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Jan 26 2014

Nice example of the fallacy of the excluded middle

The Huffington Post has published A Conversation Between Two Atheists From Muslim Backgrounds. It would be more interesting if it weren’t full of logical fallacies — in places, it’s more of an exercise in beating up liberal straw-people.

I think 21st century westerners generally don’t appreciate what they take for granted, because somebody else fought for these rights before they were born. I have given so many speeches around the country and I have heard many statements like, "The United States is the worst country on Earth," and, "We are no better if not worse than the Middle East when it comes to women’s rights and gay rights." These laughable statements generally come from people who have not been outside the United States, let alone even left their zip code. So I think most of the lack of appreciation of the freedoms in this nation or other Western nations have come from ignorance and lack of experience.

It’s quite possible that they have heard a few comments like those quoted — both the left and right contain stupid people. But I do think those are grossly misrepresentative, as well as simply wrong.

I don’t know anyone who thinks the United States is the worst country on earth — we can point to ‘witches’ being burnt alive in Africa, to gays being oppressed and murdered just about everywhere, to women being denied even the most basic freedoms in many Islamic countries. But we can also point to the satanic ritual abuse mania, the epidemic of violence against trans people, endemic racism, and inequity here, too. That the US is not quite as bloody-minded domestically (we’re pretty bloody-minded when it comes to foreign policy, unfortunately) as, say, Afghanistan does not mean we need to shut up and not worry about cleaning our own house. It does not mean we must live in denial about the diminished career opportunities for women in America because women in Saudi Arabia are being stoned to death for adultery.

We must remain focused on injustice everywhere. We cannot excuse a lesser crime here because a greater crime occurs somewhere else.

Even if you’re focused entirely on the greatest offenses against humanity, there are good practical reasons to address them everywhere. For example: Ireland is a western democracy; I’d rather live there than in the Sudan, or Uganda, or Iran. It’s a very nice place, for the most part, with some ugly history and unfortunate relics of theocracy lurking about, like their blasphemy law and their acknowledgment of a deity in their constitution. Minor problems compared to countries that are actively and oppressively theocratic, right? But some Islamic nations love to point to the blasphemy laws in Ireland as legitimizing their own tyrannical laws.

Further, the Irish people can work to change their laws to a more enlightened state; Irish or Americans or French people can’t do much to change Iranian law, other than by setting a good example, or more unfortunately, throwing threats and bombs at them until they change (and the record shows that those tactics aren’t particularly effective).

And may I say that I find it particularly irritating for someone to say that westerners are just sitting back and coasting on the labors of their ancestors, as if Grandpa solved all of America’s problems, and there are no battles left to fight. Tell that to women, to minorities, to gays — go ahead, tell them that Stonewall was just a little party, that the Selma-to-Montgomery march was just a meaningless stroll, that the people who have been campaigning against our aggressive military or corporate abuse aren’t putting their livelihoods on the line.

How would Muslims feel if we declared that they have to shut up and stop with the pity party until North Korea is cleaned up? Because of course there is only room for one Hell on earth, and all the rest of the planet is a paradise.

Do you see that that is as much of a false dilemma as accusing the West of wasting time on their own failings?

35 comments

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  1. 1
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Think globally; act locally.

    The pressure I can exert is inversely proportional to the distance at which I try to exert it. My city councillor is a lot more likely to respond to my inquiry about an issue local to both of us, than is the Prime Minister of Indonesia about something local to him. Making the place I live the best it can be is the best way I can provide the example to people living elsewhere of a possible path to making that happen. Supporting their own activism in the way they ask me to is the best way I can help to make their situation better.

