Sure enough: Massimo knows how to do it. Compare his first paragraph:
Much has been written about the terrorist attack on the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, which took place on 7 January 2015. Some of the commentary has been insightful, some full of pious platitudes about defense of free speech by sources with not exactly a stellar record in that department, and some of it has ranged from the woefully uninformed to the downright awful. It is, therefore, with some recalcitrance that I write these lines, particularly because I’m coming to the issue from what I feel is an increasingly rare point of view: that of a moderate liberal atheist.
No puffing out, no pointless baroque ornamentation, no pretending to be saying something more technical than you are, no vanity, no display. God how I hate that other kind – its whole purpose seems to be vanity.
While it is undeniably the case that — at this particular historical juncture — it is Muslim countries that tend to lag behind much of the rest of the world both politically and in terms of freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and women’s rights, history easily teaches us that this has nothing to do with Islam per se, and logic demands that we therefore stop looking for solutions by demonizing that particular faith.
What should we, instead, talk about? I suggest a division of (critical) labor of sorts. Roughly speaking, we in the secular West need to back off a bit from dismissive verbal assaults on Islam, and instead engage in a more nuanced indirect push toward facilitating internal discussion and cultural change within the Muslim world. It is a basic principle of psychology that people rarely respond to outside threats and denunciation by changing their minds; on the contrary, they usually retrench in their behavioral patterns. But if their minds are exposed to “friendly” (intellectual) fire from within, the chances for long lasting change improve significantly. This is a minor version of the same principle according to which one cannot force nations to become democracies by bombing the hell out of them, but one can, and ought, to do a lot of cultural and economic work to make that change happen organically. Arguably the most positive thing the West can do is to consistently help moderate Muslim voices to be heard by giving them a platform at every opportunity.
In the past I probably would have disagreed with much of that. I no longer do, and I have been doing what I can to help
moderate liberal Muslim voices to be heard by giving them a platform at every opportunity. I do the same for ex-Muslims and atheists, of course, which Massimo might not agree with, but we cross paths more than we used to.
The second thing that the secular West ought to do is to stop being so darn hypocritical about its own credentials. While European countries, the US, and several places in the non-Western world (e.g., Japan) indeed arguably are the best examples of democratic societies that the world has seen to date, they are still rife with inequality, discrimination, violence, political and religious opportunism, and a number of other maladies that require constant soul searching, not to mention a significant downgrade of the “we are the best” mantra so mindlessly repeated especially by American media and politicians. Holier than thou attitudes do not help constructive dialogue.
That too. It’s horribly easy for an American to do that, what with our massive prison population, our death penalty, our gun culture, our religion of football – I could go on and on.