At a time when American Muslims are reporting higher-than-ever levels of anxiety about anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim sentiment, when armed white supremacists are brandishing weapons outside of a mosque in Irving, TX and doxing the names of their congregants, when ordinary Muslims going about their business are being harassed and beaten, and kicked off commercial airlines, and when major political candidates are openly calling for their ethnic cleansing--at such a time, the blogger Ed Suominen has decided it is a ripe moment to publish a defense of Islamophobia (both the term and the stance) and biologist Jerry Coyne has deemd it a ripe moment to link approvingly to this defense.
This blog post is a response to them, and to the commenters on Jerry's site arguing that is fitting and just that we treat ordinary Muslims with greater suspicion than we do any other person we might encounter in our society.
What comprises the bulk of the arguments you get from creationists, climate change denialists, and anti-vaxxers? I propose the answer is invariably: undigested, decontextualized anecdote and innuendo. With a little spit and polish we might call it folk wisdom or "common sense," remembering that we all fall prey to our implicit biases from time to time.
So, for example, a creationist will ask, “if evolution is true, then why are there still monkeys?” And the evolutionist will patiently explain that, actually, no living monkey species are the direct ancestors of humans or other primates, and that furthermore speciation can take place without the eradication of the old type when an organism adapts to a previously uninhabited niche or biome. The global warming denialist will ask, “why, if global warming is real, did we just have a record cold winter?” And the climatologist will patiently explain that, actually, weather is just the chaotic local expression of climate, and that just as temperature is actually an aggregate average of molecular activity rather than a measurement of a consistent, uniform property of those molecules, the effects of climate over time are not reliant upon the lock-step conformity of each and every individual local weather condition. The anti-vaxxer will ask, “Why, if vaccines are safe, is there a government fund to pay the health claims of people injured by vaccinations?” and the immunologist will patiently explain that, actually, no medical intervention is 100% safe, and that while a very small number of people will react poorly to an immunization, that number is much, much, much smaller than the number of people who will be injured or killed by allowing viruses to remain endemic in the population.
In each instance, folk wisdom is no match for methodical, verificationalist systems of study designed to challenge the innate prejudices of everyday perception. This is obvious to the point of being patronizing when spelled out to an audience of scientists and science enthusiasts, and yet it bears repeating here because when it comes to the question of whether Muslims pose a social danger that is proportionately greater than other groups--so much so that fearing them is considered as a reasonable decision--many otherwise rational people will suddenly take up the same reactive rhetorical tactics of their opponents in the debates on evolution, climate, and public health.
Team Islamophobia must really be keeping its powder dry, for there is yet to appear any actual credible and compelling evidence that Muslims in the US are more likely to be violent or dangerous than any other demographic group. There is no shortage of anecdote, innuendo,and "gotchas," but simply citing this murder or that attack or this or that riot is no more empirical than a memorably cold winter is in resistance to climate theory, or than “missing links” pose a challenge to evolutionary theory, any more than anecdotal correlations of MMR vaccination and autism pose a challenge to the well established safety of vaccines.
Self-described Islamophobes: show me that you are truly willing to consider the null hypothesis that Muslims are neither more nor less likely to hurt innocent civilians than any other group, by actually examining the data in a dispassionate, methodological way, and then, maybe, we can talk about how “reasonable” your position is. Everyone else, please continue to let Muslims you interact with in daily life, whether physically or virtually, that they are just as entitled to your trust and fellowship as any other random person on a bus, an elevator, an airliner, or a twitter feed.
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3 years ago