“Offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder,” said William Downes, a linguist with a focus on religion at York University in Toronto. “The key question is offensive to whom?
“The term might be offensive if it reminded the Islamic community … that there were those in society who actively disliked it and feared it because they identify it with a terrorist threat or an existential threat,” he continued, noting that using the word contributed to “othering” Muslims as a group.
Richardson, for his part, regrets employing the term in his 1997 Runnymede report and has outlined eight problems with using ‘Islamophobic’ as a descriptor of an anti-Islamic individual or activity. Characterizing someone as an Islamophobe, he says, implies that they are “insane or irrational,” which impedes constructive dialogue, obscures the context-specific roots of the observed hostility, and erroneously portrays anxiety about Muslims as a minority condition.