I Don’t Believe Andrew Brown Knows What He’s Talking About
When engaging with honest critics of Islam, the popular weapon of choice for apologists is often misrepresentation. Commonly we’ll read that those voicing concerns about the doctrines of Islam, and their earthly consequences do so only as a symptom of their bigotry towards all Muslims as people. One smear is rarely sufficient in this regard however, so a conflation with racism is seemingly necessary to give it that extra bite. Andrew Brown seems to be ticking all the boxes in his latest Guardian piece: ‘Why I don’t believe people who say they loathe Islam but not Muslims’
Yes, we are now essentially being told: “No, this is what you really think”. This is as lazy as it is dishonest.
As is now standard practice, the article treats us to an image of Sam Harris accompanied by a dubiously misleading quote1. Hey, did you know Sam Harris is critical of Islam and a genocidal fascist?– check. Seemingly playing quick and loose with the ‘How to disparage non believers Handbook’, Brown name drops Mao and Stalin early on too. To my disappointment, he fails to mention how ‘strident’ Richard Dawkins is anywhere in the article, which is sloppy.
Yet, I suppose it is true that I loathe Islam. Any ideology that claims to be the unalterable word of a perfect creator is fairly obnoxious to me, and I claim the right to say so as often as I please 2.
Then there’s the other claims found within Islamic doctrine. And they’re not good news either. The truly repugnant teachings about women, apostasy, male honour, homosexuality, Jihad and Martyrdom are particularly loathsome in my view. Why can’t we talk about these things and their demonstrable consequences objectively? Sure, we can also have an honest discussion about interpretation too. I dare say I could even manage it without crying: ‘bigot!’ or ‘racist’. But I would submit that when all’s said and done it’s not really the critic’s ‘misreading’ of these scriptures that’s the problem here, is it?
Muslims are people. 1.6 billion3 different people to be precise. None of whose beliefs and opinions about the world can be adequately encapsulated within a singular term such as ‘Muslim’. Muslims are not a monolithic bloc – they don’t all behave in the same manner, believe the same things, to the same extent, in the same way, with the same conviction. Knowing this – loathing Muslims, simply by virtue of them being Muslim makes no sense to me whatsoever. Islam is an ideology, a set of claims and ideas, practiced (or not) in different ways, with different outcomes and intensities.
It’s revealing of our moral confusion on this topic how someone like Sam Harris can agree that most Muslims are peaceful, then go on to talk about specific percentages of specific Muslims, in specific areas of the world, answering specific questions on specific topics, related to specific parts of doctrine – then still be accused of bigotry towards all Muslims4.
Brown seems to be completely unaware that many can and do loathe Islam precisely because of the harm it causes to Muslims (still not all) on a daily basis. My loathing of Islamism only makes sense in light of this fact. Who am I concerned for when I rage against FGM, honour killings, forced marriages, blasphemy laws, forced veiling and death by stoning? Who is it that provides the first line of resistance against these things? That would be Muslims. If you make disapproving noises about these human right violations in any other context then you’re a courageous humanitarian. Do it in the context of Islam and you’re a racist bigot. We need to have this conversation more sensibly.
Next time Andrew Brown hears someone pipe up about the horrors of FGM, blasphemy laws, executed apostates and stoned adulterers, perhaps he would do well to ask whether concern for these strangers’ well-being truly is masking hatred towards them. Comfortable, western liberals provide no service to those suffering under the tyranny of theocracy by denigrating those whom speak up against it.
Yes, there is racism, yes there is anti-muslim bigotry and it should be called out at every opportunity. But there is also legitimate criticism and concern for human rights across the Muslim world, and I’d like to think that being able to discern between these interests isn’t too great a challenge for any honest adult.
The tireless Council Of Ex-Muslims Of Britain know something about the consequences of bad ideas for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I’ll leave you with their lucid and eloquent response5 to this drivel:
As Exmuslims, we critique Islam because there are many aspects of Islam that need to be critiqued. In particular, we seek to oppose Islam’s apostasy codes, which are oppressive and lead to persecution.
We have found it is quite difficult to get some people to listen to our stories because they fear that acknowledging these issues will contribute to a critical view towards Islam.
The idea is that particularly reactionary teachings and aspects of belief that lead to critical judgements of Islam are in and of themselves prejudiced. The resulting logic of this is that Islam should have special privileges, in as much as basic human conscience and ethical critical judgement of people living in a secular culture should not apply, or be expressed, towards Islam.
The fact that criticism exists, is the offence.
Effectively, this is to propose a kind of proxy blasphemy code and apostasy code, wherein the liberal secular space defers to Islamic taboos. Dissenting Muslims and Exmuslims have to conform to these proxy codes too. Everyone else is free to critique their own religion, and other faiths and ideas too. But Islam must be protected.
However, Muslims are free to critique all religions, belief systems and moralities, because evangelising Islam, and proffering critique and judgement is not only a divine prerogative, but the closing down of ethical, critical judgement towards Islam is also a divine right.
As we can see, this is an ethical and moral mess.
This is an aspect of liberal relativism that is morally flawed and unsustainable without damaging basic principles of liberal secularism. It also means that aspects of Islam that need to be criticised, like Islam’s apostasy codes, remain unexamined, and with that authority unquestioned, their capacity to hurt people and cause harm increases.
Another fear is that being critical of aspects of Islam manifests in prejudice towards Muslims, and this is an understandable response given how parts of the far-right do project generalising narratives of communal responsibility on Muslims. As Exmuslims, we understand this, because being from ethnic minorities ourselves (apart from growing numbers of former white converts) we are also prone to be in the targets of bigots who project their hostility onto anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, whatever that is supposed to be.
The key to dealing with this is for the Left to take ownership of the issues that need to be critiqued, and do so through the prism of liberal secular values, so that they cannot be co-opted by the nationalist right, who have agendas that are not tolerant.
Sadly the instinct of relativism too often prevents this reckoning from occurring. The silencing of Exmuslims voices is the norm, although we are trying to change this.
There are three main layers of silencing of apostates voices. The first layer is the hardcore religious silencing, which includes notions that we deserve to be killed and harmed. Under that is a second layer of some Muslims who may not agree we should be persecuted, but don’t want to have these problematic aspects or religion talked about, because of feelings of embarassment, fear of the consequences, or cognitive dissonance regarding apostasy / blasphemy codes. The third layer underneath this is the relativism of white liberals who are often in concordance with silencing instincts over these issues, including silencing of Exmuslims, for the reasons we outlined earlier. Often, relativist liberals simply pretend we don’t exist.
But silencing never works, and it only increases the problems.
It is important to understand that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. At the same time, the reality of the need for Islam to be critiqued has to be acknowledged by the Left, and by Muslims who live in liberal secular democracies too.
Support them on twitter, @CEMB_Forum
- The quote mined in this particular piece has been enjoying similar treatment by other unscrupulous individuals of late. You can read it in its full context here and decide for yourself whether it means what the article would have you think it means ↩
- Yes, I include all Abrahamic faith in this category ↩
- The Future of the Global Muslim Population, Pew Research 2011 ↩
- See how far he gets with this infamous discussion on The Bill Maher Show before accusations of Racism begin to fly ↩
- It’s since come to my attention that The Guardian have removed this comment from their comments section without reason ↩