I’m seeing a deeply troubling trend in discourse surrounding Islamophobia, even in social justice communities: so many non-Muslims are telling Muslims how to advocate for themselves.
I see some of this coming from my own community: Last week, I witnessed a fellow Jewish person tell a Muslim friend of mine what she should and shouldn’t say in response to a particular Islamophobic tirade. The idea behind this being appropriate in his eyes was that facing anti-Semitism qualifies us to tell Muslims how they should deal with the Islamophobia they face, because “Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism.”
Islamophobia is not the new anti-Semitism. First of all, there is no “new anti-Semitism.” Anti-Semitism very much still exists. Islamophobia is a parallel, hateful ideology and system of oppression, but the lived experience of it is different. This is not to say that one form of oppression is greater or lesser than the other; parallel intersecting systems can’t be compared, ranked, or made into an “oppression Olympics.” But the experience of living life as a Jew is different from that of living life as a Muslim.
The experience of one type of oppression is not transferable to any other…
I know what it’s like to face anti-Semitism, to be affected by it on a personal level, and to have the effects of its trauma ripple through my family from generation to generation. I have exactly zero lived experience of what it’s like to personally face Islamophobia. I have many Muslim friends, I am a member of this amazing MissMuslim staff team as a non-Muslim, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Muslim communities in Palestine and the US, but the fact remains that I have not lived a single day of my life as a Muslim. So, when it comes to discourse surrounding Islamophobia and ways to fight against it, my job is to sit down, listen, and stay in my lane.
It is not a cisgender person’s place to tell a trans person how to navigate their transition or identity. It is not a white person’s place to tell black people how to react when yet another innocent black person gets institutionally murdered. The experience of one type of oppression is not transferable to any other. I don’t get to turn to a person of color and say, “I’m a woman, I face sexism every day, so I know exactly what you’re dealing with in terms of the whole racism thing.” I can read entire libraries full of books on racism, work in anti-racist praxis, and get degrees in racial studies until the cows come home, but the reality is that no number of accolades or achievements would ever make me qualified to tell a person of color how to deal with the racism they are faced with each day.
It is not anyone’s job or place to act as an expert on grief, violence, or oppression that isn’t their own. This concept seems so simple that I can’t believe I’m saying it, but there’s a lot of harm done when even the most well-meaning ignorance is dressed up as expertise.