Notes on Racism, Part I

2017-05-24, Summary & sommaire updated 2018-04-29

In this blog I discuss definitions of the terms “race” and “racism” and explain the necessary distinction between race and religion. Then I consider the exploitation of imaginary racism by various ideologues.

A slightly modified version of this article is published in no. 201 (Summer 2017) of the magazine Humanist Perspectives, under the title “Racism: Real and Imagined.”

Sommaire en français Dans ce blogue je discute de la définition des termes « race » et « racisme » et explique la distinction nécessaire entre race et religion. Ensuite, je considère l’instrumentalisation du racisme imaginaire par divers idéologues.

Une version légèrement modifiée de ce texte paraît dans le numéro 201 (été 2017) de la revue Humanist Perspectives, sous le titre « Racism: Real and Imagined ».

Race and Racism

According to Wiktionary, a race is a group of people distinguished by common ancestry, heritage or physical characteristics, while racism is defined as a belief that “each race has distinct and intrinsic attributes” or “that one race or ethnic group is superior or inferior to another” or “prejudice or discrimination based upon race or ethnicity.” Races, to the extent that such categories exist, are fuzzy sets, that is to say, categories with uncertain boundaries, like clusters which often fade into each other along those boundaries.

I would suggest that definitions of race, and consequently of racism, vary along a spectrum from strict to lenient or general. The strictest definition would be based entirely on innate, physical, heritable characteristics, i.e. genetics, whereas more general definitions would extend to ethnic groups. Ethnicity is only partly based on genetics; for example, a person of a completely different race from the majority in an ethnic group may be considered a member of that group if he or she is well integrated into it, especially if that integration began in early childhood. Thus, prejudice against a particular race in the strict sense, such as a theory of racial superiority or inferiority, is racism strictly speaking. (For example, Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel in L’islamophobie considers racism to be a synonym of social darwinism.) On the other hand, prejudice against an ethnic group might more accurately be called ethnic prejudice, ethnic chauvinism or ethnic bigotry.

Race and Religion

However, if we wish to discuss religious affiliation, then it is clear from the above considerations that such affiliation is distinct from race and that religious bigotry—i.e. prejudice against a particular religious group—is certainly not racism, not even in the most lenient sense described above, because one’s religion is an acquired rather than an essential characteristic. One can change one’s religion in an instant, but not one’s ethnicity or race.

The only way to get around this obvious difference is to throw freedom of conscience out the window and declare “Once a Christian (or Hindu, Muslim, Pastafarian, etc.), always a Christian (or Hindu, Muslim, Pastafarian, etc.)” This now-false attitude nevertheless has an historical basis: for example the original Muslims were generally Arabs, the original Christians were mainly Jewish, and as for the Jews, even today Jewish ethnicity is regularly confused with the practice of Judaism. However Judaism, the original Abrahamic monotheism, is a tribal religion (as most religions probably were originally), whereas both Christianity and Islam have universalist pretentions, with the goal of converting people regardless of race or ethnicity, which in time they have indeed both done.

In summary, if you support the concept of freedom of conscience (which includes both freedom of religion and freedom from religion) then you must abandon the historical, tribal connection between religion on the one hand and race or ethnicity on the other.

Varieties of Racism

The issue of racism varies in quality and intensity in different countries and regions. There is anti-black racism in many countries, but it is particularly intense in the USA as a result of its history of slavery, the economic importance of slavery in that country and the denigration of Africans used as a rationalization for the inferior status of blacks. Christian scripture, so highly valued in the USA even today, was also used to legitimize slavery. In countries such as Canada and the U.K., slavery was abolished earlier and was much less important economically.

Nevertheless Canada and the British North American colonies which preceded it have a long history replete with racist themes. The British imperial mentality established a hierarchy of races and ethnic groups, the pinnacle occupied of course by the English, considered superior to the neighbouring Scottish, Irish, French and other Europeans and vastly superior to other groups such as Jews, Africans, the Chinese and other Asians. At the very bottom were of course the native peoples of the Americas. The intensity of such chauvinist and racist attitudes has diminished over time and Canada is much less racist than it used to be. Nevertheless, racism is not all in the past. Statistics indicate that blacks and Jews (along with gays) are the most frequent targets of discrimination. Grievous mistreatment of native peoples—including efforts to obliterate their cultures and languages—belongs to recent history and is not fully resolved.

