Another brief thought on identity shifts

Mohamed Salim is a number of things. He’s a man, he’s an American, he’s a war veteran, he’s a cab driver, he’s a son, possibly a brother or a father or a husband. Presumably he has other identities that are grounded in his personal interests: maybe gamer or Trekkie or brony or lacrosse team captain or whatever.

As you might well conclude from his name, Mohamed Salim is also a Muslim. And though it would not be so in a sane world, Mohamed Salim is also therefore a victim of violent assault: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Don’t Dream It’s Over

Part of the reason I haven’t been writing as much is because I have been playing more guitar. I recently bought a fancy new effects pedal from Line 6, and I have been learning to master it and incorporate it into my live performances. The options are virtually endless, and the going is slow. Here’s one of my favourite new things to do with it:

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‘Muslimed’ out of being white

When two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line, the simmering xenophobia and racism that lies just beneath America’s veneer of tolerance and enlightenment roared to the surface. The New York Post, a rag long known for its total abdication of journalistic ethics, posted an innuendo-laced front page inviting the dangerous speculation of every red-blooded God-fearing citizen with a gun in one hand and a poor grasp of demography in the other.

CNN, which is now known as a similarly talentless and scruple-less joke of an outfit, adopted much the same stance:

Last night CNN correspondent John King took to Twitter to offer more context on how he ended up reporting that a suspect, described as a “dark-skinned man” had been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. CNN ran with King’s “exclusive news” of the “dark-skinned” suspect for an hour until they announced their report turned out to be false.

“Source of that description was a senior government official. And I asked, are you sure? But I’m responsible,” King tweeted on Thursday evening. “What I am not is racist.”

King offered his explanation only after the NAACPAl Sharpton, and the National Association of Black Journalists called him out for his inflammatory reporting.

In a climate when exactly nobody knew anything, people who weren’t particularly concerned about facts had honed in on a conclusion that was so obviously true that it didn’t warrant investigation: that the bombs were detonated by dark-skinned foreign Muslims who hate America because of its freedoms. It fit quite neatly into the prevailing narrative of jealous Muslims sitting in their caves, cursing the fact that America stands as a stark rebuke of liberty to their ideology of restrictive megalomania. [Read more…]

Qasim Rashid on Muslims condemning violence

One of the more popular criticisms of Muslims that can be found within the atheist community takes the following form:

Sure, not all Muslims commit acts of violence; however, they do not speak out against it, because they know that the violent actors are adhering to the true nature of the religion.

The latter half is omitted as often as it is included, but the subtext of “moderate Muslims don’t speak out against violence committed in the name of Islam” does not really permit many interpretations beyond that conclusion. It is seemingly predicated on a belief that a plain-text reading of the Qur’an leads to the clear conclusion that violence against non-believers is permitted.

Never mind, of course, that the opposite is true.

Similarly untrue is the assertion that moderate Muslims do not speak out against terrorism, as Qasim Rashid explains: [Read more…]

The threat of blackness

I was with a few friends watching an episode of a show called Just For Laughs: Gags. It’s something similar to ‘Candid Camera’, where random passers-by are placed in comical situations, caught on hidden camera. The humour of the show is watching people try to react appropriately to an implausible situation: a man’s car is ‘stolen’ after he has asked someone to watch it for him; a woman dressed as a lion tamer runs in fear past some unsuspecting person, pursued closely by a confederate dressed in a lion costume. The payoff of the show comes at the end of each segment, when the unwitting participant is shown the cameras, and everyone has a good laugh.

The recent episode I was watching presented a pair of men dressed as police officers with a WANTED poster of a thief dressed as a clown. They approach the unwitting ‘target’, who has just agreed to hold a garbage bag for a confederate as they go into a store. The police open the bag, find clown garb (including a big red nose and a rainbow wig) inside, and begin interrogating the ‘target’, dressing hir in the attire and remarking on the resemblance. Ignoring the ‘targets’ protestations of innocence, the faux police produce handcuffs and announce that the person is under arrest.

Of course, the police then point out the hidden cameras, and the ‘accused’ people share a relieved laugh with the actors. I turned to one of my friends and remarked “notice how they didn’t show any of the black people laughing”. She shot me a wry smile as we reflected on the fact that being stopped by the police and threatened with arrest for a crime you haven’t committed is no laughing matter when you live in a community where the colour of your skin makes you suspect. Indeed, I would imagine that if I had been one of the ‘targets’ on the show, this kind of thing would be very much at the front of my mind: [Read more…]

Ali A. Rizvi on ‘the politics of Islamophobia’

I am acutely aware, as I look over the post from the past couple of days, that I am breaking one of my own general ‘rules’: I am speaking about a community more than I am listening to its members. Indeed, short of a high school World Religions course and whatever I have gleaned from r/atheism, I have zero knowledge of Islamic faith or the dynamics of Islamic practice. To be sure, I have attempted to avoid over-stating my case, but have preferred rather to cast some doubt on the posturing toward certainty that I see from many (though assuredly not all, and perhaps not even most) anti-theists when it comes to criticisms of Islam.

