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?