A Writer’s Call to Action on the Syrian Civil War

“Someday I will adopt refugee kids. Why should I have my own kids when there are millions of children out there who don’t have parents?”

That was a promise I made nine months ago as I saw the video of a bloodied kid being rescued after their home was bombed. Omran Daqneesh, 5, sat inside an ambulance with his face covered in blood and his hair covered in ashes. He did not cry in pain nor did he scream in fear. His was a stare of innocence. It was a symbol for millions of children caught in the middle of war.

It was turning point for me—a very powerful moment that has shaped my views since. I realized that we as human beings have an obligation to speak out against this war, to give voice to those who are not heard, and to call for justice for those who are oppressed.

We have failed the Syrians, the South Sudanese, the Rohingyas, the Yemenis, and the Iraqis. How do we sleep at night while there are millions of children out there who are bombed as they sleep? How can we let our government officials fly to the United Nations and not say a word about the children who are killed by chemical weapons? How can people simply scroll down and not read a news article about civilian deaths?

Have we grown numb to war? Have daily news of violence desensitized us to heinous crimes against humanity?

Writers have an important role to play in an age of apathy. No longer do we see the global anti-war fervor during the Vietnam War. We must rethink the way we communicate and understand that every word we build is not just a string of letters, but lives of children who are in most need of our help. One article could spell the difference between global apathy or a global movement to oppose all wars.

 

Solitude

Solitude doesn’t mean you’re in a lonely place. I am not hiding in the caves of sorrow and the burrows of fear. No. I am free, and solitude is my strength.  I am in a place of purification where silence is louder than noise. A place where I am closer to my soul. I have found myself not in the company of others, but in the depths of my own thoughts. I saw myself chained by my own frailties, torn by grief and pain. And only solitude came to help. Now I have mastered how to forgive those who have caused me pain and I’ve learned to let go of the bitter memories of old

For all the heartbreaks I’ve been through, I am still standing, ready to fight back. But I fight not out of revenge. I am fighting for all the happy memories we’ve shared. I am grateful to have been a part of their stories, blissful watching them having the greatest time of their lives. I have learned acceptance and gratitude. In my solitude, I have found a more profound sense of happiness,  happiness you only feel when you know how to forgive and let go of the things that aren’t meant to stay.

A Critique of the Neoliberal Model for Humanitarian Engineering Courses

The four-day conference on Humanitarian Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Design (HEED) was the first of its kind on campus, gathering students, professors, and non-academic professionals from different fields. Professor Khanjan Mehta of Lehigh University shared his experiences working on projects in developing countries with his former students at Penn State. He was the founder of Penn State’s humanitarian engineering program where they developed solutions to many problems in agriculture, energy, water, and health. Organizers are hoping to replicate this model and offer HEED as an elective course in UP Diliman.

Understandably, many of those in the humanitarian engineering sector would see this as a positive development, especially with the increased participation of the youth. But to me, Mr. Mehta’s model is not a solution to poverty. It does not address the root cause of poverty nor does it ensure a strong social safety net. Rather it subjects poor communities to the brutal forces of the free market, putting them at an even greater financial risk. It is a clever rebranding of the failed neoliberal project; a ridiculous attempt by the prophets of globalization to humanize an economic system that has brought generations of suffering for many in the Global South.

Mr. Mehta’s approach sounds reasonable on the surface. People need money and for them to have money, they must have jobs. Jobs–either in the form of owning a small-scale business or working for one. He treats poor communities not as beneficiaries of charity, but as potential market actors–buyers and sellers of products who constantly seek to accumulate more capital. Poverty, to him is not as complex as many academics like to think. It is simply about not having money.

But this concept of poverty is far removed from the realities on the ground, for it confuses the symptoms of poverty with its cause. It is not simply an issue of not having cash. This problem is complex and institutional. It perpetuates itself within a system built on decades of flawed government policy and colonial rule. It thrives in an environment where those who have the most power have far more privileges–social and economic. Until there is an active effort to dismantle this system, no amount of cash infusion can lift people out of poverty.

