Every day I read stories about what is transpiring in nations dominated by Islam and think to myself “Yup, it could be worse.” And then I blog about the lesser horrors of American Christianity because, well, that’s where I and most of my readers live.
But I actually agree with Sam Harris on the point that Islam is probably the most pernicious of all mainstream religions. I think it’s equal in credibility to Christianity, but I don’t think it can be argued that Islam has shown a potential to produce malicious behavior unlike any other religion (I don’t think this justifies racial profiling, before anybody jumps on that bandwagon).
Anyway, here’s an example I just read. Look what’s happening in Tunisia. In response to a school barring a woman from entry because she was wearing a full veil, this happened:
Murad Ben Hamouda of the teachers’ union at Manzel Bouzelfa secondary school said Salafists stormed into the compound, smashed a few cars and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom”.
School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati was beaten with sticks and stones, suffering several broken bones, Hamouda said, and the assailants then fled. There have been no arrests, and interior ministry police had no immediate comment.
How many Salafists were involved in the attack was not immediately clear. But teachers said dozens of radicals lingered on the premises afterwards, chanting anti-secular slogans.
This is, of course, not even remotely rare in many countries dominated by Islam. Hell, in Bangladesh atheist bloggers are facing the death penalty at the hands of their Islamic culture/government, and the editor of a Bangladeshi newspaper just got arrested for publishing quotes from those bloggers. You can read these stories every fucking day. The people who insist that these maniacs are the outsiders, terrible people who deride the Islamic faith by claiming it for themselves, are simply wrong.
Now, I’m not taking a position on whether or not it’s ok to allow someone to attend school with their face entirely covered. I don’t think most schools in the States would allow it, and I don’t know the school’s reasoning. But what I am saying is that when you consider asking a face covering to be removed to be a greater injustice than smashing cars, beating another human being, and threatening to kill a man, we have a problem. Just like with Christianity and marriage equality in the US, it is plain as day that the relevant variable in this equation is the presence of Islam. If you could magically wipe away Islam and all of the cultural mores that have been dredged from it, who could honestly argue that we’d still have people rioting over cartoons or smashing cars in reaction to a dress code? Who can argue that we’d still have governments attempting to assassinate fourteen year-olds for the crime of insisting women should be educated? And who can honestly say these occurrences do not reach a more terrifying scale because of any positive moral influence of the Islamic faith and not because these people, for the most part, do not have access to weaponry more dangerous than rocks and signs announcing who ought to be beheaded for offending their religious sensibilities?
Just like it’s not Christianophobia to highlight that the opposition to equal rights in this country is fomented almost exclusively from the pulpit, it is not Islamophobia to point out that the larger wellspring of religious violence from people screaming that they are motivated by honoring their prophet is undoubtedly due to the influence of Islam. Beliefs are the catalysts of actions, and while religions are not the sole arbiters of people’s actions, they are clearly in effect in these cases. The solution is not to convince people to merely be irrational in different ways, but rather to insist that people stop being irrational and start integrating reality as the basis for their moral concerns. Sure, this would mean the end of liberal and fundamentalist religion alike. It’s a small price to pay for a world where reason is given its due.
Some atheists, eager to make peace with Muslims by whitewashing Islam rather than by treating Muslims as if they’re interested in what’s true, will point to liberal Muslims as if they are to be taken as representatives of the faith. By some mechanism, we are to believe, more Muslims than Christians, Jains, or Buddhists, have taken a beautiful faith and managed to square it with viewing offense as a lesser offense than murder. Ignoring entire nations of gender inequality, violence in the name of Allah, and more, these apologists will tell us that the texts of Islam are beautiful and that if those other Muslims should do better by caring about what they really say. Of course, the texts really do spell out all manner of horrors very succinctly. But the insistence that all Muslims care about what is true is a fantastic insistence to have! Unfortunately, the accommodating atheists do not extend “they should have done better” to all Muslims. We shouldn’t stop merely at “It’s irrational to think that god would want people murdered over cartoons” and should continue on to “It’s irrational to think any person rose from the dead or rode a winged horse into heaven or that a god imbued you with compassion and then made moral pronouncements to the contrary, as if he didn’t want you to obey it.” Doing better doesn’t mean being guilty of the exact same failures of critical thought.
Or they’ll say “What about x, y, and z scripture that says not to steal?” Holy shit! As if we never would’ve figured out that stealing is a dick thing to do if it weren’t immortalized on that page! I’m going to go out on a limb and say that without Islam (or any other religion) we could’ve figured out that stealing is immoral. What we never would have thought is that it’s ok to kill another person over a cartoon.
And the existence of liberal Muslims in parts of the world does nothing to unmake the faith’s culpability for the madness in societies dominated by Islam. In all societies where people obey their compassion, they behave similarly: they are kind to others, charitable to the poor, and generally act like human happiness is the ultimate goal personally and morally. These are simply compassionate things to do, regardless of whether or not a particular religion gives them a thumbs up. It is clear that Islam (and Christianity, but Islam to a greater extent) cause so many people to put certain concerns above the goals of compassionate societies. We mustn’t wait to take note of the obvious until Islam corrupts everybody calling themselves Muslims.
Sam Harris recently highlighted this fact to Glenn Greenwald:
I maintain that anyone who considers my views to be a symptom of irrational fear is ignorant, dishonest, or insane. (I recently suggested to Greenwald on Twitter that we settle our dispute by holding simultaneous cartoon contests. He could use his Guardian blog to solicit cartoons about Islam, and I’d use my website to run a similar contest for any other faith on earth. As will come as no surprise, the man immediately started sputtering non-sequiturs.)
The fact that some Muslims have paid greater heed to their own conscience than to the pages of the hadith (which spells out very clearly that the penalty for apostasy is, as many ex-Muslims are well aware, death), does not change the fact that were such a cartoon contest to take place, Sam Harris may receive emails imploring him to be more sensitive to believers, while Greenwald would undoubtedly need to start taking measures to safeguard his life.
It all boils down to this: Islam is hideous. It’s not beautiful in the slightest. The innate empathy in human beings is beautiful, and it allows some people to continue to have moral sensibilities in spite of their religious doctrines. This is especially so in the case of Islam. The world would be a much better, more educated, more peaceful place were Islam wiped from the pages of history, and anybody saying otherwise is deluding themselves.