Due to a history of making anti-Semitic and generally divisive remarks, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) has just been voted out from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
But there's another good reason to see her gone. She is also one of the chief purveyors of the "Islamophobia" claim—which is used to silence any meaningful discussion on Islam. Only three days before she was voted out, she had disparaged House Republicans of being "Ok with Islamophobia."
And, as might be expected, her being voted out is already being chalked up to—you guessed it—"blatant Islamophobia."
Behind the Islamophobia accusations lays an assumption: that no one really ever had any problems with Muslims, until a few terrorist strikes occurred—chief among them, September 11, 2001—at which point, racist Westerners were only too happy to jump the gun and paint all Muslims as terrorists.
As a recent Al Jazeera article titled, "Decades after 9/11, Muslims battle Islamophobia in US," claims: "The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States ushered in a new era of hate crimes, racism, and xenophobia against Muslims."
Reality is quite different. In fact, aversion to Islam is as old as Islam itself. In this sense, the claim that Islamophobia is an actual phenomenon is accurate: non-Muslims have always feared Islam; but there was—and is—nothing irrational about this fear, as the word "phobia" implies.
From the very start, Western peoples, including many of their luminaries, portrayed Islam as a hostile and violent force—often in terms that would make today's "Islamophobe" blush. There's a reason for that. In 628 AD, Muhammad summoned the Roman (or "Byzantine") emperor, Heraclius—the symbolic head of "the West," then known as "Christendom"—to submit to Islam. When the emperor refused, a virulent jihad was unleashed against the Western world. Less than 100 years later, Islam had conquered more than two-thirds of Christendom, and was raiding deep into France.
While these far-reaching conquests are often allotted a sanitized sentence, if that, in today's textbooks, the chroniclers of the time make clear that these were cataclysmic events that had a traumatic impact on, and played no small part in forming, Europe proper, that is, the unconquered portion and final bastion of Christendom. In the words of historian Franco Cardini,
[I]f we ... ask ourselves how and when the modern notion of Europe and the European identity was born, we realize the extent to which Islam was a factor (albeit a negative one) in its creation. Repeated Muslim aggression against Europe between the seventh to eighth centuries, then between the fourteenth and the eighteenth centuries ... was a "violent midwife" to Europe.
But it wasn't just what they personally experienced at the hands of Muslims that developed this ancient "phobia" to Islam. As far back as the eighth century, Islam's scriptures became available to those Christian communities living adjacent to, or even under the authority of, the caliphates. Based solely on these primary sources of Islam, Christians concluded that Muhammad was a (possibly demon possessed) false prophet who had very obviously concocted a creed to justify the worst depravities of man—for dominion, plunder, cruelty and carnality.
This view prevailed for well over a millennium throughout Europe; and it was augmented by the fact that Muslims were still, well over a millennium after Muhammad, invading Christian territories, plundering them, and abducting their women and children. The United States' first conflict with Islam—indeed, its very first war as a nation—came not after 9/11, but in response to jihadist raids on American ships for booty and slaves in the name of Allah.
A minuscule sampling of what Europeans thought of Islam throughout the centuries follows:
Theophanes, important Eastern Roman ("Byzantine") chronicler (d.818):
He [Muhammad] taught those who gave ear to him that the one slaying the enemy—or being slain by the enemy—entered into paradise [see Koran 9:111]. And he said paradise was carnal and sensual—orgies of eating, drinking, and women. Also, there was a river of wine ... and the women were of another sort [houris], and the duration of sex greatly prolonged and its pleasure long-enduring [e.g., Koran 56: 7-40, 78:31, 55:70-77]. And all sorts of other nonsense.
Thomas Aquinas, one of Christendom's most influential philosophers and scholastics (d.1274):
He [Muhamad] seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us .... and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine.... Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants [i.e., his "proof" that God was with him is that he was able to conquer and plunder others].... Muhammad forced others to become his follower's by the violence of his arms.
Marco Polo, merchant and world traveler (d.1324):
According to their [Muslims'] doctrine, whatever is stolen or plundered from others of a different faith, is properly taken, and the theft is no crime; whilst those who suffer death or injury by the hands of Christians, are considered as martyrs. If, therefore, they were not prohibited and restrained by the [Mongol] powers who now govern them, they would commit many outrages. These principles are common to all Saracens.
Alexis de Tocqueville, French political thinker and philosopher, best known for Democracy in America (d.1859):
I studied the Quran a great deal. I came away from that study with the conviction that by and large there have been few religions in the world as deadly to men as that of Muhammad. As far as I can see, it is the principal cause of the decadence so visible today in the Muslim world and, though less absurd than the polytheism of old, its social and political tendencies are in my opinion more to be feared, and I therefore regard it as a form of decadence rather than a form of progress in relation to paganism itself.
Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States and an accomplished student of history (d. 1919):
Christianity was saved in Europe solely because the peoples of Europe fought. If the peoples of Europe in the seventh and eighth centuries, and on up to and including the seventeenth century, had not possessed a military equality with, and gradually a growing superiority over the Mohammedans who invaded Europe, Europe would at this moment be Mohammedan and the Christian religion would be exterminated. Wherever the Mohammedans have had complete sway, wherever the Christians have been unable to resist them by the sword, Christianity has ultimately disappeared.
At this point, one might argue that these and other historic charges against Islam are mere byproducts of Christian/Western xenophobia and intolerance for the "other." But if so, how does one explain that many of Islam's Western critics also praised other non-Western civilizations, as well as what is today called "moderate Muslims."
Aside from speaking well of the Mongols, Marco Polo also hailed the Brahmins of India as being "most honorable," possessing a "hatred for cheating or of taking the goods of other persons." And despite his criticisms of the "sect of the Saracens," that is, Islam, he referred to one Muslim leader as governing "with justice," and another who "showed himself [to be] a very good lord, and made himself beloved by everybody."
British statesman, Winston Churchill (d. 1965)—who likened religiosity in Muslims to rabies in dogs—well summed up the matter as follows:
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities—but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world.
In short, fear of and aversion to Islam has been the mainstream position among non-Muslims for nearly 1,400 years—ever since Muhammad started raiding, plundering, massacring, and enslaving non-Muslims ("infidels") in the name of his god. And it is because his followers, Muslims, continue raiding, plundering, massacring, and enslaving "infidels" that fear of and aversion to Islam—what is called "Islamophobia"—exists to this day.
So, yes, Islamophobia is real: non-Muslims have always feared what Islam has in store for them, rightfully so. The lie is that such a fear is irrational.
Happily, there is some good news: a chief purveyor of the Islamophobia canard, Ilhan Omar, has just been kicked out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Raymond Ibrahim is the Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum.