It’s probably not a good idea to try to debate Islamophobia on Twitter – but I got involved in such a debate anyway because I was thinking about this issue after having read a very interesting post on “Theocracy in the UK.” However, the Twitter debate wasn’t at all related to this post. At the point I joined in, the focus was on the controversial term Islamophobia, which in my view is very problematic because it implies that the teachings of Islam cannot legitimately be criticized.

To illustrate my point, I linked to a post of mine entitled “Who’s defaming Islam?,” where I argued that there are plenty of examples of popular Muslim leaders or widely respected authorities making statements about Islam that depict the faith as requiring Jew-hatred and support for jihadi terrorism.

I then focused in particular on Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, because he is without a doubt a mainstream figure who is regarded as a great scholar by many millions of Muslims and who has even been described as the “Global Mufti” due to his enormous influence.

But unfortunately, Qaradawi’s views fully justify the conclusion of Mark Gardner and Dave Rich that he represents “the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European antisemitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews.”

Indeed, Qaradawi is an avowed Jew-hater who fervently believes in a divinely ordained battle between “all Muslims and all Jews.” As Qaradawi emphasizes in his “Fatawa on Palestine” in reference to the notorious hadith that features prominently in the Hamas Charter:

“The last day will not come unless you fight Jews. A Jew will hide himself behind stones and trees and stones and trees will say, ‘O servant of Allah – or O Muslim – there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

“[W]e believe that the battle between us and the Jews is coming … Such a battle is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians, or between Jews or anybody else. It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews. (p. 77)”

Perhaps even more disturbingly, Qaradawi has expressed the view that

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place.

“This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.” [...]

On another occasion, Qaradawi prayed:

“Oh Allah, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Oh Allah, take the Jews, the treacherous aggressors. Oh Allah, take this profligate, cunning, arrogant band of people. Oh Allah, they have spread much tyranny and corruption in the land. Pour Your wrath upon them, oh our God. Lie in wait for them. Oh Allah, You annihilated the people of Thamoud at the hand of a tyrant, and You annihilated the people of ‘Aad with a fierce, icy gale. Oh Allah, You annihilated the people Thamoud at the hand of a tyrant, You annihilated the people of ‘Aad with a fierce, icy gale, and You destroyed the Pharaoh and his soldiers – oh Allah, take this oppressive, tyrannical band of people. Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one.”

However, in the debate on twitter, two people were resolved to downplay both Qaradawi’s Jew-hatred and his influence. @LutherBlissetts claimed triumphantly that Qaradawi wasn’t the only one who regarded the Holocaust as a divine punishment inflicted on the Jews, citing the fervent (and controversial) supporter of Israel John Hagee and Rabbi Yoel Teitlebaum (the Satmar Rebbe).

Now, it is indeed true that both Pastor Hagee and the Satmar Rebbe have argued that the Holocaust should be understood as God’s punishment for the Jews – and they both have done so in the context of a theological quest to explain the unspeakable evil and suffering of the Nazi genocide. To suggest that this is in any way comparable to Qaradawi’s views is simply beneath contempt: Qaradawi makes it crystal clear that he thinks it was praiseworthy that the Nazis “managed to put them [the Jews] in their place” and he explicitly expresses the hope that there will be a “next time…at the hand of the believers [i.e. the Muslims].”

The argument advanced by @TellMamaUK – an organization that encourages Muslims to report instances of harassment and bigotry – was very different: they claimed that Qaradawi’s views “do not reflect the range of British Muslims” and complained that I was “really hung up on the ‘mainstream’ thing,” arguing that “Communities are diverse or does that not matter?”

But it is of course a platitude to say that there will be some diversity and a range of views in any given group of people – whether it’s a religious, political, social or ethnic group. It’s also a platitude to say that in any group of people, there are likely some fringe figures with bizarre and outrageous views – and Qaradawi wouldn’t be worth mentioning if he was such a fringe figure.

In the context of the debate about the term Islamophobia, my point about Qaradawi being mainstream by virtue of his huge following and influence was therefore a different one: while Qaradawi’s standing obviously does not justify bigotry against individual Muslims, it illustrates very well the problems with the term Islamophobia.

The Runnymede Trust’s definition of Islamophobia – which was mentioned in the debate as the relevant definition – includes the point that Islam “is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilizations.”

While Qaradawi may not accept the wording here, he certainly is an enthusiastic advocate of an Islam that stands for violence – indeed for genocidal violence – and a “clash of civilizations” when it comes to the Jews (and to a somewhat lesser degree to the US and the West).

So should Qaradawi – and the many other Muslim clerics and scholars who preach similar views – be denounced as Islamophobic ?

The problem is obviously – as this debate illustrated all too well – that it is much more likely that it is considered Islamophobic to argue that there is a serious problem when somebody with Qaradawi’s views is mainstream.