It is foolish, then, to adopt a model of humanitarian engineering based on the principles of the free market enterprise and expect positive social outcomes, for isn’t this the same system that has allowed the top 1% to own half of the world’s total wealth? Is this not the same system that denies people hospital admissions because they do not have enough money to pay? And isn’t this the same system that has destroyed rivers, oceans, mountains, and forests in the name of “progress?”

Mr. Mehta hopes to adopt a small-scale and more humane version of free market capitalism. The social entrepreneur, in this context, provides solutions to many social problems while simultaneously making profits from her enterprise. Not only does she sell a product, she also designs a business ecosystem where everybody profits. She’s optimistic that with enough profits, there will be more local entrepreneurs coming up with their own businesses. It’s a “win-win” solution–that is if you’re trying to throw more people into the poverty cliff.

It’s basic math, really. Why would a small-scale business thrive in a community where people have no money? And how would the social entrepreneur determine the price of her products? “Do not assume that there is a certain profit margin that you have to follow. Sell your products at the price that customers are willing to pay for,” Mr. Mehta argues. Thus, if the social entrepreneur made a product for Php 50 and she wanted to sell it at Php 70, but the locals could only afford Php 52, she would have no other choice but to yield. In this business model, instead of profits driving innovation, it is the satisfaction brought by the idea that one has solved a community problem.

The converse is much more striking and it exposes the contradictions of the neoliberal model and why it can’t be made humane. If the social entrepreneur made a product for Php 50 and she wanted to sell it at Php 70, but the locals could only afford Php 40, would she sell it at a much lower price? Profit lies at the heart of any business, no matter how hard people try to deodorize it, and one can never run an unprofitable business without running out of money. The social entrepreneur will be faced with two options–to abandon the community and look for communities that can afford her product or innovate and spend more money creating a cheaper product.

Here lies the problem. Why would a social entrepreneur spend more money creating a product that can give her less profits instead of just selling it to another community that can afford it when she could solve the same problem either way?

To solve the problem of limited aggregate capital, the only option would be to open the community to external investments so more money circulates within a community. But why would any investor want to spend her money on a community that cannot guarantee immediate returns to her shareholders? What would she gain from a community that lacks education and natural resources? To keep attracting more capital, communities would have to commodify every single basic necessity–food, water, energy, etc, to attract more social entrepreneurs. This essentially relieves the government of its mandate and privatizes social services in poor communities. In other words, poor people will have to pay for things that are already beyond their reach.

Social entrepreneurs give the government more reason to cut spending on public services. They are agents of neoliberalism masked as stewards of positive change. Why would the government choose to spend, when there’s already a private enterprise operating at a low cost? Poor people are thus faced with more uncertainty, as their future becomes subject to the whims of social entrepreneurs. Whether they can buy food for the next week depends if the social entrepreneur is still making profits.

Students taking HEED are also at risk of becoming manipulated by many unethical corporations. In a course that requires students to think and execute projects, you need seed funding, and that can either come from the government or from private entities. As the College of Engineering is no stranger to schmoozing with the most unethical companies just to get money, I strongly suspect that this will be the direction of HEED. And if you, the student, received large sums of money from company X, wouldn’t you feel beholden to them?

Corporate money doesn’t come without any strings attached. You’d have to advertise for them and pretend that what they’re doing with the environment and with their own labor force doesn’t matter. Take the case of mining engineering students who have no problem taking money from mining companies who are responsible for the murder of environmentalists, tribal leaders, and anti-mining activists. There was so much passion when Gina Lopez threatened the profits of their corporate masters. “Gina Lopez is not qualified to be DENR Secretary because she has no science-related degree.” Strangely there was no such outrage when a graduate of the military replaced her. “We’re also environmentalists,” they said. “We’re not trained to destroy the environment.” Such twisted and corrupt views are expected from trained dogs blinded by money. And this is what I fear will happen to HEED students who rely on corporate funding to complete this course.

Mr. Mehta tries to blur the line between sustainability and profiteering, arguing that there can never be a solution to a social problem unless it is profitable. His model is not based on compassion, but on greed. And greed is what fuels the neoliberal engine. So long as this engine runs, social entrepreneurs cannot pretend that what they are doing is ethical. On the contrary, profiteering is never sustainable. It relies on the expansionary logic of capitalism, the constant search for new markets, and the relentless pursuit of growth.

