‘Phobias’ kill our freedom of expression

Law Matters John Carpay

Law Matters John Carpay

Like homophobia, Islamophobia is a dangerous word. Both words are dangerous because they are ambiguous. Uncertainty about the meaning of words makes it impossible to have honest discussion and debate. Without honest debate, democracy and society function poorly. Undermining the citizen’s ability to communicate with others results in misunderstanding and fear.

Dictionaries define “phobia” as “an extreme or irrational fear” and as a mild mental illness.

Properly understood, “homophobia” is an irrational fear of homosexuals or homosexuality. A homophobe refuses to be in the same room with gay people, or refuses to shake a gay person’s hand.

Unfortunately, the term “homophobia” is frequently applied to any disagreement with gay marriage, gay sex, or the political agenda promoted by some gay activists. One example of how the word “homophobia” is used to disparage, intimidate, and silence people on account of their opinions was the Fight Against Homophobia Award being given to the Members of Parliament who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2006. One does not need to be a philosopher or logician to understand that those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman stand accused of “homophobia.”

This Fight Against Homophobia Award is but one of thousands of examples where the word “homophobic” is used to describe any opinion (or person) in disagreement with the idea that homosexuality is normal, natural, healthy, and worthy of full social, cultural and moral acceptance. The words “homophobia” and “homophobic” are also used routinely to denounce the opinion that kids are better off with a mother and a father than with two same-sex parents. Legal and political opinions about public policy issues (e.g. the accreditation of the law school at Trinity Western University) are dismissed without consideration, through use of the word “homophobic.” This is an abuse and distortion of language, and a bullying tactic in public policy debates.

In similar fashion, University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson has been labelled “transphobic” because of his reasoned and principled refusal to abide by his university’s edict to use gender-neutral pronouns rather than “he” and “she.”

Debate about sexual, moral and political questions should be encouraged, because debate is an excellent tool for discovering truth, and for exposing weaknesses in an argument or position. The denunciation of an opinion as “homophobic” or “Islamophobic” or “transphobic” ends the debate before it can even begin. To dismiss a person’s viewpoint or philosophy as a mental illness is a bullying tactic.

Islamophobia, properly understood, means an irrational fear of Muslims or Islam. An Islamophobe feels anxious when driving past a mosque attended by peace-loving Canadian Muslims. An Islamophobe refuses to do business with a Muslim just because he’s a Muslim.

On a personal note, I recently visited a mosque and was warmly welcomed there. There is no reason to fear the vast majority of Canadian Muslims. Islamophobia, properly understood, is a bad thing: a fear that has no basis in reality.

Conversely, there are good reasons to fear those branches of Islam which advocate violence against non-Muslims, which murder the “wrong” kind of Muslim, and which would impose Sharia law on Canada if given the chance. Christian churches are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslims are viciously and aggressively persecuted in Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim-majority countries. Blasphemy laws in Muslim countries result in the jailing and execution of those who criticize Islam’s prophet, and those who convert from Islam to another religion. Few, if any, Muslim-majority countries properly protect freedom of expression and freedom of religion. While a fear of Islam in its entirety is not grounded in reality, a fear of the violent and intolerant branches of Islam is not a phobia. Rather, it is an entirely rational fear, one that is shared by the many Canadian Muslims themselves.

The terms “Islamophobia,” “transphobia,” and “homophobia” are dangerous and harmful because they obliterate the important distinction between mental illness and legitimate opinion. If an opinion is not legitimate, it should be refuted by reason, logic and facts. Bullying and name-calling, through accusations of “phobia,” are a poor substitute for the healthy debate on which Canadian democracy depends.

Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, the mover of Motion 103 to denounce Islamophobia, has refused to define “Islamophobia.” She refuses to clarify whether “Islamophobia” includes or excludes criticism of Islam. These are simple and necessary clarifications. Without this clarity, Motion 103 is a step towards making it illegal to criticize Islam, and illegal to denounce the violence and terrorism that is committed in the name of Islam.

Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca).

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