  2. 2
    fasteddie

    What bugs me is the notion that the straw liberals they’ve created can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Incredibly, it is possible to simultaneously condemn the treatment of women, gays, atheists, minorities, and so on in many Islamic countries and to believe that, say, invading those countries, or periodically drone bombing their people, is not only morally wrong but also makes it harder to change society there. When the rubber hits the road and they actually mention a real, flesh and blood liberal who reflects everything that’s supposed to be wrong with “Western liberals,” who do they pick? Noam Chomsky, a man who is so irrelevant to the national debate (and unfortunately so in a lot of cases; he’s out on the left fringe, yes, but when our political discourse is dominated by folks who would be on the right fringe in a rational world, it’s not so bad to have prominent voices pulling in the other direction) that he might as well be made of straw himself.

    Then there’s the use of the now-quite tired “Hey, I supported an invasion of Iraq, not this invasion of Iraq” card, as though that absolves the writer of his or her errors in judgment. Good stuff all around.

  3. 3
    twas brillig (stevem)

    I think 21st century westerners generally don’t appreciate what they take for granted, because somebody else fought for these rights before they were born …

    This is a vague, but true, point. It is not saying that people are just sitting back doing nothing, nor that our grandfathers did everything. But it is seriously true that what our grandfathers did do for us, we do not appreciate anymore. We just accept it “as given”, not worth fighting about any more, why fight for it when you already have it. What he IS overlooking is that those rights are not irrevocable; that one does have to keep fighting for them (and that many are), even while you have them. Also, grandpa didn’t finish the job, there are still many things left to do, and need to be (and are being) fought (boldly) for. So this statement is not WRONG, just incomplete. I am not defending them completely, just this one specific statement is true but incomplete.

  4. 4
    brucegee1962

    Reading the article, I don’t see a fallacy of the excluded middle at all. The central argument of the two Huffpo writers seems to be that the west is far ahead of the Islamic world in terms of a respect for human rights; the central point of PZ is that, while this may be true, it doesn’t let us in the west off the hook in terms of striving to improve ourselves. Clearly each party would agree wholeheartedly with the central premise of the other. They also agree in disdaining those who engage in false equivalence between the two societies.

    The main disagreement that PZ seems to be focusing on is that the Huffpo writers see false equivalence between their home countries and the west as a central failing of liberalism, while PZ dismisses the pro-Muslim, anti-Western apologists as a fringe and sideshow. Surely that could be a case of differing experiences, though — isn’t it possible that these two, speaking as they do for a high-profile and maligned segment of society, have simply experienced a different slice of the liberal world than PZ has?

  5. 5
    robertbaden

    Having been born in 1955, I have to say the United States, at least, has changed quite a bit in my lifetime. We shouldn’t be too proud, there is still a lot to be done, but we also show what can be done.

  6. 6
    nich

    So we should ignore bullshit like this because Afghanistan sucks? What a pair of buffoons.

  7. 7
    Sastra

    I don’t know anyone who thinks the United States is the worst country on earth …

    You know, I’m not sure if I do know people who think (or think they think) that “the United States is the worst country on earth” or not. So I am going to make a point to ask the question explicitly next time I get together with my very-liberal, very-spiritual friends. If they do say ‘yes,’ then I will ask them why — and report back in a few days. Might be interesting.

    Of course it’s not likely that their answers will make any difference whatsoever to the main point of the OP, but I’m curious. If I had to make a guess, I might say that 3 or 4 will say this and give what I’m going to call ‘spiritual’ reasons — but I sure as hell shouldn’t straw-man my own friends. Though I will say they usually don’t give answers more reasonable than I think they’re going to give, whenever I do an informal survey to understand the lay of the land of Woo.

  8. 8
    vaiyt

    I think 21st century westerners generally don’t appreciate what they take for granted, because somebody else fought for these rights before they were born …

    And that’s why we should sit on our fucking butts and do nothing but APPRECIATE what we already got! Don’t you know it could be much worse! Now shut up!

  9. 9
    anuran

    True, but I’d rather live in Turkey than in Ireland. And if the West weren’t waging unremitting economic war on Iran it would be a better place to live than, say, Croatia or Greece which are being kept afloat by the EU and have strong Fascist movements. It’s not all about religion or lack thereof. And when it’s about religion it’s not always as clear as ostensibly liberal Westerners would like to believe.

