I’m an equal opportunity critic of religions. But when it comes to human rights, I’m far more concerned about Islam.
I'm a liberal, but not a knee-jerk one. I’m an atheist, but not one who thinks all religions are equally problematic or that they should be judged by the violent behavior of religious extremists. I think the Bible and Quran both contain ridiculous passages and reasonable passages. Religious fundamentalists can quote portions of their holy books to justify loving their neighbor or killing their (infidel) neighbor.
But at the risk of being called Islamophobic, I think Islam is the worst and most dangerous religion by all human rights standards.
I’ve been more critical of Christians than Muslims because I live in South Carolina, where politicians try to meld public policy with Christianity and worry about sharia law being used in our legal system. If I lived in a Muslim country, I’d be more openly critical of Islam and sharia law — unless I had good reason to fear for my life. The threat of death is part of the problem, but it’s not what I think is the root of the problem — the real issue is their pervasive commitment to reading the Quran literally.
I’ll illustrate with six memorable events in my direct and indirect dealings with Muslims and ex-Muslims:
1. In 1987, a math colleague from India asked me for a letter recommending him to teach at a university in Saudi Arabia. Though the school’s math department recommended him, its administration said no. He later learned that he was rejected because of my Jewish name. He didn’t even know I am Jewish.
2. In 1990, I visited Egypt and met with a math colleague. When he took me to his home, his wife ran from the room because her face was uncovered. After she served us tea, he suggested that we go sightseeing. When I asked if his now-covered wife would join us, he said no because he feared people might throw rocks at her for being outside with two men. (Egypt was one of the more secular Middle Eastern countries at the time).
3. After meeting Dr. Taslima Nasrin at an atheist conference in 2002, I invited her to give a couple of talks in Charleston sponsored by the College of Charleston and the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry. Since 1994, this courageous human rights activist has been living under a fatwa issued by Bangladeshi Muslim clerics calling for her death because she criticized Islam’s repression of women in her novel, Shame. Our secular humanist group roundly applauded Taslima. However, College of Charleston officials, primarily some members in the Religious Studies program, criticized me for recommending her as a speaker because she was so negative about Muslims. My response was, “Duh! What did you expect from someone under a fatwa?” I understood their post-9/11 concerns because of harassment of Muslim students on campus — I, too, want to avoid stereotyping, but not by hiding the truth.
Written By: Herb Silverman
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