October 08, 2014

In Defense of Islam: There's a fine line between criticizing religion and being ridiculous

Recently, I defended Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the comments section of a blog post that painted her as a bigot. I stand by that defense, because I believe that Hirsi Ali truly believes what she is saying.

What I don't stand by is the crazy Islamophobia that's wracking our nation right now on all sides.

Last week, I ran across a blog post on the American Thinker that insinuated there is a holy war raging right here in America. It included this tidbit:

And what of that moderate Muslim community the left trots out every time another jihadist commits an act of terrorism. Take Oklahoma for instance. Did the local Muslim community take to the streets in outrage denouncing the heinous act and proclaiming that their religion is being hijacked by extremists? Have they ever taken to the streets, or more importantly, to the mosques with such a suggestion? What they did was surround the police during a press conference while reading the Koran and shouting “Praise Allah!”

There was a hyperlink to an article that offered this picture as proof that Muslims had done this:

So I was curious. I did a reverse image search. The image had been shared on enough blogs that even with redundant results omitted, it took 22 pages to get to a video that explained it.

You see, those aren't Muslims. You may have guessed that already. Those are people that worked in the food processing plant. They are gathering around leadership to find out what happened and why the building had been evacuated.

Anyone that looked critically at the image above should have questioned it. ANYONE.

But that's simply not the nation that we live in anymore, is it?

I am an ardent supporter of the right to criticize religion. I think the world would be a better place if we all rationally rejected superstition. I am aware that that will never happen, and so I think the best course is to come to the point that the secular rules in areas where we must all come together, and religion should be relegated to one's personal life.

But that's not what we do with Islam. We look at it, and we decide, point blank, that it's the epitome of all that is wrong with religion. It's the perfect example.

It isn't.

Look at India, which is around 80% Hindu. Hinduism is arguably pretty well-recognized as a religion of piece. It gave us Ghandi, for gods' sake.

And yet, India is plagued by dowry-driven violence. They had a history of burning widows alive with their husbands' corpses.

Look at Christianity. Consider Bruno burning on his books, or the slaughtering between Protestants and Catholics for much of European history.

EVERY RELIGION HAS ITS BAD POINTS. It's just the way that religion works. Hell, it's just the way that PEOPLE work.

Family Security Matters says:

Islam is not a religion, as we understand the term.  Rather it is a complete political, judicial, economic, military, and cultural system, masquerading as a religion.  Its adherents refuse to assimilate into host country cultures, insisting that they be allowed to exist as an independent entity, not subject to the laws of their host nations.  In order to accomplish their ends, they regularly preach the overthrow of their host governments, by violence if necessary.

There's a great response to this at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. But I'd like to ask these people if they've ever heard of Christendom or the Holy Roman Empire. When Christianity was intertwined with government, it was a pretty shitty situation too.

Hell, I'd argue it still is. I'm a woman in America and I worry about what would happen if I got pregnant, right now. What if I miscarried and was only near a Catholic hospital? I could be denied life-saving treatment. My [living, breathing, very much in need of their mother] children could be left motherless because someone would prioritize their religious beliefs over my health and wellbeing and existence and humanity. What if I didn't want to have anymore children [I don't] and my employer refused to cover necessary medical intervention? I'm a married woman, so the usual "promiscuity and yada yada yada" doesn't apply. My husband and I have made this decision together. And yet, my employer could overrule over all of that because I live in a nation that arguably respects the rights of corporations over the rights of its citizens.

And all of that is underwritten by the leakage of Christian values onto our culture.

The part that really gets me is that it's not just theists doing this. It's not just conservative Christians out there not thinking critically. It's skeptics too. It's supposedly rational and reasonable nonbelievers.

Recently, a group of Somali immigrants in Minnesota began campaigning for foods that they were able to eat to be represented at local food banks, or for a food bank of their own. I honestly don't see a problem with it, and I hope that they are successful.

The atheist community, though, has been less than understanding on the whole. Skepchick responded to a post by the Friendly Atheist, who I usually love, and I can't say it any better:

But it’s easier to point towards religion than examine our own biases and the responsibilities we might have towards people who are struggling. it’s a lovely sort of victim blaming; if you weren’t so stupidly religious you would have a job, so reconvert and your life will be great! It’s your own stupid superstitions that are holding you back! It’s like the atheist version of The Secret: stop believing and everything will work out for you! The moment you cut God out of your life, all your problems will disappear because the only thing that’s holding you back is yourself and your stupid God-thoughts. 
It is lazy thinking to believe that there is a one to one correlation between our beliefs and our success in life. Believing that you’re a skeptic, and then making assumptions like this is hypocritical at best and racist at worst. If religion is the only thing that matters, then it’s easy to overlook racism or sexism and simply blame bad things on either people being taken advantage of by religion or on people being blinded by the horrible beliefs of their religion. Libby Anne phrased it as “attacking minorities”, but it seems to me that the problem here is even deeper than that: it’s victim blaming any minorities for their problems because of their religion. It’s not simply being unnecessarily cruel and oppressive, it’s doing so under the atheist banner thinking that it will give you the moral high ground. 
You’d think that if atheists want to demonstrate what moral people they are, they’d be willing to support a poor, immigrant community get support for a food bank, but apparently some of us are willing to be the caricatured, moustache twirling, evil atheist. We can do better folks.

When our arguments start to echo those of conservative fundamentalist Christians, we should think twice, people.

None of this is to say that you can't criticize Islam. All ideologies--including nonbelief--should be open to criticism.

We should absolutely speak up and support those that are fighting for human rights in countries living under Islamic theocracies. We should support comprehensive criticism of the Quran. We should treat Islam like any other religion.

I was catching up on the Thinking Atheist podcasts yesterday while making bread, and listening to yesterday's interview with Bob Ripley, and Seth made an amazing point about having compassion for the religious. It will actually turn into its own post because it got me to think of how I relate to religion today and that got the wheels to turn.

I was religious. I completely understand what it is like to be caught in that thrall. I spent most of my life to this point under that spell. While I am the first to criticize it, I do so from a place of extreme compassion for people that are still caught up in it--especially those in the most fundamentalist sects, regardless of religion.

It's a message, I think, that we can all take and run with. I remember when the "Cover Your Boobs" blogger went viral. There were so many people that wanted to shred this woman. They called her insecure and questioned whether her husband was faithful. They questioned what kind of person her husband was. They ridiculed and shredded her. And it was entirely pointless, because her post was rife with the worst aspects of Christian relationship and sexual theology.

In any case like these, the best thing we can do is step back and think. Think. Consider what that person is going through, what they have experienced, how that experience might have influenced them. Put yourself in their shoes.

Can we ever fully understand someone else? No. But we can make the effort, and that effort, I truly believe, is the absolute of root of empathy and sympathy.

And it would go such a long way towards creating a more unified nation, and a better world.

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