This might be a minor point, but it’s been bugging me. Silly, I suppose. But I keep reading and hearing this same dumb thing in various places: to speak against Islam is “racism”. If you are anti-Islam you are “racist”. And now the latest: the debate in Britain about the Islamic face veil for women could spark “race riots”.

Do people who use the “race” terms so carelessly believe that only one race can be Muslim? Can’t Caucasians be Muslims? (Er… wait. I seem to remember from when I was a kid looking through the World Book Encyclopedia that Arabs and a lot of other dark-skinned people were classified as Caucasian… Oh, well, not really important I guess… although, words and concepts should count for something, don’t you think?)

There are all kinds of Asians who are Muslims, including Indian Muslims. And I believe Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Indonesians are certainly not Arabs. There are American blacks who are Muslims – and whites as well.

Yes, I have long been under the impression that Islam is a RELIGION, and that anybody could join, regardless of race. So how come if Muslims riot it’s a “race” riot?

Racism is a specific concept, but the term is now used not to identify an actual, irrational approach to judging people, but as an intimidation tactic. If you disagree with a policysuch as “Affirmative Action” because you believe it is a wrongheaded approach to deal with racism, you are smeared as racist. (If you think about it, the thing that’s wrong with racism in the first place is that it smears innocent individuals as having flaws which the racist attributes to the whole race. To smear is to do an injustice.) If you think a particular religion is wrong in some important way, and that religion happens to be practiced mostly by people who are not of your race, you are smeared as racist. Forget the issues, the ideas, the practices of the religion, or the possibility that you are not a fan of religion of any kind but hold one or two particular religions to be especially undesirable.

“Racism” does not signify every type of prejudice. It is a particular type of prejudice: it refers to holding people of a certain race to be inferior because of their membership in that race, regardless of their actual personal, individual attributes. Racism does not refer to a prejudice against a set of ideas, such as you find in a religion or a philosophy, and it does not refer to an honest, considered, negative evaluation of a religion or philosophy.

I suspect that most people who dislike Islam don’t dislike it because of its Arab origin, or because most people who practice it are Arab or Indian or Far Eastern. They dislike it because of 1) its beliefs and practices as described in its religious texts and 2) the irrational statements or violent behavior of the most visible and vocal of the religion’s members.

Now, to dislike a religion, or even to hate it, for the content of its ideas and practices is not an “ism”, unless youhate that content just because it’s “different” from your religion, rather than because you think, after carefully reasoned consideration, that it has serious morally wrong aspects. You may be misinformed about the religion, the evidence you have observed may not be the full picture, but still, you are attempting to justly judge a body of ideas and practices under the name of a religion, not to judge people according to their race, and not even to judge religious individuals who might not believe or practice the worst aspects of the religion.

If you are judging a set of ideas, beliefs, and practices and attempting to do so honestly and justly, you are not guilty of any moral failure, even if you make errors of knowledge or logic. “Mistaken” equals “mistaken”, not an “ism”.

And “racism” equals racial prejudice, not religious prejudice, and not a rationally negative evaluation of a religion.

And a riot over a debate about whether an article of religious clothing should or should not be acceptable would not be a “race riot”. It would just be stupid.

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