Furthermore, the infamous “two solitudes” separating English- and French-speaking parts of Canada also lives on in the continued demonization of Quebec nationalists. The denigration of French-speaking Québécois is an example of ethnic chauvinism, i.e. “racism” in the general sense, as the Québécois represent a nation or ethnic group, not a race in the strict sense.

Racism tends to be “nicer” and more insidious in Canada, but more brutal and frank in the USA. American history involves a considerable degree of revolutionary fervour, made even more intense when combined with Christian arrogance—so natives were seen as subhuman undesirables to be cleared from the otherwise virgin land—whereas Canada was built as part of an expanding empire where subjugating conquered peoples was more efficiently done by negotiating (or pretending to negotiate) with them.

There is no symmetry between anti-white and anti-black racism. The latter is obviously far more widespread and serious.

Racism can of course go in any direction. Anyone who claims that anti-white racism is impossible can be dismissed as a preposterous ideologue. For example, the Nation of Islam of which Malcolm X was a member for several years believed that whites are devils and that blacks are superior to them. The point is not to deny the existence of such racism, but rather to recognize the asymmetry. There is no symmetry between anti-white and anti-black racism. The latter is obviously far more widespread and serious.

Dangerous Ideologies

Is racism a major ideological threat today, as it was, for example, in the early XXth century, manifested through ideologies of anti-semitism and German and Japanese racial superiority? In my opinion, no. That is, racism remains a serious problem, especially certain types and in certain regions, but it cannot compare with the global threat to human freedom from the following two ideologies:

  1. neoliberalism, i.e. free-market capitalism, and
  2. political Islam, a.k.a. Islamism or Islamofascism.

Neoliberalism is not racist. On the contrary, it tends to be anti-racist because it seeks to render all borders permeable or non-existent in order to maximize the freedom enjoyed by transnational corporations. However, neoliberals may use racism to justify or rationalize the negative effects of their economic policies: for example, denigrating sub-Saharan Africans as lazy and unproductive whereas in reality underdevelopment in Africa is more a result of neoliberal policies (while neoliberals claim their policies are required to remedy that underdevelopment). The denigration of nationalism and populism is used in order to weaken national boundaries or prevent new boundaries from being established. (Neither nationalism nor populism is good or bad in and of itself; either may be situated anywhere on the left-right political spectrum.) For example, the demonization of Quebec separatism is a mainstay of the Canadian political mainstream. Furthermore, this strategy is extended to stigmatize the republican secularism which many Quebec nationalists favour.

As for political Islam, it has nothing directly to do with race, and indeed, given its universalist, proselytizing program, it tends to be non-racist or even anti-racist like neoliberalism. However Islamism, again just like neoliberalism, regularly uses false accusations of racism as a propaganda tool. This is done in at least two ways: (1) by confusing religion with race in order to deflect criticism of Islamic dogma as “racist” or “Islamophobic” and (2) by confusing social darwinism with darwinism in order to denigrate evolutionary biology as “racist,” thus promoting creationism.

… both neoliberalism and Islamism use multiculturalism (i.e. communitarianism) as a propaganda tool.

Indeed, both neoliberalism and Islamism use multiculturalism (i.e. communitarianism) as a propaganda tool. For neoliberals, multiculturalism is divide and conquer, weakening nationalism, lowering expectations for social programs provided by the nation-state. For Islamofascists, multiculturalism essentializes religious identity to the detriment of citizenship, thus undermining freedom of conscience. They also share the strategy of denigrating their opponents as “racist” or “xenophobic” (or, in the case of Islamism, as “Islamophobic”). They even indulge in demonization of their opponents as “fascist” when in fact they themselves can arguably be described by that word. (See Neoliberalism is a form of Fascism or Le néolibéralisme est un fascisme by Manuela Cadelli. The term “Islamofascism” may be considered too modern and too kind to describe political Islam accurately, because it is a medieval theocratic totalitarianism; however, the term has the advantage of countering Islamofascists’ attempts to paint others as fascists.)