Humanitarian engineering was made not to profit off the suffering of the impoverished. It is meant to empower them, to make use of the resources around them using the skills we teach. We can never create jobs by using the same system that took away their jobs nor can we solve social problems by relying on the same system that created those same problems. Instead of teaching them greed, we must teach them common ownership and profit-sharing. This model has been successful in many parts of the world.

As neoliberalism becomes more unpopular in the West, it will constantly try to rebrand itself to deceive more countries in the developing world. Sometimes it’s called austerity and many times it’s called structural adjustment programmes. Worse, in the past and even today, it is called “freedom.” Yes, the economic system that favors the wealthy and robs from the poor calls itself freedom. I do not know how it would call itself in the future. Depends on the place, I guess. Who knows, in UP Diliman it may soon be called Humanitarian Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Design.

Credits to marketoonist.com for the cartoon.

 

A Day in the Life of an Eccentric

(This is for my creative writing class under Professor Wendell Capili)

He’s been called many names before. Strange, serious, introvert, shy. Perhaps the one that marked the most was eccentric. I never really understood why. I’ve known him for a few years now, but I couldn’t see anything different about him. He talks to people, hangs out with friends, and listens to music. All the things every other adult does. But he does seem to be a bit private so stalking him can be quite a challenge. It probably has something to do with his daily routine.

In the morning, you can tell when he’s awake because you can hear the sound of dropping coins. It always happens at around 7am. He’s probably counting how much money he has left. I like to count my money too, because I once had to skip dinner when I found that I had no more money for the next day. It’s a natural response. Probably the same experience happened to him. Between 8 and 10am, there’s no sound coming from his room. I go back to what I love to do for my morning routine, which is to watch a movie. I do like watching my own collection of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Toy Story. They bring back fond memories of my childhood. Halfway into the movie, he’s pacing in his room. Maybe, he’s preparing to leave. Quite odd that he doesn’t leave in the morning for breakfast. He must have stores of food in his room just like me.

Then he goes out at around 11 am, just in time for lunch. We seem to have the same taste for clothes. He always wears shirts that complement the color of his pants. Often, he has on a blue shirt and grey chinos. But I can also see him with white shirts and brown pants. I have similar clothes in my closet, although I sometimes wear light-colored shorts to match my dark-colored tees. He never leaves our apartment without cologne on. Just like me. Anything eccentric yet? Not for me.

He’s back in his room before noon strikes, always with takeout food. I don’t know how he manages to return so quickly. Maybe he buys his food a few blocks away. I go out, too, to buy food from the shopping center. Lola Lita’s carinderia is my favorite because they always cook ampalaya and sometimes fried fish. Going back, I have to ride a trike and an Ikot but we always arrive at the same time. Probably just a coincidence.

Perhaps his eccentricity lies in his afternoon routine. He laughs so loudly when he eats. He probably watches comedy shows on Youtube. I wonder what it is. It doesn’t bother me, though, because I laugh so hard at Vice Ganda’s jokes while I’m watching It’s Showtime.

Evening. Probably this time, I can prove that he’s really an eccentric. I can hear him watching The Big Bang Theory on some days. I know it’s a popular TV show and I have a complete collection of episodes myself. I watch it when I’m bored. When he’s done, he goes down to get some water and leaves his room slightly opened. He then writes something while listening to a podcast. I wonder what that is. I have my own favorite podcasts. I listen to podcasts on politics, religion, and feminism. Maybe that’s what he’s listening to. I also love writing for my own blog, just like millions of other people.  There’s nothing eccentric about any of those, still.

Could the answer lie in his social media accounts? Should I add him? Personally, I don’t like adding people I do not know. He only has 228 friends so he probably follows the same rule. His Twitter is curious, though. Ten thousand tweets and only 4 followers. And we both started in 2009.  How can this guy be weird when he goes along with what’s popular?

