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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Islam and "Islamophobia" - a little manifesto

Let's accept - as I think we should - that some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, has a quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular. It is not coincidental that much of the public criticism of Islam as a religion, and of Muslims and their practices, emanates from European political parties and associated groups found on the extreme right, such as the Front National in France and the British National Party in the UK. These organisations typically promote an intense, even bigoted nationalism - combined with what they portray as a defence of Christian traditions and values, and an endangered "Christian identity". They thrive on a fear of strange cultures and a fear of change.

An obvious problem for critics of Islam who do not share the values of the extreme right is that they may find themselves painted with the same brush. Conversely, extreme-right critics of Islam have gained a degree of respectability by co-opting issues and adopting stances that many politicians and members of the public find compelling. E.g., extreme-right figures have attacked such practices as forced marriages, honour-killings, female genital mutilation, and highly conservative apparel for women such as the burqa and the chador.

At the same time, many Muslims in Western countries continue to suffer from suspicion, cultural and personal misunderstanding, discrimination, and outright intolerance that sometimes rises to the level of harassment and violence. The extreme right exploits and encourages an environment where all this is possible. In the circumstances, it is unsurprising when a phenomenon such as Islamophobia is identified by academics, political commentators, and public intellectuals... and steps are taken to combat it.

This situation creates a complex set of advantages, disadvantages, and risks. The extreme right benefits from the availability of politically respectable criticisms of Islamic thought and associated cultural practices. As this goes on, there is a risk that the word "Islamophobia" will be used to demonize and intimidate individuals whose hostility to Islam is genuinely based on what they perceive as its faults. In particular, we should remember that Islam contains ideas, and in a liberal democracy ideas are fair targets for criticism or repudiation. Religious doctrines influence the social and political attitudes of their adherents in ways that merit public comment (favorable or otherwise), and many religious leaders and organizations exert immense power or influence. It is in the public interest that all this be subjected to monitoring and criticism.

Even attacks on Islam that are made opportunistically - motivated by something like racist thinking, or by extreme kinds of national or cultural supremacism - cannot be dismissed out of hand as worthless.

After all, there are reasons why extreme-right organizations have borrowed arguments based on feminism and secularism. These arguments are useful precisely because they have an intellectual and emotional appeal independent of their convenience to extreme-right opportunists. Regardless of who uses these arguments, they plausibly apply to certain elements of Islam, or at least to attitudes and practices associated with it. Whether or not they are put in good faith by organizations such as the BNP, nothing precludes them being put sincerely, and perhaps cogently, by others who are genuinely passionate about the issues.

Thus, there are legitimate reasons for some people who are not racists, cultural supremacists, or anything of the sort, to criticize Islam, or certain forms of Islam, or to express hostility towards it. These relate to their disapproval of various doctrines, canons of conduct, associated cultural practices, and so on, and to the power wielded by Islamic leaders and organisational structures. In this situation, expressions of disapproval or repudiation cannot simply be dismissed, a priori, with the assumption that they are racially motivated. Such dismissals are, moreover, all-too-convenient for those who wish to stifle genuine criticism of Islam.

A number of lessons can be drawn from all this. One is that opponents of Islam, or some of its forms, cannot reasonably be expected to keep quiet when accused of racism or the quasi-racism of "Islamophobia." When these accusations are misdirected, they are likely to inflame passions even further, though they may intimidate some individuals into silence. This suggests that we understand that quasi-racism does not underlie all attacks on Islam. In particular, it would be wise to avoid painting critics of Islam as members or dupes of the extreme right without additional evidence.

There is also a lesson for critics of Islam, and associated practices, who do not identify with the extreme right. For a start, they need to understand the situation, including the extreme right's co-option of mainstream issues and arguments. This may lead to greater patience with opponents who make the charge of Islamophobia, though it hardly makes the charge more palatable (and I must say that I find it difficult to maintain my patience when I see people who are palpably not racists being maligned).

