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Apr 03 2013

Credit where it’s due

It’s an unfortunate reality for minority groups that they are often pressured to embody exemplary behaviour. Because of a tide of suspicion and hostility often flows against minority groups (some more than others), these groups must often model a standard of morality, fastidiousness, and earnestness that is not required of members of the majority group, simply as a matter of survival. Failure to perform in this way usually means that the entire group is punished for the (ordinary and expected) transgressions of a select few. Black folks know this as the “twice as good” phenomenon.

And so it is with some self-loathing that I congratulate the leaders of the London Muslim Mosque for releasing a statement condemning extremist violence:

Muslim leaders in London, Ont., say they “unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind” following the identification of two young Canadians from the city as participants in a deadly attack in Algeria earlier this year. Chair of the London Muslim Mosque, Rob Osman, said at a news conference Tuesday that “the Association of London Muslims has and will continue to unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind, as this is the opposite to the core teachings of Islam.”

CBC News has learned that two al-Qaeda-linked militants, Xristos Katsiroubas, 22, and Ali Medlej, 24, came from a comfortable middle-class neighbourhood in London and were former high school friends, who may have attended the mosque. The attack on an Algerian gas plant left more than three dozen refinery workers dead, the final 10 of whom were reportedly tied to gas plant piping and killed in a massive bomb blast.

Munir El-Kassem, imam of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, also spoke at the news conference, and said that “we as Muslims are as concerned as everybody else.” El-Kassem said the families of the two suspects were not known to him or his colleagues.

The condemnation, coming off the heels of revelation that two Canadian youth (with a third possibly implicated) were responsible for a terrorist attack, is precisely the kind of thing that secularists have been decrying “moderate Muslims” for failing to do. In the sense that they took the opportunity to speak out against violence and specifically address the issue, I congratulate them and think they are doing the right thing. That being said, I cannot help but feel some reflexive shame in knowing that this group, which has only a fleeting connection to the people who carried out the attacks, undoubtedly felt pressure to do so. Indeed, I find it not-at-all hard to imagine that some reactionary columnist would find it “suspicious” had they failed to do so, and would have interpreted their lack of specific condemnation as a blanket endorsement.

Indeed, the comment threads of the story have rapidly filled with people saying that “Islam is particularly prone to terrorism” (an assessment that I am sorry to see that PZ Myers buys into as well), speaking with faux certainty about ‘terror mosques’ and noting how “we didn’t used to have these problems before we let refugees in” – ignoring, of course, that these kids weren’t refugees, and that religious terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Canada. This, despite the fact that the story is about how these actions were specifically condemned by the community they’re busy blaming.

At any rate, while I am glad the Association of London Muslims has spoken out (and while I do note that their ‘No True Muslim’ stance is irritating as shit), I am sorry both that they felt it was necessary to speak out against something they have no association with, and that it will likely not be enough to safeguard them from the suspicion and xenophobia that is sure to come their way.

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18 comments

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  1. 1
    lirael_abhorsen

    Thank you for this post.

    I am reminded of this, which I used to send to people who claimed that they wouldn’t have such a problem with Muslims if Muslims ever spoke up against terrorism committed by other Muslims (unfortunately, yes, there’s some No True Scotsman going on there too).

    And you are right, the real issue is that they shouldn’t have to. I don’t remember anyone with any public platform to speak of bashing Christians for not speaking up against Eric Rudolph, the KKK, or the guy who killed George Tiller. Come to think of it, I’ve also never heard anyone (except a couple of people who are themselves Buddhists) bash Buddhists for not speaking up against brutal Buddhist persecution of Muslims in Burma – we take the “you must speak up” attitude toward some minority religions, but not others.

  2. 2
    Leo Buzalsky

    an assessment that I am sorry to see that PZ Myers buys into as well

    Uhhh….what? I feel as though we read two different articles there. Yes, PZ says “Islam as a whole is damnably bad” but also says things like the following:
    “I don’t disagree with him on the odious nature of Islam (and Catholicism, and Lutheranism, and…) ”
    “No. No one is scarier than Cheney.”
    “Those tens of millions of Muslims are mostly interested in being left alone, in not being victimized by richer nations, in getting along with their neighbors. They’re also victims of a rotten religion that encourages tribalism and misogyny.”
    That last statement I think is perhaps the best example. Yes, he’s saying the religion itself is pretty bad, but he’s not saying that the followers of the religion are necessarily bad. (I would suspect he recognizes that Muslims, like Christians, pick and choose from their holy books.)
    Or, another way to put this is you appear to be making the common flaw of failing to distinguish between criticism of the religion vs. criticism of its followers. (A mistake I’m surprised you would make. Did you perhaps just skim over PZ’s article? I know I shoot myself in the foot from time to time doing things like that.)

