Islam, racists, and legitimate debate

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A version of this post was published as “Islam and ‘Islamophobia’ – a little manifesto” on my personal blog, over a year ago now. You can look the earlier version if you’re interested in the changes, which are intended, in part, to produce some extra clarity, but especially to develop some thoughts at the end. Both versions are based on a longer discussion of related issues that was eventually published earlier this year in my book, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State.

First, I acknowledge that it doesn’t settle all the questions about criticism of Islam to point out that Islam is a belief system, or a set of overlapping belief systems, rather than a category based on ancestry or so-called “racial” characteristics. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But if we simply think of Islam as a “race” and treat criticism of it as racism, we can go very wrong.

Let’s accept – as I think we should – that some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, has a kind quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular. It is not coincidental that much of the public criticism of Islam as a religion, and of Muslims and their practices, emanates from European political parties and associated groups found on the extreme right, such as the Front National in France and the British National Party in the UK. These organisations typically promote an intense, even bigoted nationalism – combined with what they portray as a defence of Christian traditions and values, and an endangered “Christian identity”. They thrive on a fear of strange cultures and a fear of change.

Once that’s noted, an obvious problem for critics of Islam who do not share the values of the extreme right is that they may find themselves painted with the same brush. Conversely, extreme-right critics of Islam have (sometimes) gained a degree of respectability by co-opting issues and adopting stances that many politicians and members of the public find compelling. E.g., these figures have sometimes attacked such practices as forced marriages, honour-killings, female genital mutilation, and highly conservative apparel for women such as the burqa and the chador.

Written By: Russell Blackford
continue to source article at blog.talkingphilosophy.com

50 COMMENTS

  1. This reminds me of the recent feminism discussions with the associated accusations and bad-faith arguments, with the FTB clique applying the purity-based, essentialist thinking described (you performed action X or had thought Y, therefore you are contaminated with Zism and must be cast out). I think it’s clear whose role the MRAs play.

  2. Islam couldn’t possibly be a more fraudulent religion if it tried. To understand islam and its practices all you need to do is educate yourself in Arabic culture and history stemming from the Gulf. There are obviously tweaks and amendments along the way but the basic premise is of the glorification of Khaleeji culture mixed with some of Mohammed’s own personal beliefs and arbitrary rulings.

    So yes, I am probably a racist and xenophobe because I genuinely fear the spread of this culture and genuinely dislike Khaleeji practices. If we were to take your average Tunisian’s version of islam, and it was a Tunisian version of islam that was being pushed then it would be a different story.

  3. “Let’s accept – as I think we should – that some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, has a kind quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular. It is not coincidental that much of the public criticism of Islam as a religion, and of Muslims and their practices, emanates from European political parties and associated groups found on the extreme right, such as the Front National in France and the British National Party in the UK. These organisations typically promote an intense, even bigoted nationalism – combined with what they portray as a defence of Christian traditions and values, and an endangered “Christian identity”. They thrive on a fear of strange cultures and a fear of change.”

    Erm….there’s one slight problem with this utter codswallop. Jesus was an Arab too.

  4. The problem is pandering to religion as a separate, special type of belief among all other beliefs. It is not. Religion should not even be mentioned when arguing against bad belief. Bad belief is bad belief, religious or otherwise. To separate them is silly. Ignorant belief about superstitious BS is no different than ignorant belief about alternative medication. They share the same fault, no evidence needed.

    So why no book, Freedom of Medication? Because the medication doesn’t matter, like religion doesn’t matter, stupid belief is the problem. Giving religion special credit is a way to sell books and calm people but it doesn’t address the problem, it panders to the problem and suggest the religion is legitimate. 

  5. You can’t have a dislike of “Arabs in particular”. Well, you can, but only from an incredibly ignorant standpoint.

    I can’t speak post-Arab Spring but I can speak pre-Arab Spring. Moroccans, Tunisians, Syrians, and Egyptians wanted nothing to do with the Gulf, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi islam. They’re not even “modern islamists” either, they’re more what I would call “normal people”.