Thus, both ideologies are major threats to secularism. The threat from Islamism is direct and obvious. The threat from neoliberalism is more subtle.

Racism, Real and Imaginary

Thus, although true racism remains a reality in the modern world, we see that racism has in recent years become very widespread as a false accusation. Indeed, I would argue that the use of imaginary racism as a propaganda tool has become an even greater problem than racism itself, because these accusations are a major support for both neoliberalism and Islamofascism. Both ideologies exploit the issue for propaganda purposes, making false allegations which generate confusion but which have a certain degree of undeserved credibility because of the continued existence of real racism. Accusations of racism are very serious and represent a powerful form of intimidation and censorship. Secularists and atheists in particular are frequently targeted by anti-secular, pro-religious elements. Such false accusations are modern proxies for the old-fashioned crime of blasphemy.

… the use of imaginary racism as a propaganda tool has become an even greater problem than racism itself …

A particularly extreme example of this strategy is the behaviour of Chris Hedges, an icon of the American regressive left who is also a Presbyterian minister. Hedges regularly criticizes neoliberalism but fails to criticize Islamofascism. But even worse, he objectively apologized for Islamist terrorism in his response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Hedges also completely confuses race with religion and accused the late Christopher Hitchens of racism for his criticism of Islamism. Even worse, Hedges declared in a CBC interview that atheism is practically a form of racism. He is only one step behind Saudi Arabia whose position is that atheism is a form of terrorism.

Imaginary racism is a staple of the regressive left. The mentality of that fake left is maintained through dogmatic loyalty to spokespersons (such as Hedges) who do not deserve such loyalty—they deserve instead to be denounced for their betrayal of values which the left should defend, such as rationalism and secularism—and through fear and intimidation. Indeed, merely bringing up the issue of, say, immigration for discussion can get one accused of racism (or fascism), so many people are bullied into silence and debate is stifled.

Next blog: Notes sur le racisme, IIe partie

Rules for a Discussion about Religion


In this blog I present four simple guidelines (but which may not be simple to follow) which, in my opinion, must be respected if a discussion on a religious topic is to be productive.

Sommaire en français Je présente quatre préceptes simples (mais dont la mise en application n’est pas nécessairement simple) qui, à mon avis, doivent être respectés pour qu’une discussion sur un sujet religieux puisse être fructueuse. Ces règles sont :

  • La critique des idéologies, y compris des religions, est nécessaire.
  • Il faut distinguer les croyances des croyants.
  • Il faut distinguer la religion de la race.
  • L’extrémisme religieux est une réalité.

In order to have a productive discussion or debate on a subject concerning religion, the following guidelines must necessarily be respected by all parties to the discussion:

  1. Criticism of ideologies, including religions, is not only legitimate but imperatively necessary. Many religious beliefs and practices are incompatible with principles of human rights as set out in various charters and declarations. For example, the so-called “sacred” scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all contain misogynistic elements. All three religions have homophobic elements which deny rights—and sometimes even life—to some sexual minorities. In particular, mainstream Islam considers apostasy, i.e. leaving Islam, to be a crime for which the punishment may even be death, and many Muslim-majority countries apply this rule in their legislation. Thus, if one cares about human rights, then criticism of these aspects of religion is imperative.
  2. It is critically important that a distinction be drawn between beliefs and believers. To criticize the beliefs of a particular religion is not an attack on all believers associated with that religion. There are many variants of all major religions. Two different Christians may hold completely different views concerning, say, sexuality, or reproductive rights, or other issues of religious doctrine. Often we cannot know what a person’s motivation or thoughts are. For example, a niqab-wearing woman may be obligated by family or community to wear that flag of radical Islam; on the other hand, she may choose to wear it of her own free will; or the reality may be a combination of the two. To criticize the niqab does not imply that we are criticizing all women—or even most—who wear it, because the majority are forced to do so. (However, in some special cases, we do know; for example Zunera Ishaq is clearly an agent of radical Islam considering her extensive legal action to win the “right” to wear the niqab practically anywhere.) This distinction between beliefs and believers is especially important in the case of Islam, because of the ban on apostasy in Islam. It is very important to be prudent when using the label “Muslim” as there may be many ex-Muslims who continue to pretend to be believers because of fear of reprisals. Our respect for the right of apostasy—which is an essential part of freedom of conscience—requires that the label “Muslim” be used with caution.
  3. Religion has nothing to do with race and it is unacceptable to confuse the two. To confuse religion and race is a deliberate strategy of some radical religionists, because they use this confusion to make false accusations of racism against their critics, in an effort to silence them. We must not fall into their trap. For example, in the case of Jews and Judaism, the target of any criticism must be clear: i.e. is the criticism directed at the religion Judaism, or at the Jewish people? The former is not racist, but the latter may very well be racist. This is a major example of why rule (2) is so important.
  4. Extremism in the name of religion is a reality. There exist, within many religions, currents of practice or belief which are fundamentalist, sometimes radical, often highly politicized and even extremist. These currents are the most dangerous and deserve particular attention as targets of criticism. This is particularly true for Islam currently: radical, extremist, political Islam does exist and must be dealt with. It is particularly important to distinguish between believers who subscribe to these radical currents as opposed to those who do not.