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    The Anglicans do not have as a point of doctrine that it is commendable to order the execution of writers or webcomic artists, nor that a reasonable punishment for adultery is to stone the woman to death. That is not islamophobia: that is recognizing the primitive and cruel realities of a particularly vile religion, in the same way that we can condemn Catholicism for its evil policies towards women and its sheltering of pedophile priests

    Except that, because the Anglicans use the bible, they do have it as a point of doctrine that stoning is a reasonable punishment for adultery (among other things), and that blasphemy is punishable by death. This is like… basic anti-theist skepticism fail. It’s not an “Islam problem” the way PZ’s article suggests it is.

  4. 4
    jesse

    This is why (re: PZ) that I am a little more uncomfortable with how to condemn religions or whatever it might be — without thinking through how people view their identities.

    “I am criticizing the religion, not the people who practice it” to me is a cop out, at least in some situations. Because many people see their religion as a core part of their identity, something you are “born” with, even if we know logically that they aren’t. When you say “Islam has a problem” you aren’t just taking about the religion as though it were in this vacuum separated from every other part of a person. Islam has been racialized, and we have to acknowledge that. There’s a reason that nobody thinks of Albania or Bosnia as “Muslim countries” even though they are by any definition. (It’s the same reason that people forget that the largest Muslim minority in Europe after places like Germany — which is still under 5% — is in Bulgaria).

    And to basically fail to recognize that criticism of religion, in skeptic’s anti-theist clothing, can often be cover for some pretty ugly racial politics, well… this Jewish dude gets a little conscious of that. There’s a little “look at those primitives” in PZ’s commentary, and it bugs me.

  5. 5
    PatrickG

    Also worth noting that the correct comparison to the particular excesses of (some adherents of) Islam is not the Anglican Church. That’s really an apples and somewhat apple-like oranges comparison.

    Try, instead, comparing atrocities committed in the name of Islam to say, things like this. That 9 year old had it coming!

    Really, if Islam is more prone to religious barbarism, this can in large part be attributed to the lack of secular institutions in Islamic countries. The cynic in me notes it’s demonstrably hard to build these things when you’re sitting atop a buttload of natural resources. Those Christian nations just keep coming in and bombing you/setting up dictators/arming your politically-convenient terrorist groups.

    But back to the Anglican Church. It’s a lot more genteel precisely because the laws of England force it to be. Hell, even with that restraint we get horror stories like the Magdalena laundries, babies forcibly removed from their mothers, cover-up of systematic child abuse, and so on — all of this in a so-called Civilized Nation with a More Benevolent Religion.

    Then walk over to the US, and note that where Christian Reconstructionists and the like are gaining influence is precisely where some of the more horrific things happening in civilized “Christian” nations are taking place.

    Examples? Consider the Religious Right and their fascination with pipe bombs, shootings, and murders (George Tiller anyone? Matthew Shephard — or do you really want to argue that homophobic bigotry isn’t couched in religious argument?), not to mention their campaigns of intimidation and terror. And again, even with our secular institutions, we’re scared to death to even imply that hateful extremists encourage hateful extremism. Because how dare we that’s impolite you atheists eat babies they’re lone wolves you traitor Jesus throws deadly fish!

    And then you step into Christian Central/South America, or as alluded above, Africa… and phew, the lack of institutions becomes even more apparent. See, the witchcraft link above.

    So yeah, Islam does some pretty horrible shit. But there’s that old line about “religion poisons everything”. It’s not just Islam. I enter into evidence 2000 years of Christianity. I don’t know much about Hindus and Buddhists, but Avicenna might be able to shed some light there.

    TL;DR: Michelle Bachmann got re-elected. Ted Cruz got elected! Any country that does that is quite capable of doing exactly the same shit Islam does. We’ll just pretend to be appalled by it while bombing Iran.

