The word 'Islamophobia' was first afforded respectability in 1997, courtesy of the race-relations think-tank the Runnymede trust and their report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. As neologisms go, it was shallow and memorable, and would prove to be spectacularly popular. The report's conclusions are worth revisiting: 1. Islam is seen as a monolith bloc, static and unresponsive to change.

2. Islam is seen as separate and 'other'. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.

3. Islam is seen as inferior to the west. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, and sexist.

4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, and engaged in a clash of civilisations.

5. Islam is seen as a political ideology used for political or military advantage.

6. Criticisms made of 'the west' by Islam are rejected out of hand.

7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural and normal.

The effect of the anti-racist Trust's adoption of the phrase, surely intended, was to conflate race with issues of spiritual belief. This has proved to be very useful to the sly liars of the BNP, who are also – for very different reasons – keen that we make no differentiation between skin colour and faith.

The Runnymede Trust is not the only group to attempt to emphasise Islamophobia as the disease of our time. Islamophobia Watch, a shady confederacy of Islamists, woolly-headed, well-meaning dunces and Marxists (including Ken Livingstone's friends in the far-left groupuscule Socialist Action) states on its website that "the [Runnymede] report itself is not without fault. In particular it advocates that Muslims, as a self-help measure, should be more accommodating towards the Jewish community." So there you have it. The Runnymede report, good as it was, failed to be sufficiently horrible to Jews.

Islamophobia Watch has its own preferred definition of the word. They favour 'anti-Islamic racism', thus making explicit what Runnymede implied. Pause, take a breath, and think about how absurd that is. Anti-Islamic racism? One may as well talk about 'anti-communist racism', or claim that an antipathy to Nazism makes you anti-German. Armed with this pernicious garbage, Islamophobia Watch has set about impugning the intellectual and moral integrity of everyone from the Telegraph's Mark Steyn on the right to, on the left, the Observer's Nick Cohen and the Independent's Johann Hari (who makes so many appearances on the site, it's often easier to read his stuff there than in the Independent's own archive.) The Guardian's all-too-reasonable Polly Toynbee is a particular favourite.

In the midst of all these wacky alliances, and the torching of embassies, and the ever more energetic attacks on free expression, we have failed to ask a simple question: what if Islamophobia were not some ugly, contagious pathology? What if, freed from its ugly, mendacious racial implications, Islamophobia was an entirely reasonable and honourable intellectual position? After all, if a political party were to espouse half the nonsense espoused by the Koran the best it could hope for would be ridicule. That holy book, like so many other holy books, is a racy read. It's full of fights and mystical interludes and perambulating mountains. But the idea that we should unquestioningly accept the moral guidance it offers up is as bizarre and risible as the notion that we might find spiritual salvation in the Matrix trilogy. Which, by the way, has better fight scenes and makes more sense.

There are many Muslims, or rather former Muslims (apostates, for those at Islamophobia Watch who are watching), who recognise just how silly and dangerous their holy book, and its dreadful offshoot sharia law, can be.

"Islam's first victims are always Muslims," my friend Mohamed told me the other day. He was speaking about Iran, but he may as well have been talking about the UK. Take, for example, education and employment. According to the Home Office, Muslims now possess fewer educational qualifications than any other group. There is no doubt that some of this is attributable to racism rather than any religious association. But might it not also have something to do with Islam's current hostility to free inquiry? Add to this the widely-held belief in some Muslim communities that females are not worth educating to their full potential, and you handicap any family in a society where two incomes are generally a necessity.

All these factors add up to unemployment. Unemployment among the UK's almost entirely non-white Muslim population is now two and a half times the rate among whites. This is once again blamed upon racial discrimination, despite the fact that youth unemployment among Hindus and Sikhs – also almost universally non-white – is actually lower than among the white majority. And this even though many young Hindus and Sikhs attest to being mistaken for Muslims.

I am an Islamophobe. I am also a Christianophobe, a Judeophobe (which no mischief-maker should confuse with being an anti-Semite) and, amongst other things, a Lord-of-the Rings-ophobe. I don't like horoscopes, and I think the prequels to Star Wars only help to confuse matters. The Runnymede Trust titled their report Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All. But the real challenge is for normal Muslim men and women. Until they feel free to criticise and freely reinterpret the Koran, until they are free to mock and deride the Prophet without fear of retribution, they will lag behind the rest of us in every possible way. Criticism of Islam isn't just a good thing: it is an imperative. We need more of it, not less of it. And it is Muslims who would be its primary beneficiaries, just as Christians were with the Enlightenment. Let's hasten that day.

Ben Marshall is a freelance journalist