My talks at university campuses sometimes occasion protests featuring Leftists and Islamists who call me names. A favorite of theirs is "racist." This year, for example, a "Stand up to Racism Rally" anticipated my talk at the Rochester Institute of Technology, I was accused of racism against Muslim immigrants at Dartmouth College, and pamphlets at the University of Toronto charged me with "anti-Muslim racism."
Anti-Muslim racism? That oxymoron puzzled me. Islam being a religion with followers of every race and pigmentation, where might race enter the picture? Dictionaries agree that racism concerns race, not religion:
- American Heritage: "The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. Discrimination or prejudice based on race."
- Merriam-Webster: "A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Racial prejudice or discrimination."
- Oxford: "The belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race. Discrimination against or antagonism towards other races."
Even the notorious United Nations anti-racism conference at Durban in 2001 implicitly used the same definition when it rejected "any doctrine of racial superiority, along with theories which attempt to determine the existence of so-called distinct human races."
Thus understood, the term racist cannot be ascribed to me, as I neither believe that race defines capabilities nor that certain races have greater capabilities than others. Also, my writings and talks never touch on issues of race.
Does that mean the word racist merely serves Leftists and Islamists as an all-purpose pejorative, a magical insult that discredits without regard to accuracy? No, the evolution of this word is more complex than that.
Racism is now increasingly used to mean something far beyond its dictionary definition. The director of the influential London-based Institute of Race Relations (IRR), A. Sivanandan, has been pushing the concept of a "new racism," which concerns immigration, not race:
It is a racism that is not just directed at those with darker skins, from the former colonial territories, but at the newer categories of the displaced, the dispossessed, and the uprooted, who are beating at Western Europe's doors, the Europe that helped displace them in the first place. It is a racism, that is, that cannot be color-coded, directed as it is at poor whites as well, and is therefore passed off as xenophobia, a "natural" fear of strangers.
An official paper from Australia goes in a different direction, that of "cultural racism":
In the modern era the underlying assumption of "racism" is a belief that differences in the culture, values, and/or practices of some ethnic/religious groups are "too different" and are likely to threaten "community values" and social cohesion.
Once racism is un-moored from racial characteristics, it is a small step to apply it to Muslims. Indeed, Liz Fekete
of IRR discovers "anti-Muslim racism" in the legislation,
policing, and counter-terrorist measures deriving from the "war on terror" (her quote marks). She also sees the French banning of the hijab
in public schools, for example, as a case of "anti-Muslim racism." Others at IRR
allege that "Muslims and those who look like Muslims are the principal targets of a new racism."
Likewise, the Reverend Calvin Butts, III, of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York, opined recently at a United Nations conference on Islamophobia: "Whether Muslims like it or not, Muslims are labeled people of color in the racist U.S … they won't label you by calling you a n----- but they'll call you a terrorist." For the Rev. Butts, counterterrorism amounts to racism.
When Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican of Colorado, raised the idea of bombing Islamic holy sites as a form of deterrence, a Nation of Islam leader in Denver, Gerald Muhammad, deemed his comments racist.
Note the evolution: As belief in racial differences and racial superiority wanes in polite society, some parties expand the meaning of racism to condemn political decisions such as worrying about too much immigration (even of poor whites), preferring one's own culture, fearing radical Islam, and implementing effective counterterrorist measures.
This attempt to delegitimize political differences must be rejected. Racism refers only to racial issues, not to views on immigration, culture, religion, ideology, law enforcement, or military strategy.
How others define "racist":
Peter Brimelow: "anyone who is winning an argument with a liberal." (Alien Nation, 1995)
Mark Steyn: "It merely means you have raised a topic that discombobulates the scrupulously non-judgmental progressive sensibility." ("Amis descends into Steyn-hugging," MacLean's, April 8. 2008)