The online Style Book now says that "-phobia," "an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness" should not be used "in political or social contexts," including "homophobia" and "Islamophobia." It also calls "ethnic cleansing" a "euphemism," and says the AP "does not use 'ethnic cleansing' on its own. It must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained."
"Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for pretty violent activities, a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don't feel that's quite accurate," AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn told POLITICO.
"When you break down 'ethnic cleansing,' it's a cover for terrible violent activities. It's a term we certainly don't want to [propagate]," Minthorn continued. "Homophobia especially -- it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case."
"We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing," he said.
The changes made to the online Style Book will appear in next year's printed edition.
Rod Dreher applauds the changes.
There has to be a more accurate word or expression to describe anti-gay animus. “Homophobia” carries within it certain assumptions that may or may not be true. I know people who hold animosity towards gay people, but who aren’t afraid of them. I know people who for whatever reason morally disapprove of homosexuality, but who are friends with gay people, and who aren’t the least bit afraid of them. To call either of these people “homophobic” is to misunderstand and misstate what they really believe.H/T: Matthew Schmitz at First Things
Similarly with “Islamophobia.” Depending on who you are and where you are — say, an Orthodox Jew in a Paris suburb — fear of Muslims may not be a psychiatric disorder, but a rational response to the world in which you live.
To label these things as phobias is to psychologize what may be a rational moral stance, given the premises. Is an Orthodox Jew or Muslim “porkophobic” because their religion forbids consuming pork? Similarly, is an Orthodox Jew, Muslim, or traditional Christian necessarily afraid of homosexuals, or otherwise suffering from a mental disorder, because their religion forbids gay sex? To come think of someone who objects for whatever reason to homosexuality, to Islam, and so forth, as “phobic” is to see them not as people to be taken seriously, persuaded, or at least tolerated, but rather as people to be cured, or at least dismissed as crazy. “Homophobia” and “Islamophobia,” as the AP seems to understand, are inherently loaded terms and concepts.