Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed. All last week, for example, I received furious emails and messages in response to two articles I wrote about the Manchester attack, telling me I was wrong to defend the use of the phrase ‘Islamist extremism’. That term has an Islamophobic bent to it, we’re told. It demeans Islam and its adherents by suggesting they have something to do with terrorism. You should just say ‘extremism’, not ‘Islamist extremism’. Don’t ever name the extremism, don’t label it, because you might hurt people’s feelings.
This is why our political leaders so rarely use the terms Islamism, radical Islam and Islamic terrorism: because they want to avoid offending Islam and also because they don’t want to stir up what they view as the public’s bovine, hateful prejudices. This censorious privilege is not extended to any other religion. We do not avoid saying ‘Catholic paedophiles’ about the priests who molested children for fear of tarring all Catholics with the same brush. We happily say ‘Christian fundamentalist’ about people who are Christian and fundamentalist. We use ‘Buddhist extremists’ to describe violent Buddhist groups in Myanmar. And yet Islam is ringfenced from tough discussion; phrases which at some level include the word ‘Islam’ are tightly policed; criticism of Islam is deemed a mental illness: Islamophobia.