I have just returned from a trip to Boston. These posts have been waiting for a while to publish, and this is as good a time as any.
Over the past month*, I have repeatedly found myself in the odd position of defending Islam and Muslims from fellow atheists. As an atheist, I am certainly strongly antagonistic to Islam, as I am to all religions. It is, therefore, unusual and counter-intuitive for me to step up in its defence. After all, the critics and I share a fundamental belief that the world would be a better place if fewer people adhered to Islam. We share the belief that Islam is false, that it holds up dangerous beliefs in such a way as to preclude criticism, and that it is a major contributor to human suffering worldwide.
My departure from the opinions of anti-Islam critics happens when I perceive those criticisms to be grounded not in factual appraisals of the damage caused by Islam, but in a lazy conflation of ‘Islam’, ‘Islamism’, and general distaste about brown foreign types. These criticisms come quickly in response to any circumstance in which Islam is implicated. Even in cases where Islam is not explicitly mentioned, like in the case of so-called “honour killings” where the murderers are most often operating within cultural norms grounded in extreme patriarchial entitlement, Islam gets the credit by diffusion.
In the case of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged bombers in Boston, the anti-Islam screeds began to pour in well in advance of the suspects even being identified, let alone their motivations being known. When the news broke that the bombers did indeed profess Islam, I could almost hear the sound of a million Islamophobic cocks standing immediately to full attention. Finally, some vindication of the facts they had “known all along” – that a random act of terrorism was in fact religiously-motivated by the worst religion in the world, and there was no need to stop stigmatizing any and all people who are Muslim (or ‘Muslim-looking‘), or to examine our own policies and behaviours – it’s because Muslims. Full stop.
Of course, as more facts of the case began to pour in, the story became progressively stranger. These kinds of details don’t usually perturb those who had made up their minds before any facts were available in the first place, but I found them to be revelatory of a number of disparate threads that weave their way through the conceptual tapestry of this blog. The problem is, of course, that blogs are not the best platform for complex and multifaceted reflection. What I will attempt to do instead is another series of posts in which I address some of the central issues from a variety of perspectives, and address a number of questions:
- Where is the line drawn between ‘criticism of Islam’ and ‘Islamophobia’
- How can Islamophobia be racist if Muslims aren’t a single race?
- Is Islam to blame for the Boston bombings?
- How does race and racism inform how we think about the Boston bombings?
I hope to conclude by arguing that failure to address these questions in a serious and thoughtful way makes us less able to not only respond intelligently to threats, but makes us less able to prevent them (and possibly even raises our risk for future events).
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*This is where I customarily provide an apology for my extended and unexplained absence. Sorry about that. No good reason for it, just not a lot of writing mojo lately.