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?