Someone at the invaluable Facebook group British Muslims for Secular Democracy posted an article in the Huffington Post last May by Ali Rizvi, An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective on the ‘Root Causes’ of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia.
It begins by quoting.
The ambassador answered us that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
The above passage is not a reference to a declaration by al Qaeda or some Iranian fatwa. They are the words of Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, reporting to Secretary of State John Jay a conversation he’d had with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Tripoli’s envoy to London, in 1786 — more than two and a quarter centuries ago.
The envoy was explaining why the pirate raids off the coast of North Africa would continue; because jihad, that’s why.
Adja’s position wasn’t a random one-off. This conflict continued for years, seminally resulting in the Treaty of Tripoli, signed into law by President John Adams in 1797. Article 11 of the document, a direct product of the United States’ first-ever overseas conflict, contained these famous words, cementing America’s fundamental commitment to secularism:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext, arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Yes, the establishment of secularism in America back in the 18th century was largely related to a conflict with Islamist jihadism.
How can that be? The same way it can be now: many people really are motivated by religious beliefs and dogma, and not by something “deeper” or more occult or more political or more attractive.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”
The taboo against criticizing religion is still so astonishingly pervasive that centuries of hard lessons haven’t yet opened our eyes to what has been apparent all along: It is often religion itself, not the “distortion,” “hijacking,” “misrepresentation” or “politicization” of religion, that is the root cause.
And the same applies to religiously-based sexism, homophobia, violence against heretics and apostates, forced marriage, and so on. It’s not the case that religion is always a screen for something else; often religion is what there is. It’s not “Islamophobia” to say that.
Typically, resorting to ad hominem attacks and/or labeling the opposing side “bigoted” is a last resort, when the opponent is unable to generate a substantive counterargument.
This phenomenon can be wholly represented by loaded terms like “Islamophobia.” As an atheist Muslim (I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan and my Muslim family and friends), I could be jailed or executed in my country of birth, the country I grew up in and a host of other Muslim countries around the world for writing this very piece. Obviously, this is an unsettling, scary feeling for me. You may describe that fear as a very literal form of “Islamophobia.” But is that the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry? No.
No; but by god there are a lot of people who rush to claim that it is.
Jews frequently profess their faith without justifying or defending passages in the Old Testament calling for the stoning to death of homosexuals, non-virginal brides or blasphemers. In fact, most of them condemnthese ideas. Religious Catholics still identify with their faith in large numbers without agreeing with the pope on birth control, abortion or premarital sex. Like them, almost all Muslims cherry-pick the contents of their faith as well. Why not be honest about the parts you don’t like? If you’re being discriminated against, why not protect your people first instead of jumping to protect your beliefs, books or religion every time someone driven by them commits mass murder?
This is a key difference for “new atheists.” To us, the fight against religious ideology isn’t a struggle against human rights but a struggle for them. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs don’t and aren’t.
Also hijabs and niqabs. They also don’t and aren’t. Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs and religious garments don’t and aren’t.