The weirdest aspect of the Maryam Namazie affair at Goldsmiths - when she was intimidated by members of the Islamic Society while attempting to give a speech on "Apostasy blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS" - was the solidarity expressed by Goldsmith's Feminist Society: not for Namazie, but for the Islamist thugs who shouted at her:
"Goldsmiths Feminist Society stands in solidarity with Goldsmiths Islamic Society. We support them in condemning the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and agree that hosting known islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred."
How on earth did we arrive at the point where a university feminist society could side with a bunch of bearded heavies, representing a profoundly misogynist culture, who threaten and harass a woman giving a speech in support of secularism?
Part of the answer, I suppose, is the story of certain sections of the left for whom the whiff of racism - or, in this case, the whiff of "islamophobia" - trumps every other consideration. People with darker skin are being criticised by people with lighter skin, and in such a confrontation skin colour wins out every time. Never mind that Namazie is herself Iranian, an ex-Muslim. Her decision to speak out against the theocratic tendencies of her former faith mean that she's no longer deserving of the sympathy for the underdog that characterises this brand of supposedly radical thinking. She's not a real Muslim; she's a sell-out; she's joined the other side. For these people - the liberal racists - people like Namazie, who think for themselves, can no longer be viewed as victims and are therefore no longer worthy of support.
More generally, it's all about identity politics; in the sense that our opinions, our beliefs, are now seen to define us. Islamic Society members and Feminist Society members are two groups who define themselves by their beliefs. Therefore, according to the feminists, a threat to one identity group, the Islamists, is also a threat to other identity groups, in their struggle to maintain their "safe space" within the big cruel world of a liberal secular state. Though the idea that the Islamists would ever return the compliment and express solidarity with the feminists is, of course, laughable.
What this is, though, in a more profound sense, is a challenge to one of the enlightenment's key principles: the separation between a person and their beliefs. And one of the key drivers in this new attack is the concept of "islamophobia" itself.
I've posted about this before. Here's what I wrote back in 2010:
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. A person's ethnic origins may be Pakistani, Arab, Kurd, European, whatever, and to criticise or abuse them for that is racist and unacceptable. Their belief, whether in Islam, Scientology, UFOs, or any other ideology, creed or cult, is an entirely different matter, and should be open to criticism, debate, scepticism, up to and including ridicule. That's the way we do it, and that's what we should be defending. Worship who or what you want, wear what you want, think what you want, but don't expect to be spared from being offended by the opinions and beliefs of others. The charge of Islamophobia is, precisely, an attempt to make criticism of Islam illegitimate - and that attempt should be resisted. We should be free to criticise Islam just as we criticise Christianity, socialism, capitalism, or any other system of beliefs.
The fact that the most well-known Islamic apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is under constant police protection, that Ibn Warraq, author of "Why I am Not a Muslim", has to write under a pseudonym, and that cartoons of Mohammed still attract death threats and Facebook bans, suggests how far we still have to go. 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.
Maryam Namazie has herself made the same point:
Islamophobia is nothing but a political term used to scaremonger people into silence....
You cannot attribute human qualities to a belief system or Islam and Islamism in order to rule out and deem racist any opposition or criticism....
Just in case they didn’t know, let me repeat. Criticism, mockery, opposition to and even hatred of a belief Is. Not. Racism....
That’s what the term is there for – to protect Islam – from prejudice, not Muslims. Given the havoc Islamism (and its banner, Islam) are wreaking worldwide, a criticism is not just a right but a historical task and duty.
We need to think clearly about this. "Islamophobia" needs always to be secured within inverted commas. It's a bogus concept, conflating - deliberately conflating - the person and their beliefs. Goldsmiths Feminist Society have been suckered by the term, and in the process have made fools of themselves.
These things matter.