Islamophobia? It’s just ‘a figment of liberals’ imaginations’

Well, that’s what Brendan O’Neill argues at the Telegraph. He asserts that there is no sign of any mass outbreak of anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States following the Boston bombing. But then, O’Neill is part of a political tendency – formerly the ultra-left Revolutionary Communist Party but now organised around the right-wing libertarian online magazine spiked, whose adherents have long argued that Islamophobia is a myth.

What distinguishes the “analysis” of O’Neill and his co-thinkers on this issue is their manipulation, or indeed outright rejection, of empirical evidence in the service of received dogma (an odd method for self-styled defenders of Enlightenment values to adopt, you might think). So O’Neill refers dismissively to “similarly wrongheaded fears of an outburst of mass Islamophobic hysteria in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London”, when the backlash against British Muslims was in fact carefully documented by the Institute of Race Relations at the time (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here). The Islamophobia inspired by 7/7 resulted in one murder. Nor did it end in 2005.

For a balanced view of the present fallout from the Boston bombing, we have to turn to the press release issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR pays tribute to the fact that “Americans of all faiths have rejected the call by a minority of extremists to stereotype Muslims and Islam” and notes that the two hate attacks that were carried out immediately after the Boston bombing have not so far been followed by others. However CAIR goes on to condemn the spate of inflammatory anti-Muslim comments made by right-wing politicians and media commentators.

Nobody supposes that this upsurge of Islamophobic hysteria – because that is the only way to describe it – will inevitably result in lynch mobs attacking Muslim communities in the US. But anyone who claims that it isn’t likely to encourage extremist elements to target Muslims in future is either politically naive or wilfully blind.