May 31, 2015

The Enemy of My Enemy is Not Necessarily My Friend

Miniature of Muhammad re-dedicating the Black ...
Miniature of Muhammad re-dedicating the Black Stone at the Kaaba. From Jami Al-Tawarikh, c. 1315 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've been asked a few times for my thoughts on the recent anti-Islam protest in Phoenix. My thoughts on the subject are fairly messy and still in flux to some degree. I can see merit in having protests against Islam, and I can understand the intense negative reactions to this particular protest.

As long as you recognize that my views are subject to change as I learn more and am able to devote additional thought to the matter, I'll attempt to provide a brief sketch of what I think at this point in time using a question and answer format. I have been asked a couple of these questions and have added the others myself for the sake of clarity.

Do you believe that the Phoenix protestors had the right to gather and express themselves?

Absolutely. I support their right to assemble and express their ideas. At the same time, I'm not a fan of how they chose to do so in this case. I think the organizers showed poor judgment and that they probably did more harm to their stated cause than not having the event at all.

What do you mean?

Forget all about the ideologies, motivations, and rationale involved in the protest. I know that is important stuff, but set it aside for a moment and just look at the images. What do you see? Angry White guys with guns in front of a mosque. The optics are absolutely horrible. It might have been a peaceful protest, but it certainly didn't look peaceful. No matter what the intent behind the protest was, it looks like the same sort of hate we keep seeing from the far right. It looks disgusting.

And when I say that the organizers showed poor judgment, part of what I'm getting at is that this thing absolutely backfired if the intent really was about calling attention to the problems associated with Islam. Efforts like this - at least those that end up looking like this - do little more than make it more difficult for those of us trying to call attention to the problems associated with Islam to gain any sort of traction. Much of the left wants nothing to do with the right-wing ideologues putting themselves on display here. This sort of thing is going to make it less likely that many on the left will ever come to their senses with regard to Islam.

Is it the guns you have a problem with?

Given the recent violence in Texas, I can't say that I blame anyone who attended the protest from arming themselves beforehand. Had they utilized concealed carry, I'd take no issue with this aspect of the event. But I'll say this much: regardless of which side of the street I had been on initially (i.e., the anti-Islam side or the anti-hate side), the moment the open carry cretins showed up, I would have left.

In addition to the guns though, the manner in which the protest went down made it incredibly easy for many people to ignore the message and dismiss the entire affair as yet another show of right-wing bigotry. The subsequent backlash has taken over the media coverage, and we now have a situation where it will be more difficult to criticize Islam after the protest than it was beforehand.

In general, do you support demonstrations against Islam, including those that encourage people to draw Muhammad?

Yes, I'd like to see far more demonstrations against Islam. In the aftermath of each and every instance where enraged Muslims murder someone for depicting Muhammad, I'd like to see every major media outlet in the world run images of Muhammad as a show of solidarity and to send the message that barbarism will not silence free expression. I'd like to see more people speaking out against Islamic extremism and making it clear that murder in the name of religion will not be tolerated in a civilized society.

Of course, what I am talking about here are peaceful protests without guns on display where the protestors have a clear message other than the hatred of Muslims. I see no benefit and considerable harm from protests that involve the disruption of religious services. One's right to protest should not interfere with another's right to practice his or her religion. One's right to protest should not lead reasonable people to fear for their own safety. So while I support demonstrations against Islam, I'm unlikely to support all demonstrations against Islam. There is a way for a demonstration to be pulled off so poorly that it undermines one's stated agenda, and I believe this was the case in Phoenix.

Now here's the really important thing: I'd also like to see more peaceful demonstrations against Christianity, Judaism, and every other world religion that causes harm. If we atheists really believe this stuff is harmful to human progress, perhaps we should be demonstrating against it. If there are Christian churches in our communities that push repressive laws or actively oppose civil rights, perhaps we should be more active in demonstrating against them. Believe it or not, such a thing has happened before.

Anything else?

Many on the left are quick to howl "racism" or bigotry whenever they encounter criticism of Islam. When one looks at this protest in Phoenix (i.e., who showed up to protest Islam and how they behaved), it is easy to see why. Demonstrations against Islam and all the other world religions may be helpful, but it is incredibly difficult for me to see how demonstrations like this one will accomplish anything more than making it more difficult for criticism of Islam and other religions to be taken seriously.