Thursday, October 19, 2006


I think we need to stop the abuse of our language. We need to try to be clear, and use words in accurate ways. Here, David Thomspson argues against the abuse of the term 'Phobia'.

One example of this that bugs me is the term 'Homophobia', which is constantly misused. A homophobe is a person, usually male, who is so terrified by homosexuality, and usually their own homosexual feelings, that they violently attack, and even kill homosexuals. Think Jeffrey Dahlmer. Therefore, your average barroom gay basher might not like homosexuals, but this doesn't make them a homophobe. All too often, people use the term 'homophobe' to describe loudmouths who would be better described by the more accurate term 'asshole'.

Now, as for 'Islamophobes', which is Thompson's topic, there certainly are people whose 'analysis of Islam' has lost all touch with reality. I've seen various websites by people who seem to understand Muslims as being roughly identical to the aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers- they might look 'just like us', but secretly, they're planning to kill us all. These internet savants aside, the term "Islamophobe" really should not be used as synonymous with "critical of Islam".

More importantly, Thompson notes that your beliefs should not be treated as your essential identity. It's bigotry to think ill of blacks, but why should it be bigotry to think ill of theism? Why shouldn't we be able to question other people's beliefs? Especially as monotheistic religious beliefs can be as stupid as believing in an all-loving God who's inexplicably angry and paranoid about gays and uppity women, and the great dangers they pose to the rest of us, but who apparently has no problem at all with hurricanes and volcanoes wiping thousands of innocent people out at one pop. Why shouldn't we be able to say: "Yeah, believe in your God if you want, but I don't buy that"? Why should that be treated as hate speech?

We reduce belief to identity, and then we cannot criticize people's beliefs without attacking them personally. But, some beliefs are wrong, misguided, or just stupid. This isn't phobia- it's critical thinking, and it's dangerous to cancel out the one by calling it the other.

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