Atheist bloggers in the U.S. are often criticized for not focusing more on Islam. Sometimes, this criticism comes from atheist readers outside the U.S., especially those in areas where Islam is more prevalent; other times it comes from Christians who think that theirs is the only correct religion. As someone who has received his share of this criticism, I'd like to acknowledge that it is indeed valid. Many of us in the U.S. probably do not write about Islam as much as we should. I have explained why I focus primarily on Christian extremism multiple times (see "Why I Focus on Christianity" and "Why Focus on Christianity?"), but I do recognize that Islam warrants attention here as well.
With the latest wave of violence from Muslim extremists upset over a YouTube video, we have an excuse to address Islam again. I've argued that condemnations of this violence should be accompanied by strong defenses of religious criticism instead of condemnations of the video itself. I've also noted that some Muslims clearly believe that criticizing Islam should be a capital offense. Criticizing Islam is clearly illegal in many Muslim nations, and some Muslims believe it should be illegal everywhere. That is, they want to see blasphemy laws passed abroad to stop criticism of their religion.
Blasphemy, Appeasement, and Respect for Religion
Could we ever see the passage of blasphemy laws in the U.S.? I'd like to think we would know better, but I'm not so sure. It occurs to me that there are plenty of Christian extremists right here who would love to see blasphemy laws to prohibit criticism of their religion. Fortunately, I'm not sure many of them would be equally keen on giving up their right to criticize other religions. But I will say that it does make me nervous to hear our elected officials issuing strong condemnations of a YouTube video they've almost certainly not watched. It makes me wonder what sort of concessions they might be willing to make in the name of diplomacy.
Take Pakistan as an example. As long as we're in this endless war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has some strategic value. Our leaders have a vested interest in maintaining at least some sort of diplomatic relations there, right? But what might happen if Pakistan decided to insist that we adopt harsh measures to curtail criticism of Islam?
I'm also bothered by how the mainstream media in the U.S. have treated Muslims almost as if they are children who must be protected from the slightest offense. We're talking about adults here, adults who are fully responsible for their own behavior. The video did not cause the riots; the Muslim extremists did. The violence is their responsibility and theirs alone.
Don't Push the Button!
Suppose you and I were to walk into a small room, furnished only with a table and two chairs. I invite you to sit down across from me at the table. On the table, there is a small plastic button. I pick it up and show it to you, demonstrating that it is not attached to any wires and contains no wireless functions (i.e., the button is not connected to anything whatsoever and has no function). I then inform you that I will violently assault you if you press the button. You laugh in my face and press the button. You wake up a few days later in the hospital with severe injuries and a hazy recollection of me assaulting you. Now imagine the police, the media, and the politicians spending as much time condemning you for pressing the button as they did for my violent assault?
I'll conclude with this thought: perhaps one of the most important reasons we need to address Islam has little to do with Islam itself but has to do with the unfortunate fact that our nation has not yet figured out how to deal with Muslim extremists in an effective manner. Yes, our inability to deal with Christian extremists right here at home is also problematic. I think the danger is that we may mistakenly go so far down the road of "respecting religious belief" that we end up being facilitators of religious extremism. The antidote to religious extremism is secularism; it is not more respect for delusion.