August 18, 2016

The Left Needs to Acknowledge the Realities of Islam

I was not raised a Muslim, and I have never been a Muslim. I have never studied Islam, and I have read only portions of the Quran. I did not grow up around Muslims and did not have the opportunity to get to know Muslims as more than casual acquaintances until I was in college.

For these reasons, I recognize that I am not particularly well-suited to discuss Islam. Instead, I tend to defer to Muslims who are currently working to reform Islam (e.g., Maajid Nawaz) or ex-Muslims criticizing the faith and seeking to help others escape it (e.g., Ayaan Hirsi Ali). This does not mean that I never find myself disagreeing with them; it means that I assume they know more about Islam than I do.

At the same time, I believe that it is important for atheists and liberals - two labels I apply to myself - to reject the cultural taboo against criticizing Islam that some liberals are trying to impose on us. I think we need to criticize the bad ideas within Islam and the bad behavior of some Muslims in the same way we criticize the bad ideas within Christianity and the bad behavior of some Christians. Refusing to do so out of fear or the suspicion that Muslims cannot handle criticism of their religion without resorting to violence smacks of bigotry (i.e., the "soft bigotry of low expectations"). Refusing to do so out of political correctness is dangerous because it cedes the entire discussion to the political right. And so, as unqualified and out of my element as I often feel, I will continue to write about Islam.

As many on the left are aware, the Republican Party's nominee for president, Donald Trump, suggested a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S, which he followed by suggesting that we focus our efforts on countries with histories of terrorism. More recently, he has suggested that we should at least consider profiling Muslims who are already living in the U.S. Evidently, these are examples of the sort of ideas the right is going to come up with when left to their own devices. This is what happens when many on the left refuse to acknowledge the problems associated with Islamism and jihadism.

If you are a liberal and you think that Trump's ideas when it comes to preventing acts of terrorism committed by jihadists are bad ones, you should feel free to speak out against them. You should also feel free to discuss the alternatives you consider to be better ideas. Saying things like, "Terrorism doesn't have anything to do with Islam" is dishonest and is akin to refusing to participate in the discussion we desperately need to have. By refusing to participate, we are making sure that rational voices are largely absent. And as we have seen, Trump is all too willing to fill the vacuum.

Most liberal atheists have little difficulty saying that Christianity is a problem or that some of the things Christian extremists and Christian terrorists do are clearly motivated by their religious beliefs, "holy" texts, and particularly deranged clergy. More of us need to be willing to say that Islam is a problem and that some of the things Muslim extremists (i.e., Islamists) and Muslim terrorists (i.e., jihadists) are clearly motivated by their religious beliefs, "holy" texts, and particularly deranged clergy.

I do not agree with some of the things conservatives have said about Muslims, but I am grateful that many conservatives have been willing to speak out against Islam. Many on the politically correct left have been sitting on the sidelines for too long and to our collective detriment. It is time to wake up and get in the game.
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