Honouring IIAWAM: ‘A social history of fear and loathing’

Lewptb 501

Located in the Garden of Communicators, this lifelike animatronic homage to Stephan Lewandowsky is the number 1 earner at the Stephen Schneider Center for Truth and Effectiveness, says a museum spokesman, exaggerating.
Pictured: inserting $200USD in “Lew’s” mouth causes him to “juggle” the equal-and-opposite ethics of schnience, while visitors place bets on where he’ll stop.

Welcome to International Islamophobia Awareness Week Awareness Month proper.

Without any ado: a story that already had an introduction.

Oh, and don’t let the masthead put you off. Give it a chance and we think you’ll agree that—for a Guardian article—this is 6-sigma, ‘I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Brad!’ good.

Not great, but… you know. ■

masthead the-guardian-logo1

“Fear and loathing: a social history of Islamophobia”
[Monday, 15 May 2017]

According to a major survey, Islamophobia has edged out the fear of snakes—ophidiophobia—on the list of things that keep Britons awake at night. To put this in perspective, leading mental expert Professor Stephan Lewandowsky says we’re now more afraid of Muslims than spiders and clowns combined.

While the Big Three fears—heights, nuns and public speaking—are unlikely to be dethroned any time soon, adds the Bristol-based boffin, the emerging landscape of religion-specific, terror-inspired phobia does pose a new challenge for all of us. But Lewandowsky has faith in the psychology community’s ability to meet the problem head-on, and the therapeutic track-record to back it up.

“For the millions of ordinary people living with Islamophobia, the message now is a simple one,” says Lewandowsky: “Real, effective, evidence-based help is available.

“Sadly, most sufferers are too ashamed to ask for it. That’s the real crime.”

In good company

If the idea of sharing an elevator with a mufti, mullah or muezzin gives you palpitations and clammy palms, there’s no need to feel alone.

Famous phobics include Tony Abbott, the former Australian PM who won bipartisan praise in 2013 for admitting he found the sight of a burqa “confronting”—a brave revelation that opened up a national dialogue on mood disorders.

For his trouble, Mr Abbott was vilified by sceptics of the condition, who nicknamed him the Mad Monk and dismissed his fears as the byproduct of a Catholic education.

(“You can take the boy out of the priesthood but you can’t take the priest out of the boy,” sneered David Marr, an Islamophobia denier and member of what passes for an intelligentsia Down Under.)

Even Christopher Hitchens, the great man of Anglo-American letters, confessed to an involuntary dread whenever a group of youths emerged from a madrassa on a dark Beirut, Bombay or Belgrade street.

Hitch may have lost his battle with oesophageal cancer in 2012, but his witticisms never will.

“Islamophobia,” he once said, “is a word invented by psychologists, and used by diagnosticians, to treat patients.”

For Professor Lewandowsky, though, it’s no quipping matter. Having worked with hundreds of sufferers on two continents, he’s seen for himself the broken cross-cultural marriages, abandoned military careers, and grown men and women too scared to go out for groceries in Bankstown Centro (or downtown Brixton as the case may be).

Collateral damage

It can also lead to tragedy—which is how the illness came to popular attention in the first place.

“If you’re like most people, you probably had no idea there was such a phobia until 2001,” says Lewandowsky, “when a Sikh man in Manhattan fell victim to a pointless act of brutality in the wake of 9/11.

“At trial, the perpetrators both pled ‘Islamophobia,’ as their high-priced experts dubbed it. It seems these two rednecks wanted to lob their Molotov cocktails at a Muslim community centre but lost their nerve at the last minute, retreating in a panic to the nearest convenience store… where Mr Singh happened to be on shift at the wrong place, wrong time,” he continues.

“The New York D.A. was satisfied and the rest, as they say, is precedent. In the view of the court, the pair had made a good-faith effort to target a Muslim site, and would have succeeded if only their bowels didn’t turn to water within fifty feet of all things Islamic. They were convicted, if I recall, on one count of the Misuse of Fire—a proverbial slap on the wrist.”

