Guess what? An idea isn’t a human being. Neither is a sacred cow. And those who confront, dismiss, debunk, sneer at and fear them aren’t necessarily bigots.
Not long ago, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for blasphemy. His first 50 lashes will be publicly administered this week. Taking them all at once would kill the guy. But, then again, Badawi might be fortunate to be alive at all. The theocratic monarchs of Saudi Arabia don’t need the terrorists to punish their satirists, they can get the job done in-house.
I don’t know about you, but I’m lash-phobic. I tend, as a matter of principle, to have a low opinion of people who dispense lashes. Religion, of course, is merely incidental to Badawi’s fate–as it is in the massacre of journalists in Paris or the bloodbath in Nigeria, where Boko Haram may have killed 2000 people this week. Or so I’m told. All of these instances of violence are perpetrated by random people, who by some happenstance share the same religious affiliation.
And to bring this up–according to Vox and other some outlets–may be Islamophobic. Islamophobia is defined, at least by Wikipedia (and it’s fair to say it’s a pretty decent reflection of how we use the word), as a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim.
Only half of this definition should be true. Most often, only half of it is. The late Christopher Hitchens never actually said “Islamophobic is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons,” but he did call it a “stupid neologism” that “aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offenses associated with racism.”
Detesting ideas and hating people are not the same thing. Muslims are, and should be, protected equally under the liberal principles everyone else enjoys. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to our discourse, Islam is given a special dispensation from the standards that apply to everyone else who operates under these rules. A criticism of a faith – and the customs and philosophy that go with it – has been transformed into an act of racism.
I’ll never understand why so many on Left feel compelled to provide the most pervasively illiberal ideology on Earth this kind of cover. Nor, for that matter, why so many of my fellow atheists reserve their venom for Christianity (a religion that made secularism possible) while coddling an ideology that would surely destroy it.
And not all atheists, of course. After that March episode of Bill Maher’s HBO show, the one where Ben Affleck called criticism of religion “racist” – because, why not? – the noted atheist Sam Harris predicted the post-Charlie Hebdo environment perfectly.
HARRIS: Yes, well, we have a kind of dogma of political correctness here which is stifling conversation. Many liberals want to grade Islam on a curve. You know, that just — they’re not expecting the same kind of civility and openness to free speech and other liberties that we hold dear, and are right to hold dear, from Muslims throughout the world.
And so when cartoonists draw the wrong cartoon, and embassies start burning, we criticize the cartoonist, and we criticize the newspapers that printed the cartoons, and we practice self-censorship. We have — there was an academic book at Yale University Press on the cartoon controversy that wouldn’t publish the cartoons. This is just madness.
You might imagine that once the media itself was attacked, the madness would end. But you would have been wrong. These moments are instructive in separating genuine liberals – Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (the Somali-Dutch opponent of radicalism), or Maher, etc. – from the authoritarian leftists who try and stifle speech, the ones that chill speech by purposefully confusing bigotry and discourse, and perhaps the worst kind, those who try to pretend there is moral equivalency between our world and Team Civilization. (And boy, some of them fail hard.)
To prove that all faiths share the same propensity for violence, apologists must cast a net over the entire breadth of human history. My guess is that any reasonable person would concede that few groups in history are innocent. (I’m sure not all the Amalekites had it coming – and for this I apologize.) But the thing is, if you have to reach back to 1572 to make a connection between Catholic hostility and modern Islam, you’ve already lost the argument. In this world, today, right now, when it comes to religious violence there’s really only one game in town.
Everyone has their extremists, it’s true. The twit who leaves a homemade gas-canister bomb near an NAACP office, though, is not being funded with billions, applauded by millions and participating in worldwide struggle to terrorize civilians and destabilize his own already brittle society. There is no comparison to make.
And trying to divorce violence from Islam is the most intellectually dishonest and historically illiterate argument going right now. To do this, we need Howard Dean and Ezra Klein to bore into the consciousness of terrorists and discern their true beliefs and intentions.
Klein argues that Charlie Hebdo massacre was nothing more than “unprovoked mass slaughter” that had nothing to do with blasphemy or Islam. Why do blasphemy laws exist in most Islamic nations, you ask? Just for show, apparently. Why are mentally ill men gunned down in the streets for breaking those blasphemy laws? For kicks. Why do Christians live in fear throughout the Middle East? Dunno. This is an absurdly naïve understanding of the power of Islamic faith.
Islamic scholar Dean took a slightly different route, arguing that if it’s violent it’s not Islam anyway: “I stopped calling these people Muslim terrorists. They’re about as Muslim as I am. I mean, they have no respect for anybody else’s life, that’s not what the Koran says. And, you know Europe has an enormous radical problem. … I think ISIS is a cult. Not an Islamic cult. I think it’s a cult.”
Alas, as convenient as this argument is, I’m not sure this is Dean’s call. While “Allahu Akbar” is being screamed before the murder sprees, I’m going to go Occam’s razor on this. Because though there might not be any braver people in the world than Muslims who stand up to radical Islamists, factional infighting is a hallmark of religious violence. It’s the sort of thing Christianity has (mostly) gotten past. And the reason the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim, is that other types of people have been situated beyond its reach.
What is less obvious to me is why liberals aren’t more inclined to defend the right of people to be critical of all religions. Why aren’t they more interested in why Islamic ideas so often manifest in violence? Why do the practitioners of these ideas find themselves in clashes with every culture they touch (Jews, Hindus, Christians, and all others)? Seems like a tolerant liberal would be phobic about the stoning of gays or the institutionalized dehumanization of women that’s rampant in “moderate” Muslim nations – forget radical Islam. Instead, they expect people to cower from one of the “stupidest neologisms” to be concocted in years.
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