Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Phobia is a technical term used by psychiatrists, doctors, chemists and biologists for the following:

an irrational disabling fear;

hypersensitivity to stimuli;

an aversion to another chemical;

a dislike of environmental conditions.

Phobia is also misused as a lazy shorthand suffix by laymen to smear others and close down dialogue. Hence, the neologisms "Islamophobia" or "homophobia", for example, are just as offensive as the incorrect use of the psychiatric term schizophrenia to mean split personality. It is as illogical as the phrase "War on Terror".  Why should any belief or non-belief system be afforded special protection?  However, people who follow particular beliefs or none  deserve the same protection under the law as everybody else because they are individuals. Much better and clearer to say irrational dislike or hatred of Muslims or Gays, because the irrational and hatred parts are unpacked and highlighted. If someone has a rational dislike of someone else, that's life, however much we would all like to be universally popular.  Universal popularity has its downside in the form of endless cards, cakes and beer received and given.

Closing down dialogue and restricting free speech was the unintended consequence (let's be generous, here) of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill (which didn't do Racial) before it was wisely amended by the House of Lords.  Due to a miscalculation by Tony Blair's whips (the man who "didn't do religion"), the amendments were not overturned by the Commons before the Bill became law in 2006. Full text here. As an aside, why aren't political beliefs afforded the same protection as the other special cases under the law? Why not just make incitement to hatred of anybody an offence? (Editor's note: it already is.)

Our Noble Lords and Ladies inserted a clause into the Act that ought to be asas famous as Magna Carta, the Ship Money case, Habeus Corpus or The Bill of Rights. Section 29J, which amends the Public Order Act 1986, reads as follows:

"Protection of freedom of expression
 Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system."

That  paragraph is all that stands between free-thinking citizens in England and a theocracy on a par with modern day Iran, Calvin's Geneva or Catholic Europe under the thumbscrew of the Spanish Inquisition. It is highly likely that if the well-meaning "faith community" had its way and was able to close down all dissent for reasons of happiness, equality and public safety (just as books were burned in Fahrenheit 451), not only I as an atheist would be treated like Michael Servetus, but the moderate religious organisations would also be persecuted by extremists seeking power.

So when you are accused of a phobia, why not return the favour by describing the accuser as manic? Both are incorrect usaes of technical teminology but sometimes it requires an ascent into ridicule to clear the air in order to see what is important.

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