Here's Pascal Bruckner:
At the end of the 1970s, Iranian fundamentalists invented the term "Islamophobia" formed in analogy to "xenophobia". The aim of this word was to declare Islam inviolate. Whoever crosses this border is deemed a racist. This term, which is worthy of totalitarian propaganda, is deliberately unspecific about whether it refers to a religion, a belief system or its faithful adherents around the world.
But confession has no more in common with race than it has with secular ideology. Muslims, like Christians, come from the Arab world, Africa, Asia and Europe, just as Marxists, liberals and anarchists come or came from all over. In a democracy, no one is obliged to like religion, and until proved otherwise, they have the right to regard it as retrograde and deceptive. Whether you find it legitimate or absurd that some people regard Islam with suspicion – as they once did Catholicism – and reject its aggressive proselytism and claim to total truth – this has nothing to do with racism....
The term "Islamophobia" serves a number of functions: it denies the reality of an Islamic offensive in Europe all the better to justify it; it attacks secularism by equating it with fundamentalism. Above all, however, it wants to silence all those Muslims who question the Koran, who demand equality of the sexes, who claim the right to renounce religion, and who want to practice their faith freely and without submitting to the dictates of the bearded and doctrinaire. It follows that young girls are stigmatised for not wearing the veil, as are French, German or English citizens of Maghribi, Turkish, African or Algerian origin who demand the right to religious indifference, the right not to believe in God, the right not to fast during Ramadan. Fingers are pointed at these renegades, they are delivered up to the wrath of their religions communities in order to quash all hope of change among the followers of the Prophet.
On a global scale, we are abetting the construction of a new thought crime, one which is strongly reminiscent of the way the Soviet Union dealt with the "enemies of the people". And our media and politicians are giving it their blessing. Did not the French president himself, never one to miss a blunder - not compare Islamophobia with Antisemitism? A tragic error. Racism attacks people for what they are: black, Arab, Jewish, white. The critical mind on the other hand undermines revealed truths and subjects the scriptures to exegesis and transformation. To confuse the two is to shift religious questions from an intellectual to a judicial level. Every objection, every joke becomes a crime.
As I've written before, one of the most insidious effects of "Islamophobia" is to deny the gap between a person and their beliefs, making it impossible to criticise the belief without seeming to criticise the person - and, for a Muslim, reinforcing the idea that Islam is not a set of dogmas and beliefs that can be put aside, but an essential and inviolable part of their existence:
A fundamental principle of Western thought is the separation between a person and their beliefs. This is not a fundamental principle of Islamic thought. Quite the contrary: born a Muslim, you die a Muslim. The notion that you might change your mind is so alien that the punishment for apostasy - in theory, if not necessarily in practice - is death.
The charge of Islamophobia deliberately obscures that separation between a person and their beliefs. It accepts the Islamic vision of an immutable union of person and religion. We should refuse to accept those terms....
The aim should be, at least for those Muslims resident in the West, that they feel as free to abandon the faith of their parents (or not to, of course) as Christians, atheists, and all the rest of us are free now to make our own choices. As long as Islamophobia is accepted as a legitimate term of criticism, we won't start making any progress.
Back to Bruckner for the last word:
Let us not forget that today, of all the monotheist religions, Christianity is the most persecuted – particularly in Islamic countries such Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey or Egypt. It is easier to be a Muslim in London, New York or Paris than a Protestant or Catholic in the Middle East or North Africa. But the term "Christianophobia" does not function – and that's a good thing. There are words which taint language, which obscure meaning. "Islamophobia" is one of the words that we urgently need to delete from our vocabulary.