A false dichotomy is a basic type of informal logical fallacy, consisting in framing an issue as if there were only two choices available, while in fact a range of nuanced positions may be on offer upon more careful reflection. There are nonetheless plenty of instances were they do identify truly bad reasoning.Another one is arguably represented by the never ending “debate” about Islamophobia.
It is easy to find stark examples of people defending what appear to be two irreconcilable positions about how to view Islam in a post-9/11 world. For the sake of discussion, I will bypass pundits and other pseudo-intellectuals, and use instead two comedians as representative of the contrasting positions:
Broadly speaking, I don’t think religions in general are particularly good ideas. In my mind they originate from a combination of false presuppositions (that there are higher beings of a supernatural kind) and a power grab by individuals (i.e., religious leaders) who sometimes unconsciously (and sometimes not) end up exploiting the fears and hopes of the people that they are supposed to lead. Even so, I recognize that the religious instinct is pretty much universal among human beings, and not likely to go away any time soon, if ever. I also recognize that religions have done lots of good in the world throughout history, and that it isn’t at all clear whether a world without them would indeed be a better one, as a number of overconfident atheists keeps claiming.
What I’m saying is that I don’t believe that religion, any religion (including Islam) is a particularly good idea, but at the same time I also don’t believe that any religion (again, including Islam) is “the motherlode of bad ideas”
Sure, one can argue that such interpretations are simply mistaken (though it’s hard to adjudicate theological debates, since we can’t ask the alleged divine source), but even so those ideas clearly play an enabling and highly motivating role in the ensuing violence and repression. To deny this is simply not to pay attention to what is plainly in front of our eyes and ears.
While some people may very well be “Islamophobes” (i.e., they may genuinely harbor an irrational prejudice against Islam), simply pointing out that Islamic ideas play a role in contemporary terrorism and repression does not make one a Islamophobe, and using the label blindly is simply an undemocratic, and unreflective, way of cutting off critical discourse. Then again, those who focus on Islam as uniquely problematic may themselves benefit from dusting off a couple of history books and learn a thing or two about the complex interplay of ideas and socio-political situations in human affairs, before making themselves Paladins of simplistic and highly misleading non-truths.