At a more practical level, opponents of Islam who do not wish to be seen as the extreme-right's sympathizers or dupes would be well-advised to take care in the impression that they convey. Where practical, they should explain their positions with as much nuance as possible, distance themselves from extreme-right figures making similar arguments, and avoid sharing platforms with them.

But these are all voluntary choices and there are limits. The words "where practical" are important, because what is practical in, say, a philosophical essay may not be practical in a satirical cartoon, or even in a polemical book aimed at a popular audience. We mustn't exclude the talents of people whose training or temperament does not suit hedged, half-apologetic communication. Nor must we always communicate in ways that most people find boring and bland. Beyond a certain point, there is too much disadvantage in walking on eggshells. We don't have to do it all our lives.

33 comments:

Greg Egan said...

My own view is that the best way to criticise objectionable social practices without giving succour to bigots is by focusing very precisely on the objectionable practices themselves, and leave it up to the theologians who wish to speak for various religions as to whether or not those religions support such practices.

If you think doing X is intrinsically bad -- not because it's common among adherents to religion Y or members of ethnic group Z, but because it's a bad thing whoever is doing it -- it's not actually necessary for you to offer your opinion on whether religion Y approves of practice X, or the traditions of ethnic group Z encourage it. If you think X is bad, state the reasons why, and let anyone who tries to excuse it debate those reasons. They get no free pass for invoking the will of their favourite deity or quoting from their favourite holy book, but it's not your job to give a ruling on such things.

To get concrete for a moment, I can't imagine anything more irritating (and alienating) to a Muslim who is living a peaceful, blameless life by any civilised standard to be told by some atheist or Christian westerner that he or she is not a true practitioner of their religion, because if they actually took the Koran or Islam seriously they'd be doing (insert favourite list of horrible things that some horrible people do, and for which they do indeed find support in Islam).

Once specific people who are engaged in, or supporting, objectionable practices make an appeal to their religion as an excuse for it, I believe the correct response is simply "Sorry, that's not relevant" rather than accepting that the ground should shift to a debate on theology.

Let the individual practitioners of a religion decide for themselves what it tells them about the way they should live their lives, and then if you find their actions objectionable (including, of course, advocacy of objectionable practices), take it up at that level.

Sean (quantheory) said...

I think that it's also important to point out that far-right Muslim groups can also benefit from a sort of bait-and-switch regarding Islamophobia. Someone who pleads in public for respect and tolerance for Muslims may not apply to the same reasoning to gay people, or assertive women, or apostates. It would behoove anyone who wants to address anti-Muslim prejudice to ensure that they seek to support Muslim leaders expressing a sincere belief in civil rights and not those who merely seek free rein to oppress members of their own communities.

As an initial consideration, take a person who openly states that I, or anyone close to me, should be killed for some bigoted reason, even if they disavow the desire to actually bring this about directly. For such a person to then advocate more tolerance of the very worldview that leads them to such a conclusion seems hypocritical and absurd on its face. I don't think that charges of racism can be extended to fear of a worldview that would actually call for my death if it had the power.

Which is not to say that all Muslims do, but instead that since so many religious leaders who speak about Islamophobia (to mainstream Western press) also express these views(to their flocks), that it's hard not to see it as a cynical and hypocritical move.

DEEN said...

I always use "Islamophobia" to only refer to the irrational fear of an imminent takeover of the Western world by Islam. It's just not going to happen. Not while Muslims are secularizing faster than any other religious population, and not while fundamentalist Christians have more political influence than Muslims. Yet there is no doubt that this is the fear that the right-wing populist parties are trying to sell, and it is used to promote rather illiberal "solutions". Therefore it needs to be denounced in the strongest possible way. As long as we're clear about what we mean, we should be easily able to do this without softening our criticism on the illiberal aspects of Islam itself.

In this context it might also be good to mention the flip side of false accusations of Islamophobia: false accusations of "political correctness" or even of being a "terrorist sympathizer". We shouldn't be intimidated by either kind of accusations.

Shaun said...

