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What's wrong with 'Islamophobia'?

The veteran equality campaigner Trevor Phillips has been suspended from the Labour Party for 'Islamophobia'.

I am not defending him entirely, because I think there were some comments he made I thought reckless, but he was referring to polling research done by ICM (a respected polling organisation) which was commissioned for the Channel 4 programme he was presenting.

However, I think there is a problem with the term 'Islamophobia' (a term Phillips himself helped introduce) if it means 'dread or hatred of Muslims'. Literally, 'Islamophobia' means 'a fear of Islam' - which again is confusing and ambiguous.  Setting Trevor Phillips to one side, we should not be closing down people who argue against religions as such, whether the religion is Islam, Christianity, Judaism or whatever it is.

Religions are ideas. Ideas do not deserve protection in an open and free society.

People deserve protection and respect. Muslims do, Christians do. Jews do. Their religions do not.  I propose a more accurate term for the 'dread or hatred of Muslims' be 'Muslimophobia' – not an elegant term I grant you, but one that refers to ‘the dread or hatred’ of people in the way that 'Islamophobia' does not.

Such a term is more coterminous with 'anti-semitism' which refers to the hatred of Jews rather than Judaism.  I defend the right of people to have a dread or hatred of religion or religions if they want to (and I speak as a person of religious faith myself).

I know people will say this is splitting hairs and that racists and bigots don't recognise such fine distinctions, but it is important that sensible people – like you and me - do recognise such fine distinctions and that we continue to carry out debate about the values inherent in all religions critically and within the bounds of reasonable disagreement.

Teachers should be teaching children those distinction too, without fear or favour. The case of Trevor Phillips is a good place to start.

Watch this sample of the video-module 'Can you teach British values? Yes, and here's how...' and subscribe to the newteacherstalk website to continue the discussion.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and head teacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures and writes on professional values in teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.

His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ will be published by Crown House Publishing this summer and can be ordered here.


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