  10. 10
    vaiyt

    The US might not be the worst country on Earth, but they make a lot of other places worse.

  11. 11
    Al Dente

    vaiyt @10

    All too true.

  12. 12
    woozy

    “You know, I’m not sure if I do know people who think (or think they think) that “the United States is the worst country on earth” or not. “

    I know people who may have said something similar in moments of impassioned hyperbole. Although I don’t agree, I think it *could* be argued that the United States has more power and influence and thus the harm it does has more total impact than any other country and in that sense could be said to be “the worst country in the world”.

    I wouldn’t agree and I’m putting words in others’ mouths but to dismiss “The US is the worst country in the world” as a preposterous statement and thus dismiss all dissent is indeed an excellent example of a strawman argument and of the excluded middle.

  13. 13
    brucegorton

    I think a lot of people who figure America is the worst nation on Earth, are more talking about its impact on other countries.

  14. 14
    David Marjanović

    True, but I’d rather live in Turkey than in Ireland.

    Doesn’t that depend on whether you happen to hit a place and time in Turkey the secularism is enforced while the authoritarianism isn’t? And I haven’t mentioned the corruption.

    And if the West weren’t waging unremitting economic war on Iran it would be a better place to live than, say, Croatia or Greece which are being kept afloat by the EU and have strong Fascist movements.

    …while Iran has a fundamentalist movement that is so strong it’s in power. I’d rather live in Iran than in Saudi Arabia, but many parts of Greece and Croatia handily beat both.

  15. 15
    karpad

    I think a lot of people who figure America is the worst nation on Earth, are more talking about its impact on other countries.

    This. I generally wouldn’t sign on for the exact wording of “America is the worst nation on Earth” because it’s cartoonish and needlessly vague. But “America does more harm to the world than any other nation” is, I think, an endorseable position. Are you better off as an American than a North Korean? Absolutely. Is it possible the damage America does would still exist with a different hegemony at the center? Maybe. Would Iran be a Muslim Theocracy if we hadn’t propped up the Shah for so long? Would there be the seemingly bottomless criminality of the Drug War (on both repressive regimes and violent gangsters) if there weren’t trillions of American Dollars feeding both sides of the conflict? It’s superficial to think we’re the only cause of evils in the world, but you’d be hard pressed to find an awful thing that exists that American Influence played no part in.

    Add to that the fact that we don’t, generally, see ourselves as wicked. We acknowledge our wealth and fortune and often crow about it (from whence the jingoist counterclaim of “best” arises). We have much, and give so little, and do so much harm, where our potential to be a force for good is so much higher and we squander it.

    That gap, our potential for good juxtaposed with the amount of harm we actually do, is I think inarguably larger than any nation in the world.

