Homophobia and Islamophobia are apparently no longer tolerated by the Associated Press, it has been reported. To be precise AP have decided that both words should be used sparingly by reporters as they suggest a mental disability on the part of those labelled as "homophobes" or "Islamophobes".
However Patrick Strudwick of the Guardian takes issue with the decision but immediately makes the mistake of likening these terms of abuse to arachnophobia, a genuine mental disability I happen to know something about.
A genuine phobia is terrifying for the person who suffers from it and is totally irrational. To be afraid of a deadly spider would therefore not be a phobia in my book, but to be terrified of a toy spider being ridden by Ronald McDonald, or of merely a picture of a deadly spider is irrational and would constitute a genuine phobia.
The threat is not real but the terror is genuine, to the point where fleeing the room with the McSpider becomes the only option. With the terror comes paranoia. There are no spiders in the room but there might be some hiding somewhere (watching the film "Arachnophobia" does not help in this regard). This can make life very difficult as every room becomes a potential death trap in the eyes of the sufferer.
Fortunately arachnophobia can be treated psychologically, even if it cannot be cured. The irrational fear is not eliminated but it can be controlled, as John Wayne said "Courage is being scared to death but still saddling up anyway".
Such debilitating fear does not remotely compare with what is described by some as "homophobic" or "Islamophobic".
As it happens I'm not particularly in favour of gay marriage, or burkas or on some of the more, err, forceful versions of Islam. This might make me in some people's eyes a "homophobe" and an "Islamophobe".
This is ludicrous. If my (not particularly strong) feelings on gay marriage and burkas indicated a phobia of gays or Muslims I would not be able to take the train as I'd be terrified that the person next to me was (horror of horrors!) gay or Muslim.
And yet I can't say it's ever bothered me that I might be sharing a train, a bus, a workplace or a shopping experience with non-heterosexual people.
I must however confess to having got on the train on 8 July 2005 with some trepidation and I did feel rather nervous on one journey when sitting next to four young men with long black beards, white garments and backpacks, but I can't say I'm that I'm particularly worried about interacting with Muslims in any way or in any place at all otherwise.
The point of a phobia though is that it is irrational. True the chances of me being blown up by Islamic terrorists on the train are rather low, but it has at least been shown to be a real possibility in recent years.
Can such feelings then really be described as irrational in the same way that fear of non-existent or harmless spiders can be? If I all of a sudden came out in favour of gay marriage would it mean I'd been "cured" of any alleged "homophobia" on my part or simply that I'd changed my mind after serious thought?
Mr Strudwick would probably do better to engage with the actual arguments put forward by those labelled as "homophobes" and "Islamophobes" rather than try (and most probably fail) to psychoanalyse them and write them off as mentally disturbed.
It was not so long ago that homosexuals were described as having a mental illness and he might find that, like him, "homophobes" and "Islamophobes" don't like such false and hurtful accusations. True there may be some bigots out there (on all sides) but there are also many whose use of facts and logic simply lead them to a different place to Mr Strudwick.