  6. That was a really long way of stating that Islam is not a race. But it was good. And like he said:

    “This really shouldn’t have to be said, but increasingly I think it does have to be said .. said and repeated.”

    I read some more of Blackford’s work while I was at it and I have to say he writes with a precision and clarity that is quite impressive. What he adds in elaboration he makes up for in eloquence.

  7. Erm….there’s one slight problem with this utter
    codswallop. Jesus was an Arab too.

     

    I have often thought that the bigotry often found
    among the religious in America could be harnessed and used against
    Christianity.

     

    Something along the lines of 

    “Hey, what could be
    more un-American than circumcision? Isn’t that a Jewish and Muslim practice? We
    don’t go for that kind of thing in good old Europe. Christianity? Isn’t that
    just an off-shoot of Jewish philosophy? Are you Jewish? Why would god have a
    silly, foreign name like “Yahweh”? And don’t dem Ay-rabbs also worship the very
    same god? Jesus, or rather Iesus, another Ay-rab name, far from looking like
    Bjorn Borg was probably brown, and Jewish, and couldn’t speak English, much like
    those Ay-rabs you despise. Oh, and why would god place the holiest place on
    earth in the heart of jolly old Ay-rab land, and not in America? Maybe the Mormons
    are on to something. Do you like Donny and Marie Osmond?”

     

    Of course, such talk (no, not about the Osmonds) goes
    further beyond the pale than religious intolerance, so such an idea is dead in
    the water.

     

    Perhaps someone more cynical and mean-spirited
    than I could give it a go.

  8. These types of opinions are becoming all too frequent these days and it
    is vexing.  This guy writes with a patronizing attitude
    that he best knows how we should and should not criticise Islam. Don’t be too quick to
    point out illegal and unethical behavior among Muslims or else you might
    be part of the nasty ‘Right Wing’ or one of those thuggish nativists.  The old Reductio ad Hitlerum at its finest.  

    I do have one question for Mr. Blackford though.  What about the parallel immigrant populations to Western lands (e.g Hindu/Buddhist/Sikh South Asians, Christian Arabs) hailing from the same parts of the world as many Muslims?  No doubt they potentially suffer from the same discrimination in terms of race and culutral differences.  Why then do these communities seem to make efforts to fit into their new homelands? Why are they not spitting and riotously angry over the tiniest critique about their respective religions?  Are any of them demanding state support for extra spouses they took abroad?  Are they asking for parallel legal or financial systems?  And which among these parallel communities is causing the most trouble?  And most importantly does their belief system demand that all non-subscribers are not deserving of basic human rights?

    Criticism sometimes needs to be vigorous and loud to get the attention of those who deserve it.   

  9. The evidence is manifest that Islam is supremacist and totalitarian and the hermeneutics thereto
    are massively varied.
    The very idea that the fairy story basis of Islam should not be subject to satire and ridicule to support the silly dogma of PC is contrary to the basis of free speech.
    Some chap was sent to prison for showing a poster in his front room window suggesting Mohammed
    was a paedophile(for entering nine year old Aisha).
    This I regard as an outrage and contrary to the principle of liberty.
    This piece of PC law is a serious retrograde step within our constitution.

  10. As an impartial observer, I can confirm that there was indeed a point – it just sailed serenely past you.

    Here’s another point, from the article above, that you’ve clearly missed, but would do well to ponder:

    “…trashing an opponent’s reputation, such as by falsely labeling him or her as a racist, is an unfair, intimidating, and fundamentally anti-intellectual tactic”

  11. One can choose a religion, or not, as the case may be; it’s a bit tricky choosing your parents though. 

    To accuse anyone of being racist when they criticize a religion is just silly, and I think that most religious individuals do so simply to avoid engaging in a meaningful discourse; they seem to consider themselves and their beliefs beyond criticism.  

  12. A more complete quote (full text here)from Harris is:

    “While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.

    The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

    To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.”

    If you think this consitiutes an endorsement of fascism, or is evidence of Sam Harris’ ‘far right’ views on any subject, then there is little point in attempting to reason with you.