  16. 16
    chrisdevries

    The truth is that the worst casualty of the so-called “War on Terror” isn’t our rights and freedoms, although to be sure they have taken a blow, nor the lives lost fighting on both sides of that war. It was our legitimacy (I say “our” but I mean essentially the democratic West). In limiting some of the rights and freedoms which we have hitherto unflinchingly granted (theoretically) to all persons, and in breaking the Geneva Convention in so-called “emergencies” to try and gain by torture what real terrorists would not willingly give up, we scored an own goal. Now, ignorant liberals can point to our nefarious behavior and say “look, we’re no better than they are”, and dictators can smile at America’s ambassadors to their countries and say “who are you to tell me not to behave in this way when your country does so all the time?” We are, in fact, significantly better on the human rights front than all theocracies and dictatorships, and occasionally sacrificing values that most of us still hold to be both good and right is still better than denying, as a matter of policy, human rights to millions of our citizens. Still, by compromising our values in the name of safety (even though no evidence suggests that we were made more safe by employing such techniques as extraordinary renditions, indefinite detention without trial, waterboarding and other methods of torture), we have become our own worst enemy, threatening the right of future generations to live free from oppression.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if people have to die in a terrorist attack that could have been prevented by violating the human rights of an “enemy combatant” (assuming of course that such violations prove effective in obtaining accurate intelligence, not a trivial point), then die they must (and I realise this could mean me dying). People die defending the things they believe in all the time. Our progressive values are literally the only thing that separates us from humans who see members of other “races” (defined by skin colour or heritage, not by genetics), religions and cultures (as well as women of their own race, religion and culture) as sub-human and deserving of subjugation at best, unpaid slavery and capricious torture and execution at worst. It has taken tens of thousands of years to get to the point where there exist cultures that demand tolerance of different beliefs and practices (providing they don’t infringe on others’ rights), cultures that protect the right of every individual person to do, think, believe and say publicly whatever they want (again with the caveat that in doing so, they cannot impede anyone else from exercising their own rights). In compromising those values we make our culture very vulnerable to hijacking from those who would impose their beliefs on everyone else (because it is the very rights and freedoms we grant to such individuals that enables them to spread the idea that those rights and freedoms should be taken away, and once we start depriving our enemies of those rights, we begin to rationalise why this is sometimes a necessary evil, and slide down that slippery slope). Our only protection, as I see it, comes from the knowledge that there is no guarantee that our own preferred way of life emerges triumphant from the ashes of pluralism and multiculturalism to be forced upon all persons. In protecting the rights and freedoms of all people, we protect secular, liberal democracy; in refusing to sacrifice our values regardless of the threat, we make it more likely that our descendants will be fortunate enough to live in a world where they enjoy the same freedoms and rights that we enjoy today. The legacy of human morality we leave to future humans exceeds the value of any life or lives that could be snuffed out by a suicide bomber. The theocrats and authoritarians can’t win unless we let them change our behavior, place limits on the rights of citizens or foreigners. I really wish more people understood this.

  17. 17
    Alishba Zarmeen

    Honestly, they did not even say “shit sucks in Afghanistan, so shut up!”
    In fact, they are saying the EXACT opposite. They are saying that there is a way to be active about situations LOCALLY which will help people globally. If you REALLY want to help people globally, maybe the first step would be to stop dismissing their experiences and suggestions. If you want to become the “savior” at least learn to diagnose the disease first.
    Also, most of you knee-jerk reactors did not even read the original blogpost.
    Little whiny queens, grow up.

  18. 18
    Greg Van de Krol

    Neither Ali nor Faisal said that the US is beyond criticism or that it has no room for improvement. Ali doesn’t even live in the US, but rather a country (Canada) which in many ways is doing things better than the US, yet he still points out how things could be better. PZ owes an apologize to these young men for so grossly misrepresenting what they said. It is abhorent that exactly when so many brave atheists from Muslim countries are beginning to speak out, despite the personal risks, that it is so often feminists, western liberals and now fellow atheists who twist their words and attempt to squash their voice!

  19. 19
    CobaltSky

    PZ, you yourself posted an article doing the exact thing you are here complaining never happens. True the UK is not the USA but it is the same principle at work. Drawing these false equivalences is unhelpful and insulting, and it does happen. You frequently point out that women’s experiences are ignored in discussions about women. How about we apply that to these guys too and not dismiss them simply because they have met people who are personally inconvenient for you.

  20. 20
    jamesfrancesco

    “don’t appreciate what they take for granted”

    isn’t not appreciating the definition of “take for granted”?

    I mean, can you appreciate what you take for granted?

  21. 21
    sonofrojblake

    We must remain focused on injustice everywhere

    By definition, if you’re focused everywhere, you aren’t focused at all.

    @anuran, 9:

    I’d rather live in Turkey than in Ireland

    Yeah, I hear they’ve even lifted the government ban on accessing Youtube, that was imposed for the crime of hosting videos that “insulted Turkishness”. Out of curiosity, which of those two countries have you visited?

