For most of my writing career I have been an ardent critic of Islam. In the pre-Trump era, the Regressive Left controlled the rules of discourse in this area of anti-theism and established and informally enforced special and inadvertently bigoted rules for speaking (honestly) negatively about this particular religion. Prior to the rise of Trump, it was sufficient, in my opinion, to offer only brief caveats that explained the fundamental distinction between criticizing beliefs and persecuting human beings, as well as the nuances within Islam, and how the majority of western Muslims are just like other religious people in the 21st century – they cherry-pick and apply pragmatic interpretations of scripture to suit their own (relatively moderate) lifestyles. Now, however, we are witnessing a rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in the west, and this is largely a result of the normalization of bigotry. Toward the end of 2016 the tensions and divisions within liberalism seemed to reach a fever pitch, with many former liberals disenchanted altogether by what they (somewhat justifiably) perceived to be the hijacking of liberalism by people on the far-left who were just as insane and simple-minded as members of the far/alt-right. The pendulum was set in motion and those disaffected liberals who were incapable to maintaining a rational and balanced perspective became unable to disembark the pendulum before it reached the other side. These former liberals – some of whom still use that nomenclature – joined the ranks of seasoned bigots and far less intelligent far-right troglodytes. A growing number of atheists who had previously criticized Islam for all of the right reasons now seem to have fallen prey to far-right rhetoric, and as a result they are now irrationally anti-migrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim. I refuse to allow my mind to be infected by overly simplistic caricatures and emotionally evocative rhetoric, and I hope this short piece will persuade you to remain vigilant in your intellectual rationalism and your ethical humanism, for what good is it to fight with monsters if one simply concedes defeat and becomes the very beast they have been so nobly struggling against? Here is an example of a caveat I wrote in a recent essay:
There is no one thing which might rigidly be called ‘Islam’. Like all religions, Islam is a confusion of contradictions, variations, and nuances which have arisen due to the fact that religion is, like its creators, a messily evolving imperfect phenomenon. The ‘Islam’ of one Muslim can be vastly different from the ‘Islam’ of another. Yet the acknowledgment of such nuance in no way prevents the application of a definition of Islam cemented in uniting elements and principles. The primary scripture of Islam, the Qur’an, unites an otherwise diverse collection of individuals, however, interpretation enters the equation to once again divide those who call themselves Muslim. As such, there are Sufis, Shi’ites, Sunnis and within these schools there are even more divisions. There are LGBT Muslims, feminist Muslims, reformist Muslims, secularist Muslims, liberal and conservative Muslims. This diverse array of categories clearly indicates that a religion is more than just the sum of a few of its parts; it is a fluid phenomenon that must be interpreted and analysed as a whole. To add further nuance and confusion, a religion also involves an interactive process between individual adherents and their religion’s doctrines and traditions, which varies and develops over time and space. Hence, a discussion on female sexuality within ‘Islam’ must be sufficiently cautious to avoid oversimplification. The safest means by which one may assess the relationship between Islam and female sexuality is with an examination of the Qur’an and the theological and historical contexts in which it was first transmitted, as well as by examining extra-religious influences that have contributed to the various evolutions and devolutions of Islam in this respect.
Keep Criticizing Islam
Now more than ever it is essential that rational critics of Islam stay the course and maintain vigorous assaults on the beliefs, doctrines and practices of conservative strains of Islam. For some, criticizing Islam in the age of Trump feels like siding with the devil and his growing legion of anti-Muslim inquisitors. This is precisely why our critiques must now contain crystal clear caveats that prevent (as much as possible) our works from being used as kindling for the flames of dangerous and inhumane anti-Muslim rhetoric. Having said this, it is vital that we not lose sight of the fact that whilst Muslims in the west are becoming an increasingly marginalized group, Islam at a global level is becoming an increasingly oppressive and puritanical force against secularism, liberalism, women’s rights and human rights. So, whilst Islam in the west may appear to be an underdog, globally it is a rabid one, which, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, possesses an insatiable appetite for the consumption of women’s rights, non-Muslim and minority-Muslim (Ahmadiyya, Shi’ite and Sufi) rights, and human rights in general. Maintaining a global perspective seems to be an insurmountable challenge for many western liberals who police speech critical of Islam, because their criticisms and arguments against such speech generally indicate they are only concerned with Muslim rights in the west, rather than Muslim and non-Muslim rights worldwide. This point is particularly pertinent, because when atheists and anti-theists post online, they are not just communicating to a western audience, they are sharing their content with most of the world. On this point, I have had quite a few ex-Muslims send me messages telling how something I said resonated with them, made them feel justified and vindicated in their disbelief, and on a few occasions, I have even been informed that my writings have de-converted and improved the quality of life of some Muslims in Muslim-majority countries. My point here is that if you are truly concerned about minority rights, you must stay the course in your criticisms of Islam for the sake of liberal Muslims, secular Muslims, and ex-Muslims, who are one of the most reviled and persecuted minorities in both the Muslim world and in the west.