It warms the heart whenever Lewandowsky condescends to show his Face of Sanity in the lower media. But in using his name to make a pun on the term ‘Q & A,’ has the Fourth Estate finally gone too far?
Prepare to be appalled, eduluminated and infotained in equal measure by today’s hi-lit article, hot from the virtual press at the United Kingdom offices of Psychology Today.
Islamophobia: a Lew & A
Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol answers the best questions submitted by you, our online readers.
What do you do, as a treating psychologist, for clients who say they’re afraid of Islam?
SL: In nine out of ten cases, nothing!
Everybody is a bit leery of it. There’d be something wrong with you (to use the DSM-5 terminology: islamophilia) if you weren’t!
Remember, Islam is the most batshit [US (derog.): insane; mental] religion ever, and many of its adherents are known to have an explosive temper. Literally.
Think about what happens as soon as you see a spider or a circus midget: that fight-or-flight urge that washes over you evolved for a reason. [Islam] is no different. It leads to thousands of deaths a year—almost as many as climate denial. If human beings were to suddenly let their guards down, that figure would be millions.
Evolution might be stochastic, but it isn’t stupid!
But sometimes, just sometimes, a fear can become intrusive. And that’s when it crosses the fine line that separates healthy, adaptive reflexes from phobias. For instance, you might find it interferes with your lifestyle, limits your job options or just renders you flaccid when you’re about to get to home base with your Lebanese secretary.
Here’s the rule of thumb:
If you suffer intense anxiety upon boarding a plane with Muslims, that’s just sensible. Take it from someone whose life is an endless series of Business Plus airline tickets: that moment when you realise the weird-bearded Egyptian nationals in front of you are checking in for the same flight never gets easier. All one can do, weekend after weekend, is ignore the voice of reason, take a Valium and man up. (The plants in your Tuscan fixer-upper aren’t going to water themselves, I tell myself over and over, like a mantra.)
And to repeat, there’s nothing wrong with me mentally, whatever Wikipedia is saying—unless crazy-about-the-environment qualifies!
But even after four years of this, I breathe the same sigh of relief every Monday morning when I touch down, unkilled, at Heathrow.
On the other hand, if you’re still worried about Islam after disembarking, you might have a mental problem. Ask your GP for a phobia test.
What misconception or caricature of Islamophobic people annoys you the most?
If I had to pick one? The Hollywood trope of the Islamophobe-as-Arabophobe.
You’d never know it from your favourite movie, but Arabophobes actually make up less than a quarter of the Islamophobic world!
What exactly is therapy [for Islamophobia] supposed to accomplish?
Short answer? It’s about managing the condition, by reducing your Islamophobia to liveable levels.
And I’m really glad you asked. We know the patients who get the best outcomes are those who have realistic expectations of what treatment will achieve.
So remember: therapy isn’t a cure—an Islamophobe will always be Islamophobic. But with luck and the right treatment plan, it doesn’t have to rule your life.
What would an Islamophobia-friendly workplace look like, and what do I have to do to work in one?
Believe it or not, phobically-correct, accessible workplaces aren’t all that different from any other. And they’re everywhere now. Look closely and you’ll spot the subtle improvement that sets them apart: the Muslim employees aren’t wearing identifying attire, praying, or generally acting weird.
Companies that still tolerate such behaviours in 2017, creating a hostile environment for Islamophobic people like you, can be reported to your national discrimination watchdog.
But do you really want things to get to that point if you can help it? With a little common sense, you should be able to keep the quasi-legal authorities out of it.
So come out of the closet! Let your Muslim workmates know about your condition. You might just be surprised how understanding they are once they—well—understand.
Discuss the things they can do to be less frightening. (Compromise, as I always say, is the cornerstone of multiculturalism!)
Explain the importance of not making sudden movements or discussing their faith, and that any religious clothing or facial hair could be a trigger for you.
Gently remind them—last but not least—that they have to wear a small bell during business hours to minimise the risk of startling anyone.
These simple steps are usually all it takes to make your office a safe space for everyone. In most cases, you’ll find your feelings of panic gradually lessening. If you’re really lucky you may even start liking your job for the first time in your life.
Now that’s what I call a win-win!
Can a modern Western nation really integrate an Islamophobic community? Is there any country you’d point to as a successful model?
Firstly: yes, it can be done.
Australia comes immediately to mind. I worked there for two decades and met the love of my life [alt-history novelist Naomi Oreskes] there. I even met my wife there. (And I’d probably still be Down Under if the Underground War on Science hadn’t machinated in the shadows to contrive my exile, forcing me to take a much better-paying gig at Bristol University.)
That sunburnt country, which gave us the burqini, also drafted the so-called Section 18C laws. I’m no legal expert, or citizen, or anything like that, but I still own a few investment properties there and I hear stuff. Apparently—in a nutshell—these laws enshrine the principle that eating pork and drinking alcohol in the workplace are part of being Australian.
The usual suspects in Canberra have been spreading fake truths about 18C in an effort to have it repealed. What such scare campaigns typically fail to reiterate sufficiently, however, is the obvious:
Australians are still free to abstain from putting whatever they like—or don’t like—into their mouths in the privacy of their own homes. It’s only when such un-Australian abstention impinges on the public space that it has the potential to offend and intimidate persons of Islamophobia.
And nobody has the right to do that to a minority.
As my 14-year-old son would probably put it: it’s about diversity, bitches.
(Alas, John hasn’t been 14 for a long time and my loins seem to bring forth only girlchildren these days, so I guess we’ll never know for sure.)
What’s your favourite treatment modality [for Islamophobia]?