Sort of tangential but it is amusing that from the right, atheists are accused of too much criticising on Christianity at the expense of Islam and from the left, atheists are criticised for being Islamophobic.

Eamon Knight said...

Russell: A thousand "thank you"'s for this. The far Right needs to be called on using legitimate criticism of Islam as cover for their bigotry, and the squishy Left on dismissing all criticism as bigotry.

Enemy-of-my-enemy and all that.

Darrick Lim said...

Well said Russell.

I remember a post you wrote where you took apart a Muslim intellectual's argument that criticism of Islam's ideas is equivalent to attacking Islam's followers, since apparently Muslims are physically distressed when their religious beliefs are challenged.

You showed why that argument was flawed on several levels, but it remains a major obstacle to valid criticism of Islam. How do you convince the target of your criticism (and their sympathisers) that you are criticising their ideas when they have conflated their personhood with those very ideas?

I know we all do this ideas-identity conflation to some extent with respect to our own beliefs, but it seems to me that the Muslim case is unique in that this conflation is used both as a shield to protect pernicious ideas from valid criticism, and as a weapon to whack critics as being racist bigots.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Russell, a propos of what did you feel the need to write this?

Greg, if a religion supports a deplorable practice it is legitimate to deplore that fact and deplore the religion for doing it.

All the more so if the practice occurs only or largely because it is actively supported by that religion, perhaps among others.

Think of Christian Science urging parents to deny sick children proper medical care.

And the like is true, I think, when religion opposes or obstructs a useful practice.

Think of the Catholic church's active opposition to contraception, abortion, and gay marriage.

Steve Zara said...

Wonderful Russell. I hope this piece becomes a reference for all who become engaged in discussion with Islam.

I really to like Greg's approach; deal with the issue, and let your opponent try and justify why religious belief should become involved. This approach seems to have worked very well in the UK recently in several cases where Christians have tried to claim that they were the victims of prejudice because of laws against discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

Russell Blackford said...

I think there are many contexts where Greg's approach would be totally the correct one. In particular, it's the one I'd like politicians to take.

Anonymous said...

You already used the term "extreme-right" about 12 or more times on this post. After using a term more then like 2 or 3 times you actually loose credibility. I would hate to break it to you philosopher but Europe has no extreme or even right leaning parties. They all all down to their cores liberal or statist ( progressive ).

Greg Egan said...

Gaius, even with the Catholic church, what do critics of official Vatican positions have to lose by targeting their criticism precisely? When a gay-friendly priest who self-identifies as Catholic, supported by parishioners who self-identify as Catholic, gets the boot from the hierarchy:

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/news/queensland/priests-sacking-will-alienate-catholics/2009/02/19/1234632957771.html

surely opponents of Vatican policy can do these people the minimal courtesy of saying "we oppose the Vatican policy on these issues" rather than taking it upon themselves to define Catholicism as equivalent to Vatican policy?

Even in the rare cases where belonging to a particular religion is a necessary and sufficient condition for a particular act of dangerous lunacy -- and maybe there are cases where teachings on medical issues come close to that -- it's entirely possible to aim the criticism precisely at the dangerous teaching itself.

But most religions are vague, internally self-contradictory messes that are defined and interpreted differently by different people who claim to be practising them. I'm not suggesting for a moment that people who are genuinely complicit in any kind of violence or bigotry or other harmful practice should be exempted from responsibility by virtue of doctrinal fuzziness, but when you're making serious accusations, lines need to be drawn with forensic precision. Who is responsible for the spread of HIV in countries where the Catholic church has exacerbated it by discouraging condom use? Many thousands of people, probably, but certainly not everyone on the planet who identifies as Catholic. Who was responsible for the Bali bombings? Many more than will ever see the inside of a court room, but absolutely not every Indonesian who identifies as Muslim.

