Sunday, May 19, 2013

The truth about Islamophobia

I have a great deal of respect for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali woman who left Islam at the risk of her very life.  In fact, her commitment to speaking the truth and personal freedoms makes her one of my personal heroes.  If you haven't read her story, it's worth checking out, as are her books Infidel and Nomad.  However, just like pretty much everybody I respect, she has said at least one thing with which I must disagree.  I've seen her at least once say that there is no such thing as Islamophobia.

While one could argue that her greater point is that it's not a problem to the degree that some Muslims would have us believe, it's still far too broad of a statement to make without being challenged.  (Her exact words were that Islamophobia is a "myth".)

I'd say that it's very much a real thing.  The first bit of evidence was the poor guy who got shot shortly after 9/11, and even though it turned out that he was a Sikh, the point was that his attacker was trying to kill a Muslim.  Some more recent examples would be the anti-Sharia laws that are being introduced throughout the country, as though some folks don't think that the First Amendment is enough to do the trick in order to save us from some sort of Islamic theocracy.  On top of that, I have plenty of anecdotes where I've heard ignorant comments about them.  In one instance, a woman I know expressed her concern that she saw "an Iranian" in the hospital elevator.  Sure, you could say that maybe she's Iraniaphobic, but I think it falls under a greater umbrella of Islamophobia.  (Personally, I think that the chances were probably better that the guy was a doctor at that hospital than a terrorist, and the odds of him not even being Iranian are probably high as well.)

So, it definitely exists.  But now it's time to be real - if you assume that your Middle Eastern neighbors are likely to be Muslim terrorists, then you're Islamophobic.  If you think that we need to convert all Muslims to (insert your religion here) then you are as well.  If you're worried that your podunk town with three Muslims is going to become a mini caliphate, then congratulations, you're an Islamophobe.

It should be noted that you also qualify if you go around spreading false information about the religion.  You probably also meet the description if you get all up in arms about the horrific passages in the Koran while completely ignoring/excusing the equally horrific ones in your own holy book.

But you absolutely are NOT practicing Islamophobia if you criticize the beliefs of the religion or the practices of its followers.  In other words, you're not practicing a form of bigotry when you point out that one can make a Broadway hit out of a show that mocks Mormons, but if somebody makes a cartoon disparaging Mohammed, he's going to be in fear for his life.  That's not saying that every Muslim out there will kill you for making fun of his religion, but it's a simple fact that there are enough of them out there to have critics of Islam worried.

You're also not an Islamophobe if you point out that the Muslim world is centuries behind the times when it comes to the way women are treated, and any Muslim who says the laughably awful talking point that Islam gives women equality has got his head up his ass.  Yeah, I know, there are Muslims out there who do believe in full equality in the same way that I do.  I even know that some of them can point to passages in the Koran that supposedly supports their position.  But guess what?  In most places where Islam is the predominant religion, THEY'RE DOING IT WRONG.

It kind of reminds me of Christianity and slavery.  Christians will hem and haw and give you all sorts of reasons why slavery is against their religion, despite the fact that Christians practiced it for centuries and nowhere in their holy book is there a clear prohibition of it.  Yeah, most Christians will now condemn it, just as one day most Muslims may condemn the way that their women are treated nowadays, but you gotta admit in both cases, religion sure was easy to use as a convenient excuse for treating people horribly.

I believe that every Muslim has the same rights that I do.  They should be allowed to believe what they want to believe, and they have the right to speak up against things that they don't believe.  If a Muslim is to take issue with anything I'm saying, then that is his or her right, and a violent reprisal should not be the expectation if he/she uses that right.  I realize that there are Muslims out there who feel the same way as I do, but considering what's going on in Bangladesh, there are plenty out there who would want to see me rot in jail just for writing this blog entry.

Honestly, it doesn't do Muslims any favors when we pander to them and pretend like what's being done in the name of their religion isn't offensive to our sensibilities.  They should be able to handle it, especially for those who come to the United States and want to live in a free society.  The right to not be offended doesn't exist, and their beliefs must be subject to the same exchange of ideas as any other.

And let's not play the game of "Well, yeah, but what about all the violence done in the name of Christianity?" Of course, every screwed up thing done in the name of that religion should be condemned - whether it's the killing of abortion doctors, withholding medicine from their children, or lying to kids and telling them that Intelligent Design is a "theory" in the same sense that evolution is.  But the fact is that many of us feel much more comfortable criticizing those actions than we do the negative actions done in the name of Islam.  And let's face it, while many Christian apostates have a hard time, depending on what part of the world that they live in, the official punishment for them isn't death, and there aren't a significant number of them who advocate that.

But even if the Christian world was the mirror image of the Muslim world - so what?  Two wrongs make a right all of a sudden?  Do I have to condemn everything that's bad all at once when I say that it's wrong to assume that women need to cover themselves up so men don't rape them, for instance?

We need to feel free to criticize any and all beliefs, which isn't the same as criticizing a person's right to believe.  For me to say that you shouldn't be allowed to limit another person's freedom isn't somehow me trying to limit yours.


Tony from Pandora said...

Well said, Lance. Even though I have some thoughts on your comments about Christians and slavery and intelligent design, I will forego them and say, that on the whole, this was a great post.

To overcome an idea (islmamophobia) you must first admit its existence.

You said, "We need to feel free to criticize any and all beliefs, which isn't the same as criticizing a person's right to believe. For me to say that you shouldn't be allowed to limit another person's freedom isn't somehow me trying to limit yours."

That's where I see a lot of people are too soft and take things too personally. From my christian perspective, my 'holy book' states that I'm going to be attacked for my beliefs. So I don't know why so many christians are offended when they are attacked... our own book says we will be!! However, I deal mostly with 'American Christianity' which is largely soft and spoiled anyway...

You said, "...religion sure was easy to use as a convenient excuse for treating people horribly."

Yep, couldn't agree more... man will use almost any tactic to overpower another, bullying, guns, knives, religion, internet blogs(!), etc... my own Christianity is no different. Though it's meant to be a refuge and strength FROM tyranny, it has obviously been used to bring tyranny...

Lance Johnson said...

"So I don't know why so many christians are offended when they are attacked..."

Unless you're living in places where Christians are genuinely in fear for their lives, I think that it'd be best to avoid the use of the word "attacked". When your religion is the dominant one, and you have an entire political party that advocates for you, you're hardly being "attacked" - much in the same way that Muslims aren't being attacked when their beliefs are criticized.

Tony from Pandora. said...

When I said, "my 'holy book' states that I'm going to be attacked for my beliefs..." I was specifically referring to 2 Timothy 3:12 "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." So that was my basis for saying christians should expect persecution (i.e being attacked)

I do agree with the 2nd part of your comment. Part of my point is that when "American Christians" feel 'attacked', it's usually little more than verbal abuse, and not the very real persecution that takes place in other countries.