My asymmetric stance towards Islam
Sep 24, 2011

My asymmetric stance towards Islam

If I was a Saudi Arabian - and if I was brave enough - my central focus on Islam may be to try and moderate its social practice. I would probably fight for a women having the right to drive, emphasize the peaceful and charitable aspects of the Quran and the Hadiths to my compatriots while trying to supress the violent parts, argue for secular government and religious tolerance, and speak passionately against the atrocities committed in the name of Islam. All these things, and many more, are problems to be combatted by the right people in the right places.

However, I am an Anglosaxon Canadian, living in Toronto, with a cultural background that is somewhat multicultural but largely has Christian and secular influences. My audience likely shares many similarities - I doubt there is a single reader who believes in the genital mutilation of girls, for instance.

The society I am in large part a member of has a different problem with regards to Islam; namely, pervasive Islamophobia. It is a sentiment that takes many forms from mildly asymmetric rhetoric when discussing Islam vs Christianity all the way to Anders Breivik. It is a sentiment that engenders us vs them thinking, apologizes for and motivates our wars and atrocities in Muslim countries, and creates bigoted discrimination at home.

I thus choose to be a partisan in this debate. Unapologetically. As I have done repeatedly on this blog, I will identify and argue against the consistent anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades our society. I will aim to show how it is narrow minded, generalized, asymmetric, bigoted, and most importanty simply untrue. And I am not going to waste my time focusing on the bad aspects or sides of Islam to a society that already seems to think that these things are representative of Islam as a whole.

Of course, I would never purport to say something that I didn't think was legitimately true. It could never have weight if it wasn't. For instance, I reject the very notion of talking about Islam - a religion of 1.6 billion followers in hundreds of countries with innumerable sects and practices - as a monolith by calling it "a religion of peace/violence". So I don't have to sacrifice a shred of authenticity while being asymmetric.

Simply saying true things is not a sufficient metric. I could make every post a true fact about the natural numbers. What one says also has to have relevance and importance in the context of the speaker and the audience. In this blog, at its core, I aim to say true things which I feel our society - and indeed the world at large - would benefit from if social perceptions were changed ever so slightly by me saying them.

There are, I think, enormous benefits possible from speaking out against the misguided attacks on Islam found in our society. It is only through acceptance and embracing our differences in the framework of a fundamentally multicultural society that true social progress can occur. There will be less blowback form the Muslim community, less calls to war in the Muslim world, less domestic discrimination against Muslim and allows for genuine peaceful integration to occur.

A society that constantly and unilaterally demonizes Islam at seemingly any opportunity will not accomplish any of these things, in fact it will entrench these problems. If I were to join in on bashing Islam - even if I always made sure to qualify it in ways so I was saying fundamentally true things, something so many fail to do - I would simply be contributing to the this meme and this social problem while accomplishing essentially nothing at actually curtailing, say, violent extremism in the name of Islam since I simply don't have that kind of audience.

This is, at its core, a utilitarian computation about what kinds of things to say and making a conscious choice to say one type of thing because of its social impact. That might seem strange. However I think people implicitly and subconsciously do this all the time. Anybody who writes a book or an article, or just raises a political topic to discuss over dinner, has some semblance that the concept being discussed is important. We don't simply say whatever true things we can imagine, we select a certain subset of true things to talk about. Many who attack Islam may be doing that just that, I don't doubt their sincerity that they think Islam is a really bad force that ought to be combatted in rhetoric and action.

Note: this post is in part motivated by the exchange in comments found here.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Elipsis said...

I struggle with this from time to time. Mostly because my anti-theism gets in the way of my ability to combat Islamophobia. I find that defending Islam makes me feel intellectually dishonest, because ultimately I think all of it is silly superstitious nonsense.

I deal with this in two ways.

1. Remove religion from the discussion. Make sure that the hate doesn't move into racism and conflating "Muslim" with "Arab" or "Arab American".

2. Frame all my arguments not in terms of Islam, but rather as a question of constitutionality. With some topics this is easier than others. Even the most die-hard conservative is given pause when in response to a mosque or burqa ban I ask "So you're in favor of repealing the 1st amendment?"

Where I get in trouble is the generalizations. "Islam is a dangerous and violent religion." Well, yes. Just like Christianity. I find it hard to offer a strong counter that I can sincerely say I believe.

bazie said...

I more or less agree. I think it is possible to sort of remove religion from the discussion, as you say, but to still keep religion merely as the group identifier. always restricting down to Arabs and the like usually leads to inaccuracies (in Toronto, for instance, there is a very large amount of black Muslims). So one can speak of "Muslims" or "Toronto Muslims" and, say, Islamophobia towards them without the word Muslim connoting anything more than to identify a group and ignoring any religious practice.

Also, as I say, I have come to find "Islam/Christianity is a religion of peace/violence" is just a meaningless sentence. If one is going to say "Islam is _____" we should restrict ourselves to things that are close to universally true about it. For instance "Islam is monotheistic" is more or less true. But it is hard to imagine a Sufi Muslim living in the west from being remotely described as violent. Instead, we ca easily say "there are many different regions, groups and individuals within Islam/Christianity who say and do violent things " and now we are back to a true statement which doesn't lose any weight, IMO, from the qualification.

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