Collective guilt is an incredibly pernicious notion, and it's worth making a considerable effort to avoid implying it. The more abhorrent the actions or ideas we're criticising, the more care we need to take to be precise in sheeting home blame.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, sure - the BNP is not extreme at all. Obviously. Thanks for that information, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Explicitly distinguish Muslims and Christians from Islam and Christianity.

Love the sinner, hate the sin (to coin a phrase).

Anonymous said...

It's also worth remembering that there is also a history of right-wing European islamophilia. The perception of islam as anti-democratic, authoritarian, unchanging and austere attracted people like Harold St. Johm Philby and other British arabists to it.

Anonymous said...

> Sort of tangential but it is amusing that from the right, atheists are accused of too much criticising on Christianity at the expense of Islam and from the left, atheists are criticised for being Islamophobic.

Amusing perhaps, yet glib. The right and the left are not symmetrical; they have inherently different structures and origins. The right's policies come from the interests of a few, and various (actually logically incompatible) ideologies are reshaped to meet those interests. The left's views come from the interests of or beliefs about the interests of the population as a whole, and attempts are made to form policy based on those ideas.

Racism is a basic class-war tactic: turn the poor against one another. It's used globally: there's a tendency for Han Chinese to be racist against other groups, for instance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_issues_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China Sometimes these antipathies are historical, but there's always a political divide that has made them convenient as far as I've seen.

Further, the accusation of Islamophobia is often made based on a misunderstanding as outlined by Russell, and is not a criticism of atheism per se, but of the purported tactics and beliefs of the "new atheists(*)".

The criticism of atheists from the right is that they are atheisms. Yes, they are repeatedly misrepresented, but that is not a misunderstanding. It's a deception required for the "good of the people": lying for Jesus. The real problem is that they are atheists, and more to the point atheists who are speaking out and may persuade others of their views.

> I would hate to break it to you philosopher but Europe has no extreme or even right leaning parties.

The BNP is not extreme-right? Oookay... is that the definition of right-wing where the more right-wing, the better and the better, the more right-wing? Where it is only a lack of right-wing values and of true, true, genuine, really real conviction that causes failure, never a right-wing policy? If that's so, there are no extreme right-wing parties anywhere in the world, just imaginary recollections of them.

(*) Meet the new atheists: same as the old atheists

AYY said...

Yes, of course one can oppose Moslem ideology for principled reasons. If some people didn't react in a knee jerk manner they'd know this, but evidently many of them don't. So good on you for pointing this out.

On the same token I don't see the problem as being that when one does so, he runs a serious risk of being identified with the parties you mentioned. You seem to make the assumption that there is a significant risk that this would occur, but supporters of those parties are clearly identified as such, so I have to wonder why you make this assumption.

A few quibbles:

". . .many Muslims in Western countries continue to suffer from suspicion, cultural and personal misunderstanding, discrimination, and outright intolerance that sometimes rises to the level of harassment and violence."

What is the basis for this claim? It's also too vague for one to be able to say whether it's true or false or to what degree. The violence of which I'm aware is committed more often by Moslems against Christians and Jews than the other way around.

"Where practical, they should explain their positions with as much nuance as possible"

Well yes, I suppose that would be nice. But how much nuance does one need when objecting to-- just to list what you mentioned-- forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, the burqua, the chador, and as you may have inadvertently forgotten to mention, forced conversions, suicide bombers, burning churches, and fatwas against those who commit blasphemy? These are all things that are committed by those who do so under the belief their religion justifies it.

And then you argue that those who wish not to be identified with the extreme right should "distance themselves from
extreme-right figures making similar arguments, and avoid sharing platforms with them."

Don't they already distance themselves from the extreme right?
Does a sharing of platforms occur with any frequency?

Russell Blackford said...

I see this sort of equation made all the time - most recently in Jeff Sparrow's attack on Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, which I blogged about.

Scented Nectar said...

Interesting and timely article. I just got accused of being a right wing BNP supporter yesterday while arguing against islamic theocracies, in a discussion spanning 3 videos on youtube. :)

Anonymous said...