  13. “Let’s accept – as I think we should – that some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, has a kind quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular.”

    Well, Blackford can speak for himself, but for my part I reject the racist charge. Whether quasi or no.

    It’s clear as day that hatred of Islam is fully justified on the grounds of the teachings of Islam:  death for apostasy, persecution for non-Muslims, slave-status for women, abolition of music and representative art, ruthless elimination of those who dare to try and criticise or reform the whole ragbag of potty and cruel ideas. Most of all the murder of those who insult allah or his sockpuppet by pointing out the insanity and preposterousness of islam and insist on the ‘purity’ of the religion and impossibility of any kind of innovation.

    Why the hell would anyone need another reason on top of all this to ‘dislike’ islam?

    I don’t dislike it, I abhor it.

    Other religious groups are not generally required to place other people in boxes marked ‘enemy’. That helps a great deal. I hate to dislike people on any grounds at all, and certainly not race. I like to like people, but preferably people who support basic human rights and freedoms.

  14. As Sam Harris put it: “As
    a man believes, so he will act. Believe you are a member of a chosen
    people who are awash in the obscene exports of an evil culture that is
    turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded
    with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing
    death to these infidels – and flying a plane into a building is
    scarcely more than a matter of being asked to do it. It follows, then,
    that certain beliefs are intrinsically dangerous.”Nuff’ said.

  15. Everything you accuse Islam of being can be applied equally to Christianity at some point in its long history. Therefore to say that Islam is fradulent while implying that Christianity isn’t is absurd.

  16. “Don’t be too quick to point out illegal and unethical behavior among Muslims or else you might be part of the nasty ‘Right Wing’ or one of those thuggish nativists.”

    The article is attempting a proper response to the claims of “racism” when it comes to Islam. He is pointing out that it is not “Islamophobia” if there are reasonable arguments being made. The left wing political parties are scared to criticize Muslims, and they shouldn’t be. Everything is not equal and I would suggest that the author is offering a justification for the dislike of this particular religion’s practices.

    In the U.S. it’s easy for liberals to rush to the care of Muslims because of the violent response to the attacks of 9/11 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. There are some decent Muslims out there, just as there are decent Christians and so on. These people don’t deserve to be beaten and accosted just because they are a minority – the same goes for all Hindu/Buddhist/Sikh South Asians, and Christian Arabs. But the media isn’t screaming about how dissenters to Hindu are incredibly racist.

    Now, in the U.K. and the Continent, the media does the same thing. Except that Islamo-political policies are being forced and the fundamentalist regime is winning. If someone doesn’t put the claims of racism and Islamophobia in check, then the justifiable criticisms get thrown out the window.

    “Criticism sometimes needs to be vigorous and loud to get the attention of those who deserve it.” Universally true, and by rejecting the false indictment with an intellectual basis is a response that will enable the proper criticisms to mature and affect public policy. There need to be more articles like this one and they need to be in major newspapers. Too many right minded people are afraid to speak out against the malignant growth, the threat of another Dark Age, fundamental Islam. But, to be clearer, I despise Islam and all of its practices. 

  17. Islamophobia- Some denounce the concept altogether. Sam Harris[Note 1] has stated that “apologists for Islam have even sought to defend their faith from criticism by inventing a psychological disorder known as ‘Islamophobia’.” He states that bigotry and racism are “evils” that must be opposed, and that “prejudice against Muslims or Arabs, purely because of the accident of their birth, is despicable”, but argues that “it is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their coreligionists believe.”[84] Roger Kimball argues that the world “Islamophobia” is inherently a prohibition or fear of criticizing of radical Islam.[85]

    “Let’s accept – as I think we should – that some dislike of Islam, or impatience with Muslims and their spiritual leaders, has a kind quasi-racist character, grounded in parochialism and xenophobia, and perhaps a dislike of Arabs in particular.” 
    BUGGER OFF, don’t tell me what to think!