Evening passes and I’m left with no answer. What is it about him that makes people say he’s eccentric? We both use social media and we both have the same taste for clothes. We both count our money and we both watch the same shows. We both love to write and we both listen to podcasts. After all this time, I see nothing eccentric. Could it be that we are both eccentric or have I simply been observing myself?

 

 

Rethinking Love: A Review of Maleficent

(This is for my creative writing class under Professor Wendell Capili)

Can you remember that time your parents told you that Santa Claus wasn’t real? The look on your face when you found out that it wasn’t an obese, magical grandpa who sneaked into your house at Christmas night who gave you your presents? You probably don’t. The movie, Maleficent, a remake of the classic Disney movie, Sleeping Beauty, might help us rekindle something close to that feeling.

It was out of spite that the beautiful Aurora was cursed by the soulless witch. From her castle of thorns surrounded by a green mist, she waited for the day that mankind would bear her wrath. She was the epitome of hatred and the embodiment of all things evil. On the opposite, King Stefan was cast as a benevolent, charming king beloved by all of his subjects. He was king worthy of the title. At least that is what we are told.

Yet what this movie shows is not just a retelling but a complete overhaul of the character’s intentions. It challenges our pre-conceived notions of villain and protagonist and muddles the distinction between good and bad. Maleficent, after all, may not have been who we thought she was.

Born as a fairy in the magical land of the Moors, Maleficent knew nothing of hatred. She was a friend to all and an enemy to no one. She embodied the spirit of any child—gutsy, curious, and compassionate. Innocent to the realities outside of the Moors, Maleficent’s heart was pure.

But fate has a way of playing with people. It pushes us into an endless cycle of betrayal and failure that we sometimes think to ourselves: What’s the point of being nice when we only get envy and hatred in return? Slowly we grow numb to the hatred around us. We become desensitized to the harsh realities of the world that love also becomes a wishful thought. Worse, it drives many of us to do the most terrible things. The story of Maleficent may not be so different for you and me.

Vengeful for the treachery of the man she loved, the once virtuous Maleficent seized control of the Moors and vowed to avenge herself. Darkness covered the lands with large walls of thorns separating the Moors from the kingdom as she swore to spare it from human touch.  It was on the christening of King Stefan’s first child that she did her most evil deed, casting an irrevocable curse that she would soon regret.

The movie digresses from traditional storylines, however. Far from what audiences would expect, it skips the sudden change of Maleficent from evil to good as its ending. Instead it immediately directs the movie to this transformation in Maleficent’s character and prepares us for a bigger plot twist.  As soon as the baby was hidden by three clumsy fairies in the forest, Maleficent ceases to be the malevolent fairy. She sends Diaval, a crow-turned-human assistant, to deliver food and even saved the child Aurora from falling into the cliff. Barely halfway into the movie, Maleficent’s character has changed massively. Despite the authors attempt to paint her as evil through poorly-inserted scenes of attacking soldiers, Maleficent is no longer the same fairy that cursed Aurora.

Her closeness to the grown-up princess would soon come to a pause, as the latter finds that it was Maleficent who cursed her. On the day of her return of Stefan, the same anger and feeling of betrayal that once consumed Maleficent, now afflicted Aurora. She would soon end up pricking the spindle while inside the castle. Here lies the most captivating part of the story and it is a testament to how forcefully it confronts traditional norms. The prince, whom Aurora barely spoke to in the forest, could not wake her up with his kiss. It was Maleficent’s kiss—a kiss of longing and of friendship. It was a kiss far more powerful and more meaningful. Needless to say, this movie challenges our traditional notion of love. It shows a love that is deeper than the bond between two lovers. It is a more profound love which we cannot control. It comes at times when we expect it least.

It is a bitter irony to see that love both hurts and heals. For the same love that drove Maleficent to do evil things also saved the life of Aurora. It was love that broke into the wall of hate that love itself has helped build. Indeed, it sheds light even in the deepest caves or the wildest moors. Walls of bricks and cements cannot withstand love’s strength.

