City of Brass

City of Brass


definitions: racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, and sexism

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

My friend Razib poses an interesting question at Talk Islam asking for people’s definitions of these four terms. Here are mine:

  • racism - bias pr prejudice towards an ethnic group.
  • anti-semitismhatred towards Jews (or culturally affiliated persons therof)
  • islamophobiafear of muslims and islam
  • sexism – indulgence in gender stereotypes

It should be noted that all four are different things and not directly analogous to each other (as I have emphasized using italics above). It’s possible to hate muslims, for example,
but that’s a derivative emotion from fear. Only Jews seem to actually be hated
without fear. sexism can lead to misogyny (hatred of women) but there’s
a continuum. and racism can be quite mild, but should still be called for
what it is. I think racism and sexism are the most analogous, but
racism takes on gradations in a continuum that sexism cannot because
the question of who is or who is not a member of race X or Y is not as
clear-cut as gender (a binary value).

There’s some vigorous follow-up discussion at TI here that’s also worth a look (as is Razib’s concluding comment). I think that clear definitions are a prerequisite for discussion on these volatile topics.



  • Phil

    There is one missing word here:
    Bigotry – stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
    Not so much as an acknowledgement of hatred, but when people recognize that just about everyone carries some level of bigotry, and can learn to overcome that, that hopefully some of these other definitions will lose some of their volatility.
    Cheers…

  • marta

    Looking at this froma pruely linguistic standpoint, I see your point of how racism/feminism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia involve different word roots (anti-, -phobia, -ism) and so they’re not quite analogous. The place where this breaks down, though, is a comparison between racism and feminism. The words do seem to be at least constructed the same way (root + ism). What’s your basis for saying they’re not parallel? Just curious.

  • Your Name

    I think the analogous part is that the basis of one half is religious as in anti-semitism – hatred towards Jews (or culturally affiliated persons therof) and islamophobia – fear of muslims and islam and the others are physical as in racism – bias pr prejudice towards an ethnic group or sexism – indulgence in gender stereotypes

  • PhoenixOrion

    Aziz,
    Just out of curiosity, do you believe that Christians who say “Islam is a false religion” and/or “Muslims are going to hell unless they become Christian” are Islamophobic? What about atheists who say “I disagree with Islam”? I ask because I believe there is a big difference between disagreeing with a person or group and expressing hatred or fear towards said person or group. I believe it is possible to disagree with Islam without being “Islamophobic” and to disagree with homosexuality without being “homophobic”.
    For instance, if a Christian says “Jews are wrong for not accepting Jesus as their savior”, I do not regard that as anti-Semitic, as he or she is merely expressing disagreement with Jewish theology. However, if the same person says “Jews should be rounded up and exterminated because they killed Jesus”, then that WOULD be anti-Semitic, because they are actually threating Jews with violent rhetoric.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    Phoenix, in general I support people who have strong faith. Espousing one religion while saying “but other religions are also valid” is weak tea and I cant respect that. Why bother? Its with people who honestly and respectfully disagree with me about faith that I have the most fun discussing it.
    That said, far too often people try to couch their strongly prejudiced fear of Islam as “disagreement”. I have no qualms about labeling that sort of thing for what it really is.

  • Aziz Poonawalla

    marta, primarily the argument is ot a linguistic one but a taxonomic one. as I mentioned, there ra only two distinct genders but there are infinite levels of racial identity. extreme feminism does resemble mainstream racism, admittedly, so thats why I acknowledged that there is more analogy between those concepts than between any ofthe others.

  • Nancy Kallitechnis

    Your definition of sexism is sexist. You say that sexists indulge in sexism. Indulge means to yield to a pleasure, thus you’re saying that it’s pleasurable to be sexist which makes feminism (the opposite of sexism) appear to be denying pleasure. Sexism causes the brutalization, mutilation, murder and rape of millions of girls and women every year, thus, it is immoral to equate sexism with pleasure. You don’t say that it’s pleasurable to be prejudiced against the other groups (race, Islam, Judaism), so the fact that you associate sexism with pleasure speaks volumes about your attitude about women.
    Webster’s defines sexism as: “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women.”
    Women and girls are the most oppressed group in the world. We are far more oppressed than any racial, ethnic or religious group. For that reason and because we are half the population of the world, the most focus should be on ending sexism because this creates the most good. For information about the oppression of those who create life read my article: “Women and Girls are the Most Oppressed Group”
    http://journaloffeministinsight.blogspot.com/2008/11/women-and-girls-are-most-oppressed.html

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