“To generalize is to be an idiot.” – William Blake

Xenophobia and Islamophobia in the USA

By Paul J. Balles *

Paul J. Balles considers the mindset – the ignorance, irrationality and faulty reasoning – behind xenophobia and it’s latest manifestation in the United States and other Western countries, Islamophobia.

“To generalize is to be an idiot.” – William Blake

Xenophobia is a fear or contempt of that which is foreign or unknown, especially of strangers or foreign people. It includes hatred of persons belonging to a different race, or different ethnic or national origin.

The fear or hatred that makes up xenophobia involves a great deal of generalizing about “others”.

Unfortunately, if you develop a mindset about large numbers of people based on the actions of a few, you can treat whole populations badly.

British historian Thomas Macaulay said: “In proportion as men know more and think more they look less at individuals and more at classes.”

Generalizations involving xenophobia include thoughts like “immigrants are not as worthy as natives”, and “women are not as capable as men”.

There are those in America who consider Barak Obama unworthy of being its president because of his colour, because his father was not American by birth or because Obama’s middle name is Hussain.

The mental degradation as part of this generalizing applies to any and all who don’t belong to the tribe or group of the xenophobes.

Philosopher and author Eric Hoffer observed that “We are more prone to generalize the bad than the good. We assume that the bad is more potent and contagious.”

Thus, by faulty reasoning, if there is one bad black, all blacks are bad; and if one Muslim has committed a crime, therefore all Muslims must be criminals.

A special name – Islamophobia – applies to xenophobia involving Muslims; and Islamophobia has been growing alarmingly in America recently.

A knife-wielding lunatic attacked a Muslim taxi driver in New York City. Why? The driver admitted to a drunk lunatic that he (the taxi driver) was a Muslim.

The attacker reasoned from the specific (an attack attributed to Muslims on 9/11) to the general (all Muslims were responsible).

A mosque under construction in Tennessee suffered an arson attack. Why? Comments by Islamophobes like Newt Gingrich have incited a general hatred of Muslims.

Newt Gingrich, once the speaker of the US House of Representatives, would naturally have others attaching greater credence to what he says.

How many people has Gingrich fed anti-Muslim thinking with his inflammatory public remarks about Islam? The false generalization: if one Muslim is bad, all Muslims must be bad.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones planned to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11. Why? He generalized from Muslims alleged to have been responsible for 9/11 to all of Islam.

Documentary film-maker Michael Moore pointed out: “Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?”

Protesters have been assailing the building of an Islamic cultural centre – including a mosque – near Ground Zero in New York. The protestors disregard the fact that before Ground Zero became Ground Zero, it had two mosques.

The problem: general and increasing Islamophobia. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 49 per cent of all Americans say they have generally unfavourable opinions of Islam. A larger percentage opposes the cultural centre.

Poet Ezra Pound wrote: “Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.” In other words, if the money isn’t in the bank the cheque is worthless.

Applied to the generalizations about Islam, if they don’t fit Muslims generally, they are worthless expressions of xenophobia and the ignorant fear called Islamophobia.

*Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years.


  1. michael mazur said,

    September 21, 2010 at 00:21

    Paul J. Balles holds to the official govt view on 911. Hence it colours anything else he discusses; that is to say that in this essay of his he could have exposed the whole Mosque at Ground Zero campaign as actually getting funded by Zionist connected interests.

    That xenophobia and Islamophobia are bad needs no comment as that is obvious, but what is not obvious is who is energising those phobias and for what purpose; which is where Paul J. Balles could have done some good.

    So once someone says that the govt version of 911 is correct then everything they say that this impinges on becomes tainted.

    Months ago i picked him up on this govt view on 911 being his also, and we had some email exchanges about it which revealed that he’ll defend the indefensible until it would be ludricous to continue.

  2. September 21, 2010 at 01:03

    “To generalize is to be an idiot.” – William Blake

    Great quote, uh… Except that William Blake is making a gross exaggeration in his own statement, if not the most offensive exaggeration possible, given the false proposition he is trying to prove by it.

    Everything we say is necessarily a generalization -because no two things are exactly alike in this infinitely complex reality we all share. So few -today- seem to recognize this. I guess that is what makes geniuses, geniuses.

    Anyone who has this Enlightenment disposition about their attitudes they regularly mistake for perception, including the anti-phobia author -is about as shallow as a mirror.

    Look in it, -that mirror-, before you open your mouth.

    If you do take the time to look closely, those who are wise or simply survivalists -will generally keep their mouths shut.

    It was Lao Tse who said, Though you may hear the cock crow on the other side of the hill, -NEVER- go there.

    It is excellent advice, -despite being so old.

    But some people have to impress everyone that they have something to blurt out. I am an expert blurter-outer. I have gotten myself into plenty of trouble in my days -because of it.

    Nearly every genius-supposing-jerk in the world, wants to emigrate to the U.S.

    -IF- my total-opposition to their coming here, is xenophobic, then I would ask the author to defend his opposition -to my opposition- to their coming here.

    America has enough genius-supposing-jerks already.

    And we should all worry about the growing genius-supposing paucity of the rest of the world -if these jerks should continue to be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. -bringing with them all that is common to most human beings.

    I’ll tell you what. Come -if your CRAP doesn’t stink. Otherwise stay home and improve your own country.

    Don Robertson
    Limestone, Maine

  3. James Dunet said,

    September 21, 2010 at 09:42

    Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself! No Fu**ing S**t Sherlock!!!!

    Lol. If that kernal of truth scares you then it’s time to run screaming away from this harsh existance that we all face.

    I am sick of truth being suppressed every time some coward doesn’t like what he sees in the preverbial mirror.

    I had to face my own inferiorities before I could begin to understand myself and this world. It is time for everyone to grow up all over again.

    Also, what of the conquest argument? If a man wants to take over some place or hold another, and you say he has no right to do so, how do you respond to his use of lethal force?

    You will have to use lethal force too.

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