    Having lived in a Muslim country and made many good friends, let me share something; I’ve made the error of claiming moderate Muslims should expose the radicals. Thing is, those moderates have confided to me  they are fearful for 2 reasons- that the Qur’an forbids criticism and radicals will treat them the same as they would us infidels. Nobody should have to risk their lives for speaking up, Muslim or not.

  18. There’s nothing wrong with his views on airport security. The fact is that checks are there for a reason so we may as well admit what that reason is and target those who fit the profile. Sounds racist, isn’t though.

    Granted, that would be difficult in middle eastern airports, where I’ve never once seen body checks.

  19. Where does the quran state this? And I’ve had the very same conversation a hundred times with friends who virtually all say the same thing:

    It isn’t for me to decide who is right or wrong in their interpretation. Religion should be personal and it annoys me when others try to tell me what to do so I can’t tell them what to do.

  20. Perhaps it’s just me … ?

    Mr. Blackford does a good job of highlighting the misconception that political labels like left and right are a misconception of the way of the 21st Century.

    The modern World has surely moved on from the Cold War and, if we have not, it is high time we did.

    I share Mr. Blackford’s desire to found our political dialogue on objective realism – and to recognise that each time we change the subject under democratic discussion requires us to judge people’s views anew. That is: on a case-by-case basis.

    Alas, ‘professional’ media, politicians, public relations and marketing people are happy with simple labels. Meanwhile, the General Public seems comfy in its armchair of ignorance and prejudice.

    Mr. Blackford is nothing if not ambitious.

    If only he had said something about how he would achieve this transformation of Media, Arts, Marketing, Education and Politics. I, for one, would have been glad to help.

    Peace.

  21. The ‘Islamophobia’ of the far-right and a critique of Islam
    grounded in secularism and individual human rights are actually quite distinct.
    It is true that within the far-right there has been a shift away from the
    espousal of biological racism, and an increasing deployment of ‘culturalism’ as
    the ideological basis for a more successful electoral strategy, but this
    ideology is in fact reliant upon a form of cultural relativism that is
    immediately rejected by proponents of universal human rights. The basis of
    culturalism does not necessarily imply that cultures are hierarchically
    ordered, they can be recognised as ‘equal but different’, but the resulting
    conclusion is that populations socialised under drastically different cultural
    conditions are fundamentally incompatible and no attempt to integrate can be
    made. It is still essentially a form of nativism since it relies upon
    identitarian politics: an ‘in’ group and an ‘out’ group that are in this cased
    defined by an overarching, inherent ‘culture’ rather than biological
    difference. Individual human rights are lost in this process of defining a
    ‘them’ and ‘us’.

    In accepting universal human rights, most secularists do not
    seek to ossify cultural characteristics so that they become inseparable from
    the identities of the individuals that comprise a ‘culture’. Crucially,
    secularists recognise that it is Muslims themselves, or perhaps more accurately
    children raised under the auspices of Islamically inspired totalitarian
    thought, that suffer the most from religious indoctrination.

    It is true that the far-right sometimes co-opts
    liberal cosmopolitan inspired Islamic criticism to lend itself legitimacy, but
    the far-right platform is distinguishable in its continuing emphasis on reified
    group, rather than individual identities, with a particular focus on a nativist
    ‘in’ group that has to endure a threat from a culturally defined ‘out’ group.
    Furthermore, there are visible differences between the ‘exoteric’ and
    ‘esoteric’ ideology of the parties and social movements of the far-right, for
    instance even if the BNP espouses a superficially acceptable set of criticisms
    regarding Islamic theology, there is a widely recognised ‘esoteric’ subculture
    that has been exposed through several documentaries and is visible in the
    party’s internal literature. The general public are well aware that even when
    the BNP co-opts liberal arguments for its populist agenda, there is a stream of
    unpalatable racist sentiment beneath the surface. Unfortunately, there is
    nothing to stop extreme groups striving to lend legitimacy to their agenda by
    quoting secularists who chose to single out Islam as a particularly pernicious
    school of thought, but to permit this practice to quell debate on such issues
    would be a great disservice to honest discussion.