  6. 6
    mb

    Help me with this. I’m usually with you when you discuss privilege and being sensitive to different groups and their abuse at the hands of majorities and those in power.

    But It seems pretty simple to compare the number and tenor of physical assaults by Islamists vs those committed by Christianists.

    Should I bother?

    When was the last time someone was killed by an Angilcan in the name of their god? Are you really suggesting that the Anglicans, today, invoke their god to stone, kill, mutilate and torture apostates and, well, anyone who doesn’t believe in their god or follow their religious law to same extent as the Islamists?

    My government on the other hand…

    My Christianist neighbors in the US do despicable things in the name of their god – including the killing of medical personnel helping to provide choice, but I can’t begin to compare it to the level of physical harm done by the Islamists.

    If you can, please do – it really seems like an empirical issue when it comes to violence and the various religious sects/cults.

    I live in the world of Saddleback Church – most of them don’t even know that they’re actually Southern Baptists and supported slavery, finally apologizing in 1995. Or that they want to kill Ugandan gays because they can’t do it here. They do awful things and push the government to do awful things in the name of their god, but compared to the Islamists?

    And that’s really the point. The Islamists are worse because they can get away with it. The Christianists are (more) constrained by the societies in which they live. Would the US theocrats be any better if unleashed to reach their full (backwards) potential? Clearly not, but that’s not yet the world in which we live.

    (I was reading something at FDL and the author was talking about whores – I found myself thinking, OK, he’s trying to be funny but they’re sex workers and shouldn’t a site like that be more sensitive – am I being too sensitive now?)

  7. 7
    Crommunist

    And that’s really the point. The Islamists are worse because they can get away with it. The Christianists are (more) constrained by the societies in which they live.

    I think you kinda answered your own question there. It’s not about which religion is worse or better – it’s about the strength of secular society. Which, to PZ’s credit, he does mention, but that’s after he says that Islam is worse because it (and only it) wants to stone adulterers and kill apostates.

    Clearly not, but that’s not yet the world in which we live.

    Given the levels of overt religiosity in the U.S. Army, I’m not quite so sure about that.

  8. 8
    tildeb

    I am sorry both that they felt it was necessary to speak out against something they have no association with…

    But this is just it: the religious doctrine that all muslims support – peaceful and violent – has everything to do with violence done in its name. You skip around this fact as if it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that the doctrine of respecting god’s perfect word as revealed in the kuran is incompatible with the secular values of western liberal democracies. And that’s not a small problem that can be mitigated by showering respect and tolerance on those who seem moderate.

    Unless and until we grasp why this essential incompatibility will remain forever a fixture of simmering tension, a fount from which extremists can and are recruited, no amount of soothing babble congratulating muslims for speaking out against extremism – but not the incompatibility itself – will bring about necessary moderation and maturation of this most dangerous fundamentalist religion.

    I feel strongly that those liberals and secularists and theists and humanists who don’t criticize the doctrine of islam itself as the root cause for islamic violence against muslims and non muslims alike are they themselves complicit in maintaining the problem and the harm that ensues to real people in real life. Our condemnation must be united and sustained against the doctrine of establishing religious tyranny that is islam if we wish to defend our equality rights and freedoms. By not doing so, we are part of the problem and an ally of those who want us to to shut up and stand aside.

  9. 9
    Crommunist

    But this is just it: the religious doctrine that all muslims support – peaceful and violent – has everything to do with violence done in its name.

    Then I’m looking forward to the day when every American, individually, apologizes for the atrocities committed in the name of their country. And every European. And basically everyone who isn’t an Aboriginal tribesman.

    I also hope that you hold all Christians equally accountable for the violence done in its name, and are similarly infuriated when they fail to apologize for actions taken by the KKK or Joseph Kony.

    I’m certainly not saying “oh well we mustn’t criticize Islam” or “moderate Muslims get a pass”. My concern is that Muslims are being held to a disproportionate standard based on stereotyped beliefs about their religion, in many cases grounded in simple racist and colonialist xenophobia. Christianity, in many cases, gets bundled in to “the West” and gets a much freer pass than Islam, where there are supposedly these doctrinal issues that are uniquely toxic and harmful from Islam. I suspect that there is more to the criticism than simply “we are against religious tyranny”.

