There is a severe disconnect in the reasoning and application of liberalism among many western liberals. Instead of siding with liberal Muslim reformers like Maajid Nawaz and Asra Normani, many western liberals have been championing and zealously defending conservative Muslims and conservative Muslim values – values which are akin to, and in some instances worse than, modern conservative Christian values. Now, before my fellow liberals begin to scream at their computers over the statement I have just made, please allow me to qualify. As I have said in the past, the primary difference between the fruits of modern Islam and those of modern Christianity is secularism. Prior to the Enlightenment and the advent of secularism, Christianity was just as heinous and vile as modern Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and there was even a point in history in which Islam was less barbaric and intolerant than Christianity. When Islam was experiencing its Golden Age (8th century – 13th century), Christians were destroying historical monuments and historical and scientific literature – they relished and excelled in burning, stoning, raping, flaying and otherwise molesting infidels and heretics – yet with the persistence and bravery of liberal, anti-religious enlighteners like Thomas Paine, secularism succeeded in quelling the ferocious flames of the Inquisition and most importantly, it managed to negotiate a divorce between religion and politics. The offspring of this divorce were meritocratic rights, women’s rights, civil rights, same-sex marriage rights, HUMAN RIGHTS! The Muslim world has yet to experience a secular Enlightenment and so conservative religious values continue to thrive in not only the Muslim world, but also in Muslim communities which enjoy the freedom of religion in many liberal democratic countries. As great of a shock as it may be to members of both the Regressive Left and the Alt-Right, conservative Muslims are not the only Muslims who exist in both the west and the Muslim world. There is a growing liberal Muslim and Ex-Muslim movement across the globe and its intellectual antecedents can be traced back centuries. Yet in our day, here in the west, both sides of the political spectrum have enjoyed painting and propagating a bigoted caricature of the “true Muslim” that can neither accommodate nor tolerate Muslims and ex-Muslims, who do not fit this two-dimensional depiction of the “true Muslim”. How on earth would members of the Regressive Left and the Alt-Right even begin to comprehend and reconcile with their childish caricature this small passage from Ali Rizvi’s latest book, The Muslim Atheist?
‘So who decides how far the cherry-picking can go? If everyone cherry-picks, can one cherry-pick all the way to nonbelief status? If one can be a feminist Muslim, or an LGBT Muslim, can one not be a secular or even an atheist Muslim?
This question gets to the very heart of the idea that “Islam” does not necessarily equal “Muslims.”’
I can almost hear brains exploding upon reading this excerpt, yet it is such an easy and readily observable reality to grasp. So why do so many on both sides of western politics fail to grasp it? Muslims are not a monolith. Islam is a religion, and is thus subject to a vast range of interpretations. Muslims, just like Christians, cherry-pick. Some Muslims, as Ali pointed out, cherry-pick all the way to atheism, although I do concede that this does constitute a kind of cherry-picking extremism, yet it is a reality. Ali also succeeds in clearly enunciating a point lost on too many western liberals and conservatives – namely, ‘Islam does not necessarily equal Muslims’. Members of the Right stumble and falter upon the conflation of Islam and Muslims in the oppo-same fashion as the Left. Many on the Right blame all Muslims for the crimes committed by a handful and many on the Left smear critics of the doctrines of Islam which inspire the crimes committed by this handful.
Beyond the issue of terrorism, and returning to my earlier point, Islam has yet to experience a secular Enlightenment, which means that conservativism is more prevalent in modern Islam, globally speaking, than it is within Christendom. To demonstrate this point, one need only examine the extensive polls conducted throughout the Ummah and explore the high percentages of Muslims in favour of death and other severe forms of punishment for apostasy, for example. One might even examine the prevalence of homophobia among Muslims in both the Muslim world and in western democracies. And if all of that evidence fails to convince you that Islam is in need of serious need of both a reform and a secular Enlightenment, examine the appalling state of women’s rights in predominantly Islamic countries, which rank at the bottom in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report. But raising all of these valid and crucially important human rights issues makes me an “Islamophobe” according to many western liberals. Why? Because, per this simplistic and unnuanced mindset, to criticize Islam is to attack all Muslims, even when done on behalf of suffering Muslims and minorities in the Muslim world.
This pathological apathy on the Left toward the suffering of LGBT Muslims, feminist Muslims, liberal Muslims, ex-Muslims and other minorities within Muslim communities, is one of the very reasons Asra Normani, a liberal Muslim immigrant, voted for Donald Trump. Now, once again I urge the reader to slow down and take a breath. I’m not defending or mitigating what I believe to be Asra’s horrible decision, and yes, I do hear the words of Orwell, who would accuse Asra of being an “accomplice to tyranny”, but a part of me does sympathize with her protest vote. In her Washington Post article explaining why she voted for Trump, Asra stated:
‘Finally, as a liberal Muslim who has experienced, first-hand, Islamic extremism in this world, I have been opposed to the decision by President Obama and the Democratic Party to tap dance around the “Islam” in Islamic State.’
Asra is not the first liberal Muslim to lodge this complaint, nor is this the first time Asra has lodged it. But many western liberals have been too arrogant, too fearful of being placed on the wrong side of history, too apathetic to the suffering of those who exist outside of their own tribal confines to take seriously the valid complaints of liberal Muslims, and for this reason, although it is not the sole reason, a spiteful, bigoted and vindictive fascist now sits in one of the most powerful chairs in world. When western liberals decided to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with conservative Muslims, rather than with Muslims who share their own humane and liberal values, something went terribly awry. Western liberalism lost its famed common sense and became the ridiculous reflection of the Far-Right.
- Ali A. Rizvi, The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016, p. 94.