Are We Liberals Afraid to Criticize Islam?

Hello, Secular Humanists!

This is different. But it is an attempt to stay in touch during trying times. After you read this post and watch the video, please, please share some comments! You can even comment on comments! That’s what blogs are for! 

Today’s “program” has morphed through several editions on its way to your screen today. This current version will focus on how we secularists should regard Islam. After 9/11, it was important to prevent attacks on Muslims who meant us no harm. But have we since become afraid to criticize Islam for fear of offending Muslims? To start with, I’m going to give you background on how I became interested in the challenge Islam poses to liberals in the West.

About ten years ago when I was living in the hinterlands of Skagit County, my community found itself in the midst of an uproar over Islam. During a lesson on the evils of bullying, a local teacher used Hitler as an example of a bully. But she didn’t stop there. She went on to tell her students that his most vile acts were inspired by Muslim clerics. 

As it turned out, the father of one of her students was Muslim. When this student discussed the day’s lesson with her parents that evening, her father did not call the teacher, or the principal/superintendent. Rather, he called CAIR-WA, the local chapter of the Council for American Islamic Relations, a national group with a somewhat clouded history that aggressively advocates for Muslims in the US. CAIR sent a letter to the superintendent advising the district to invest in CAIR-sponsored education about Islam for all staff in order to prevent a lawsuit by CAIR. 

The fallout from the bullying lesson lasted most of a year. It was intense. As it happened, a friend and I were publishing a community blog at the time, so we wrote a number of articles about this ongoing challenge for our friends and neighbors. I plunged into research about the connection between the Nazi hierarchy and Islamist clerics, and yes, there was a connection. I found that fundamentalist churches in our neighborhood were sharing videos about the connection between Nazis and the Islamists. 

At one point, a church invited an organization called “ACT for America!” to send a speaker. Not only did the speaker come, but many ACT activists from far away descended on our town. The church was overflowing on the evening of the event as the speaker vividly described the ways Islamists are working to force Sharia law on America. Once again, I tried to fact check some of her claims and found that there was an element of truth in them. I am not worried that I will be required to don a burqa anytime soon, but I do believe that there are people who would like to force me to do so.

So what should we liberals and progressives and secularists and humanists do about about Islam, about Muslims, about Ex-Muslims? One thing we should not do is hide from the truth. In our desire to be welcoming, and inclusive, and protect our Muslim neighbors, we must not deny the misogyny of Islam; we must accept that Islam does not tolerate apostasy. People who leave the faith are in danger even here.  We must grasp that the term Islamophobia is a trap for free-thinkers. If liberals fear being labeled  Islamophobic, we leave the acknowledgement of the harms of Islam to the far right which cares nothing about human rights for Muslims. We must be willing to criticize Islam while also caring for our Muslim neighbors. We need to stand up for our values against people who don’t share them. 

Now let’s listen to Sarah Haider, a leader of Ex-Muslims of North America, explain her struggle to keep liberals honest. She is speaking to a Secular Student Association, as part of EMNA’s “Normalizing Dissent” tour to campuses across the country. This clip is from August, 2019.

2 thoughts on “Are We Liberals Afraid to Criticize Islam?

  1. Grace, I perused this briefly and then stopped. I have wonderful Muslim friends who have been busy like the rest of us living very full lives. Some of this smacks of radicalism by tactics such as bringing in those from outside the community to create a particular scene of solidarity. Frankly my friends would never be part of that. One of the best compliments I got was from my friend who said I would be a good Muslim.

    Time to sleep now…

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I just re-read my lead-in to the video trying to figure out what was misleading. My goal was to encourage liberals to understand that the term Islamophobia conflates criticism of Islam, the religion, with fear-mongering regarding Muslims, the people. People need to be judged on their own merits. Although your friends likely share many of your values, they might still be intolerant of apostates. Perhaps not. Often we are afraid to even ask for fear of causing offense, and that, in itself, is a problem. I want people of all stripes to be free to leave any religion. I hope you’ll bravely watch the video to the end.

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