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This article fully recognises the reality and detrimental impact of anti-Muslim sentiment and consequently that 'Islamophobia' describes an important social reality, especially in contexts where Muslims are a minority. However it is critical of ‘Islamophobia’ as a valid concept in the social science. In the sociology of Islam, it actually distorts research by concentrating on Muslims as invariably victims of social forces. This article is a modest proposal to reconsider differences between science and advocacy concepts, thereby recognising their different and distinctive roles in social movements and academic institutions. It is important that those undertaking any scholarly study of detrimental social behaviour motivated by hatred possess valid theoretical and empirical tools to counter false information or distorted views of minorities. To this extent, Islamophobia is a valuable advocacy concept in the public sphere and scholars should aim to keep it there. However, the article explores the history and deployment of Islamophobia as an advocacy concept and exposes its limitations as scientific description of social reality. There are two contrasted conclusions to this critique. The pessimistic view is that all human societies are constructed around social groups that have exclusionary boundaries. Although boundaries are always changing, the inclusion/exclusion dynamic never wholly disappears. Policy efforts enhance cosmopolitan virtues. The optimistic conclusion is that advocacy concepts and scientific practices, while not entirely compatible, are not systematically opposed. Advocacy may have greater effect when it is grounded in reliable facts and tested assumptions. Defending science and critical debate are important in a political climate of ‘fake news’ feeding off negative stereotypes, hate speech and incivility.


Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society

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Journal Article

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