The Arab Spring of 2010 seemed a major blow to Islamic fundamentalism to many of us who lacked an understanding of the nature of the dictatorships under which they lived. Unable to install our own puppet governments in those countries, the U.S. was disheartened to see Islamists take over in countries like Tunisia and Egypt; both of which lived under more or less secular dictatorships. While it would have been tremendously unwise to identify as an atheist or Jew in those countries, Christians were welcome(though marginalized) and women had a voice. Women have become increasingly silenced since the new democratically elected governments have taken over. The real democratic nature of said takeover isn’t really clear at this time.
Flying in the face of the new Islamist regime, Amina Tyler posted pictures of herself topless on Facebook with slogans like, “Fuck your morals,” and, “My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone’s honor,” down her bare chest. A clear statement to be sure. After the Tunisian government called for her to be stoned to death and rumors of her being committed to a mental institution, the radical feminist group FEMEN famous for staging topless demonstrations to attack any hint of oppression against women – showed their support for Amina by running topless through the streets of several European countries with such slogans as “Fuck Islamism” and “Free Amina” painted across their breasts. It achieved worldwide attention and succeeded at least in annoying Muslim women. A possible misfire and according to the coverage of counter-protests by Muslim women, completely misunderstood.
Jezebel, one of my favorite websites (really), had an article speaking not so much of the bravery of these women facing arrest (or worse) to support one of their own, but of the solipsistic Muslimah Pride counter-protest that was conducted online. There was a running theme among Muslimah Pride movement online of attacking FEMEN for telling Muslim women what to do. None came out in support of women anywhere speaking their minds beyond that of pride in their hijab. There was not one sign, tweet, or Facebook post decrying the barbaric suggestion of stoning a woman for writing a slogan on her tits. No, the real oppressors, according to them, are the women who launched a demonstration against the appalling treatment of women in Islamic countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Jezebel, jumping on the multiculturalism bandwagon, decided to ultimately side with Muslimah Pride; and while they did mention the need to support Amina Tyler, almost completely glossed over the horrid oppression of Islamist governments.
The Jezebel piece accused FEMEN of using an Islamophobic approach, employing racial stereotypes against Muslims in order to make their point, as evidenced by one protester wearing a fake beard and turban. That beards are required of Muslim men in the strictest practice of Islam isn’t mentioned. Muslimah Pride, and the Jezebel piece, were focused on how wrong it was for FEMEN to speak for Muslim women. In reality, the only woman they were speaking for was Amina Tyler. Those who are fine with having no choices in life are perfectly welcome to live as they wish (it needs to be noted that the women posting Muslimah Pride pictures don’t live in Islamist regimes). They will be ideological enemies to those of us who speak out for the women who want a life beyond the demands of fathers and husbands. When young women take to the streets to decry the dreadful silencing of another woman under Islamic law, they aren’t concerned with the feelings of Muslim women living in free countries who make the free choice to wear headgear. If you wish to use nonsense terms like, “Islamophobia” to describe us, so be it.
Islamophobia has been increasingly used recently in a backlash against Richard Dawkin’s, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens. These three “New Atheists” and their disciples are the targets of heavy criticism for allegedly promoting bigotry against Muslims. And most of this criticism comes from liberals who might support them if they just stuck to attacking the Christian majority. But Islam is a minority faith in the West and we must protect minorities no matter what. Even if their ideas are silly. And let us not discuss what happens if any religion is allowed political power. This is why Islamophobia is a bullshit term. It’s all too often used to claim racism against Muslims when that racism is merely criticism or ridicule of a poisonous ideology One merely needs to understand that the suffix, “phobia” means fear or aversion. If used correctly, one could claim that I am Islamophobic, in that I don’t care for Islam; or for any religion in fact.
While I can’t speak much to Harris’ writings, I can say I’ve read some really bad ideas from him and a few good. His article in defense of profiling at the airport, for instance, is almost as ridiculous as Dawkins’ idea of getting atheists to call themselves Brights. Ultimately while his language often leaves something to be desired, I’m okay with being lumped in with those like him. That is to say, people who value the passionate discussion of ideas, who feel that no ideas are sacred and certainly none are worth killing over.
I have no reason to believe that an angel spoke to Mohammed in the desert. I don’t think it ever happened. To my mind, it is ludicrous to follow the word of a man making such claims. Islam is an idea that is no more or less valid than Christianity, Hinduism, or Scientology. Longevity speaks nothing to validity. And while faith can be good for an individual using it to live a better life, any ideology that calls for the death of those who reject it is an ideology that is unworthy of respect. The same is true for a religion that demands death for apostates.
These concepts were not pulled out of thin air but from extensive polling done throughout the world. In Britain, nearly a third of young male Muslims want to live under Sharia law and believe that apostates should be put to death. Oddly, those numbers are drastically lower for Muslims over 55 years of age. Kids these days. Meanwhile, whenever a story breaks of cartoons depicting Mohammed, or some other heinous offense, tens of thousands of Muslims take to the streets to demand that the offending party be beheaded. That’s all apart from Islam’s atrocious treatment of women. There are many Muslim women who are happy in their religion and enjoy wearing the hijab. We’ll accept that as soon as women are no longer threatened or assaulted for trying to go a different way. Islam as currently practiced by far too many Muslims throughout the world is incompatible with civilization. To be perfectly clear, this does not mean that Muslims are evil, nor does it excuse the appalling treatment of some Muslims in this country. Muslims that we are likely to encounter throughout the day are just average folk who work hard and often appreciate the advantages of living in this country far more than you do. It is important to make that distinction. Far too many Americans see all Muslims as a threat.
Many Evangelicals in this nation would call for the wholesale killing of Muslims – and atheists for that matter – if they had the political power and majority. One need only consider the death threats to children who reject Christian teachings in school. The only thing that makes Christianity easier to deal with in the western world is that we have figured out that it’s a better life to not be executed for skipping church. But thinking that Christian fundamentalists don’t practice the same kind of barbarism shows a tremendous ignorance of world events. Many Christians think there’s a religious conflict between themselves and Muslims over whose God is better. To an atheist, it’s like watching a couple of headless men argue over who’s taller.