Whether Islam has obstructed ‘modernity’ is a question worth asking, and not to be immediately condemned as ‘Islamophobic’, as Boris Johnson’s raising of it in an old book of his has been (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-islam-muslim-comments-democracy-tory-leadership-contest-a9006211.html). I’m pretty sure that Boris is an Islamophobe, but not on these grounds.
Religion of all kinds has long been recognised by scholars as an obstacle to the kind of rational thinking that is required for objective scientific enquiry, as well as to certain social and economic practices which lie behind the emergence and growth of capitalism, which Johnson seems in this instance to equate with ‘progress’. Exactly the same has been said of Catholic Christianity, from which – according to Weber and Tawney – only the Protestant form of that religion rescued it. The argument relates to dogmatic religion, not to Islam specifically; and should not be censored simply because it seems to demean Moslems. In the cases of both Islam and Catholicism it is possible to question certain details of it, with reference for example to the huge contributions made to scientific knowledge by early Moslems and Christians, as well as by modern scholars with Moslem backgrounds (one – an emeritus Cambridge Professor of Engineering – is a particular friend of mine); and in any case the argument needs to be refined, and shorn of the Eurocentricism that clearly informs Johnson’s view of ‘modernity’, if we are to elicit from it any valuable truths. But merely mentioning the apparent difference in this regard between Islam and the ‘West’ should not be ruled off-limits because it might give rise to ‘hostility’ towards the former. That would rule out any kind of intellectual enquiry into what is, objectively, a valid and interesting hypothesis
The current hunt for Islamophobia seems to have taken on much of the character of the slightly longer pursuit of Antisemitism in the Labour Party, which in a similar way is using very peripheral ‘evidence’ to make its case. Both Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn are being lynched (metaphorically) on the basis of statements that might raise uncomfortable questions for the Jewish community, but which ought to be asked nonetheless; and cannot possibly regarded as ‘antisemitic’ in themselves. The elision between criticism of the government of Israel’s colonialism on the West Bank on the one side and Judenhetze on the other is the clearest example of this: disowned and condemned by many American, British and even Israeli Jews as well as by Gentiles. That’s because the anti-antisemites cannot produce any more direct and convincing evidence of an institutional racial antipathy towards Jews in the Labour Party; or none, at any rate, that they’re prepared to share with the rest of us. Which is what, incidentally, makes some people grasp at ‘conspiracy theories’ in order to explain this new phenomenon – it’s a Mossad or capitalist or Conservative or neo-Con plot to prevent a socialist and a critic of the state of Israel from getting into No. 10 – which the Jewish community really should be wary of provoking, in view of their past history. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe it, as a deliberately organised plot, that is; but it would be the tragic depth of irony if the campaign against antisemitism itself gave rise to a new anti-semitism of this kind.
But it’s pointless saying this. Islamophobia and anti-semitism are used simply as weapons in the current political debate in Britain. Very little thought is put into either of them. Cynical politicians know that mud sticks. Electors are not thinking people, more’s the pity. And thinking people are not taken much notice of.