  22. Usually these articles end up bashing Dr. Dawkins or Sam Harris for pointing out Islam is also a political philosophy like Roman Catholisum and Salt Lake City LDS or Mormons.  The article missed the point on how the religious/political followers use power.

    Most of us could give a darn about people’s silliness until they push it on us or others.  No religion, especally one that craves conversion or makes it a duty of its followers to convert people is safe.

    I think as many have pointed out the racisum of letting kids and young people stay as “natural” or “nobel savages”.  Does a child of hunters and gatherers or peasants have a right to a world class education or is it benevolence to leave the children ignorant and emeshed in a traditional culture. 

  23.  It doesn’t. The other guy is looking at it from his specialist point of view whereas Sam is looking at it from the same point of view as me and a whole host of other people.

    If I’m in the airport and I see an angry looking bearded arab being searched it makes me feel safer, if I see a clean cut middle class family man of any descent being searched then I think “what’s the point in doing that?” I feel like they’re wasting their time searching someone who to me poses no threat, which is disconcerting.

    The fact is…… well, how many planes have been blown up by a suicide bomber? To my knowledge, none at all. Although that could change with the use of surgically implanted bombs which no amount of patting down will detect.

  24.   It doesn’t. The other guy is looking at it from his specialist point of view whereas Sam is looking at it from the same point of view as me and a whole host of other people.

    Sorry? What two points of view? Either profiling is the best way to go or it isn’t. I’d rather take the advice of the expert. It wouldn’t be the first time the non-expert’s gut reaction is wrong. Like “clearly the sun goes around the earth”.

    If I’m in the airport and I see an angry looking bearded arab being searched it makes me feel safer, if I see a clean cut middle class family man of any descent being searched then I think “what’s the point in doing that?” I feel like they’re wasting their time searching someone who to me poses no threat, which is disconcerting.

    Yep it’s counter intuitive but Schneier does explain why it is the better approach.

    The fact is…… well, how many planes have been blown up by a suicide bomber? To my knowledge, none at all.
     

     

    Right.  Nothing has been blown up under the present regime of not profiling. So I guess it must be working.

    Michael

  25. I don’t know – I thought the honours were pretty evenly shared in that discussion, it seemed to me that Schneier conceded a lot of Sam’s points, even many of the most controversial ones, but that Schneier’s contention that Sam was essentially presenting an economic argument (that resources conserved by not subjecting certain people to extra security could then be re-allocated to provide better security for all) that in practice may actually prove to be uneconomical, was quite a good one (although counter-intuitive).

    Sam addresses this in his latest blog post:

    There seems to be a consensus, even among my critics, that no one does airline security better than the Israelis (even Schneier admits this). But, as I pointed out, and Schneier agreed, the Israelis profile (in every sense of the term—racially, ethnically, behaviorally, by nationality and religion, etc.). In the end, Schneier’s argument came down to a claim about limited resources: He argued that we are too poor (and, perhaps, too stupid) to effectively copy the Israeli approach. That may be true. But pleading poverty and ineptitude is very different from proving that profiling doesn’t work, or that it is unethical, or that the link between the tenets of Islam and jihadist violence isn’t causal.

    Schneier’s argument against profiling has almost nothing to do with the reasons that many people find profiling controversial. But none of my critics seemed to notice this. Nor did they notice when Schneier conceded that the most secure system would use a combination of profiling and randomness. He simply argued that profiling for the purpose of airline security is too expensive and impractical. But I am not being vilified because I advocated something expensive and impractical. I am being vilified because my critics believe that I support a policy that is shockingly unethical, well known to be ineffective, and the product of near-total confusion about the causes of terrorism.

  26.  Sam addresses this in his latest blog post:

    I don’t have any issue with what Sam says there.  The debate with Schneier was just about what was the most effective way to spend the limited security dollar. That’s Schneier’s area of expertise.  I was convinced by Schneier and not Sam in this discussion.  But that’s not because I think profiling is racist or immoral or whatever it is that is worrying the people sending Sam hate mail.