If the parties to a debate or discussion do not recognize and agree to the above four principles, then there is little hope of a useful conversation. Furthermore, in my opinion, anyone who does not accept these principles must be considered incompetent in religious matters.

Next blog: “Islamophobia”: a weapon against reforming Islam

The Acquired-Innate Spectrum

Religious and political affiliations are acquired attributes while sexual orientation and “race” are more innate.


A tabular presentation of various personal attributes, distinguishing the more acquired characteristics from those which are more innate.

Sommaire en français Une présentation, sous form de grille, de différents attributs d’une personne, dans le but de distinguer les caractéristiques acquises (comme l’appartenance religieuse ou politique) de celles qui sont plutôt innées (comme l’orientation sexuelle ou la « race »).

Position on Spectrum Characteristics
Totally Acquired
  • Opinions about religion (atheism, agnosticism, monotheism, polytheism, animism, various metabeliefs, etc.)
  • Specific religious beliefs if any (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.)
  • Political orientations (libertarianism, capitalism, socialism, marxism, anarchism, etc.)
Mainly Acquired
from a very young age
  • Maternal language
  • Ethnicity
Mainly Innate
  • Sexual Orientation
Totally Innate
  • Genetic inheritance
  • “Race”

See also:

Next blog: Challenges for Canadian Secularists

Aphorisms about “Islamophobia” and “Racism”


A few pithy assertions about two words which are frequently used as slander.

Sommaire en français Quelques brèves assertions concernant deux mots utilisés fréquemment pour diffamer :

  • Quiconque profère des accusations d’« islamophobie » est soit islamofasciste, soit dupe de l’islamofascisme. Les 2 sont obscurantistes.
  • Quiconque n’a pas peur de l’islam en particulier, et du monothéisme en général, est soit insensé, soit stupide — ou peut-être les deux.
  • Version 2016 d’un vieux dicton : « Lorsque le sage pointe l’islamisme, l’imbécile l’accuse d’islamophobie. »
  • Accuser quelqu’un d’« islamophobie » c’est l’accuser de blasphème. Quiconque se dit contre les lois anti-blasphème mais qui profère des accusations d’« islamophobie » est hypocrite.
  • Accuser un individu de « racisme » pour avoir critiqué l’islam est une imposture, même s’il est anti-musulman. L’islam n’est pas une race. L’accusateur manifeste ainsi un manque total d’intégrité intellectuelle.

Anyone who makes accusations of “Islamophobia” is either an Islamofascist or a dupe of Islamofascism. Both are obscurantists.

Indeed, the highly problematic nature of the term “Islamophobia” is well known and has been discussed and exposed by many authors. Do your homework, please!

Anyone who does not fear Islam in particular, and monotheism in general, is either insane or stupid—or maybe both.

A phobia is normally understood as an irrational fear. There is nothing irrational about fearing a religion, especially a monotheism, and in particular Islam. Indeed, monotheisms are highly totalitarian as well as irrational, and thus rightly to be feared.

2016 version of an old proverb: “When the wise point at Islamism, idiots accuse them of Islamophobia.”

There is a popular French saying which, translated into English, is “When the wise man points at the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.” When confronted with a warning of the dangers presented by Islamism, foolish people fail to heed the warning and instead slander the messenger.