    @chrisdevries, 16

    the worst casualty of the so-called “War on Terror” isn’t our rights and freedoms, although to be sure they have taken a blow, nor the lives lost fighting on both sides of that war. It was [the US's] legitimacy

    This, this, so much this. The US had SO much legitimacy on September 12th 2001. Aside from a few Palestinians who were dancing in the streets, and thus made it onto every news broadcast shown for the next month (at least in this country), basically every country on earth (or at least their leaders, publicly) went “whoah, that was TOO MUCH, nobody deserved that”. And from the highest high point of the moral high ground, the US did a base jump. And the UK jumped after them, pretty much, although it’s questionable how much choice we had.

  22. 22
    Nick Gotts

    not dismiss them simply because they have met people who are personally inconvenient for you. – CobaltSky

    They claim to have met such people, which is rather different. With regard to those they do name, I know from my own reading that Chomsky is being grossly misrepresented: he is primarily concerned with a American foreign policy, but with regard to what happens at home, makes the point very strongly that because the USA does not practice the same physical repression of those with views opposed to the government as dictatorships, it is far more sophisticated in its propaganda techniques – particularly establishing the limits of what is presented as “reasonable” discourse. His:

    We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.

    is presented as a “false equivalency”, but no argument is presented to establish that it is false. George W. Bush has been responsible for the deaths of many more innocent people than Osama bin Laden.

    Ali is something of an expert in the use of false equivalency himself:

    like in Pakistan where they use blasphemy laws to shut you up, here they accuse you of bigotry, racism, and Islamophobia to achieve the same purpose

    Riiiight. I mean, we’ve seen how all criticism of Islam and Muslims has ceased in the USA because of the terror of being accused of bigotry, racism and Islamophobia, haven’t we? Faisal, meanwhile, supported the invasion of Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, and a savage religious conflict which is still continuing. He says he has been:

    a huge critic of the management of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq

    but he might at least acknowledge that the millions of us who opposed these wars were right in predicting that they would bring neither peace nor freedom to those countries – primarily because that was never the aim. Faisal also – and this is more hilarious than disgusting – seems to think that the fact that Christopher Hitchens was a friend of the crook and liar Ahmad Chalabi reflects well on Hitchens.

    In summary, the fact that these two men have suffered religious oppression – grievously so in Ali’s case – and have considerable courage, does not place their views beyond criticism. They appear to be, above all else, useful idiots for the American right.

  23. 23
    johnlee

    I’m not sure if I really understand the controversy here, but I can say that I have experience of talking to leftists/liberals in Britain who buy the line that criticising Islam is racist. It’s the same argument trotted out by Israeli government apologists – if you criticise Israel you are anti-semitic.
    I’m tired of hearing that if we see things wrong with other countries or cultures, then the fault lies with our failure to appreciate these cultures, that we’re trying to foist our western values on other societies who don’t need them, and by doing so at best we’re being patronising, and at worst imperialists and racists. It’s an all-encompassing defence that trumps all criticism, in much the same way that religionists say if you express support for same-sex marriage, you are persecuting them.
    I personally welcome observations from people like the two Islamic atheists. If they see complacency on the part of some Americans, then I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Islamic fundamentalists see no problem with hijacking western liberals’ sense of guilt. They couldn’t give a damn about hard-won freedoms, and, sad to say, there are some simple-minded, well-meaning people who swallow their lies.
    If we can’t as far as the notion that an attack on an idea is not necessarily the same as an attack on the person who holds it, then we may just as well pack up and go home.

  24. 24
    Nick Gotts

    I have experience of talking to leftists/liberals in Britain who buy the line that criticising Islam is racist. – johnlee

    Can you actually link to any leftists/liberals saying this? Because I hear the claim you’ve made very frequently, but as for hard evidence supporting it – I can’t recall any. If it’s at all a significant phenomenon, it must surely be common online.

  25. 25
    sonofrojblake

    Can you actually link to any leftists/liberals saying this?

    Here you go: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/20/islam-race-richard-dawkins

    And: http://uaf.org.uk/the-edl%E2%80%93violent-racists-and-fascists/

    Snippet from the latter: “THE EDL IS RACIST, particularly targeting Muslims”.