But Maleficent is bound for a more fatal trial as King Stefan has prepared a trap. A huge iron ring falls on her as she brings Aurora to the castle’s exit. Soldiers attack her as the deadly metal burned her skin. Even as a dragon, Diaval couldn’t save his friend. Aurora accidentally entering the room where Maleficent’s wings were kept was the movie’s turning point. By then, it was clear that Maleficent would regain her wings right before Stefan could stab his former lover. It had a more profound meaning, for it symbolized Maleficent’s liberation from the chains of hatred and anger.

The roles have been reversed. Maleficent was now the antagonist and Stefan the protagonist. Despite Maleficent sparing his life as they ended on top of the tower, Stefan plunged on her until they fell off and Stefan met his terrible end. It was not Maleficent who killed Stefan, though. It was his hatred and selfishness. Indeed, anger clouds our reasoning and pushes us to do things that would harm us further. Once it is let loose, anger leaps out of the fences of our own moral codes.

Maleficent’s story is our story, too. While movies of old have obsessed with dividing characters into good and bad, Maleficent acknowledges a simple fact that everybody can relate to—that morality is relative.  The world cannot be divided between those who are good and those who are evil, when each of us has both forces present. When we see people do bad things, it is not simply a product of a fleeting idea. It is an emotional response which many of us cannot escape.  It is up to us to accept this reality and to train ourselves to always seek the good side despite the challenges and failures we face.

Overall, Maleficent is a refreshing movie in an age dominated by dull good vs. evil superhero plots. It delves more into the human character and the complexities of the world. Far from casting plots in an oversimplified light, Maleficent works with the world’s contradictions and creates a rich story of love and magical adventure.

 

Dear Progressives, Now What?

(This was my essay right after the November 2016 US Presidential Elections)

What should have been a significant moment in America’s history turned out to be a nightmare coming to life.

We lost, and it hurts deeply.

It hurts to see a woman who has dedicated her career to public service lose to a person with a history of sexual assault, racial discrimination, and who revels in paranoia, hatred, and bigotry.

More so, it hurts that what could have been an easy victory was made impossible by the media’s false equivalencies and focus on non-issues. What about her emails? What’s the color of her pantsuit? Is her voice too shrill? What’s in her Wall St. speeches? Is she healthy enough? Why isn’t she trustworthy? But what the hell is in her emails?

Never mind that her opponent hasn’t paid any taxes for years or that he’s been sued for child rape. He’s operated a scam university, sued for racial discrimination, and filed for bankruptcy many times. Never mind those.

I guess the media has a collective distaste for strong women. This isn’t their first blunder though. Princess Diana dealt with a similar nuisance and suffered a more horrific outcome.

Seeing Hillary’s concession speech, it seemed that it was a turning point in her political career. Like many women, her best efforts weren’t enough. Reaching for that high glass ceiling is made twice as difficult when there’s a sexist, macho culture holding you back.

But it is her choice to make if she decides to leave politics. After everything that she’s done, she deserves a time for herself and her grandkids. It is not waving a white flag of surrender. It’s more of a giant middle finger to the idiots who voted against her who will have their healthcare coverage dismantled.

A role model to me and millions of people around the world, Hillary will go down in history as one of the strongest advocates of female equality. And I’m honored to have known her in my lifetime. To the legitimate 45th leader of the Free World, thank you very much.

I can understand why many non-Americans cannot relate to this election, and who probably think that whoever was elected would not affect their lives. Others who like to talk about international politics are even dismissed as elitists. But at a time when trade spans thousands of miles and crosses different borders, the political climate in one country adversely affects the others. Political decisions have to be made with full consideration of their global effects.

Lots of questions circled my head as I was grappling with Trump’s victory. How the hell did this happen? Why were all the polls wrong? What if he starts a nuclear war with North Korea? Who will protect America’s minorities? Will NATO break down? Generally, what will happen to the progressive movement?

I thought about all the wonderful people I’ve met online who benefited so much from the last 8 years. Gay marriage, abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, DACA, the Dreamer Act, literally all of those issues and thousands more, will turn rightwards. And with a majority in both chambers and the Supreme Court having three possible vacancies, America is about to enter an age of conservative realignment. No checks and balances.