An accusation of “Islamophobia” is an accusation of blasphemy. Anyone who claims to oppose anti-blasphemy laws but makes accusations of “Islamophobia” is a hypocrite.

Anti-blasphemy laws are enforced by the threat of fines or incarceration or worse. The taboo on criticizing Islam is enforced by accusations of “Islamophobia” which threaten a person’s reputation, with the goal of shaming them into silence. Such accusations are Islamofascist slander. Criticizing Islam includes criticizing the actions of fundamentalist or rigorously pious Muslims whose behaviour facilitates or supports the theocratic goals of Islamism. For example, as Mona Eltahawy has so aptly observed, “Western women who wear the veil contribute to the subservience of women elsewhere in the world for whom wearing the veil is an obligation.”

To accuse someone of “racism” because they criticize Islam is nonsense, even if the person is an anti-Muslim bigot. Islam is not a race. The accuser thus displays a total lack of intellectual integrity.

A religion is not a race. A person’s race, to the extent that that word is meaningful, is an innate attribute, fixed at birth (in fact before birth) and immutable. A person’s religion is an acquired characteristic, acquired after birth—usually by indoctrination as a child, but sometimes later in life—and can be readily changed if the indoctrination was not too severe or if the person strives diligently, through intense intellectual effort, to overcome it.

For an example of this type of slanderous accusation see the discussion of Gerald Caplan (Assertion #3) in my previous blog The Extended Weinberg Principle.

Next blog: The Acquired-Innate Spectrum

Dubious Words


After my previous blog which dealt with words which should be used more often, this blog lists dubious words which should be used with caution, or never used at all, and which should be met with suspicion when used by others. These terms are often tendentious, i.e. they tend to propagate an underlying ideology while at the same time hiding that ideology. The most important of these is of course the dreaded and utterly dishonest accusation Islamophobia.

Terms to be Avoided Entirely

Sommaire en français Tandis que mon blogue précédent traitait de termes que je suggère pour un usage plus fréquent, celui-ci comporte une liste d’expressions que je considère douteuses, qu’il faudrait plutôt éviter ou utiliser avec précaution, et qui devraient inspirer de la méfiance si utilisées par les autres. Ces expressions sont souvent tendancieuses, c’est-à-dire qu’elles ont tendance à véhiculer une idéologie sous-jacente, tout en obscurcissant celle-ci. En tête de liste se trouve cette accusation redoutée et malhonnête, islamophobie.

The following expressions are very tendentious, i.e. each is implicitly or explicitly partisan and prejudiced, transmitting a preconceived notion or deliberately confusing. Thus, they should never be used, or should be used with extreme caution as explained for each term. When any of these terms is used by others, the speaker should be challenged either to change their vocabulary or to explain their usage.

  • Islamophobia:
    This term must be avoided for reasons which are well known and have been explained by many commentators. It is used by Islamists and their objective allies to censor and silence any criticism of Islam. It confuses two distinct concepts: criticism of Islam (which is necessary and desirable) and prejudice against Muslim persons. And the suffix -phobia suggests that fear of Islam is irrational, which is certainly not true in general. Indeed, anyone who does not fear radical Islam is a fool. Generally speaking, anyone who uses this term as an accusation against others is either a partisan of fundamentalist Islam or Islamofascism, or a dupe of these ideologies. For further information, follow this link: Islamophobia
  • reasonable accommodation:
    This term is almost always used as an excuse for religious privileges granted by state institutions, dishonestly implying that such demands are reasonable. To be honest, it should be replaced by the expression religious accommodation; such accommodations are never reasonable.

Terms to be Used With Caution

The following expressions are also tendentious but are sometimes used legitimately. Thus they should be used with caution, being careful to explain precisely what one wishes to say. Similarly, when others use such language, we should insist that they explain themselves carefully.

Multiculturalism is the main impediment to secularism in Canada, more harmful than any one religion, because it reinforces the influence of religion in general by treating it as essential to personal identity.

