This week I read something that stuck with me. It gnawed at me and it took me a long time to figure out exactly why it bothered me. It was a tweet by J.K. Rowling, who has grown increasingly problematic lately.
“The ‘Arabs are semitic too’ hot takes have arrived.” This was part of a larger conversation she was having with people about anti-semitism and the Jewish people. My problem with her tweet is that it isn’t a “hot take”. Arabs are semitic. I am semitic. I understand the point she was trying to make; though both Arabs and Jews are semitic, the term “anti-semitism” has evolved to be strictly in reference to Jews. And it made me jealous.
It made me jealous because where is my word for bigotry aimed at me? I don’t have one. I could use “anti-arab,” but that’s not something you really hear anyone say when someone starts spouting some racist nonsense towards Arabs. The only word I get is “islamophobe.” And that doesn’t really work. Not all Arab’s are muslim and most muslims are not Arab. But “islamophobe” gets used interchangeably with the concept of “anti-arab” all the time. Look no further than Trump’s Muslim Ban: it only targeted Arab countries even though most of the world’s muslims come from Indonesia. Because the Arab muslim is the bad muslim.
So an argument could be made that I have my word. And it applies to me fully as an Arab muslim. But let’s break down the word “islamophobe” and “islamophobia.” We have two parts: Islam, that part is easy, and phobia, or fear. It literally means a fear of Islam and muslims. This doesn’t describe the problem. People don’t fear me. No one is afraid of me. No, they hate me. And by us refusing to acknowledge that fact with our language and intentionally mislabelling it as fear we give these racists and bigots the freedom to continue spreading their bile. Because fear is natural. Everyone has their own fears. And we should never begrudge anyone their fear. The term “islamophobia” implies that it’s okay and that it’s natural when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
And this isn’t limited to me. “Homophobia” and “transphobia” suffer from the exact same problem. Linguistically, we’ve decided that we, as a English-speaking nations, are not willing to address the hatred individuals in our community spread. And so, I’m jealous. I wish when some politician says something racist and bigoted towards Arabs and muslims that it was met with the same furor in the media as it when something anti-semitic is said. I wish I had a specific label to mark those who would target me and my family that would denote them as the vile people they are. But I don’t. I get told they’re just scared.
They aren’t afraid of me, they’re assholes.