Justice may have been served that day, but the verdict had a darker consequence: it would usher in an age of persecution and prejudice against all Islamophobic Americans.

Islamophobo-phobia: a prejudice without borders

“And the hate didn’t stop at [the other side of] the Atlantic, either,” recounts Darrell Harb, president of the Islamophobic Students’ Association’s [ISA] United Kingdom chapter.

“An entire people has now been tarred with the deeds of a tiny minority.”

Mr Harb reckons the climate today is as hostile to Muslim-fearing citizens as it has been in years. And he should know; one of the rôles of the ISA is to monitor media chatter.

“We always see an uptick in anti-Islamophobic bigotry in the days and weeks following a high-profile terror event. It’s invariably fuelled by a political narrative that paints the whole Islamophobic community as a bloodthirsty mob, out for vigilante-style payback.

“But the recent fashion for Trump-bashing represents something new, and ugly, in the discourse.

“What the non-Islamophobic community needs to understand,” urges Harb, “is that the vast majority of Islamophobic Britons—or Americans, Belgians or whatever—are normal, law-abiding people just like them, who reject the use of violence in our name.”

The awareness deficit hypothesis

Lewandowsky couldn’t agree more, but fears the education campaign is going to have its work cut out for it. If ignorance and misconstrual of the Islamophobic perspective are widespread in British society, he says, they’re virtually pandemic among disadvantaged and minority groups such as migrants.

“Take the Muslim population [in England], for instance. If you want to hear a faithful recitation of every misconception in the book, just ask them about Islamophobia.

“They’ll tell you it’s about racism, or Orientalism; that it makes you a bad person, or that it’s your fault. Myth, myth, myth.”

Yet, as Lewandowsky hastens to add, Muslims themselves can hardly be blamed for any distorted or stereotyped views they might hold of their Islamophobic neighbours, relatives and co-workers.

“It’s human nature to suspect and resent what we don’t understand,” he points out. “When you add to this a continuous diet of demonisation and vilification by the media—a media [sic] which goes out of its way not to give airtime to the voices of authentic, mainstream Islamophobia, because Allah forbid anyone subvert the caricatures!—is it any wonder people like Muslims are less than positively predisposed [to Britons with Islamophobia]?”

And that’s not the final twist. According to the latest data on our media habits, British Muslims now get the majority of their news from the Qur’an—a source described as “somewhat dated” and “[coming] from a less cosmopolitan social context” by Ibn Warraq, the newly-appointed Chair in Religious Studies at the University of East Anglia.

Professor Warraq adds that he “read [the Qur’an] from cover to cover once, and there wasn’t a single positive Islamophobic character in it.”

For all of us in Western society, one thing is certain: unless and until we find a way to accommodate our new Islamophobic populations, unpleasantness will persist. ■


Panic not, Stephan Lewandowsky will return as soon as International Islamophobia Awareness Week Awareness Month [IIAWAM] continues, with Learning To Fear Islam Just the Right Amount. Update: here it is.

Yours imperiously,

Gaius Augustus Scepio “Scepticus” Afro-Caribbeanus,
Fist of my Name,
King of Low Low Prices and First of the Fist Men,
The Watcher in the Early Afternoon and the Clock Upon the Wall,
known as Kublai Khal, The Stallion that Mounts the Fist

24 thoughts on “Honouring IIAWAM: ‘A social history of fear and loathing’

  1. Whoee!!! My alma mater (adoptum) shows once again its foreword looking by appointing Ibn Warraq and opening its local ISIS centre.
    The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society is so often misunderstood.

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  2. Oh what a shame, the media edifice that is the Guardian must have got it wrong. Seeking to inform myself further upon this rapidly advancing area of study (polyphobial islamism) I sought a PhD (or PPhil, but that smacks too much like three years in CRU purgatory) position at the feet of Ibn Warraq only to be informed that none where available. Consulting the UEA website I could not find Ibn listed. Perhaps the Guardian meant Anglia Ruskin, but I’ve temporarily lost the will to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sometimes I wish your articles came with subtitles. Or even semaphore? Or a diagram with dotted lines where I need to make the folds to reveal the real message? Or perhaps it’s one of those magic eye pictures and if I stare at it until I’m cross eyed, I’ll see a 3D image of a polar bear?

