September 22, 2012

Islamophobia

stop IslamA phobia is an anxiety disorder involving the irrational fear of some object, animal, or situation. Phobias are fairly common anxiety disorders. Some of us have a phobia, and most of us have known others who suffer from a phobia. What does Islamophobia have to do with phobias? Absolutely nothing.

I find this to be one of the most common and thoroughly nonsensical terms one could hope to encounter. It seems to mean different things to different people, but it almost always involves something other than irrational fear. In fact, most people seem to use the term to describe negative attitudes toward Islam or Muslims. This has nothing whatsoever to do with phobias.

I have a spider phobia (i.e., arachnophobia). I freeze up when I see a big one and experience the physiological markers associated with a spike in sympathetic nervous system activity (e.g., accelerated heart rare, shaking, etc.). Subjectively, I experience this as an adrenaline rush accompanied by feelings of terror. I know that this response is irrational and that most spiders cannot actually harm me. By reminding myself of this, I can usually manage to refrain from running out of the room after seeing a spider. It turns out I'm in good company, as this is one of the more common specific phobias.

I once dated a girl who had a severe dog phobia. She had been attacked by a dog as a child, but her fear generalized to all dogs. It was bad enough that just talking about a dog would make her uncomfortable. I'd have to put the family dog outside before she'd even enter the house. And the extent of her fear really was bad enough that she would flee at the sight of a dog.

Are there people who experience these symptoms in response to Muslims or symbols of Islam? No. At least, I'm not aware of any documented cases. Islamophobia appears to be a term people use to describe anti-Islam sentiment. But opposing Islam has nothing to do with phobias. If what we are trying to say is anti-Islam, why not just say it? The media should know better.

I do not use the term because I find it hopelessly misleading. I've seen some Christian extremists trying to promote the term Christophobia. Again, they typically mean anti-Christian sentiment and not irrational fear. And the same goes for homophobia. I've never understood why it makes sense to confuse hatred or bigotry with phobias.

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