PETER HITCHENS: Call something a ‘phobia’ and you stifle all debate… that’s why the Left loves it

Why can you have a phobia about some things, but not about others? Why is ‘Islamophobia’ a word and an idea, in constant use, while ‘Christianophobia’ is not? For there are plenty of people these days who regard the Christian religion with bitter, hostile scorn, and its position in our society is more and more diminished every day, often thanks to official actions by Parliament and the courts.

Why is there ‘homophobia’ but not ‘heterophobia’? The old belief in heterosexual marriage and parenthood is increasingly dismissed as an outdated and quite possibly oppressive arrangement. Its former privileges have been systematically stripped from it.

I have heard those who still follow this unfashionable way of life rudely dismissed as ‘breeders’. But no tribunal will award you compensation for that sort of discrimination. Sneering at the old, as if age were an obvious failing, is daily more popular. Yet there’s no ‘Senophobia’.

Some years ago, I felt that the term ‘anti-Semitism’ was not doing its job. Many people who don’t like Jews (and there are quite a few) refuse to think of themselves as anti-Semites. They associate the word with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, or Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. They do not think they are like that.

I have had some very interesting times disagreeing with Muslims, writes Peter Hitchens. To classify such disagreements as a ‘phobia’ is to end the discussion and to attack freedom of speech

So I tried to introduce the word ‘Judophobia’ into the language, so as to give Jew-hatred the same pariah status as all the others. It never caught on, even though it’s probably a more truthful description of this strange mania than the other ways in which ‘phobia’ is used. I’m not even going to try with ‘marriage phobia’ or ‘family phobia’ or ‘Britophobia’, even though bigoted opinions exist which deserve these names.

Some Latin or Greek experts might also come up with a fancy medical-sounding word for the contempt which our elite classes feel for women who stay at home to rear their own children.

The truth is that the invention of all these ‘phobias’ is a brilliant piece of political trickery. It works because it is so hard to fight.

Most people are distressed and scared to find their opinions classified as a sort of mental illness. Any view or position the new liberal elite disagree with is not treated as an opinion. It is treated as a disease of the mind, a fearful derangement, to be greeted with disdain and pushed out of the national conversation.

There is no logic as to which opinion is called a phobia, and which is not, except the current opinions of that elite. Take ‘Islamophobia’, nowadays a serious charge which, once made, can ruin a person in a day.

My own sad view is that there are some people on the political Right who conceal racial bigotry behind an alleged opposition to Islam. I have no time for them. I dislike them. Their behaviour makes it easier for the rival bigotry of the Left to triumph. For Islam is not a race. It is a religion which you may choose to follow, or not follow. It is (like Christianity) a set of political, moral and historical opinions with which it is perfectly reasonable for others to disagree.

I have had some very interesting times disagreeing with Muslims (most notably at the Islamic university at Deoband in northern India, but in plenty of other places too). To classify such disagreements as a ‘phobia’ is to end the discussion and to attack freedom of speech. But that is what the Left in this country have chosen to do, and what they have been doing busily now for at least two decades.

During that time it has become harder and harder to say what you think, even if your opinions are quite free of prejudice and hate. This is an old Left-wing technique and I don’t know where it will stop.

Many years ago, as the Cold War began to come to an end, I was greatly privileged to meet one of the bravest people who has ever lived. His name is Anatoly Koryagin, a Soviet psychiatrist who protested against the abuse of psychiatry to classify opponents of Communism as mentally ill. This is a common problem of the Left. They think they are so good that they must be right and that anyone who opposes them must be mad.

Koryagin was locked up in prison because he had written – about the twisting of psychiatry – to the British medical journal, The Lancet. He protested by going on hunger strike. He was forcibly fed, drugged with dangerous ‘anti-psychotic’ chemicals, and, of course, beaten up. At one point, his wife managed to visit him but could not recognise him.

Thank God, many protests eventually secured his release, but I have always thought that this event was the slimy rock-bottom of every political opinion which makes its holders think they are too good to be opposed.