    On a tangent or maybe on topic, it’s hard to tell – I really dislike the word ‘phobia’. It’s a bit like ‘denier’ in that the common use of it attempts to condense a raft of opinions in one word intended to diminish the offender. Phobia shouldn’t be bandied about for things we just dislike or don’t trust, it should be used for things we are genuinely, irrationally scared of – like spiders, tax forms and baked beans. I dislike tomatoes but I’m scared of little beans covered in foul orange sauce. Just the thought of eating them brings me out in a cold sweat. That’s a phobia.

    Phobia is confused with hatred, sometimes irrational but sometimes not. Without knowing why people feel the way they do, it’s hard to say what’s irrational or not. Too often ‘phobia’ is a way to rubbish people’s feelings. A shortcut to try and make them go away. Sometimes it works but often it just suppresses the feeling. Look at Brexit – all those smug elites who thought that repeatedly telling the plebs that they were racists, Islamaphobic, no nothings was supposed to quell dissention in the ranks but when presented with the opportunity to let their feelings known, the plebs did. And weren’t the elites gob smacked. Instead of the surprise leading to a rethink, the elites have doubled down on the suppressive insults but the plebs have seen that the elites are defenceless. The old saying – ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’, could be a battle cry. If the Europhiles continue to try and manipulate their fellow countrymen with name calling, they’d better take note of what the other side chooses to retaliate with. If Brexit feels painful, it would be as nothing compared with real sticks and stones.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Reading Wikki to inform myself about phobias, I came across this interesting factoid: Social phobia affects about 7% of people in the United States and 0.5-2.5% of people in the rest of the world (Social phobia is when the situation is feared as the person is worried about others judging them). If real, what does it mean?

    Tinyco2. Did not read anything about fear of baked beans (although I suppose a fear of drowning in them would be quite rational). You might be able to name your very own phobia.

    Joking aside, I thought your post interesting and thoughtful.

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  5. ALAN KENDALL (24 May 17 at 7:15 am)

    I can think of a a very simple reason why social phobia, or fear of being judged, might be higher in the US. It’s a free and fluid country, so people are constantly knocking up against people different from themselves, and therefore need reassurance about being accepted by others.

    Living in a foreign country, I have zero fear of being judged, since everybody I’m defined as different every time I open my mouth. It was noticable at Bishop Hill that many of the commenters were ex-prats or wanderers and therefore likely free of this worry about being judged. That’s maybe why we wear our climate pariah status with pride.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Geoff. Not sure I can agree with you. Firstly, I question the original factoid. Are the definitions of phobias the same in the USA and the rest of the world? I think not. Counselling for phobias in the USA, I suggest, is more of a cultural rite of passage in the USA. What is considered a phobia in the USA may only be regarded as a concern elsewhere. Secondly in an open and fluid society (which in part I refute the USA is) meeting “others” is more likely to generate tolerance and acceptance rather than fear of being judged. Finally, my experiences of living in the USA suggest to me that, excepting the professional class, USA citizens are rather immobile. Some are quite proud of never travelling far from their homes. USA citizens have the lowest percentage of passport ownership of western countries.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “According to a major survey, Islamophobia has edged out the fear of snakes—ophidiophobia—on the list of things that keep Britons awake at night.”

    Probably for good reasons: Only one indigenous poisonous snake, the Adder, Vipera berus
    Per Wiki, “In Britain there have been only 14 known fatalities since 1876—the last a 5-year-old child in 1975[6]—and one near fatal bite of a 39-year-old woman in Essex in 1998.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. GEOFF

    “It was noticable at Bishop Hill that many of the commenters were ex-prats or wanderers”

    …and the rest, I noticed, tended to be future ex-prats.

    Like

  9. Michael,

    your edifying discussion of Vipera berus (the italics are much appreciated, by the way) reminded me of Michelle Obama’s well-meaning, if abortive, efforts to close the numeracy gap for African-American schoolchildren.

