One of the cleverest tricks of the cultural Left is demonizing perfectly reasonable actions and opinions by giving them sinister names. It is the logical go-to technique for those whose ideas have failed in every practical application but who nonetheless still dominate the media by which ideas are spread.
A favorite example of mine is the old feminist declaration that men objectify women when they respond to female beauty as nature decrees. This particular reframing was not successful over the long term for the same reason that health scares involving coffee have never caught on: no one was willing to give up the stimulant. A more tenacious variation of the same approach is the accusation that law enforcement officers practice racial profiling, which sounds as though police center their suspicions on one race over another out of simple bigotry or meanness. In fact, if criminals of a certain type or in a certain neighborhood tend to be of a specific race, then the proper term for racial profiling would be good police work. And though, fortunately for liberals and conservatives alike, police continue to do that good work, the evil-sounding sobriquet has forced them to waste a lot of time, effort, and money pretending they dont.
Recently, in defending an imams proposal to build a triumphalist Muslim Cultural Center near Manhattans Ground Zerowhere, we may remember, so many innocents were slaughtered in the name of Allahthe Left has outdone itself. Rather than engage in serious debate with the vast majority of New Yorkers and Americans who oppose the project, the mosques defenders have simply dubbed the opposing viewpoint Islamophobia. As ever when this naming device is used, the left-wing media seem to rally as one. Within the space of a single week, Time put the word on its cover, Maureen Dowd accused the entire nation of it in her column, and CBS News trotted out the charge in reporting on mosque opposition.
For anyone born with the gift of laughter, the term is absurd to the point of hilarity. A phobia, after all, is an irrational fear. Given that Islam is cancerous with violence in virtually every corner of the globe, given the oppressive and exclusionary nature of many Islamic governments, given the insidious Islamist inroads against long-held freedoms in western Europe, and given those aspects of sharia that seem, to an outsider at least, to prohibit democracy, free speech, and the fair treatment of the female half of our species, those who love peace and liberty would, in fact, be irrational not to harbor at least a measure of concern.
A religion is only a system of beliefs, and to say that all beliefs deserve equal respect or acceptance is to say that ideas have no moral weight, a patent absurdity. Because the human soul thirsts so for God, the sacred principle of individual liberty demands that religion be given wide latitude when it comes to internal mind-states, modes of worship, and the description of the metaphysical. But when it comes to the practical affairs of humankind, humankind may judgeand Islam, as the world stands now, has a lot to answer for. Whether radical Islamic violence, sexism, religious bigotry, and triumphalism are the natural outgrowths of its dogma or a series of aberrations is a perfectly valid question. Likewise the question of Islamic intentions toward Western culture in general and, by extension, the intentions of those behind the Ground Zero Mosque proposal. By what outlandish moral logic does Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf call America an accomplice to the crime of 9/11? From whom will he acquire the $100 million required to build his center, and what will they receive in return? None of these questions will be answered by simply condemning as phobic those who bring them to the fore.
With a hostility toward Christianity second only to Draculas, the Left has no credibility on the subject of freedom of religion. In a representative moment in February 2006, liberalisms flagship paper, the New York Times, refused to publish the controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed in order to refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols. The next day, it famously illustrated a story on the cartoons with an offensive image of the Virgin Mary smeared with dung. One wonders, therefore: Does the Left really cherish the rights of Islam, or is theirs but a short-sighted alliance with the enemy of their enemies?
Which is to say that perhaps opponents of the mosque should question the motives of those who question their motives. In any case, they should greet the designation of Islamophobia with the derision that it deserves.
Andrew Klavan is a contributing editor to City Journal. His new thriller, The Identity Man, is due out in November from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.