  • multiculturalism:
    This used to mean cultural diversity, but it has evolved into an ideology based on cultural relativism and should be called “ethno-religious determinism.” Multiculturalist ideologues tend to view religious affiliation as if it were an innate, immutable attribute of the individual, and this attitude leads inevitably to religious privilege. Multiculturalism is the main impediment to secularism in Canada, more harmful than any one religion, because it reinforces the influence of religion in general by treating it as essential to personal identity.
  • interculturalism:
    An ill-defined alternative to “multiculturalism.” It should imply a reciprocity of responsibilities between the host society and any minority culture, where the latter must also adapt to certain core values of the former, while “multiculturalism” is one-way, i.e. the host society must accommodate all others. However, in the absence of a clear definition in legislation, “interculturalism” may simply degenerate into a vague synonym of “multiculturalism.”
  • diversity:
    A much overused term, almost always meant positively, like a marketing buzzword for multiculturalist ideologues. Yes, biological and cultural diversity are generally good things, but not in all situations. Introduce a highly aggressive or predatory species into a diverse ecosystem, or introduce an extremely intolerant “culture” such as a radical monotheistic ideology into a culturally diverse society, and the added diversity may be very destructive. A diversity of opinions may generate creativity—or it may be harmful if several of those opinions are patently false.
  • racism:
    Often misused as a completely specious, false accusation—in particular when discussing religion—and operating as a form of censorship. A religious group is not a race, so the word is inappropriate. For example, the word “Jewish” describes both an ethnic group and a religion, which to be fair must be distinguished, and one way to do that is to use the word “Judaism” when referring to the religion and reserve “Jewish” for the ethnic group. Another example: Donald Trump’s paranoid hostility toward Muslims is not racist, because Muslims are not a racial group; rather, it is anti-Muslim bigotry. (However Trump’s attitude towards Mexicans can legitimately be called racist because nationality and race are closely related.)
  • inclusive:
    Another overused term, a marketing buzzword for multiculturalist ideologues. Its purpose is to imply that those who support secularism and criticize multiculturalism are somehow intolerant and exclude some ethno-religious groups. This is a big lie. On the contrary, secularists insist on preventing the religious, especially fundamentalists, from advertising their ideologies in the public service. No-one is excluded except for those who may deliberately exclude themselves by refusing to comply with rules which apply equally to everyone.
  • For Canadian multiculturalists, asserting one’s identity as a conservative Muslim is cool, but asserting one’s identity as a secular Québécois is “xenophobic.”

  • identity politics:
    Another term overused by multiculturalist ideologues to denigrate secularists. In fact it is hypocritical, because multiculturalism promotes the assertion of ethno-religious identities to the detriment of one’s status as a citizen, and it is this shared status which is important for secularism. For Canadian multiculturalists, asserting one’s identity as a conservative Muslim is cool, but asserting one’s identity as a secular Québécois is “xenophobic.”
  • politics of fear:
    Another buzzword used tendentiously, as if fear were always a bad thing. On the contrary, it is rational and necessary to fear radical theocratic ideologies. Complacency can be worse than fear.
  • open secularism:
    A near-synonym of multiculturalism, a pseudo-secularism, incompatible with secularism. The word “open” means that the state is open to religious interference. So-called open secularism is an attempt to block secularism by replacing it with a pale imitation thereof. See: Secularism: Lockean and Republican.
  • hate:
    Often used in expressions such as “hate propaganda” and “hate speech” but, like all human emotions, this term should probably be avoided in a legal context. What should be criminalized is speech which encourages or threatens violence. Hatred is not always bad, and it may be partly or totally appropriate. Do you hate Naziism? What matters is not hatred or love or whatever, but rather how such emotions are expressed, towards what target they are directed and whether or not they are supported by reasoned argument.
  • racialized:
    The apparent purpose of this term, when used in a religious context, is to allow the speaker to continue confusing religious affiliation with race, in order to rationalize unfounded accusations. Those who criticize Islam are sometimes accused of “racism”—usually by the same people who throw around specious accusations of “Islamophobia.” Such accusations are false because a religion is not race. The accusers, when confronted with this observation, then change tactic, saying for example that Muslims constitute a “racialized group” thus attempting to rationalize continued use of the term “racism.”
  • religious obligation:
    There is no such thing. See: false obligation and The Myth of Religious Obligations.

Next blog: The Extended Weinberg Principle