Having encountered yet another complaint about the use of the word “Islamophobia”, I decided it was high time I searched for an answer as to whence it originated. I have to admit I was more than a little surprised at the outcome.
If they aren’t already aware of it, I’m sure it will annoy Sam Harris and others who try to portray the term as a neologism coined by Muslims (and/or their left-leaning sympathizers) intended to deflect legitimate criticism, but it simply isn’t true. The word was popularized when it appeared in a 1997 report published by the British left-wing think tank, Runnymede Trust, but it actually first appeared in print in an American conservative magazine. Here’s the part about Runnymede:
Commission on British Muslims
In 1992 Runnymede set up a Commission to consider antisemitism in contemporary Britain. Its report entitled A Very Light Sleeper, published in 1994, carried as one of its recommendations the proposal that Runnymede should set up a broadly similar commission to consider Islamophobia.
Early in 1997 the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, under the chairmanship of Professor Gordon Conway, issued a consultative document. The final report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, was launched in November 1997 by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw. […]
If you go here and follow the link to download the entire scanned report, you’ll see that the first page of the first chapter recounts the story of a British naval officer who, during an interview, employed a rhetorical question about Muslim prayer to explain why the Royal Navy doesn’t (or at least didn’t at that time) actively encourage the recruitment of British Muslims.1 The definition below follows:
A new word
In recent years a new word has gained currency which evokes the outlook and world-view of that officer. The word is ‘Islamophobia’. It was coined in the late 1980’s, its first known use in print being in February 1991, in a periodical in the United States.4 The word is not ideal, but it is recognisably similar to ‘xenophobia’ and ‘europhobia’, and is a useful shorthand way of referring to dread or hatred of Islam — and, therefore, to fear or dislike of all or most Muslims. Such dread and dislike have existed in western countries and culture for several centuries. In the last twenty years, however, the dislike has become more explicit, more extreme and more dangerous. It is an ingredient of all sections of our media, and is prevalent in all sections of our society. […]
4. “Islamophobia also accounts for Moscow’s reluctance to relinquish its position in Afghanistan, despite the estimated $300 million a month it takes to keep the Kabul regime going.” Insight, 4 February 1991, p. 37. As of March 1997 this was the first use in print known to the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Here’s where the story gets downright bizarre: Back in 1991, Insight—which I’d never heard of before today—was owned by News World Communications, an international media conglomerate then owned by the Unification Church.
So, yes, the same wingnut outfit that owns the The
Moonie Washington Times and United Press International (UPI) apparently brought us the term “Islamophobia” by being the first to put it in print.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my head feels like it’s in danger of exploding from the cognitive dissonance this information has caused, so I need to go cover the walls & floor with plastic, just in case…
UPDATE: Compelled to keep digging due to my insatiable curiosity about such matters, I came across some more information that goes even farther back and provides a lot of additional context about how the term Islamophobia (in its present-day usage) entered the popular lexicon.
Surprisingly, it appears the first print usage was actually in France back in 1925 in a book titled L’Orient vu de l’Occident by Etienne Dinet & Sliman Ben Ibrahim, however the authors “did not necessarily employ the term in a way that reflects contemporary usage.”
The info above that I’m referring to comes from the Winter 2010 edition of Arches Quarterly in a chapter called “Contemporary Islamophobia Before 9/11: A Brief History”. It begins on page 14 of this 164-page PDF. Here’s the Wiki entry for Chris Allen, the author of that chapter.