Secular Activism is Needed to Oppose Religious Thuggery

Prophet Muhammad

Religious thuggery (i.e., attempts to impose religiously derived preferences on others through violence) is nothing new. We have encountered many examples of upset Christians using it to intimidate those with whom they disagree or to punish those who were successful in protecting the separation of church and state. But religious thuggery is not unique to Christians. In some ways, Islam seems to have perfected it.

Adam Lee (Daylight Atheism) wrote an informative post in which he reviews many recent examples where Muslims have attempted to suppress any criticism of their religion. And yes, there has been some thuggery involved. Many Muslims seem to have little tolerance for free expression when it involves criticism of their religious beliefs by non-Muslims. In case after case, we see offended Muslims seek to silence criticism through intimidation. And when non-violent approaches fail, blatant thuggery is quick to emerge.

As Lee points out,

Let's be clear about this: The religious rule that Muhammad should never be depicted in artwork is a rule for Muslims…They can abide by that rule if they choose to, but they have no right to demand that everyone who doesn't believe in their religion do the same. They frame this as a matter of "respect", but what it really is is a naked demand to control the behavior of others.

If Muslims want to refrain from depicting Muhammad, that is their choice (i.e., religious freedom). And if Muslims want to request that non-Muslims also refrain from depicting Muhammad, they have this right as well (i.e., free speech). What they do not have is the right to enforce their preferences through bullying and intimidation that involves actual or threatened violence.

In dealing with religious thuggery, it is important that we stand our ground a refuse to give in. When school administrators cave into this sort of pressure, they make it more likely that such tactics will continue to be used. It is also important that we call attention to such abuses so that everyone will see what is happening. And finally, we must remember to point out that respect and obedience are not the same thing.

The atheist community faces many obstacles. Some undoubtedly come from within, but I believe that one of the most important external obstacles may involve misguided attempts to appease those who engage in religious thuggery in the name of "respecting" religious diversity.