Mine is acrophobia, irrational fear of heights. That’s what the Greek word phobia means: extreme, irrational fear.
There’s no tangible reason for me to be unable to stay on a top-floor balcony, and yet I am. That’s irrational. Ten seconds, and I have to rush back into the room because otherwise I fear I might jump. That’s extreme.
Acrophobia is a psychiatric disorder, albeit a mild one. Since I’m not particularly bothered by it, I’ve never sought treatment. Stick to tennis, Alex, I say to myself. Hang-gliding isn’t for you.
Now, if you believe our Tory ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid, his party also suffers from a phobia. And theirs is more serious than my mild, mundane disorder.
The disease in question is Islamophobia, and it must be so recondite that it doesn’t seem to appear in any psychiatric manual. Since Mr Javid spoke about the party at large, not just specific individuals, the situation is as dire as can be.
Thousands of Tories must impersonate Edvard Munch’s famous painting every time they espy a Muslim. They wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near Edgware Road, where Muslims roam in large numbers. Pursued by the nightmares of Muslims, they wake up in the middle of the night drenched in cold sweat, hoarse from their screams.
No? That’s not what Islamophobia means? Fine, in that case please explain to me what it does mean. And if you can’t, let’s ask Mr Javid – he’ll sort us out.
On second thoughts, I don’t think anyone who uses the word phobia in any other than its proper meaning can sort us out on anything. The improper meaning in which this word is often used isn’t medical but political.
Tag phobia to the name of any group our woke opinion-formers deem oppressed, and Javid is your uncle, Warsi is your aunt. A neologism is coined. This is three perverse tendencies of modernity for the price of one: desemanticisation of words, medicalisation of conditions and politicisation of everything.
If Islamophobia doesn’t mean irrational fear of Muslims, what on earth does it mean in woke, as opposed to English? Take your pick.
It could mean hatred of Muslims, although I doubt that’s what many Tories feel.
Or it could mean merely a mild dislike of Muslims, probably a somewhat wider affliction, but hardly a pandemic.
Or else it could be just talking – or, worse still, joking –about Mohammed’s marital preferences, and that sin may be quite widespread (mea culpa, in the spirit of openness).
Or it could mean a genuine concern about Islamic terrorism, which is hardly irrational, considering that two-thirds of the people charged with terrorist offences are Muslims.
Or it could denote an equally legitimate worry about many Muslims’ inability or reluctance to accept British culture and laws.
Or it could mean a propensity to discriminate against Muslims, which is actually the subset that Mr Javid used to illustrate the wider problem. Apparently, he was once blocked from standing in a safe Tory seat because its constituents were unlikely to vote for a Muslim candidate.
If that was a true reflection of the demographic situation there, then the local Tory association was only guilty of a realistic assessment of their man’s electoral chances. Using demographics to political ends is par for the course. If you don’t believe me, explain why the manifestly inept Sadiq Khan has been re-elected as Mayor of London.
And if Mr Javid’s association was indeed driven by a prejudice symptomatic of the whole party, then he must be a statesman of Periclean proportions. After all, he managed to overcome institutional Tory Islamophobia and rise to the second-highest political post in the UK.
On the other hand, he didn’t keep it for long, so maybe he is making a valid point. Then again, two of the three highest offices in the Tory government are at present held by Hindus, so perhaps the Conservative Party is either not racist or racist only selectively.
To be fair, he was going not only by his own ordeals, but also by the findings of the inquiry led by Swaran Singh, a former equality and human rights commissioner, and requested two years ago by Mr Javid himself.
While acknowledging that the Conservative Party isn’t racist institutionally, Mr Singh did detect traces of “anti-Muslim sentiment” at local levels. He also pointed out two instances illustrating said sentiment.
First, when Boris Johnson was still a mere newspaper columnist, he compared burka-clad Muslim women to letterboxes, which gave people the impression that the Tories were “insensitive to Muslim communities”.
I disagree. That flourish of Mr Johnson’s pen only shows his knack for a visually apt simile. He could have, for example, compared those ladies to penguins, but that would have been less accurate because penguins have white chests, and Muslim women don’t – or if they do, they don’t display them in public.
The second example had to do with Lord Goldsmith’s campaign for the mayor of London in 2016. In the heat of electoral jousts, Lord Goldsmith suggested that Sadiq Khan, the eventual victor, was a closet Islamic extremist and therefore dangerous to London.
When a brouhaha ensued, he apologised for his poor judgement, while denying Islamophobia.
Now, if false, Lord Goldsmith’s accusation was libellous, and British laws cover such indiscretions like a blanket. Did Mr Khan not sue because Lord Goldsmith’s statement was true? In that case, the sin committed wasn’t libel but divulging official secrets.
However, even if Lord Goldsmith’s premise was incorrect, his conclusion wasn’t: Sadiq Khan is indeed dangerous, nay downright detrimental, to London even if he isn’t an Islamic extremist.
I wish Mr Javid, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who supported him unequivocally, busied themselves with better things than catering to the brittle sensibilities of their co-religionists. Or at least found real English words to describe their grievances, rather than the woke jargon that’s more destructive to our country than any conceivable phobia.
P.S. The other day, an Argentinian TV presenter announced the death of William Shakespeare, “one of the most important writers in the English language – for me the master.” Actually, the William Shakespeare who died on that day was an 81-year-old man from Coventry, who was the first Briton to be vaccinated against Covid. An easy mistake to make, I suppose, especially for a TV personality.