Which race would that be? Last time I checked, any person on this godless earth can become a muslim. Islamophobia is a misnomer, it implies irrationality. What we have is a quite rational fear of the barbaric, backwards, narrow minded bronze age bound lunatics taking their violent behavior in our civilized cities and trying to impose their idiocy over our hard earned cultural advances. No xenophobia here, no racism possible. We only fear what barbarism can do and we do not paint all muslims with the same broad moral brush which is the trademark of nazism (against all jews), christians, muslims, religious in general against all nonbelievers and other religious people. On the other hand, we do learn from people such as Ayan Hirsi Ali that almost everyone in her community supported the idea of people being killed for the offence of writing a book. The barbarism must stop. The muslims need to look at their history prior to Al Ghazali and learn from the mistakes .

Richard Payne said...

Who is responsible for the spread of HIV in countries where the Catholic church has exacerbated it by discouraging condom use? Many thousands of people, probably, but certainly not everyone on the planet who identifies as Catholic.

I'm sorry but this is just wrong. Ever single Catholic on the face of the planet who did not write to the Vatican to object to their policy on condom use is complicit in the obscenity that is number of HIV related deaths in Africa.

Keeping quiet while evil is carried out in your name does not absolve you of responsibility.

AYY said...

Russell 21:20

Yes I'm sure the equivalence is made, but to my knowledge Hitchens and Harris tend to make more nuanced argumenta than the average person would, and don't share platforms with the BNP, and yet they get criticized in some circles for being bigots.

My point, which I suppose could have been made more clearly, was that your approach is not really a practical one.

The charge of racism or bigotry etc. will be made because those who make it often have an agenda. The charge resonates with journalists, civil rights officials, and others whose opinions are valued by critics of Islam who are to the left. They have been habituated to take those charges seriously. Sometimes those others have been bought off, so whatever nuanced arguments a critic can come up with, can't compete against the personal, political and financial agendas involved.

Critics who are to the right can be charged with bigotry with impunity whether or not it's true, because it's convenient for the left to portray the right as being a monolithic group that is motivated by hatred and bigotry.

So my point was that even if your points were theoretically sound, in the real world they aren't going to work very well. Those who claim bigotry often do so because they either are not nuanced themselves or they have agendas.

I think a better solution is to call them out on their agendas and to expose them to those who are willing to listen, as either being wrong, or (in some cases) as frauds who are not worthy of serious consideration. You risk getting identified as a reactionary in some circles, but it's unavoidable.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, I understand that. I also understand Greg's point. None of this is simple, unfortunately. I don't think there's a magic bullet. In some cases, it's just too burdensome to have to be as scrupulous as Greg wants - we wouldn't do that with a political ideology like Nazism or Stalinism or Randian Libertarianism - and there will be cases where we do have to denounce shallow, knee-jerk, not-very-bright leftists like Jeff Sparrow. All that said, this is tricky territory to negotiate. Don't forget that real Muslims are suffering from xenophobic (even if not outright racist) impulses in many Western countries ... not the least asylum seekers in Australia who are fleeing hellholes in the Middle East.

Maybe I'm missing your point, but it's not as if some of these leftists are totally barking up the wrong tree. They are wrong about some things, but they are correct about some things.

Andrew said...

The writer doesn't get it. Treating someone differently because they hold harmful beliefs is not discrimination, nor is it racist. It is prudent.

As examples:

If you are an employer of both men and women and filter out people from your hiring who believe that women are meant to be second class citizens, then you are doing the right thing for your business and community.

If you own an airplane, it is the right thing to make sure that a person who believes that allah decides if planes fly safely or crash (aka inshallah) never flies your plane or maintains it.

Criticizing someone publicly for their belief in genies, is prudent. You are standing up for science, which is a good thing.

These examples are not islamaphobia; they are not discrimination; they are not racism. It is science-based thoughtful reasoning - it is taking muslims at their word for what they say they believe.

Nemo Fish said...

