On the show this Sunday I predicted some angry backlash when I said that yes, sometimes criticism of Islam winds up sinking to the level of racism and xenophobia. I won’t run through everything, although I will throw up a handful of Q&A type responses at the end of this post. I guess the best one was this:
Just wanted to say Russel’s tone is smug and pretentious. Makes it hard to listen to the show even if you agree with him.
Okay. Now I know.
In any case, I’ve been seeing a few related conversations around the web lately, so I thought I’d share them.
Adam Lee: Maher, Harris and Atheist Islamophobia
The atheist movement’s critique of Islam is at its strongest and most necessary when it points out the real and serious harm done by Islamic fundamentalism and theocracy. However, we must be cautious not to stray over the line into promoting bigotry, or treating Muslims as homogeneous representatives of an alien and dangerous culture. The best solution is to emphasize the voices of ex-Muslim atheists, who can speak about their cultures with understanding while not sparing them from criticism on subjects for which they deserve to be criticized.
Heina Dadabhoy: When & How Criticizing Islam Takes a Turn for the Racist
The stereotyping of Muslims, then, comes from racism and is a part of racism against Middle-Easterners (and, more broadly, the Other) rather than is equivalent to or is racism. Because Muslims are widely perceived and stereotyped to be a certain race, i.e. not white, criticism that is purported to be of Islam can end up being dressed-up racist statements against Arabs.
What makes a criticism of Islam racialized? Some examples:
The “durka durka Muhammad jihad”-style gibberish favored by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and other comedians who fancy themselves clever for basically saying “this language sounds weird to me because I don’t understand it” is racialized. It’s the adult version of the “haha, you sound / smell / look funny!” taunt familiar to many non-white people. It’s Othering in its most basic form.
A few things I’d like to add, addressing common things people have said to or about me lately:
Q: Aren’t you essentially still agreeing with Sam Harris that criticism of Islam shouldn’t always be interpreted as Islamophobia or racism?
A: Yes. I absolutely do agree with that.
Q: Then why are you talking as if you don’t agree with Sam?
As I hope Heina’s post highlights, some attacks on Muslims absolutely do come from a similar place to racism and xenophobia. Sam is overly dismissive of this point, in my experience. For a previous example of my disagreement with Sam, see my post “Racial Profiling – a data mining perspective.”
Q: But we stand together in hating actual theocracies, right?
A: Obviously yes. And in most cases, the victims of those theocracies are the people forced to live under them, i.e., other Muslims, as well as ex-Muslims.
Q: By arguing against Sam’s point you are proving his point.
A: Yes, yes, that’s a super witty rejoinder. Thanks for that.
Q: 97% of all suicide terrorists are either Muslim or Hindu.
A: Link, please.
Q: You don’t have a problem with Halal? Then you must be totally fine with inhumane animal butchering.
A: I don’t shop for Halal food. I just said the notion that a few stores in a first world country might offer it does not put any of us in danger of a Sharia state. Not all Halal items are meat: “Since 1991, mainstream manufacturers of soups, grains, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, prepared foods, and other industries, as well as hotels, restaurants, airlines, hospitals and other service providers have pursued the halal market.” And while the Halal methods of butchering are kind of ugly, so are some Kosher methods of butchering, and yet I hear a lot less panic about that. For that matter, some factory farming methods are pretty abominable as well. I’m not saying we should sweep those problems under the rug; I’m saying they need to be put in perspective. People who don’t normally care at all about animal rights seem to become obsessed with it as soon as Muslims are involved.
Q: Would you go into a Muslim theocracy and say the same things you do on the show? Chicken.
A: No, I would not. Nor would I go into Uganda and declare to major Christian leaders that I demand the immediate right to marry a man. If that makes me chicken, that’s cool with me. I’m not a big fan of martyrdom myself.