Saturday, August 28, 2010

The terms "homophobia" and "Islamophobia"

Those who are concerned with the care of language often assert that standards of accuracy and awareness of word origins are declining. The prevalence of texting and other electronic means of communication seems to be accelerating this trend.

Twenty-five years ago when I published my little book entitled “Homolexis” I was gratified to note that there was considerable interest in exploring our inherited stock of words to describe (and often, sadly, to excoriate) same-sex behavior. Yet when I released an improved version on the Internet (“Homolexis Glossary”) it attracted little attention. Such is the nature of the vast empire of Babel known as the Netosphere.

The word homophobia is formed from the Greek words homo meaning "the same" and phobos meaning "fear." However, it was used from 1920 to mean "fear of men, or aversion towards the male sex" (Oxford English Dictionary), using the Latin meaning of homo, "man." This meaning is obsolete.

From 1969 onwards it has used with its current denotation, first appearing (in print) in Time magazine for October 31, 1969. Kenneth Smith first used the term in a professional context in a 1971 article in a psychological periodical. A little later George Weinberg popularized the expression in his book “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” (also 1971). He claims to have conceived the term several years earlier; this claim cannot be verified. At all events, the term is a shortened form of homoerotophobia, coined by the late Wainwright Churchill in his “Homosexual Behavior among Males” in 1967.

Critics, including those sympathetic to gay people, have observed that the term homophobia is problematic because empirical research support is weak for the claim that heterosexuals' antigay attitudes constitute a phobia in the clinical sense. Most heterosexuals who express hostility toward gay men and lesbians do not manifest the kinds of physiological reactions that are associated with disorders like agoraphobia and ailurophobia.

For better or worse the term “homophobia” has thrived for almost forty years. It has withstood the test of time.

More recently, the term has engendered several siblings in the sexual realm, including biphobia, lesbophobia, and transphobia. While these terms have proved less popular, their intent of describing opposition to bisexuality, lesbianism, and trans people is clear.

In addition there is a larger class of words to describe aversion or hostility to ethnic groups and nations. These include Anglophobia, Francophobia, Germanophobia, Indophobia, Islamophobia, Italophobia, Japanophobia, Polonophia, Russophobia, and Sinophobia. The possibilities are limitless. As far as I know, the term Brazilophobia has not been used. But as Brazil is coming to play an increasingly important role nowadays in world affairs, resentment will be bound to grow (as it already has in some neighboring South American countries), so that the term is likely gain traction.

These days the epithet “Islamophobia” is ubiquitous. It is freely employed to excoriate anyone who offers any criticism of the behavior of Muslims or particular doctrines of Islam. Much of the popularity of this term is due to Leftist multiculturalists, especially in Western Europe. All too often these politically correct individuals choose to look the other way when it comes to Muslim aggression and violence against women and gay people.

Historically, Islam has been savage in its treatment of Hindus and Buddhists. (By comparison Christians and Jews in Muslim lands have “benefited” from the dubious protections of dhimmitude.)

Today, those who hurl the reproach of “Islamophobia” show little if any interest in bringing Muslims to the bar of world opinion for their Indophobia and Homophobia. These atttitudes and the cruel behavior associated with them must be ignored or excused. Today India, with its Hindu majority, is a powerful country and it is not prepared to tolerate Muslim violence, which is rare--though not absent as seen in the recent attack on the Mumbai hotel.

It is high time, it seems to me, for gay people, at the risk of being charged with Islamophobia, to focus on Muslim crimes against us. If one form of -phobia is reprehensible, then the others must be as well. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We must brave the accusations of "Islamophobia," in full awareness that these accusations are made in bad faith.



Blogger Stephen said...

Last time I looked, India criminalized sodomy and was arresting and otherwise hassling visible homosexuality. I don't think I have phobias, but would welcome ending tax exemptions for Christian church properties as well as for Muslim ones (if not the places of worship, other property owned by religious organizations, and racketeering charges against the pope...)

1:43 PM  

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