"Even attacks on Islam that are made opportunistically - motivated by something like racist thinking, or by extreme kinds of national or cultural supremacism - cannot be dismissed out of hand as worthless.

After all, there are reasons why extreme-right organizations have borrowed arguments based on feminism and secularism."

This is fallacious reasoning. You seem to assume that right-wingers just copy and paste criticism of Islam into their bigoted arguments. What they actually do is, copy-exaggerate-add-spices-generalize-take-out-of-context-paste.

Racist criticism is different from rational scientific and liberal criticism:
Scientific criticism aims at transferring objective reality as it is (there's failure sometimes due to subjectivity and bias).

However, racist & self-righteous criticism aims at gaining victory and proving supremacy over others. The only thing this sort of criticism aims at is gaining victory (in elections for example), not the truth. So it betrays and distorts objective reality, which might in its original form be bad itself. An example of this is when right wingers in the USA tried so hard to prove that Obama is a Muslim hiding his faith and slowly trying to install Sharia into the USA. Or claiming that women in the Arab world can't drive where in fact the ration in some Levant Arab countries of men-to-women driving is close to 5 to 5.

I am an atheist (ex-Muslim) and the only criticism of Islam I take seriously is by atheists (although some aesthets failed me in the past, like Dawkins)

Russell Blackford said...

Wow, two absolutely muutually contradictory comments. Put together what is true in each of them and you'll get something very like the original post.

AYY said...

Russell 10:25

Thanks for replying to my comment, but on further thought I think there's a more fundamental problem with what you're saying. I'll be blunt. You're not thinking in terms of "game". You're suggesting people act like betas, when the situation calls for alpha behavior.

You direct your concern to those who don't want to be seen as extreme right wing sympathizers, and tell them how to avoid it.

But not seen by whom? What kind of person is going to see you (the generic you that is) as an extreme right wing sympathizer because you make judgments about Islam? The shallow knee jerk leftist that's whom. And why might anyone in his right mind care about what the shallow knee-jerk leftist thinks?

The only person would care about such things is the person whose sense of personal validation depends on appeasing that particular element (which is pure beta behavior). But why do you need them to get personal validation? If you can rise above it and don't care about getting personal validiation from that element, then you don't really need to appease them, do you?

Most of us don't go on public platforms, but if a person is in a position to do so, and wants to, then he bloody well shouldn't avoid being on the same platform with the BNP, or whomever. If some leftist complains, answer his criticism, and if necessary tell him it's none of his freaking business. You don't need his validation. You might be far better off trying to get him to seek your validation.

(I live in the US so I have only a vague notion of what the BNP stands for. There are such things here as the northern Idaho militias, but anyone who would accuse you of being a militia supporter just because you criticize Islam would be laughed out of court.)

Russell Blackford said...

Well, I think you make it clear that the situation under discussion is not an issue in your particular milieu, at least as you perceive it. Fine. But it is very much an issue in countries like Australia and various European countries. In fact, issues to do with Muslim immigrants and refugees loom very large in political discussions in many Western countries, and it is in fact possible to discredit people with their natrual allies in the way that I described. I've had quite a few people confirming this from personal experience.

If the words you're reading seem to be from a reasonably intelligent person but don't make much sense for your own social milieu, it's always an idea to think about the milieu within which they're being written.

And with all respect, this discussion in terms of "beta behaviour" or whatever it was is nonsense. If you want to make any progress in understanding the world, you need to get past blockages to thought like that. I don't know whether this is some pop psychology thing or what it is, but it's a barrier to understanding. Just try to understand the situation under discussion; and when you read an argument by someone who doesn't seem to be an idiot, try first to understand the words on the page or the screen, rather than jumping to conclusions about what is behind it, what sorts of fallacies it involves (since I'm quite well-trained in logic and have even taught formal and informal logic to university students, it is extremely unlikely that you'll ever catch me committing one of the well-known logical fallacies), or what sort of behaviour it is.

