Islam-bashing is in vogue these days. Turn on the TV or radio, pick up a newspaper or venture onto the Internet and you will find a curious trend; Islamophobia and the rise of its natural sibling, Islamo-bullying. As a neologism Islamo-bullying is suggestive of a new and dangerous geopolitical and western cultural trend. That is, civilized, seemingly thoughtful people, holding otherwise good and decent Muslims worldwide hostage to a narrow and altogether unjust view of Islam.
While scholars of Islam, both Muslim and secular, work against the Islamophobia that appears ubiquitous in the media, they argue that the central message of Islam and the Quran is peace and love. This message, they suggest, has been hijacked by a radical and extreme and wholly extra-canonical interpretation of Islam. While there have been radical and extreme interpretations in history, scholars contend that these should not be used as pre-text for Islamophobia as they represent the exception and not the rule.
Just as politics make for strange bed-fellows, likewise does irrationality and hatred. Sean Hannity, a self-described conservative, and Bill Maher, an icon of the liberal left, have forged a seeming unholy alliance in conflating all of Islam into a convenient hate-based meme. It does not just suggest, but demands that Islam, by definition, is a religion of war mongering and hatred. Both are not just willing, but seemingly keen to hold the whole of historical Islam hostage to the views and actions of what is, scholars of Islam would suggest, an aberration and obvious scriptural and historical misinterpretation of Islam.
Both Hannity and Maher are keen to paint the Quran as filled with self-serving and dangerous hate speech rather than what objective scholarship better describes as the rhetoric of love and peace. In any event, even those verses that appear to the non-Muslim as unduly aggressive should be interpreted as multivalencies having multiple applications and meaning. That is, when one reads the Quran as it was intended to be read, otherwise and apparently offensive and/or aggressive verses have, in the first instance, a range of spiritual meanings and personal applications. For example, higher jihad is, as a fundamental doctrine of Islam, a spiritual battle, not an outer one. This distinction is critical for non-Muslims if they are to avoid the unjust inclination towards Islamophobia.
Bill O’Reilly has been quick to conflate historical Islam with its contemporary radical and more extreme presentiments. He is suggesting that because jihadist terrorism is on the rise and Muslim nations are not, in his view, adequately confronting it then it naturally follows that criticism of Islam itself is valid. This fallacy-based argument, the kind of argument that hides and obfuscates an embedded and apparent self-serving Islamophobia and the hailing aspects and rise of Islamo-bullying, argues that contemporary Muslim nation-states’ questionable and demonstrably inadequate political responses to terrorism work to define and otherwise frame Islam and the Quran in terms worthy of rebuke. The slippery-slope aspects of this particular argument are not just breathtaking, they are more ominously, by definition, the stuff of Islamophobia, hate-speech and bullying. Contemporary Islamic radicalism and Islam as a religion of peace have nothing to do with each other unless one is spoiling for a fight or trying to work up one’s ratings.
When Sam Harris suggested that Islam was the “mother-lode of bad ideas,” he, like Maher, O’Reilly and Hannity, unjustly and ignorantly portrayed the bad interpretation and behavior of a relative few as legitimate Islamic doctrine. Legitimate scholarship that is entirely objective and methodologically sound, concomitantly lacking in Islamophobia however, presents even the most controversial of Quranic verses in a historical and theological light that dispenses with the apparent hate-filled, ignorant and agenda-informed interpretation of Islam as hate-mongering and control-oriented. When one actually gets to know a Muslim personally one finds, in general terms, like the Christian neighbor who believes in the Bible as the inerrant word of God despite its seeming penchant for theocratic fascism, killing and war-mongering, a kindly, compassionate and service-oriented person.
Whether it is the extremist who justifies murderous and altogether unacceptable behavior by misquoting or misunderstanding Quranic verses, or the hate-speech of Bill Maher and Sean Hannity et. al., both represent an abject failure to nuance their positions with historical fact and the rationalism and empiricism available to all right-minded people. The failure of both in this regard is what is at issue as both are at the root of a new brand of Islamophobia driving and otherwise giving rise to a quality of Islamo-bullying that, according to good Muslims everywhere, like radical Islam itself, needs to be swept away.
Opinion By Matthew R. Fellows
Photo By: Bashar Al-Ba’noon Flickr License