As a cognitive scientist I’m probably blinded by my own biases, but I’d have to say Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
The basic idea of CBT is to identify and correct the distorted thinking patterns that lead to intrusive emotions, including fears.
As a concrete example, you may be bothered—like many of my patients—by persistent thoughts of Muslims “stealing your job.”
If so, you’re obviously confusing Pakistanis with Indians. The former, like most Muslim demographics, tend to underperform academically. And as for the work ethic that prevails in Urdu enclaves, let’s just say that Churchill’s famous analogy involving hydrophobia is—sadly—not quite obsolete.
So relax and focus on your breathing. You’re far more likely, statistically, to wake up tomorrow and discover a Pakistani Briton has stolen your car than your promotion.
Here’s a mnemonic patients often find useful: for every Hindu with a medical degree, there’s a quote-unquote ‘Paki’ with a prison record.
But let’s suppose that, in the process of teasing apart this spaghetti of maladaptive ideation, we detect that another, subsidiary fallacy—like “all Asians look the same”—is also at work.
Well, this imperialist cliché, while true, isn’t nearly as dispositive as patients tend to think. The rather banal observation that all Indian and Pakistani Britons are physically interchangeable doesn’t alter the fact that a whole spectrum of value systems (at least two of them) are followed on the Gangetic subcontinent, does it? Think, people.
In short, I’ve always found an evidence-based debunking to be the best disinfectant. Yes (I tell my clients), the statistics say you probably are going to lose your job—but your replacement won’t be a Muslim. They’ll just look like one.
I teach defensive driving and whole-road awareness at [a large Australian community college]. I wouldn’t call myself especially Islamophobic, but lately it’s getting more and more daunting to stand up in front of my Friday group—which happens to be dominated by a bevy of black-swathed muslimahs, their eyes barely detectable beneath visors that recall the age of Ned Kelly. What do you suggest, short of a career change?
A great question about a very common dilemma.
In fact, Muhammad himself (Peace Be Upon Himself) had the same problem, if a certain well-attested hadith is to believed. Apparently even Prophets aren’t immune to the terrors of public speaking—not when the audience takes modesty to such Darth-Vaderly lengths.
My prescription? Do what Muhammad did: picture the women naked.
Orators have known this trick since time immemorial. Your listeners aren’t quite so prone to pass judgment on you when they themselves are letting it hang out, tits and all, daisy-fresh as the day Allah made them, are they?
Admittedly this feat of visualisation is easier said than done, so you’ll probably need to break the problem into stages.
If they’re wearing burqas, imagine them in niqabs. Next week, abayas. Then chadors, then hijabs, and so on.
Before you know it you’ll be mentally stripping them down to burqinis; then two-piece burqinis; then one-piece burqinis with the other piece missing, yadda yadda yadda.
If you can (somehow) figure out a way to make this process fun—perhaps by turning it into a game, or ‘rewarding’ yourself at each milestone—then you’ll be more likely to put in the hard work, week after week, to ‘beat’ your phobia.
By the way:
“A bevy of black-swathed muslimahs”? Really?
Sorry, but I’m not comfortable with this kind of language, and I really must correct you: it’s “a murder of black-swathed muslimahs.”
Now, I’m probably the most jesuitical niggler you ever met, and all the other nigglers envy my game. But this isn’t just about collective-noun Nazism! It’s also about choosing your words with a bit of cultural sensitivity and historical intelligence, so you don’t come across as trivialising peoples’ heritages.
Which would be wrong.
Lately I’ve been getting into the bio-hacking scene, and I keep hearing about so-called Competitive Emotional Inhibition. What is this, exactly, and how would it help with my Islamophobia?
What you’re referring to, also known as Autonomic Cancelling or Adrenocortical Cancelling [ACC], essentially comes down to the rule that rage and fear are physiologically incompatible states.
The idea that you have to choose (emotionally speaking) either fight or flight, but not both, has been repeatedly confirmed by observations all the way back to Aristotle. It’s even backed up by science now, thanks to the anatomists who dissect the sympathetic systems of mice.
Simply recite a list, in your mind, of the times Islam has really ticked you off: London, Bali, Paris, Madrid, Benghazi, Boston, the other Madrid, and so on.
With a little luck and a soupçon of cortisol (the hormone your brain uses to literally “angry up” your blood), you’ll notice that you no longer feel scared, and couldn’t if you wanted to.
But what if I can’t remember anything Islam has done wrong? Is there a mnemonic?
Of course. Name a world capital.
Having said that, everybody’s different and the trick is to find what works with your Islamophobia. For me, dwelling on 9/11 is the perfect antidote.
I’m at the mild extreme of the [Islamophobia] spectrum, obviously, but it never hurts to have a contingency plan. So, any time I feel a cold sweat coming on while talking to an Asian colleague, I force myself to think back to that Tuesday morning in Manhattan. The memory of that wet thud of bodies hitting the sidewalk from fifty floors up—innocent people of various ages, with various burn thicknesses, turning into human piñatas on impact—gets my goat every time.
And voilà: suddenly I’m not fantasising about fleeing the room.
Our thanks to Dr [sic] Stephan Lewandowsky for taking part in the first of what we hope will be a myriad of Lewses & Ases.■
Panic not, Stephan Lewandowsky will not return when IIAWAM continues with The Video Game That Fights Islamophobia With Every Click. [Update: Here it is.]
ben ambivalent dictator,
Cnaius Deniocletianus Sceptissimus Caesar,
Triumphant survivor of the Year of Eleven Emperors,
Duumphant survivor of the War of Triumvirs,
Unumphant survivor of the Amicable Wars,
Divine Consort to Cleopatra VII, Empress of Egypt and Queen of Denial