By Daniel DeMarco |Features Editor|
Television host Bill Maher and author Sam Harris have become a hot topic in media recently for their criticism of Islam. Their criticism is resulting in some media support, but the majority is opposition.
They have been labelled with terms like “bigot,” “racist,” and “Islamophobe” by the opposition.
The vast opposition to Maher and Harris is false in their labeling. They are misrepresenting these men and not truly listening to the points being made.
I think that Maher and Harris are correct in their criticism and are justified in doing so.
The label of “racist” should not even be applied to the issue at hand.
It should be obvious to anyone of intelligence that
religion has nothing to do with race. Islam crosses many racial boundaries and is the dominant religion in many African , East Asian , as well as Middle Eastern countries.
To label Maher and Harris as “racist” is absurd, and anyone doing so is embarrassing themselves.
Maher and Harris are criticizing bad ideas and the people who adopt these ideas; they are not criticizing the entire population of Muslims worldwide. At the same time, they are also trying to make people aware
these bad ideas are much more prominent than Islamic apologists are willing to admit.
It is not overgeneralizing or bigoted to admit that there are troubling problems with the way Islam is used by many of its followers. There are doctrines within Islam such as martyrdom, jihad, and death for apostasy that are undeniably the root cause of many issues we face with religious fundamentalism and radical religious groups.
I think I should make it clear
this is not some personal attack on Islam. If Christianity were presenting dangerous social issues, or Hinduism, or any religion or ideology for that matter, I and many others would be criticizing those. The fact of the matter is, Islam happens to be the most alarming host of widely subscribed bad ideas on present-day Earth.
Reza Aslan is one of the most prominent critics of Maher and Harris regarding their stances on Islam. With this in mind, even Aslan, a Muslim himself, recently wrote: “People of faith are far too eager to distance themselves from extremists in their community, often denying that religious violence has any religious motivation whatsoever. This is especially true of Muslims.”
The major misconception is that the criticism reflects on believers of Islam just as much as on the teachings of Islam. The opposition will argue that it is completely ridiculous to say that all Muslims believe a certain thing or act a certain way. Maher, Harris and I would agree in full.
The problem is that Islam is a faith that is subscribed to on a huge scale, so even though dangerous ideas are not believed by all Muslims, or usually not even a majority of Muslims, the minority numbers are still big enough to
Take into account that Islam is the second largest religion in the world on a population scale. Approximately 1.6 billion people are Muslim, representing about 23% of humanity. Even in the case where a dangerous idea is only believed by 10% of Muslims,
there are 150 to 160 million people with this belief. If only 1% of Muslims believe something, that still leaves 15 or 16 million people.
These may be minority groups, but can you honestly say that tens or hundreds of millions of people is not significant?
The main point being made by Maher and Harris is that society should be advocating for liberal values–freedom of speech
and religion, equal rights to women, separation of church and state, respect of minorities like homosexuals–and criticizing breaches in these values no matter what individual or group is committing the offense.
One aspect Maher points out is that breaches of these values are quickly criticized within American society, but in societies where Islam is the dominant religion, these breaches are given some sort of special protection even though the offenses are often more oppressive.
It is okay to say that a celebrity is being sexist because of degrading comments he/she made, but when someone criticizes Islam because the vast majority of Islamic countries have blatantly unequal rights for women, they are labelled a bigot.
It is okay to say that people should be free to practice any religion they like or believe in no religion at all, but when you criticize Islam because Muslims are under a very real threat of violence and death throughout the world if they leave the religion, you’re being Islamophobic.
It is okay to defend people’s freedom of speech and expression, but when someone criticizes or satirizes Islam and there is an uproar with threats of violence, the blame goes on the individual for instigating violence rather than protecting their freedom of speech against violence.
This type of unequal protection is often labelled as “political correctness.”
Political correctness entails that certain groups are given extra protection from criticism or satire because they need the protection.
It is to say that some groups are too sensitive or can’t handle anything negatively directed at them so they must be taken extra care of in society.
It is condescending; it is basically to treat a group like children who can’t control their emotions and are too mentally delicate to handle honest discussion.
The World Economic Forum conducted a study of gender equality across 136 nations in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the disparities among gender were not in favor of women in areas such as political representation, education, and health. Of the 10 worst countries for a woman to live, where she will be subjected to the most oppression, nine of the countries were Islam-dominant.
It is clearly taught in majority Sunni Islamic law and the Hadith (Bukhari 52:260, Bukhari 84:57) that those whom abandon Islam (apostasy) are to be killed. Does every Muslim believe that apostates should be killed? Of course not.
This fact does not reflect Islam as a religion though; this is reflecting that individual humans who believe in Islam can choose to not accept all the doctrines taught, even those written in holy texts.
We must not ignore facts though. While the death penalty for apostates is not a belief held by all Muslims, it is held by a very significant amount worldwide. Pew Research Center (PRC) found that 42% of Muslims in Iraq felt death was the appropriate penalty for apostasy in a massive survey that concluded in 2013. PRC found 66% in Palestinian territories agreed. They found 76% in Pakistan and 86% in Egypt among further countries studied.
These numbers are simply appalling.
Iraq has a population of approximately 30 million Muslims. If 44% believe in death for apostates that means 12,600,000 people in Iraq alone hold this belief. Pakistan is home to about 174 million Muslims and with a 76% approval rate you have about 132,240,000 Muslims in a single country that hold this belief.
Let me make it clear again: Are any of us saying that all or even the majority of Muslims hold these beliefs? No, but it cannot be dismissed as just a small portion of Muslims either. I believe we must face the fact there are major problems which need to be addressed.