That being said, there are many people who have a great deal of knowledge about Islam and who make criticisms that are very pointed. While I am indeed a liberal, I am not so blinded by my own liberalism that I would tell ex-Muslim critics of Islam that they are ‘Islamophobic’ or that they simply lack my exalted knowledge on the topic. To that end, I’d like to share with you a criticism that I reflexively disagree with, but think is worth reading and internalizing nonetheless: [Read more…]

Religious Islam vs. Political Islam

There’s one final point I need to explore before I launch into a longer discussion of the events of last month, and that’s a debate I had in the comments about the difference between Islam as a religion and Islam as a political force. The former refers explicitly to Islam as I have described it up to now – the scripture-based, dogmatic, supernaturally-connected philosophy that all Muslims claim to be following (although arguably none actually do). The latter is the sense in which we have “Islamic countries” – a fusion of religion and politics and culture and history that is broadly referred to as “Islam”.

This difference is not semantic, and it is (I imagine) the latter type of ‘Islam’ that the most vociferous critics think of as they alight their soapboxes. That is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you – cultural criticism is important, even if it’s someone else’s culture you’re criticizing. The problem arises when criticisms of a culture fail to take all the relevant elements into account and fixate on a single one. So, for example, there are legitimate criticisms to make about “black culture”*, and black critics make them all the time, but when those criticisms focus on race and fail to factor in things like racialization, poverty, historical exclusion, and a litany of other relevant factors, the crticisms land far wide of the mark.

Indeed, it is usually this exact thing going on when members of majority groups complain that it’s only ____-ist when they do it. That’s maybe a conversation for another time, but the double standard is only true in a very superficial and inaccurate way. [Read more…]

Is criticism of Islam racist?


Now let me explain why it’s not that simple.

In any dispute among atheists (or non-atheists) about Islam, the chances are pretty good that someone will make some kind of off-side claim about what “Muslims” do or do not believe, or that we need to curb the civil liberties and human rights of Muslims to protect “Western society” from “Muslims”. In many of these cases, the rejoinder will come back that such policies or beliefs are racist.

In these moments, the accused will oftentimes develop (almost supernaturally) an encyclopaedic knowledge of what racism is and how it works, or at least ze will behave as though ze has that knowledge. “Muslims come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds,” they say “so they’re not all the same race. Therefore it can’t be racist!” That brand of dismissal has become so commonplace that it is, more often than not, run through with a vein of long-suffering annoyance, not entirely dissimilar from the one heard immediately before the words “race card” or “political correctness police” are uttered. It is the reflexive, elusive, near-thoughtless evasion of the issue, so that one can stand behind the original criticism, regardless of its quality or accuracy.

There are two principal issues I have with this evasive response: [Read more…]

Islamic criticism vs. Islamophobia

The freethinking community periodically finds itself in the paroxysms of indecision and self-recrimination for its inability to consistently address a simple question: what is the difference between “criticism of Islam” and “Islamophobia”? Whenever we seek to draw attention to atrocities committed in the name of Islam, we are caught in a firestorm of criticism on a variety of fronts. The most recent example was the fracas surrounding prominent atheist spokesmen Sam Harris and, to a lesser extent, Richard Dawkins, for comments they have made about Islam.

There are two extreme responses to this issue. The first, favoured by many within the atheist community, is to deny the very existence of Islamophobia – to claim that the term is political jargon that is used exclusively to deflect legitimate criticism by painting all critics as bigots. The second is to make the converse claim that all criticism of Islam is indeed Islamophobic, and that people’s religious beliefs ought to be off-limits. While these two positions are extreme, and while I am far more sympathetic to the former than the latter, I would imagine most people would agree on the following statement:

Bigotry is morally reprehensible, but we should be allowed to criticize bad ideas regardless of the social characteristics of those who hold them.

[Read more…]

Lessons to be learned from the Boston tragedy

I have just returned from a trip to Boston. These posts have been waiting for a while to publish, and this is as good a time as any.

Over the past month*, I have repeatedly found myself in the odd position of defending Islam and Muslims from fellow atheists. As an atheist, I am certainly strongly antagonistic to Islam, as I am to all religions. It is, therefore, unusual and counter-intuitive for me to step up in its defence. After all, the critics and I share a fundamental belief that the world would be a better place if fewer people adhered to Islam. We share the belief that Islam is false, that it holds up dangerous beliefs in such a way as to preclude criticism, and that it is a major contributor to human suffering worldwide.

My departure from the opinions of anti-Islam critics happens when I perceive those criticisms to be grounded not in factual appraisals of the damage caused by Islam, but in a lazy conflation of ‘Islam’, ‘Islamism’, and general distaste about brown foreign types. These criticisms come quickly in response to any circumstance in which Islam is implicated. Even in cases where Islam is not explicitly mentioned, like in the case of so-called “honour killings” where the murderers are most often operating within cultural norms grounded in extreme patriarchial entitlement, Islam gets the credit by diffusion.

In the case of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the alleged bombers in Boston, the anti-Islam screeds began to pour in well in advance of the suspects even being identified, let alone their motivations being known. When the news broke that the bombers did indeed profess Islam, I could almost hear the sound of a million Islamophobic cocks standing immediately to full attention. Finally, some vindication of the facts they had “known all along” – that a random act of terrorism was in fact religiously-motivated by the worst religion in the world, and there was no need to stop stigmatizing any and all people who are Muslim (or ‘Muslim-looking‘), or to examine our own policies and behaviours – it’s because Muslims. Full stop. [Read more…]