Nothing. No one will be there to stop them.

What I expected to be an age of renewed New Deal fervor became a conservative curse. There will be four years of the most regressive conservative policies ever implemented since the New Deal. Abortion rights will be attacked. Don’t ask, Don’t tell will be reinstated. Trans-women will be arrested for using the female bathroom. Undocumented immigrants who were born in the US will be deported. Social security will be privatized and Obamacare will be thrown into the ash heap of history. Less regulations on carbon and more black people will be kept from the voting booths. Overnight, issues that took decades to win hung in the balance. On November 8, America spat on the graves of Martin Luther King, Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, LBJ, and Susan B. Anthony.

Wanton selfishness and utter cruelty are at the core of any conservative ideology, which is why I have a personal dislike for people who advocate for a free, unregulated market. Deep-down, this desire for economic freedom is driven by nothing but pure corporate greed, and a worldview that is detached from reality. Of course, there’s also the religious wackos and their sheer stupidity on every issue. Combine the two and you get the Republican party. They used to be a fringe party but now they’re infesting the entire planet starting with the most powerful countries.

Many more global issues are at stake in 2017 with the rise of the Neo-fascists. Will the Syrian War ever end with the dangerous alliance between Donald Trump, Putin, and Assad? Will the Baltic states be attacked by Russia over the next four years? Will Germany and France elect far-right leaders? Will NATO survive? Will Putin use Trump to rebuild the Soviet Union? Will Iran be a friend or foe ?

The current trend towards authoritarianism is alarming everyone, even survivors of the Holocaust and veterans from World War 2. This is unprecedented. The Western Alliance remains uncertain with the US being led by a Russian puppet. The West virtually relies on Angela Merkel now to make the most important decisions. She must take the most cautious approach with Trump, given his relations to Putin.

American liberals were caught off guard and Germany and France should learn from this huge mistake if they want to contain the spread of the hateful rhetoric of the far-right. No one deserves blame, save for the non-voters. This should have been our election. Our victory. They were divided, we weren’t. Their nominee was hated by many sane politicians, ours wasn’t. We focused on issues, they focused on the emails. Still, they managed to breach the blue, liberal firewall. It’s like that scene from Lord of the Rings. They thought the wall was safe but it broke down when the Orcs bombed the culvert underneath. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania weren’t supposed to turn red. Not by a mile. Not one poll ever said that. But they did.

It is up to the progressive movement now to quickly reorganize. Use that frustration towards building a forceful coalition. AFL-CIO must fight back union suppression by one of the most anti-worker president in US history, Planned Parenthood must push harder to protect women’s rights to make personal reproductive decisions, NAACP should challenge all forms of voter suppression in court and ACLU must protect the civil liberties of every minority who is discriminated by Trump and his supporters.

At this dark point of our history, the progressive movement has no other option. Either we blame one another or we fight back. Trump will never be a legitimate American president. Not now, not ever. The progressive movement has had many setbacks since the slave trade, but we fought back and won. Every chance he has of implementing his disastrous policies, Democrats must step in and obstruct. This is not someone to be taken lightly. This is a vengeful man who is already drunk with power.Democrats must bring back the 50-state strategy to get a veto-proof Senate supermajority in 2018, and nominate a more radical progressive for the presidency in 2020.

It is time to set aside our differences with the far-left. As Martin Niemoller poetically argued,

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The global progressive movement does not end with this painful defeat.

We will stand our ground and fight back.

Liberalism and Islamic Reform

(For context, this was posted before the 2016 US Elections)

Donald Trump’s aggressive rhetoric against the Muslims and the immediate backlash from his own party is a great sign for liberals that the party of racists, bigots, and misogynists is facing an imminent collapse (in case it did not happen yet). But the Democrats should not be rejoicing just yet. Not when it has within its own ranks a strain that, when left unchecked, will threaten its core message of toleration and freedom of speech.

