Islamophobia is a form of undue influence that creates a false view by omitting information, using exaggeration and out-and-out deception. Far from the radicalized terrorist that the Islamaphobe paints as all of Islam, the vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens, who are as appalled as anyone else by the extreme activities of Al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS.
On June 27, Lord Pearson of Rannoch stood up in the UK’s House of Lords and said, “Will the government please stop using the word ‘Islamophobia’ because it is surely reasonable and not at all phobic to fear the world’s most violent ideology from which indeed most hate speech comes.”
I am glad to report that Lord Pearson’s request was met with calls of “shame” from the House. Pearson is one of only three peers who have aligned themselves with the anti-European Union UK Independence Party. The upper house of parliament contains 791 peers, so UKIP is in a tiny minority (it has no single member of parliament in the House of Commons).
A fellow peer pointed out Lord Pearson’s close association with Tommy Robinson, leader of the right-wing English Defence League, who was jailed for 13 months this May. It is good to see these politicians refusing to be swayed by Pearson’s fearmongering.
There are grounds for hope: this year I’ve had the good fortune to attend two meetings hosted by the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) and to talk with about 70 fellow attendees. I was there to suggest a preventative approach not only to radicalization, but to all forms of manipulation and undue influence – which is the mision of Open Minds.
I was gladdened by the compassionate concern expressed by everyone there. It is worth pointing out that several of the attendees were themselves Muslims active in deradicalizing those tricked into extreme beliefs.While organizations such as RAN and the UK’s Prevent do excellent work in alerting the public to the dangers and the reality of terrorism, they do not focus on the broader psychological education suggested both by the Open Minds Foundation and the International Cultic Studies Association.
I made some comments about the rise in Islamophobia during my last conversation with Chris Shelton. I support those programs which have tried to educate children about the gifts of Islamic civilization to the West over the centuries, and to show the damage caused to that civilization after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War One by western nations.
Islamophobia uses the most basic tools of undue influence: it generalizes all Muslims, as if Al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS represented the whole population, and it edits and distorts history to inflame hatred.
To bring a more accurate picture into focus, I have taken a little time to list some of the many gifts made by Islam to the West. I think this informaton should be broadly available to schoolchildren to undermine Islamophobia. I am indebted to Jim Al-Khalili for his BBC series Science and Islam and to Ehsan Masood for the excellent book that accompanied the series.
The Translation Movement that began in Baghdad in the mid-eighth century CE is one of the glories of scholarship and scientific enquiry. The available wisdom of the world was gathered together, translated into Arabic and used to develop science and technology in an unprecedented way.
The discoveries of the Translation Movement came to northern Europe through the Caliphate of Cordoba in Spain and through contact with the Crusaders in the Middle East at the beginning of the second millennium of the Christian Era. Cordoba was the largest city in Europe at this time. It had streetlighting, running water and hospitals that were open to all 24/7.
The Translation Movement brought together all the available learning of the world. No expense was spared and texts poured in from India, from China and from the Byzantine Empire.
Classical Greek texts decried and destroyed by Christian theologians re-introduced the work of Plato and Aristotle. The huge library collected in Baghdad kick-started revolutions in mathematics. Arab scholars refined the Indian system of numbering to give us ‘arab numerals’. This included the number zero, and allowed for complex calculations that had been impossible using the Latin MDCLXVI system. Muslim scholars added the decimal point, algebra, algorithms, and quadratic equations – without which there would be no computing, no AI and no Internet.
Astronomy was transformed by Muslim scientists – including the development of the classical Greek Aristophanes’ argument that the Earth is round – and al-Haitham’s [c.946-1040 CE] Doubts about Ptolemy – long before Copernicus or Galileo. Note also the Arabic names of tens of stars: Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Altair, Dench, Formalhaut, Rigel among them. Muslims developed the astrolabe and the quadrant, and the established of observatories in the 820s (CE) in both Baghdad and Damascus.
