Nelson McCausland: The weaponising of 'phobia' is just another strategy to avoid debating arguments you can’t hope to win
During the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull paid for a billboard poster with the message, “Woman, women, noun, adult human female”. It cost her £700, but the billboard company removed it after LGBT activist Dr Adrian Harrop complained that the billboard represented a “hate group”, was part of a “transphobic campaign” and would make “transgender women” feel unsafe.
We have reached a sad situation when a dictionary definition on a billboard can be branded transphobic and removed as hate speech.
I always understood a phobia to be an irrational fear. I had a relative who suffered from agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces, or crowded public spaces. Another relative had a fear, or phobia, about flying. Thankfully, in both cases, they were able, eventually, to overcome these phobias.
However, we live in a time when the meaning of the word ‘phobia’ has been changed from ‘irrational fear’ to ‘irrational hatred’. Thereby, it has been weaponised and is being used to shut down debate on many issues.
The words ‘phobia’ and ‘phobic’ are now abused as a means of silencing contrary viewpoints. That is a disturbing development.
Disagree with the doctrines of Islam and you risk being silenced as an Islamophobe. A discussion about same-sex marriage can be closed down by someone claiming you are homophobic. Anyone who questions transgenderism is likely to be branded transphobic. And if you support Brexit, you are soon condemned as xenophobic. That is a very unhealthy state of affairs.
Some student unions have banned speakers accused of one or other of these four high-profile phobias, and one council in England recently banned a feminist group from booking a room in a public hall because of complaints they were transphobic.
Some LGBT activists even tried to get Germaine Greer — of all people — silenced because they deemed her transphobic.
If you express a concern about levels of immigration, you can be silenced by those who brand you as xenophobic, or racist.
Indeed, that issue was highlighted recently by former broadcaster Robert Peston.
He said he was embarrassed by the way that people who raised concerns about high levels of immigration were wrongly accused on the BBC of racism.
“It is not, in my view, racist to be concerned if the composition of your community changes by something like 10% or 15% over a very small number of years,” he said.
It seems we are moving towards an intolerant, Orwellian nightmare state where we are ruled by the thought police.
The words ‘xenophobia’ and ‘Islamophobia’ have been around for decades, but it is sexual identity politics which is now to the fore.
The word ‘homophobia’ was invented in the 1960s and first appeared in print in 1969, yet a Google search turns up more than 28 million results for the word ‘homophobia’ and almost 30 million results for ‘homophobic’.
The word ‘transphobia’ is much more recent and was only included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, but, again, a Google search turns up more than six million results for ‘transphobia’ and just under six million for ‘transphobic’, putting it ahead of both ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘xenophobia’.
This new narrative of phobias absolves people of the task of defending their positions by dismissing their opponents as phobic.
All you have to do is take your viewpoint, or characteristic, give it a name, add the ‘phobia’ tag and accuse whoever disagrees with you of being phobic.
It is an easy way to shut down debate and to silence views with which you disagree, thereby dominating the public square.
Charles C W Cooke, editor of the National Review online, said: “It is easy to see why the ‘phobia’ tag is appealing in political discourse.
“By insinuating that your opponents are irrational and motivated by primal fear — mentally ill, even — you are free to discount the legitimacy of their position without actually having to debate them.
“After all, who would bother to argue with a madman?”
Democratic freedoms are important, and this new tactic is harmful to the practice of a free and democratic society.
That is why it deserves to be exposed and opposed at every opportunity.