    In hindsight, the best slogan to get inner-city urban peoples feeling empowered about math[s] might not be Yes We Can All Be Black Adders!

    To repeat, though, the First Ex-Lady’s fight to End Urban Ignance showed her heart was in the right place, even if her brain was the wrong size.

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  10. Michael I’m certain that I once read that fear of snakes (and spiders) is hard-wired into our brains suggesting it was a survival device from times when humans interacted with poisonous snakes (and spiders). If this was correct then it is immaterial whether today we live in locations where poisonous threats are absent or infrequent. After all there are no indigenous poisonous spiders in the UK yet fear of them is rampant.
    Our politicians have already evolved an phobia of computer climate model outputs. An evolutionary blind alley.

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  11. Alan,

    I seem to recall an interesting study that found that macaques could learn by imitation (from their mothers, or puppets impersonating their mothers)—or perhaps *empathy* to be precise—to fear spiders, snakes, hawks etc. but couldn’t be taught to fear certain other things like flowers, teddy bears, …

    Which suggested to the researchers that even if a particular fear per se isn’t hard-wired, the potential to *acquire* that fear (but not another) may be hard-wired.

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  12. Puppets aping their mothers, I should have said.

    Yes, yes, I know, monkeys aren’t apes.

    I wish someone would explain that to the “zoologist” Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington.

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  13. Brad, dogs must be different. My better half had a very young male labrador who was a nightmare. She convinced it that a teddy bear was very dangerous and used this to (partially) restrain its bad behaviour – it had partially destroyed a staircase. When my dog (an older female bearded collie) was shown this “fearsome” creature, it showed utter contempt for the teddy bear and the labrador. Within seconds the labrador’s carefully built up phobia disappeared.
    This suggests to me that inappropriate phobias can be acquired but can be lost if not hard-wired (for stupid labradors at least).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. ” She convinced it that a teddy bear was very dangerous”

    How?

    By the way, this is what went wrong. (I’ll bold the operative word.)

    When my dog (an older female bearded collie) was shown this “fearsome” creature

    Is it really a head-scratcher that the lab instantly sided with the first male rôle model in its life?

    Talk about Dog Bites Man.

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  15. Brad you clearly display a total ignorance of the bearded collie breed, females of which are self opinionated and fearless of teddy bears. Labradors, in contrast, are loyal to a fault and have great desire to please and be fed anything (I have been told that their food selection switch is permanently disabled). You would have treated my dog Miesha with considerably more respect than you have hitherto shown. But perhaps you are only acquainted with dingos, with no breeding.

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  16. Cat persons, keople or persats are actually an urban myth. Repeated failures to cross the planet’s top 2 species* have convinced military scientists beyond a shadow (3.0000000001%) of doubt that they don’t have the same number of chromosomes. Felis sapiens turns out to be homo infelix.

    And pogs like myself couldn’t be happier.

    *Self rated

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  17. You still haven’t answered the only serious/important/ingenuous question I’ve posed in this entire thread: how? And if your better half went back to the laboradoire and repeated the experiment, preferably with a naïve lab lab, while wearing a fake beard this time, would she capture Man’s BFF’s esteem and obeisance permanently, mewonders?

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  18. I haven’t a clue as to how the poor Manchurian Candidate labrador puppy became traumatised by the daemon teddy. But any conditioning was immediately broken by the disdain of the bearded collie, which was the important message I was attempting to convey. Get with the message.

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  19. Indeed, it’s a powerful story of the rapid extinction of learned fear, the indomitable de-domitability of the canine spirit and the bond between a boychild and an older, bearded member of the same species—I’m just soliciting more detail in hopes of developing it into a screenplay. Despite ever-rising concession stand prices and ever-falling cinema attendance, the power of film to deprogram an inappropriately-scared society endures.

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  20. Brad. I trust there will be an over-ride for me on any profits you might acquire.

    Better still write a screenplay of the book by Gregory Burns “How dogs love us” a scientific exploration of dogs’ empathy as demonstrated by NMR scans. This wonderful little book has been virtually ignored. An utter shame.

    Like

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