These sorts of issues, discussed in the post, are difficult and many-sided, as you should be able to see from the variety of responses. When I see someone being dismissive and thinking that he or she can find some obvious fallacy in something that I've thought about quite deeply, I'm not likely to be impressed by that person's superior acuity. I'm more likely to impressed by someone who brings up an aspect that I'm not aware of. But even the fact that I've not mentioned an aspect is not evidence that I'm unaware of it or "don't get it" - this is a relatively short block post based on one passage in my new book. There's a whole rest of the book that may deal with many other things.

The post is about a quite specific phenomenon that I describe clearly enough and has been described elsewhere (in fact there's a fairly extensive body of literature on it). People seem to be drawing all sorts of strange conclusions about what else I might think, rather than just reading the words on the page.

That doesn't mean I don't brook disagreement. Greg Egan above has described an approach that I don't entirely agree with, but perhaps he's right. He and I can discuss it. But Greg isn't distorting my words, reading in things that aren't there, and so on. It's obvious that he understands what's at stake. That's not so obvious with some of the other people who've replied.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, Thomas - but I think quite frankly that that would be a bizarre reading. That's especially so by the time we get to the start of the second para where I begin talking specifically about people who (I claim) are not motivated by xenophobia or anything of the sort.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Greg,

Sorry to flog a dead horse.

But I couldn’t resist on this one.

So, I can only suppose you disapprove mightily of PZ, then.

These remarks of his – evidently typed too fast and proofed too little – rebuking sexism are not unusual for him in attributing flaws of a given religion to the religion.

Richard did make the valid point that there are much more serious abuses of women's rights around the world, and the [sic] Islam is a particularly horrendous offender.

Women have their genitals mutilated, are beaten by husbands without recourse to legal redress, are stoned to death for adultery, are denied basic privileges like the right to drive or travel unescorted.

These are far more serious problems than most American women face.

However, the existence of greater crimes does not excuse lesser crimes, and no one has even tried to equate this incident to any of the horrors above.

What these situations demand is an appropriate level of response: a man who beats a woman to death has clearly committed an immensely greater crime than a man who harrasses [sic] a woman in an elevator; let us fit the punishment to the crime.

Islamic injustice demands a worldwide campaign of condemnation of the excesses and inhumanity of that religion.

The elevator incident demands…a personal rejection and a woman nicely suggesting to the atheist community that they avoid doing that.

And that is what it got.


http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/oh_no_not_againonce_more_unto.php

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus said...

Greg,

To respond to your actual example, I deplore Catholicism for its grotesque teaching with regard to sexual morality.

I am far from alone in that.

But to blame this or any religion for its harmful teachings is not to "pronounce it," as you say, "equivalent" to those teachings.

That was just a silly thing for you to write.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, Richard has been critical of Islam elsewhere so we don't even need that specific example. I do ask that we not get into the Elevator Guy vs Rebecca Watson vs Stef McGraw train wreck. I've made a couple of comments on that elsewhere (and I'm not really sure this was the right thing to do). I've deliberately not blogged about the drama here. I won't be approving any comments that go down that path.

Just a word to the wise.

Anonymous said...

Good article. Frankly, I am sick and tired of 'islam'. I am from the Netherlands and I grew up in the 70's and 80's. Religion almost vanished from public life in that time and the future seemed modern and bright. Today it's as if you've moved to another country. Not because of foreign religious clothes or skin colors, I really don't care. It's racism, harassment and brutal violence, based on religious ideas I have a problem with. In Amsterdam for instance it's considered dangerous to look like a gay or a Jew nowadays. We have theater plays and art exhibitions canceled, art and landmarks removed because it might be offending. You can't turn on the TV or read a newspaper without being confronted with islam. We have 150 cultures in the Netherlands but it seems as if there are only two.

42 said...

While bigotry plays some part in criticisms of Islam, the word Islamophobia is most often used as a bludgeon to silence fair and legitimate criticism. We on the left, are so intimidated by accusations of racism, imperialism etc, that we would rather tollerate injustice and barbarism than be so labeled (not just where Islam is concerned).