  10. 10
    mythbri

    @tildeb #8

    But this is just it: the religious doctrine that all christians support – peaceful and violent – has everything to do with violence done in its name. You skip around this fact as if it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that the doctrine of respecting god’s perfect word as revealed in the Bible is incompatible with the secular values of western liberal democracies. And that’s not a small problem that can be mitigated by showering respect and tolerance on those who seem moderate.

    Unless and until we grasp why this essential incompatibility will remain forever a fixture of simmering tension, a fount from which extremists can and are recruited, no amount of soothing babble congratulating christians for speaking out against extremism – but not the incompatibility itself – will bring about necessary moderation and maturation of this most dangerous fundamentalist religion.

    I feel strongly that those liberals and secularists and theists and humanists who don’t criticize the doctrine of Christianity itself as the root cause for is Christian violence against Christians and non-Christians alike are they themselves complicit in maintaining the problem and the harm that ensues to real people in real life. Our condemnation must be united and sustained against the doctrine of establishing religious tyranny that is Christianity if we wish to defend our equality rights and freedoms. By not doing so, we are part of the problem and an ally of those who want us to to shut up and stand aside.

    The bits in bold are the bits that I changed.

    The difference is a secular society/government. Or do you think that the Christian Right converting the United States into a real theocracy would somehow be so much better than the Islamic theocracies that already exist?

  11. 11
    Erk12

    I’m pretty sure the big difference between a christian theocracy and a muslim theocracy is whether we would be burned at the stake or beheaded for our blasphemy.

    Regarding the OP: I was not surprised to see the comments in the linked article saying essentially “Oh yeah, that’s just what they want us to believe” and “Oh yeah, well then how did they end up being violent?”. I think these are the same people who are usually first to say “Why don’t muslim leaders speak out against violence?”. It must be tough work pushing those goalposts back all the time.

  12. 12
    PatrickG

    But It seems pretty simple to compare the number and tenor of physical assaults by Islamists vs those committed by Christianists.

    Should I bother?

    Maybe you should. But do make sure you add the works of people like Brig. Gen. Boykin to the body count.

  13. 13
    grumpyoldfart

    “the Association of London Muslims has and will continue to unequivocally condemn violent extremism of any kind, as this is the opposite to the core teachings of Islam.”

    So I guess this bit (and dozens of other bits like it) do not form part of the “core teachings of Islam.”

    Kill them wherever you overtake them
    http://quran.com/2/191

  14. 14
    mythbri

    Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

    If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives. (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

    Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)

    If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness. (Proverbs 20:20 NAB)

    All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense. (Leviticus 20:9 NLT)

    If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

    A priest’s daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

    Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    But if this charge is true (that she wasn’t a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)

    Then I heard the LORD say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children. But do not touch anyone with the mark. Begin your task right here at the Temple.” So they began by killing the seventy leaders. “Defile the Temple!” the LORD commanded. “Fill its courtyards with the bodies of those you kill! Go!” So they went throughout the city and did as they were told. (Ezekiel 9:5-7 NLT)

    If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins. I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted. (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

    Anyone who is captured will be run through with a sword. Their little children will be dashed to death right before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked and their wives raped by the attacking hordes. For I will stir up the Medes against Babylon, and no amount of silver or gold will buy them off. The attacking armies will shoot down the young people with arrows. They will have no mercy on helpless babies and will show no compassion for the children. (Isaiah 13:15-18 NLT)

    “Islam is a religion of peace.”

    “The Bible is a book of God’s love.”

    I don’t really see the difference between these two statements.

  15. 15
    tildeb

    @mythbri and @Crommunist

    There is a fundamental difference between believers in islam and other religions that you ignore: ask a muslim if s/he believes the koran to be the perfect word of god and do the same with those from any other religion. This reveals the difference: islam is a fundamentalist faith. Period. Full stop. There is no wiggle room to liberalize this central tenet, to moderate it to fit with enlightenment values. In fact, the determination of what constitutes being a good muslim from a poor one is how closely one adheres to the teachings of the koran. This is not equivalent in christianity, in that people do not become ‘better’ christians for implementing Leviticus’ teachings!

