also refer to “irrational fear” of homosexuals?

        I’m sure you realize the problems with discriminating against people simply because they share certain features of their identity with people who are extremists. Even you must acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are not videotaping beheadings or engaging in suicide bombings. Also, not all suicide bombers are Muslim. The LTTE is an example.

        But we all know that justifying prejudice is a typical right-wing move.

        1. It is also true that certain groups of muslims are orders of magnitude more likely to be Islamist violent extremists than other groups of muslims.

          The vast majority come from certain subsects of conservative Sunnis with a tinge of twelver Vilayat-e Faqih extremists mixed in.

          Islamist = someone who believes in taking over global society over the long run–albeit nonviolently in many cases.

          The following groups of muslims are natural best friends forever with nonmuslims:
          ——Muraqabah Sufi Chistie
          ——Muraqabah Sufi Qadiri
          ——Muraqabah Sufi Irfan twelver Shia
          ——Muraqabah Sufi Irfan sixer Shia
          ——Ex muslims
          ——Atheist muslims
          ——LBGTQ muslims
          ——femnist muslims
          ——liberal muslims
          ——Kurds
          ——Tajiks
          ——Sindhis
          ——Balochis
          ——this list is not exhaustive, there are many others

          1. You seem to miss the simple point that discriminating against individual people because they happen to share a religion (or some other feature) with extremists is unacceptable.

            Many Hindus have engaged in violence against Indian Muslims yet I would not blame every individual Hindu for those actions.

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