Technological innovations included the water-clock, the crankshaft, cam-operated valves, automatic valves and double-action pumps. Map-making advanced significantly in the Islamic world, too. After Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Muslims to North Africa, some had to be recalled, to maintain the sophisticated irrigation systems they had built.
Developments in medicine were simply stunning. The authority of Galen, the second century Roman, held sway in western European medicine well into the 17th century, it was questioned (in the 9th century, by ibn-Ishaq, and later by al-Razi), tested, refuted and replaced in the more scientifically inclined Muslim world.
Among al-Razi’s books is Why People Prefer Quacks and Charlatans to Skilled Physicians. Al-Razi’s many accomplishments included identifying measles and smallpox accurately (his diagnostic approach was used into the 19th century in the West). He wrote a 23-volume encyclopedia of medicine, and was the first to understand that fever is a protective response. He used scientific experimentation a century before Roger Bacon became the “father of science” by repeating lessons he had learned from scholars living in Islamic countries (some of whom were Jewish or Christian, because they were tolerated as “People of the Book”).
Al-Razi’s work was greatly extended by ibn-Sina – called Avicenna in western Europe, whom I mistakenly identified in my talk with Chris Shelton as the author of the commentary on Aristotle that sparked the founding of Christian Europe’s first universities at Bologna, Paris and Oxford (it was actually Averroes’ commentary).
Ibn-Sina wrote a complete summary of medical knowledge. It was a standard text in Christendom for six centuries, going through 60 editions between 1500 and 1674 alone. He understood that tuberculosis is contagious, that diseases can spread through both soil and water, and that emotions affect health. He also discovered that nerves transmit both pain and muscle signals. He listed 760 medical drugs. He also said that perhaps heaven and hell are states of mind, rather than physical realities.
Al-Zhahrawi, a Spanish Andalucian native who died in 1013 CE was probably the most celebrated surgeon in history up to and for many years beyond his time. He discovered what is now called Kocher’s method for relocating a dislocated shoulder and the Walcher position for easing difficult labors. He developed or perfected many surgical instruments, including forceps for childbirth, tonsillectomy scissors, the abcess knife and many others. He was the first to advocate catgut for surgical sutures (don’t worry, “catgut” is made from many animals, none of them cats!).
The second Caliph, al-Khattabb (581-644) introduced quarantine – it took the Venetians until the 14th century to adopt the practice. In the 9th century, Cordoba – the largest city in Europe – had hospitals that were open 24/7 with separate wards for men and women, which were divided for the mentally ill, for optical complaints and various other ailments. They also had running water and a streetlighting system, along with a sewerage system (so it definitely didn’t smell like most other European cities, where human waste was simply thrown into the streets).
The ibn-Tulun hospital was established in 872 in Egypt. Muslim hospitals found enough benefactors to offer free medical care to the whole community, a thousand years before FDR’s administration suggested the same level of care, and European countries adopted it.
These are just snapshots of the great benefits that flowed freely from the Islamic civilization into the West. The simplistic polarized thinking of Islamophobes is easily refuted, once the evidence is consulted. As ever, we advocate critical thinking and careful examination of the evidence. The creation of a dehumanized enemy is a long-standing method of phobia induction; people often group together instinctively in the face of danger.
Islamophobia doesn’t just induce fear in non-Muslims: it is also exactly what the tiny minority of terrorists promote, so that the majority of peaceful and pro-social Muslims, finding themselves hated and reviled by their neighbors, will be aggravated into joining the ranks of the extremists. We can prevent this radicalization, if we use accurate information and overcome this prejudice.
At Open Minds, we are preparing free online courses that will be both interesting and accessible to adolescents and adults, and will teach the basic characteristics of human predators and their agents, along with the techniques of seduction and recruitment they use. We particularly want to educate youngsters to recognize the manipulative techniques common to all human predators and their groups, no matter which ideology, faith tradition, or philosophy they follow. We welcome your contributions and support for this project.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s book, Opening Minds? Do you have a story about Islamophobia that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!