    Michael

  27. I don’t agree. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation we’re dealing with. It’s obvious that Mr. Security is far more qualified in the art than I am so there’s no way I can say he’s wrong, but I’m certainly not going to say that racial profiling is wrong either. If I see the Smith family on their way back from a Canary Island retreat being patted down, and then I see Ahmed Al Qaeda walk through uncontested then I’m going to stand there and think, “…… what on earth are these security boys doing?”

    Counter intuitive from a cost to benefit perspective, not from the psychological effect it’ll have on other travellers. But then again, I’d rather see Ahmed go through uncontested than get searched and walk away with a wry grin on his face.

    Nothing was or has been blown up but that isn’t going to stop suspicion, and as far as I’m concerned peace of mind when flying is important. I want to feel safe, I want to feel like the hours I’ve spent in lines and the security procedures I’ve been subjected to are worth it. Everybody knows that islamic suicide bombers have struck before on public transport so the potential exists for them to strike on planes. We’ve had Lockerbie and baggage is now x-rayed which is enough to set my mind at ease. We haven’t had a suicide bomber as of yet and I’m sure we won’t be informed of any attempts either, but unless there’s metal in a vest there’s no way of detecting one outside of physical checks or environmental detectors, so that is what I want to see.

  28.   I don’t agree. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation we’re dealing with. It’s obvious that Mr. Security is far more qualified in the art than I am so there’s no way I can say he’s wrong, but I’m certainly not going to say that racial profiling is wrong either.  

    But “Mr Security”,  who you have agreed is the expert thinks it’s an either/or situation.  So why don’t you accept the expert’s opinion ?  You aren’t going to say he is wrong but you won’t accept his expert opinion that he is right ? How is what you are saying different to saying:

     “Well all these experts at CERN think they’ve found a new boson and I know stuff all about it but I don’t agree with them.”

     Nothing was or has been blown up but that isn’t going to stop suspicion, and as far as I’m concerned peace of mind when flying is important. I want to feel safe, I want to feel like the hours I’ve spent in lines and the security procedures I’ve been subjected to are worth it.

    Then you have to trust the security experts who are telling you that the system is the best it can be.  Like the engineer who tells you that wings built out of weird composite plastic resins are perfectly safe. 

    Me I’m just nervous from the moment I leave the house until I get home again.  But there’s probably a medical name for that. 

    Michael

  29.  It’s completely different because experts at CERN finding a new boson affects my life or well being considerably less than getting on a plane – which I do frequently. And Schneier only seems to disagree with Harris from a practical and bureaucratic perspective, there’s no disagreement in principle otherwise he wouldn’t recognise the Israelis.

  30. “Erm….there’s one slight problem with this utter codswallop. Jesus was an Arab too.”

    While the point still stands, obviously….
    I think you mean Hebrew, possibly of some Ethiopian extraction as well, but not an Arab.  Arabs came out of Arabia. Now, a few centuries later the Arabs did conquer the middle east and North Africa, but this was in the latter half of the first millennium, prior to that the lands were inhabited mostly by other peoples (such as Phoenicians, Berbers, Kurds, Assyrians, and many more). Arab is not a ‘catch all’ for all people living in the general area of the middle east through all history, and that was a bit like saying Montezuma was a Hispanic.

  31.  
     It’s completely different because experts at CERN finding a new boson affects my life or well being considerably less than getting on a plane – which I do frequently. And Schneier only seems to disagree with Harris from a practical and bureaucratic perspective, there’s no disagreement in principle otherwise he wouldn’t recognise the Israelis.
     

     

    So you will take expert advice when it doesn’t affect you and ignore it when it does ?  Shouldn’t that be the other way around ?

    What other perspective on airline security than “practical” can there be ?  Surely you like I and everybody else don’t want to be killed by a terrorist while on an aeroplane.  That sounds practical to me.   Either profiling reduces reduces the chance of a terrorist attack or it doesn’t.  What does “in principle” mean ?

    Michael

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