More than many other things, Islam matters.
But I think it matters mostly because it is the banner of a reactionary political movement.
Otherwise, Islam is no different from other religions.
You can find just as much misogyny, cruelty and inhumanity in the Bible or other religious books as you can in the Koran.
And Islam, Christianity or Judaism are fundamentally no different from Scientology or Moon’s Unification Church, which the German government deems to be ‘cults endangering social and personal development.’
After all, what do they think religion is?
But even so, today – as we speak – there is still a distinction to be made between religion in general and Islam in particular but for no other reason than that it is the ideology behind a movement that is, in many places, part and parcel of the state, the law, criminal so-called ‘justice’ system, judiciary, and educational system.
I think this point is key for a principled criticism of Islam and more importantly a progressive and humane response to the totalitarianism of our era.
This means, firstly, that we have a duty to criticise Islam; this goes beyond the mere right to and freedom of speech and expression.
Clearly, the German government – in fact all European governments – the United Nations, the religious nationalist European left and other apologists for Islam don’t think so. Germany’s Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble, for example, is so concerned about Islam’s image that he is quoted as saying that media reports on Islam often concentrate on the subject of violence and rarely focus on the reality of Islam in everyday life.
But the reality of Islam in everyday life is far more violent than anything even a minister in a government with close relations with the political Islamic movement could fathom. Entire generations slaughtered over decades and buried in mass graves in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The human cost of Islam in power is enough of a reason – the only necessary reason – to make criticism a task and duty.
After all, it is impossible – let me repeat impossible – to challenge a political movement that has wreaked havoc primarily for the people of the Middle East and North Africa if you are not allowed to fully and unequivocally criticise its ideology and banner.
Now I know some say that the problem is not Islam but the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. But in my opinion, there can be no Islamic feminism, Islamic reformism, Islamic democracy, Islamic human rights, and moderate interpretations of Islam when it is in power.
Of course there are Muslims or those labelled as such who have humanist, secularist, moderate, feminist, atheist, communist and other progressive viewpoints but this is not one and the same with Islam in power being as such.
In my opinion, a ‘moderate’ or ‘reformed’ religion is one that has been pushed back and reigned in by an enlightenment. And not before.
Criticism of religion has always been an important vehicle for progress and the betterment of humanity’s lot.
And it is within this context that criticism of Islam finds meaning. The right wing’s virulent criticism of Islam and its sudden championing of women’s rights in the Middle East – whilst legislating religious morality and misogyny here at home – self-servingly ignores the main issue at hand, which is religion and political power.
If we are going to win this battle again – as in centuries past – we have to push Islam and religion out of the public sphere. Full stop.
There can’t be any compromise because too many lives are at stake. And compromise includes the misguided liberal attempts at interfaith coalitions thereby increasing the numbers of religions and beliefs that have access to power in society or more reactionary sorts of appeasement such as that of the German government or the likes of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. In case you haven’t yet heard, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation launched recently in order ‘to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.’ Religion wouldn’t need one public relations campaign after another if it was so good, now would it? Even calling it ‘faith’ and avoiding the term religion won’t get around the fact that it is the genocidaire of our age.
Either way – misguided or purely out of economic and political interests – these endeavours only serve to increase, justify and consolidate the role of religion in society – and are part of the problem rather than any solution.
The fundamental problem being that they are more concerned with religion – either apologising for it or trying to show how much better ‘their own’ religion is – than with real live human beings.
In my opinion, you have to choose.
You must either defend the human being or you must defend Islam and religion. You can’t defend both because they are incompatible with and antithetical to each other.
Of course this doesn’t mean that people don’t have a right to religion or atheism. Of course they do but as a private affair.
Labelling millions of people as Muslims and collaborating with Islamic organisations as the German government is doing with its Islamic conferences only helps to hand over millions of often resisting people to the political Islamic movement. This despite the fact that according to the government’s own admission, the Islamic organisations at the annual conferences represent at best 10-15% of those it has deemed to be Muslims.
This type of politics ignores the distinction between the oppressed and oppressor and actually sees them as one and the same. It ignore the important distinction between Muslims and those deemed to be such and Islam and political Islam. It is politics that implies that people want to live the way they are forced to. That they actually deserve no better because it is ‘their own culture and religion’ imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class, parasitical imams and self-appointed ‘community leaders’.
And so, criticism of Islam is deemed racism; it is not.
And so rights, equality, integration are raised vis-à-vis religion rather than the human being. Since when has people’s integration meant the integration of their so called beliefs?
As I have said, whilst criticism of Islam and political Islam is an historical duty and necessity it has to be based within a politics that puts people first to have real meaning and affect real change.
It has to be done but for humanity’s sake.
In the face of this onslaught, secularism, universalism, citizenship rights, a humanity without labels and values worthy of 21st century humanity can only be defended via another transformative enlightenment by this century’s avant-gardes. We must give no more concessions to religion and cultural relativism; we must no longer respect and tolerate inhuman ideals, values and practices. An uncompromising and shamelessly aggressive demand for secularism is only a minimum if we are to ensure that humanity is safeguarded. Today, more than ever, we are in need of the de-religionisation of society – a concerted battle against the religion industry, which is above the law, unregulated and never held accountable for its fatwas, murder and mayhem.
As Mansoor Hekmat, the late Marxist thinker said: ‘It has been proved time and time again that pushing back religiosity and religious reaction is not possible except through unequivocal defence of human values against religion. It has been proved time and time again that preventing religious barbarism does not come about through bribing it and trying to give it a human face, but through the fight against reactionary religious beliefs and practices. What price should be paid… to realise that Islam and religion do not have a progressive, supportable faction?’ (Mansoor Hekmat, In Defence of the Prohibition of the Islamic Veil for Children.)
The above is Maryam Namazie’s speech at an alternative to the Islamic conference in Koln, Germany on May 31, 2008.
The above was first published in WPI Briefing 205, dated June 3, 2008.