It’s deeply misguided to criticize the New Atheists for attacking Islam and branding it as an especially pernicious faith. It’s even more misguided to label them as racist “Islamophobes”. Such critics are in fact erecting a double standard for human rights, as Islam is clearly more oppressive than other major faiths, and more eager to impose its religious “truths” on others. It is the faith whose members can embrace burqas, honor killings, fatwas, and acid attacks on schoolgirls. It is the unique faith that threatens to exterminate people who name teddy bears after their prophet. (I’ll be discussing the new Pew Report on Muslim beliefs later this week).
Two nice palliatives to the “Islamophobia” canard have been published in the last week. Ali A. Rivzi’s piece in PuffHo, “An atheist Muslim’s perspective on the ‘root causes’ of Islamist jihadism and the politics of Islamophobia, is particularly telling because Rivzi is an ex-Muslim, as well as a Pakistani-Canadian writer and physician living in Toronto.
Rivzi begins by recounting Thomas Jefferson’s meeting in 1786 with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Libya’s ambassador to London. Jefferson noted:
The ambassador answered us that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
This thread of jihadist thought continues to this day. Yet while those words were once imputed to religious belief, now many liberals are desperately ascribe them to causes not in existence in 1786. Rivzi continues:
So where did Abdul Rahman Adja’s bin Laden-esque words come from?
They couldn’t have been a response to American imperialism (the start of the conflict precedes the presidency of George Washington), U.S. foreign policy, globalization, AIPAC or Islamophobia. Yet his words are virtually identical to those spouted ad nauseum by jihadists today who justify their bellicosity as a reaction to these U.S.-centric factors, which were nonexistent in Adja’s time.
How do we make sense of this? Well, the common denominator here just happens to be the elephant in the room.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”
The taboo against criticizing religion is still so astonishingly pervasive that centuries of hard lessons haven’t yet opened our eyes to what has been apparent all along: It is often religion itself, not the “distortion,” “hijacking,” “misrepresentation” or “politicization” of religion, that is the root cause.
The recent attack on “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens by Nathan Lean and Murtaza Hussain have been endorsed by renowned liberal writers like Glenn Greenwald, who has also recently joined a chorus of denialists convinced that jihad and religious fervor had nothing to do with the Tsarnaev brothers’ motive, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary. (HuffPost Live recently had a great segment holding Murtaza Hussain accountable for his claims.)
In a way, these attacks on Dawkins et al. are a good thing. Typically, resorting to ad hominem attacks and/or labeling the opposing side “bigoted” is a last resort, when the opponent is unable to generate a substantive counterargument.
I’ll give one more excerpt from Rivzi, but do read the piece yourself, as well as Sean Faircloth’s related piece at the Richard Dawkins site, “Are liberals finally going to get it this time about Islam?“
Rivzi (my emphasis):
I also understand that extremism in any ideology isn’t a distortion of that ideology. It is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals, hence the term “fundamentalism.” When you think of a left-wing extremist, do you think of a greedy capitalist? Would you imagine a right-wing extremist to be dedicated to government-funded social welfare programs? The “extremists” and strict followers of the Jain faith, which values the life of every being, including insects, don’t kill more than their average co-religionists. Instead, they avoid eating foods stored overnight so as not to kill even the microorganisms that may have collected in the meantime. In a true religion of peace, the “extremists” would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme (and perhaps annoying) degree, not the opposite.
Too often in the aftermath of these tragedies, whether they occur in Boston or Karachi, I notice people rushing to defend the faith from judgment instead of acknowledging the victims. If a link is considered or even discovered, everyone from the Western media to Hollywood deems that person “Islamophobic” for linking Islam to terrorism.
But the number-one reason that terrorism is linked with Islam is not the media or “Islamophobes.” It is that jihadi terrorists link themselves with Islam.
. . . For the fast-growing secularist/humanist movement, criticism of religion isn’t a demonstration of bigotry but a struggle against it. To us, bigotry against bigotry isn’t bigotry, and intolerance of intolerance isn’t intolerance.
Those liberals who accuse critics of Islam of being “Islamophobes” remind me of those pro-evolutionists who get mad when I emphasize the obvious fact that virtually all creationism comes from religion. There is no doubt of that, and no doubt that the tenets of Islam motivate most Islamic terrorists. They say so! Are we to second-guess them? In fact, religiously-motivated creationists hide their true motivations (e.g., advocates of Intelligent Design) far more often than do Muslim jihadists.
The “Islamophobia” canard comes, in part, from a sneaking suspicion that it’s bad to criticize religion because some people simply need it. Combined with this faitheism is the double standard that we shouldn’t hold other ethnic groups to as high a standard as we do our own. But when religions infringe on basic human rights, as Islam does so frequently, then it is not bigotry to criticize it.
Even more misguided is the assertion that Islam’ is no worse than any other religion in suppressing human rights. As if Quakers would throw acid on schoolgirls or issue fatwas! Such claims are simply stupid, but typical of a mentality that abandons all rationality when defending faith itself.
In response to such a claim by Glenn Greenwald, Sam Harris proposed a “dueling cartoon” contest:
What Sam proposed here is that he would post cartoons making fun of any faith other than Islam, and in return Greenwald would post anti-Islamic cartoons. A very clever proposal, and one with a predictable outcome.
Greenwald didn’t respond. Checkmate Harris.