Earlier this week on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, where else, Matt Wells twice casually described Pamela Geller as an “Islamophobe” because of her anti-jihad advertising campaign “In any war between the civilised man and the savage, support the civilised man. ”
Confrontational, clearly. Offensive to Islamists, no doubt. Liable to exacerbate tensions between religions, probably. Yes to all these and more; but does that mean that Pamela Geller is suffering from a clinical psychological malady which amounts to an irrational fear of Islamic supremacists? When one takes into account the anti-Semitic, not to say genocidal, pronouncements of Islamists concerning Jews and the fact that Pamela Geller is a Jew then perhaps her response to Islamists is rational after all.
Thankfully the press agency Associated Press has come to its senses and announced that it will cease conflating “phobia” and “criticism.” It is to be hoped that the BBC will follow suit, but don’t hold your breath.
The use of ‘phobe’ as a casual political suffix has ludicrously expanded the term from its actual meaning. It has become just another way for the lazy progressive to shut down discussion. Oppose homosexual marriage? You are a homophobe. Defend Danish cartoonists? You are an Islamophobe. It follows that if you are a phobic your opinions are irrational and no sensible person needs listen to you. By ridiculing as mentally unstable those with differing ideas progressives attempt to silence opposition.
“Phobia” is a clinical term employed by psychologists to indicate a specific form of anxiety disorder. If you have a panic attack on seeing a small spider in your bath you may well suffer from arachnophobia. People have irrational fears of many things, this does not mean that a dislike of something or a criticism of that thing is an irrational fear of it.
Whilst it may be possible to question their sanitary habits it is not reasonable to say that teenage boys actually suffer from ablutophobia or the fear of washing, or at least not all of them. Perhaps men who wear trousers instead of kilts really do suffer from genuphobia or fear of knees, or maybe they just don’t like draughts. It is possible that readers of the Sun suffer from Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia or fear of long words, or perhaps they enjoy succinct journalism and photographs of ladies with big breasts.
It is possible, however, to make a case that progressives do suffer from phronemophobia or fear of thinking. To describe your opponent as irrational or mentally ill you have no need to enter into debate with him. Could the labelling of opponents as phobic reveal a fear of engaging them in discussion and thus having to think through not only the opposing position but one’s own?
Is there really no better way for progressives of describing their ideological opponents than “phobic”? To describe one’s opponent as having a mental disorder is reminiscent of Soviet Russia where, to be opposed to communism that idyllic state upon earth, one had to be mad and could thus be incarcerated in an asylum.
“It’s just words and words change their meanings.” True, but “phobia” has a distinct clinical meaning which is not separate from its general cultural usage, the one is informed by the other. There may well be people who are homophobic or irrationally afraid of homosexuals. To label the majority of the population who are opposed to homosexual marriage as irrationally fearful of homosexuals is grossly offensive. It is possible that there are those who have a clinical anxiety disorder leading them to an irrational fear of Muslims. To accuse all those who are opposed to the influence of Islamism in Britain as irrationally fearful of Muslims is grossly offensive.
Is it only opponents of progressivism who could possibly be offensive? Maybe I am being oversensitive, or perhaps I may even suffer from catagelophobia or the irrational fear of being ridiculed.