    This difference matters because it reveals why a very large and statistically significant number of muslims are willing to act on behalf of defending the faith in ways that are deeply anti-secular. Over a third of British born, university educated, muslims between the ages of 19 and 39 admitted that killing in the name of defending their faith was acceptable. In comparison less than 1% of other religious adherents – including christianity – admitted as much. There is a reason why muslim youth can be ‘radicalized’ to commit atrocities and it isn’t because of the typical pseudo-answers provided by liberal apologists: poverty, colonialism, ignorance, etc.. The real answer, the one demonstrable by reality itself, is that the religion creates a very large pool of candidates.

    Until we face this fact that the central tenets of islam are incompatible with the foundational values of western secular liberal democracies, then those who continue to think islam itself is a compatible religion within a secular society are either complacent about the danger it uniquely presents to all of us, our shared rights and freedoms, or complicit in undermining them by maintaining the soothing fiction necessary for this religious problem to grow. For supporters of islam to renouncing the most extreme violence rather than the incompatible tenets themselves that promote this violence, that causes the violence, that justifies the violence, is simply inadequate.

  16. 16
    Crommunist

    There is a reason why muslim youth can be ‘radicalized’ to commit atrocities and it isn’t because of the typical pseudo-answers provided by liberal apologists: poverty, colonialism, ignorance, etc.. The real answer, the one demonstrable by reality itself, is that the religion creates a very large pool of candidates.

    Hooookay. First of all, I have known several Muslims over the course of my life who would answer ‘no’ to your thought experiment question, so it’s absurd on its face. I mean, your entire screed is just paranoid ranting, but that part is the least persuasive.

    The other thing to consider is the fact that sincerely believing something to be true doesn’t magically make it true. The fact that you don’t personally think there’s any explanation aside from religion doesn’t make everyone else (Including, y’know, experts in the field) wrong. If you’re going to make an over-the-top claim like “religion is the only explanation, and not all of the other things that are typically associated with terrorism”, you need to come with facts, not just bigoted rantery.

    Finally, you must be new around here, so I’m going to forgive you for the “western secular liberal democracies” canard. You’re talking about European countries and their colonies. There is no “West” – that’s just a euphemism for “white people”. And considering how deep Christianity (and all its associated atrocities, unchecked for generations) runs through “the West” and its history, I find it more than a little laughable that you would say “West good, Islam incompatible”. Or shall we rewind the tape a few generations and see how much the Aboriginal people of North America, South America, Africa, and Asia enjoyed the “West” and its “secularism”.

    Also, in the context of this conversation, I find your website’s URL particularly apt.

  17. 17
    mythbri

    @tildeb #15

    I don’t have much to add, since it becomes increasingly clear that I’d be better off just hiring Crommunist to say my things for me, but I just have to ask – have you met Christians?

    It would be wrong of me to paint them all as frothing fundamentalists, and I’m not going to do that. That, apparently, is your thing.

    Any kind of religious fundamentalism is bad. The Christian fundamentalism is just as bad as Islamic fundamentalism. We’re talking about ancient and violent texts, here. The Bible and Christianity is not somehow magically better by virtue of being “Western”. And, as Crom pointed out, secular values =/= “Western” values. That’s a racist dogwhistle.

  18. 18
    freemage

    Can I say that I ~do~ hold Christian religious institutions accountable, expecting them to be vocal and stalwart in confronting evil done in the name of their Book? Hell, it was the general lack of ‘moderate’ Christianity’s various sects to do anything about the pernicious and vile WBC protests that first had me re-question my own faith.

    About the only Christian church I’ve seen consistently walk-the-talk in this regard is the Quakers. I’d live in a Quaker theocracy in a heartbeat, given that the primary tenets seem to be, “Think before you speak,” “Speak according to your conscience,” and “Treat other people decently.” I mean, sure, having to call everyone “Friend” would be a bit annoying, but it’d still be better than just about any other alternative theocracy.

    So, yes, I do feel that moderate Muslims need to speak out aggressively against their fundamentalist brethren. OTOH, I’m also aware that… they do. At least in the U.S., and I suspect in Canada. Happens all the time. I’m a bit less prone to passing judgement on the issue in the case of moderate Muslims ~in~ Islamic nations, for reasons I’d hope are obvious.

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