They’re called regressive leftists, liberals who are staunchly politically correct that they would choose silence over honest debates, thinking that it would somehow solve an already huge epidemic. Like the dumb evangelicals opposed to the RH Law who believe that silence over the idea of sexual intercourse among millennials would reduce teenage pregnancy, these liberals hold dangerous, counterproductive ideas. And they must be stopped–not through shaming, but by stretching their arguments down to their logical limits.

In the wake of the Paris shootings, they were out in full force trying to brand Islam as a religion of peace. And I get their intent. In a world of bigotry, too often, it is easy to associate the actions of an extremist with his nationality, skin color, or his culture. In the process, innocent lives become the victims of discrimination and are forced to answer for the mistakes of people whose values they don’t share. Muslim Americans feared for their lives right after the 9/11 attacks.

As a steadfast liberal atheist, I join the voices of other liberals condemning any form of discrimination in their fight for civil rights. Gays must be allowed to marry. LGBT couples must have the same government benefits that heterosexual couples receive. Minorities should not be disenfranchised from the voting process. Women must have the right to make their own reproductive choices, including birth control and abortion. However, I disagree with liberal apologists that Islam is a religion of peace.

Before I move forward explaining my position and arguing why I’m the real liberal on this issue, I believe it would be wise to run through the fundamental assumptions that many regressive leftists think we forget.

  1. Not all Muslims are terrorists.
  2. Muslims do not deserve discrimination.
  3. The Quran includes both good and bad verses.
  4. There is no Muslim pope.
  5. There is no correct interpretation of Islam.

Many times in the past I have verbally attacked religions as regressive, barbaric institutions that must be resisted by modern societies, and though I remain critical of their pernicious beliefs, I, as a liberal, do not want Muslims to suffer discrimination because of their faith.

This is actually where majority of liberals get overwhelmed. It’s hard for them to reconcile two apparently contradicting positions. How is it that I want to protect their rights while simultaneously insulting their beliefs? Understandably, this confusion rests on a central paradox within liberal philosophy.

And I’m impressed that we have reached this far whilst conservatives are still coming out of the Dark Ages, or perhaps an earlier era.

The paradox of intolerance contends that unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. Regressive leftists, in their lust for assimilation, have fallen for this trap and are indirectly tolerating those who are spreading intolerance.

Discussions concerning religious doctrines fail to meet their intended purpose because these liberals forget one necessary distinction. Religion is different from race or gender. Religion is a set of ideas. Race and gender are not. You are not born with a religion. You get indocrinated to it. Thus, it is ridiculous to call us racists when the entire Muslim community is made up of people from different races.

When I say that I don’t want Muslims to suffer discrimination, it’s not that I would no longer criticize their beliefs. Far from it. I believe they must not be victims of physical abuse because they go to mosques. I believe they should not be forced to eat haram foods. It is not discrimination when I tell you that your beliefs are based on a bronze age myth. Your right to speak out is not diminished when I voice my opinion. Your humanity is not diminished when I insult your ideas. That is the beauty of free speech. You can respond to critics of your religion and tell them why they are wrong. We avert physical confrontations with dialogues and we answer threats with civility.

Freedom of speech is threatened when we allow these liberals to silence secular and Muslim reformists for fear of offending religious sensibilities. Silence does not bring change. We can’t end climate change by being silent about it. Nor do we end religious extremism by tiptoeing around it. Let’s not forget that thousands have been killed by dangerous blasphemy laws in many countries. Being offended by speech is very relative. Anyone can be offended by anything. If we atheists controlled one country and imprisoned religious people because we are offended by them, would these liberals come to our defense? Of course not! The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had the full (I’ll repeat: FULL) right to offend anyone on any subject. Why must they be blamed for those attacks when the Muslim extremists could just have made cartoons making fun of the cartoonists?

This arbitrary nature warns us that basing punishment on having been offended by a speech opens a number of loopholes that violate our basic human rights. Unfortunately, this is where many liberals in the West are heading.

Secular icons like Maryam Namazie, Bill Maher, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have been disinvited from university speeches for fear that they might incite hatred against Muslim students within the campus. What they often overlook is that these three aren’t really against all Muslims; they’re simply calling out horrifying practices that are widespread in many Islamic nations. Quick to deny any link between Islam and barbaric practices like stoning women and beheading gays, their rush for toleration has silenced the voices of Muslims and reformists who would otherwise condemn them.