    It is a fact that in the UK the vast majority of the 2.7 million Muslims here are recent arrivals from south Asia, in particular Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, or their descendants. “Recent” in this context means “since about 1950″, although there have been a small number of Muslims in the UK for centuries, and there’ve been a couple of mosques here since the 19th century.

    Thus, it is a useful cover for racists in organisations like the BNP and the EDL to claim that they are opposing Islam – which is legitimate – when in fact what they’re really targetting is the ethnic group that comprises most of their members. This is such a common observation that I’m frankly surprised anyone would question it, unless they were a foreigner ignorant of the above facts.

  26. 26
    ragdish

    Then why oh why PZ was Christopher Hitchens so lauded in the atheist community? Indeed on sister sites such as Skepchick, he was showered with rose petals despite his backwards views on women (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DNb17aYAQg) and his similar BS cultural relativism ie. it’s so bad in Islamic countries so don’t you dare criticize the West.

    It made me vomit when the US and the “coalition of the willing” had this bloodlust desire to invade Iraq in 2003. And Hitchens was there front and center championing dimwits like Bush and Blair. I couldn’t give a f**k about how well he debated or how lovely was his prose. He was the shining example of what these 2 in the article have got totally wrong. It was Hitchens and his ilk who shamefully dominated a large segment of the secular community that justified brutal invasion, occupation and humiliation (ie. Abu Ghraib) of Iraquis. Rather Hitchens should have aimed his “intellectual” arrows at Bush and his fellow theocrats.

    Hitchen’s unbelief is the only point where he and I agree. But then again, the unbelief of neo-Nazi Tom Metzger is the only point where he and I agree.

  27. 27
    Nick Gotts

    sonofrojblake@25,

    Yes, I was sure some fuckwit would come out with something like that, and I’m far from surprised that the fuckwit in question turned out to be you. No, what I asked for is some liberal or leftist clearly saying that criticising Islam is racist, not that the EDL is racist, which of course it is, as you acknowledge. Here’s an actual quote from your second link:

    It’s entirely legitimate to question and interrogate Islam as a religion.

    So the piece you choose to link to not only does not support your claim, but says almost the exact opposite of what you need it to say to support that claim.

  28. 28
    sonofrojblake

    what I asked for is some liberal or leftist clearly saying that criticising Islam is racist

    Leaving aside the personal abuse, you might just as well ask for a clear statement by a racist that when they’re “criticising Islam”, they really mean Pakistanis. Neither side will be so bald.

    But, from the first link:
    ” Islam is not a race, but Muslims are” (?)
    ” it is disingenuous to claim that Islam has no colour. There is actually quite a strong racial dimension to Islamophobia. ”
    “Islam might not be a race, but using that as a fig leaf for your unthinking prejudice is almost certainly racist”.

    Fair enough, Nesrine Malik does not use your precise formulation “criticising Islam is racist”. But it’s disingenuous to pretend that the above statements are not broadly saying exactly that, in direct response to criticism of Islam by Richard Dawkins.

  29. 29
    Nick Gotts

    sonofrojblake@28,

    Stop lying. Nesrine Malik is not saying that criticism of Islam is racist, however much you like to pretend she is. She says explicitly, as I quoted, that:

    It’s entirely legitimate to question and interrogate Islam as a religion.

    That is in obvious contradiction to any claim that criticising Islam is racist, so clearly, she is not “broadly saying” that it is.

  30. 30
    zenlike

    Criticism of Islam is not racist in and of itself.

    Criticism of Islam is often used by racists to spout racist nonsense under the veil of criticising a religion. This is ofthen the case in the current political landscape in Europe (including the UK).

    Those two things are not the same.

  31. 31
    dereksmear

    I’m amazed that two people would spend so much time discussing Chomsky when they clearly have no understanding of his work.

  32. 32
    sonofrojblake

    @zenlike, 30: The question was not “is criticising Islam racist?”, nor was it “do racists use criticism of Islam as a front for their prejudice?”. The answer to these questions are “no”, and “yes”.

    The question was, are there “leftists/liberals in Britain who buy the line that criticising Islam is racist”?