Suicide bombing is a repulsive, but undeniably effective method of violence upon others. This act has become synonymous with terrorism, but more specifically Islamic terrorism. PRC asked if suicide bombing in defense of Islam can be justified sometimes or often. In Afghanistan 39% percent were in favor. Jordan had 15% favorability. Bangladesh showed 26%. Malaysia had 18% favorability. Palestinian territories showed 40%.
Afghanistan has a Muslim population of about 28 million. A 39% acceptance rate means approximately 10,920,000 Muslims believe suicide bombing can be justified. Bangladesh is home to about 145 million Muslims. The 26% approval means that about 37,700,000 Muslims there can give justification for suicide bombing.
We cannot ignore that these beliefs held by tens of millions in Muslim-majority countries are related to their religious beliefs. Martyrdom is a concept connected to the teachings of Islam.
The Qur’an (4:74, 9:111, 2:207) and the Hadith (Bukhari 52:54, Muslim 20:4678, 20:4655) both describe the honor, rewards and salvation of those who are martyrs for Islam. Of course not all Muslims believe suicide bombing is justifiable, the numbers speak for themselves. Not even a majority believe this, but the numbers of the minority are still staggering when they can reach tens of millions of supporters in a single country.
there are problems related to Islam is simply to deny the obvious.
Ask yourself if you have to worry about Mormon fundamentalists. Ask yourself if you have to worry about sparking riots and violent reprisals by offending Buddhists.
Even when one looks at Christianity, which has a vast history of intolerance and violence, is society in any real danger of Christian fundamentalists or
offending the Christian faith? I argue not. The most opposition you may expect from present-day Christianity is angry letters and public protests.
Suppose one were to go on live American television and burn a Qur’an; what could we expect to happen as a result?
I don’t think it is unreasonable to
expect riots in countries across the world as the news spread, the destruction of some American embassies in these countries, and surely the deaths of many innocent people. Not only this, but the person whom burned the Qur’an would also be forced into hiding with constant security and surveillance because their life would now be in danger.
This is not an unreasonable expectation because we have very similar events in recent history of which some very similar results occurred.
In 2004, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh created the short-film “Submission” which
criticized the oppression of women in Islam. Van Gogh and his co-producer Ayaan Hirsi Ali received death threats from the Muslim community as a result of the film. Later that year, Van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight out on a city street of Amsterdam, Netherlands. He was shot eight times, his throat was cut, and a knife was stabbed into his chest with a note addressed to Ali. Ali went into hiding immediately after and still requires security and surveillance wherever she goes to this very day.
Early 2006 was host to the infamous Danish cartoon controversy. In September 2005, a set of 12 cartoons were published that satirized Islam and more specifically, the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The cartoons sparked controversy which came to a height in early 2006 when international protests became violent riots in many countries resulting in innocent deaths and attacks on many foreign embassies. The cartoonists and the newspaper which published the cartoons received death threats, forcing the cartoonists into hiding. As a result, the majority of publications and news outlets around the world were afraid to show or reprint the cartoons due to the threat of violence that came with them.
It is embarrassing that people can react in such ways simply because they are offended. It is easy to notice that you do not see this happening with any other religion on such a
In his blog, Harris addressed the gross difference between the reactions we can expect from the Muslim community when
offended by the actions/words of others or a book/film/illustration/etc. and the reactions we most recently have seen towards ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the atrocities of the radical religious group.
described a scenario of publicly offending Muslims and the likely violent reactions, writing : “But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag [#NotInOurName].”
If you cannot see the disturbing problem of priorities we see between merely offending a religion and committing monstrous crimes to thousands of human-beings, there is no reasoning with you and quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.
Where are the riots in response to the atrocities performed by ISIS? Where are the people uniting to put an end to the vulgar existence of ISIS?
Why are people so easily offended and enraged by a film or cartoon, but have little response to a militant organization claiming Islam as their faith while slaughtering villages of Muslims and committing crimes against humanity?
I think Harris really brings focus to the issue with a statement that he has said publicly and written many times in his works, that no one is suffering as a result of the oppressive and barbaric aspects of Islam more than Muslims themselves.
As humans, we must seek to fix these issues, but especially Muslims should be motivated to enact reform in the faith. One only needs to look at Christianity to see
this is possible.
The teachings of Christianity can also be barbaric and oppressive. The Bible has very clear writing of some horrible and monstrous things. It is clear that anyone who works on the Sabbath is to be killed (Exodus 31:15). It is clear that anyone who commits adultery is to be killed (Leviticus 20:10). It is clear that a child who is disobedient is to be killed (Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Exodus 21:15, 21:17).
The Bible even condones slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:7-11, 21:20-21, Ephesians 6:5), of which the Confederates took much advantage of in their justification of slavery during the Civil War.
These were certainly an issue in Christianity’s history, but present-day we no longer have to deal with such things. It should be clear to anyone that Christianity has gone through much reform over time. In my opinion, humanity needs this same process to occur for Islam.
Christianity’s reform took centuries to get where it is now. We simply cannot afford to wait that long to reform Islam and the process can only truly begin when people are allowed to speak honestly and criticize bad ideas no matter what they pertain.
voice their opposition to radical and fundamental Islam, especially in a prominent way, are indeed putting themselves at risk. This is exactly the problem; it should not require courage to advocate for human rights against a religion that is lacking in this respect on a vast scale.
Moderate Muslims and Islamic reformists must unite and actively pursue change, and those of us who support liberal values must support them in doing so. We all must face the facts and not let political correctness or fear block our ability to address dangerous issues.
Maher and Harris are certainly not bigots and
are not Islamophobic. These men are shining the spotlight on a problem that must be recognized and taken seriously.
Lying about the connection between the horrific beliefs and actions of people and the religious doctrines they hold sacred is not helping anyone. It is only allowing for the unnecessary suffering of more innocent people every day to forsake offending people and their religious beliefs.