Many people refuse to have an important conversation about Islam. Like other religions, fundamental beliefs must be reconciled with living in the 21st century and modern ideas about human rights. Many liberals in the United States refuse to criticize Islam or say anything to critique the religion’s treatment of women and gays. Many conservatives refuse to accept the faith as a world religion. Not analyzing the belief system in any meaningful way prevents Americans from truly understanding Islam and its followers.
Liberals are quick to judge the Christian church when it tries to prevent people from having rights. They call out Christians for being homophobic, sexist and racist. Many conservative Christians are against equal rights for gay people. They also try to limit a woman’s right to an abortion or birth control. Liberals identify these viewpoints as limiting liberty and societal progress, but they ignore the same beliefs in the Muslim community. Rather than blame Islam for encouraging these views, they insist that homophobes and misogynists are a fringe element.
On the other hand, conservatives spew hateful rhetoric such as “all Muslims are evil.” Some groups believe Islam is a plot by the devil to overthrow America and that all Muslims deserve to be killed. Liberals feel that this conservative vitriol justifies the strong defense of Islam, despite massive problems within the religion, especially when it come to women’s rights. Liberals refuse to discuss the problems with Islam because they are afraid of being labeled “racist” by other members of their peer group.
The truth is, like any organized religion, Islam is used to manipulate the way people think in order to support certain values and unify them in a common morality. It can be a beautiful religion full of peace and high moral standards, but it can also be used to discriminate against societal groups and oppress members of the community.
Recently, Bill Maher, Sam Harris and Ben Affleck were involved in a heated discussion about the religion and the reaction of liberals when talking about it. Maher insists liberals should stand up for liberal ideals and admit that the tenants of Islam often deny human rights. Ben Affleck vehemently argues that the majority of Muslims are moderate, peaceful people who would not enforce sharia law. Author Sam Harris states that people must separate the idea of criticizing doctrine from bigotry. Identifying where any religion, including Islam, fails to support liberal principles is not the same as persecuting the followers of Muhammad. Where the two sides of the table agree is that liberal Muslims trying to reform the religion need to be supported, but that the mainstream media rarely covers their struggle and their voices get lost.
So what do those liberal Muslim voices say? Eiynah, a Pakistani-Canadian, blogged an open letter to Ben Affleck in which essentially she said thanks, but no thanks. Although grateful for his defense of her religion, she was upset that he shut down the debate. There are real problems within the Muslim community with discrimination against homosexuals and against women. Arguments against this discrimination should not be dismissed because of the belief that the majority of Muslims do not hold these views. In fact, study after study has shown that most Muslims are good people, but also very devout, and hold more of the beliefs and cultural practices of Islam than expected. She writes, “Please do not defend people who think this way, and let me tell you Ben, many ‘good’ Muslims do think this way.” She further wrote that Affleck had “shut down the conversation;” an important one that many people like herself are anxious to engage in.
In the United Kingdom, the organization Quilliam was founded to combat extremist Muslim thinking. Quilliam questions adherence to Sharia law which holds that a woman should be stoned for adultery, including rape, or that a person’s hand should be cut of for theft. Quilliam proposes that one must think in terms of human rights above Sharia law or one is indirectly supporting extremism.
Racism is a problem in the United States and throughout the western world. However, conflating legitimate criticism of a religion with racism only further shuts down an important discussion. Denying that there are any issues with Islamic ideology will not solve racism against Muslims; instead it adds fuel to the fire. Many people would like to have an honest discussion of Islam. Yes, all people should be free to practice their religion, but the way women and gays are treated in most Islamic households and communities is wrong. Many liberals refuse to have this important discussion about Islam, but it is overdue.
Opinion by: Rebecca Savastio