My name is Liz, and I am agnostic.
When it comes to topics of god’s existence, I acknowledge that I have no way of knowing. There is no evidence of god’s existence, although absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I have found myself drawing the ire, regularly, of the religious and atheists alike, as I am a no more than a “fence sitter” to them. How can I not have a strict, passionate, unwavering opinion on such a big topic? Except, I do. In discussions of what many refer to as “organized religion,” I reject all theories. If there is a god, capable of creating all we see and much more that we don’t, would it not be presumptuous of me, as the science project of an all-powerful deity, to believe that I could ever fully understand this being’s existence, form, motivations, and wishes? Our minds have proven to be great tools of discovery, but also gardens of ignorance. We are incapable of understanding much of what is in front of us at this very moment. How could we possibly fully understand that which has never appeared to us?
I can say all of this freely, although not without debate or criticism, because I live in the United States of America. I can say that Christianity is hypocritical, for example. I can remind you that Jesus’ death probably did not negate the Old Testament, because you still complain about anyone removing Decalogue – the 10 Commandments, which were introduced in, yes, the Old Testament – from government buildings. I’m free to say that and more, with any amount of snark that I desire, because this is America. And yet, it appears to end there.
While religions are indisputably ideology, they have also become synonymous with certain demographics of people. A lazy correlation, no doubt, but a correlation that has been established nonetheless. In truth, no religion is a race, ethnicity, or gender. Religion is an idea. And we’re supposed to be allowed to challenge ideas. But everyone is so scared of what some of us might say, they think that they need to preemptively”defend” others’ ideas against ours.
Most common today in the US is the defense against Islamophobia. “Islamophobia” is defined as the “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” Although the exact phrasing varies across different publications, the existence of “politics” is nearly always present. When discussing Islam, most people fail to differentiate between religious Islam and political Islam. The right, in their criticism, focus almost exclusively on the political aspect. The left, in their defense, focus almost exclusively on the religion, as well as the assumed race of the believers, when stating that any criticism of the ideology is Islamophobic. However, the definition of Islamophobia accounts for both: Islam as a religion and/or Islam as a political force.
Political Islam is the marriage of political systems, religious beliefs, and cultures, where secular institutions are inferior to religious ones. Religious authority dominates governing institutions. Instead of a religious belief – which can be, and typically is, amended to suit each individual believer’s specific interpretation of an ancient text – political Islam is religious law, where a government invokes ancient text in order to enforce strict adherence to the outdated customs, expectations, and teachings of a “supreme authority,” with any deviation resulting in shockingly violent consequences. In Western countries, our laws as secular societies are not dictated to us by the invocations of an almighty god of questionable existence, but rather by the common sense (sometimes) of man and the evolution of society over many, many years.
Arifa Bibi was stoned to death in 2013 for the crime of possessing a cell phone. Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death this year for the crime of renouncing Islam. 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in 2008 for the crime of being raped. Do you hate this? Congratulations, you are Islamophobic.
With political Islam, faith is used as a substitute for reason, and punishments are handed out based on that faith. For this reason, political Islam is not able to be reformed sufficiently for Western integration, and never will be.
And now, in saying all that I’ve said, I too have met the criteria for being labeled “Islamophobic.”
Aside from the political aspects, Islam is the second largest religion in the world at this exact moment. If current trends continue, it will equal Christianity by about 2050, and surpass it by about 2070. And you’re not allowed to dislike it. Even if politics were to be entirely removed from consideration tomorrow, there is still a shocking limitation on the ability to question, criticize, and dislike one of the most prominent religions in the world without being branded a bigot, or even be punished for voicing your opinions.
Recently, The Muslim Student Association at San Diego State University joined a growing number of student groups, which span across nearly 80 colleges and universities, by issuing their own demand list. The list, which includes eight total demands of the school’s administration, students, and even US leaders, includes the introduction of “a zero tolerance policy,” which would explicitly forbid “Islamophobic speech and actions.” Similar demands have become common among protests within higher learning institutions.
This doesn’t end on campus, either. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has been called “Islamophobic,” despite being a vocal critic of not only Islam, but also other major religions. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was born into a Muslim family in Somalia and, as a young child, was subjected to female genital mutilation, has also been labeled “Islamophobic” for pointing to the violent practices present in Islam and daring to suggest that Islam needs reformation. Salon even suggested that her speech was “dangerous” and her thoughts “twisted.” Numerous former Muslims united under the hashtag #ExMuslimBecause on Twitter, sharing their reasons for leaving the religion, and were promptly labeled “problematic,” “hateful,” and yes, “Islamophobic.”
Politicians, the media, and social justice advocates have pledged their allegiance to the “fight Islamophobia” camp. But fighting “Islamophobia” means fighting thoughts, speech, discussion, debate, and healthy dissent. It means fighting progress and growth. It means fighting understanding and disagreement. Many, myself included, believe that Islam as a religion needs reformation in order to be able to coexist with our society. How is it to be reformed if no one is allowed to point to the areas in which change is needed for fear of having their speech silenced or risk being publicly branded a bigot? Criticism of Islam as a religion is no different from criticism of Christianity. Criticism of Islam as a political force is no different from criticism of Dictatorships.
The immediate correlation between the criticism and dislike of Islam and the term “Islamophobia” suggests that people, particularly in the West, are not mature enough to handle others questioning their chosen beliefs. In removing the ability to openly criticize and question violent aspects of Islam, as both a religion and a political system, the religion itself is reduced to archaic texts and practices in the minds of critics. If critics of Islam are somehow wrong, they will never know it. Closing off the conversation closes off both questions and answers.
Acting in violence, or attempting to get others to act in violence, is bad. But disliking something is pretty much the most American practice that a person can participate in.
Photo by istock/Getty Images
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