    I was surprised that anyone would dispute this.

    Look at the Guardian article. ” It is acceptable to criticise and belittle Islam because it is a religion, not an ethnic grouping – and therefore fair game. Technically, they are right – Islam is not a race. But…”

    Technically Islam is not a race? So she’s saying criticising Islam isn’t racist, then, but only technically.

    But then later: “Islam is not a race, but Muslims are.”

    There is clearly a chilling effect on speech about Islam in the UK. Part of it is rational fear – criticising Christianity leads to sternly worded letters of complaint to the BBC, possibly in green ink. It doesn’t lead to bombs on buses and trains, or a man being beheaded in the street with a meat cleaver in broad daylight in the middle of a city.

    But another part of it is a fear that if you criticise Islam, you risk sounding like you’re criticising Muslims. Because how can you criticise a belief system without criticising the people who believe it? And by criticising Muslims, who are, we are told, a race, you are therefore by definition being racist.

    I’m honestly baffled how anyone can dispute this.

  33. 33
    captaindisguise

    The response to this article by Ali Rizvi, one of the authors from the original Huffpost.
    https://www.facebook.com/ali.a.rizvi/posts/10101534865299588

    “…Our article found its way to PZ Myers and his Pharyngula blog, where he completely misses the point of our conversation — demonstrating himself to be exactly the kind of “Western liberal” Faisal and I were talking about…”

  34. 34
    Nick Gotts

    sonofrojblake@32,

    Determined to continue lying, I see:

    Technically Islam is not a race?

    No, that’s not what she said, is it? She said:

    Technically, they are right – Islam is not a race.

    The whole point of the article, which you prefer not to see, is that using the “argument” that Islam is not a race to defend yourself from the charge of racism for anti-Muslim rhetoric is a disingenuous cop-out, because rhetoric that in practice reinforces existing racial inequalities is racist in effect, if not in intent; and anyone of Dawkins’ intelligence should be well able to see this.

    Islam is not a race, but Muslims are. – Nesrine Malik

    Yes, this is false, and should not have been said. But if you were able to look beyond your own prejudices, you would get the point she was trying to make. Muslims in the UK are, overwhelmingly, of recent South Asian origin, with smaller numbers being from Africa and the Middle East, and a tiny proportion being white or Afro-Caribbean converts. In global terms, Muslims are overwhelmingly non-white. So when a prominent individual such as Dawkins sneers at Muslims, the sneer is bound to be interpreted in racial terms, and again, Dawkins is presumably bright enough to realise that. If Dawkins were to say, just as accurately as his line about Muslims, that all Africans have won fewer Nobel prizes than Trinity College Cambridge, he could just as truly point out, if accused of racist speech, that “African” is not a race: there are millions of white Africans, Africans generally classed as Arabs, and Africans of Asian origin. But no-one other than a racist would take such a line of defence seriously. As Malik says:

    The fixation on terminology and not the reality suggests a society that does not want to come to terms with the creeping ugliness of hatred.

    Back to your piffle:

    There is clearly a chilling effect on speech about Islam in the UK… But another part of it is a fear that if you criticise Islam, you risk sounding like you’re criticising Muslims. Because how can you criticise a belief system without criticising the people who believe it? And by criticising Muslims, who are, we are told, a race, you are therefore by definition being racist.

    Really? I don’t notice Richard Dawkins’ speech being chilled by that “risk”, nor that of any of the FTB bloggers or commenters. Nor is mine. Islam is a false belief system, absurd in many ways, encouraging of authoritarianism, misogyny and homophobia, and in some of its variants, extremely violent and dangerous.

  35. 35
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Nick Gotts

    So when a prominent individual such as Dawkins sneers at Muslims, the sneer is bound to be interpreted in racial terms, and again, Dawkins is presumably bright enough to realise that.

    So, it’s never allowed to publicly sneer at Islam? Is that your position? That’s what you said. I hope you meant something more nuanced. I hope that we are allowed to publicly criticize Islam.

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