Often a couple of words alone are enough to cause many to simply roll their eyes, and today’s example of that is “Andrew Brown”. Within his latest Guardian article, he attempts to make the claim …
It is psychologically unnatural to claim that you hate an ideology without hating the people in whose lives it is expressed.
It is a trope among people who loathe and fear Islam that their fear and loathing has nothing in common with racism because Islam is not a race, the implication being that hating Muslims is rational and wise whereas hating black people is deeply irrational and stupid.
… and of course with a big bold image of Sam Harris at the top, you know that what he is directly addressing is criticism of Islam specifically.
OK, let’s work an example.
A Muslim mob beat a Christian couple to death in Pakistan and burnt their bodies in the brick kiln where they worked for allegedly desecrating a Qur’an, police have said.
The attack in Kot Radha Kishan, 40 miles south-west of Lahore, is the latest example of violence against minorities accused of blasphemy.
“A mob attacked a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the holy Qur’an and later burnt their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked,” local police station official Bin-Yameen said.
… and this is not an isolated incident, but rather is a consistent pattern …
A Christian woman has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman.
An elderly British man with severe mental illness, sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan in January, was shot by a prison guard last month
So what exactly is Mr Brown telling us?
Is he really suggesting that we should not criticise or even respond emotionally to a truly abhorrent ideology that tricks mostly decent people into behaving like this?
We all know that this behaviour happens, is indeed motivated by Islamic belief, and will continue to happen wherever this abhorrent ideology takes root and dominates, but that does not mean that we also hate every single Muslim?
That is an utterly absurd idea for the following reasons …
- Beliefs are not binary … humans retain different aspects of different beliefs with different degrees of confidence
- Islam is not one group, but rather is a word that describes a vast diversity of conflicting beliefs … which perhaps explains why there is so much Muslim on Muslim violence. Christianity is exactly the same, for example Catholics would be deemed by many alternatives such as Baptists or Evangelicals to not be true Christians.
- The vast majority of humans are decent, honourable, and strive to live in peace and do what is right, holding a specific islamic belief is not some magical exception to this.
Bad Ideas inspire bad behaviour
Irrational beliefs basically hack human minds and trick them into acting abhorrently by instilling a belief that doing so is the will of a god and is the right thing to do. It is perhaps like this because the beliefs that thrive do so because they have a distinct advantage over other competing beliefs, and the one distinct survival advantage that Islam has is its ability to inspire zero tolerance for anything and everything that does not confirm and embrace the belief.
So is Mr Brown truly being serious with his assertion
To be frank I’m not really sure.
It is wholly tempting to consider the idea that he crafts his articles to be clickbait … yes news sites report news, but they are not primarily focused on truth, but rather are businesses that have a specific interest in attracting attention, so the publication of such articles is well within their remit.
It it of course wholly possible that Mr Brown truly does think this assertion to be true and his editors leverage him to attract clicks.
So can people truly hate ideas and yet not hate the individuals involved?
I hate smoking … but at the same time I do not hate everybody who smokes.
Christians generally assert … “Hate the sin but love the sinner” … and so what Mr Brown is saying that they are lying when they assert this.
Clearly his assertion is not one that is based in our reality.
What have others said?
- Nice rebuttal here from Jerry Coyne
- The comments under Mr Brown’s article also take him to task for this
Anti-Muslim bigotry is real, but everybody who openly criticises is not an anti-Muslim bigot, because the absurd ideas truly do warrant open criticism, and that fact-based criticism should not be silenced. If such voices are silenced, that the abhorrent behaviour, the intolerance, misogyney, homophobia, violence and murder, will continue.
The Guardian has now censored valid criticism of all this
This one shocked me.
The UK’s Council of Ex-Muslims posted a comment under Mr Brown’s argument, and the Guardian censored it.
Here is the comment that was censored
As Exmuslims, we critique Islam because there are many aspects of Islam that need to be critiqued. In particular, we seek to oppose Islam’s apostasy codes, which are oppressive and lead to persecution.
We have found it is quite difficult to get some people to listen to our stories because they fear that acknowledging these issues will contribute to a critical view towards Islam.
The idea is that particularly reactionary teachings and aspects of belief that lead to critical judgements of Islam are in and of themselves prejudiced. The resulting logic of this is that Islam should have special privileges, in as much as basic human conscience and ethical critical judgement of people living in a secular culture should not apply, or be expressed, towards Islam.
The fact that criticism exists, is the offence.
Effectively, this is to propose a kind of proxy blasphemy code and apostasy code, wherein the liberal secular space defers to Islamic taboos. Dissenting Muslims and Exmuslims have to conform to these proxy codes too. Everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too. But Islam must be protected.
However, Muslims are free to critique all religions, belief systems and moralities, because evangelising Islam, and proffering critique and judgement is not only a divine prerogative, but the closing down of ethical, critical judgement towards Islam is also a divine right.
As we can see, this is an ethical and moral mess.
This is an aspect of liberal relativism that is morally flawed and unsustainable without damaging basic principles of liberal secularism. It also means that aspects of Islam that need to be criticised, like Islam’s apostasy codes, remain unexamined, and with that authority unquestioned, their capacity to hurt people and cause harm increases.
Another fear is that being critical of aspects of Islam manifests in prejudice towards Muslims, and this is an understandable response given how parts of the far-right do project generalising narratives of communal responsibility on Muslims. As Exmuslims, we understand this, because being from ethnic minorities ourselves (apart from growing numbers of former white converts) we are also prone to be in the targets of bigots who project their hostility onto anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, whatever that is supposed to be.
The key to dealing with this is for the Left to take ownership of the issues that need to be critiqued, and do so through the prism of liberal secular values, so that they cannot be co-opted by the nationalist right, who have agendas that are not tolerant.
Sadly the instinct of relativism too often prevents this reckoning from occurring. The silencing of Exmuslims voices is the norm, although we are trying to change this.
There are three main layers of silencing of apostates voices.
The first layer is the hardcore religious silencing, which includes notions that we deserve to be killed and harmed.
Under that is a second layer of some Muslims who may not agree we should be persecuted, but don’t want to have these problematic aspects or religion talked about, because of feelings of embarrassment, fear of the consequences, or cognitive dissonance regarding apostasy / blasphemy codes.
The third layer underneath this is the relativism of white liberals who are often in concordance with silencing instincts over these issues, including silencing of Exmuslims, for the reasons we outlined earlier. Often, relativist liberals simply pretend we don’t exist.
But silencing never works, and it only increases the problems.
It is important to understand that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. At the same time, the reality of the need for Islam to be critiqued has to be acknowledged by the Left, and by Muslims who live in liberal secular democracies too.
Why the Guardian censored that I honestly have no idea, but the fact that they did causes me to now label them in this instance the enemy of free speech, tolerance, liberty and valid fact-based criticism of bad ideas.