No, I am not suggesting that all Muslims believe apostates should be killed or gays should be beheaded. But by denying any link between Islam and these heinous crimes, they have diverted the discourse on terrorism down to a path where it’s becoming impossible to complete the whole puzzle.

Liars like Reza Aslan like to call Islam a force for good and in the next breath suggest that religion is whatever people bring to it. “People of faith insert their values into their Scriptures, reading them through the lens of their own cultural, ethnic, nationalistic and even political perspectives,” he would say. But isn’t religion a part of our culture? Isn’t religion a part of our politics? To suggest that culture and politics precede religion is outright dishonesty.

True, the situation in the Middle East is far too complex. It’s fueled in part by decades of Western intervention. That’s not to say that Western forces are the sole cause. Muslims are beheading other Muslims over the correct interpretation of the Quran. That fact alone should tell you that Islam is not a religion of peace. It is violent not because everyone of Muslim faith wants to kill non-Muslims or fellow Muslims, but because of the deep divide that is caused by its ambiguous, sacred book.

Going back to assumptions 4 and 5, we must not make the mistakeof arguing that it is the literal interpretation that is the true version of Islam. There is no such thing. At best, we can say that Islam is a diverse religion with far too many sects. However, we must not go so far as to believe that Islam is a vacuum that is meaningless without interpretation, like what Reza Aslan argues. It is not. Such a loose and careless disposition essentially blurs the lines that separate Muslims from Christians,Buddhists, and Jews. When we allow any interpretation of the Quran and declare all of them to be simultaneously correct, we reach a prime contradiction that is far too simple to deny. For instance, Muslim 1 can say that the Earth is the center of the solar system while Muslim 2 can argue that it is the sun. Both cannot be correct. Both can never be correct.

I try to distance myself from Bill Maher on reading Islam based on the number of violent people. It’s important to give a fair and balanced view about Islam and he fails at this when he argues that Islam is violent based on a significant number of Muslims who are violent or who subscribe to violent beliefs. For one, there remains millions of Muslims who are respectful of other people’s rights and believe that everyone must be free to practice their own religion. Two, numbers change too frequently. Suppose we reached the point where the number of violent Muslims equaled the number of nonviolent Muslims. Whose interpretation is correct, then? I maintain, though, that Islam is a violent religion but not for the reasons that Maher frequently points out on Real Time.

There’s a practical reason why other liberals are doing this. They don’t want Muslims to feel disconnected from society and eventually become ISIS recruits. That’s a salient point. We don’t want that to happen either. That is why we’re clearly pointing out that we must allow the voices of Muslim activists who are calling for a reform within the religion to be heard.

It does not help if we call them bigots who are disrespectful to the Islamic religion. Or even suggest that they’re not real Muslims. What they’re saying is that the Quran’s many interpretations breeds extremists and until they agree on the fallibility of this book, groups like ISIL will continue to grow.

If we follow the regressive leftists argument to evade any criticism of Islam because it might make more terrorists, then aren’t we implicitly saying that there is indeed a problem with their faith? When we reinforce this notion that the Quran can never be criticized in any way, aren’t we bowing to the demands of extremists?

Strangely, there is agreement on both sides that Islam needs to be reformed. As to how that’s consistent with their belief that jihadists have nothing to do with Islam baffles me.

Regressive leftists have to stop pretending that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam. You are not in any position to declare what the correct version should be, nor am I, which means that all interpretations must be taken into account.

Maybe if you actually listen to what they say in beheading videos, you’ll find that their actions are in fact religiously motivated. There are a lot of Islamic laws and doctrines too that concern me that violate human rights. You know that.

Criticism of an idea is different from criticism of the person who holds that idea. You should know that.

When you build a religion based on a book with hundreds of contradictions, you are bound to face conflicts and wars. That’s the history of Christianity, Judaism, and many others.

Liberalism, for its part, has contributed to the relative modernization of these religions through freedom of speech. As liberals, why are you depriving the Muslim world of this same opportunity?