theguardian: by Nesrine Malik.
Of late, a new variation of the old chestnut “I’m not racist but …” has emerged. It goes: “I’ve got nothing against Muslims, it’s Islam I hate”. Otherwise known as the “Islam is not a race” argument.
After I wrote about Richard Dawkins’s snide attack on the supposed dearth of Muslim scientific and cultural achievement, some critics hit back along these lines. It is acceptable to criticise and belittle Islam because it is a religion, not an ethnic grouping – and therefore fair game.
Technically, they are right – Islam is not a race. But too often, those who deploy the argument, are borrowing from the Bill Clinton school of sophistry: “I did not have racist relations with that religion”.
Dawkins himself dedicated a large part of his riposte to a dissection of whether race is a biological or social construct. The argument over Islam and race was a “simple semantic disagreement”, he said, before proceeding to define race according to the dictionary.
So what does the dictionary say? Racism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. But what does this mean in practice?