Sarah Haider gives a really good talk. Here she is talking about “Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique”…and I agree so much with what she says.
She really pins down a current problem: that even those of us who think Christianity and Islam are bad ideas have difficulty treating them with equal antipathy. On the left, we hold back on our criticisms of Islam, for reasons. And she does a fine job of articulating those reasons.
One important point is the “difficulty of separating criticism of an idea from hatred towards the people holding it”. It’s quite clear in my head that, as she says, the “primary victims of Islamism are Muslims”, and that to help Muslims, we ought to be helping them break free of a patriarchal and intolerant religion, but at the same time that feels damned patronizing. She also mention Western guilt at the legacy of colonialism — that we feel we have no right to critize brown people, and that’s true. But as she also points out, the Enlightenment is not the posession of the West, and that there have been a great many liberalizers and reformers within Islam who have been working (often for too short a time before they are murdered) with the Muslim world, and we ought to be supporting them.
Another concern she mentions, and this is one that worries me a lot, is the “fear that the truth will empower the worst of us”. While we aspire to oppose the idea of Islam while supporting the humanity of Muslims, there are among us people who are literally opponents of the right of Muslims to even exist. I do not want to be confused with Pamela Geller or the gun fondlers holding a “freedom of speech” rally while holding guns. We are polarized: one side wants to give people autonomy and respect their choices, even their bad ones, while the other wants to nuke Iran. It makes it even more difficult to point to the evils of the Qu’ran when doing so is cheered by militarists and anti-immigrant forces that wants to use the wickedness of religion selectively, to oppress non-Christians.
It also doesn’t help that there are people on the left, our allies, who are so concerned with defending the rights of Muslims (which I support!) that they overlook the crimes provoked by Islam, to the point that, for instance, supporting Charlie Hebdo is regarded as evidence of Islamophobia. That’s nonsense. I can condemn the murders of cartoonists, and the fact that I do not add any kind of qualifying “but” does not make me Pam Geller’s fellow traveler. It means that I reject any and all excuses for violent intolerance.
But, as Haider asks, “can we not stand against all oppressions, stand for equal rights while simultaneously working against bigoted narratives within religion?” I think we can. It’s just hard and requires walking a narrow tightrope. It does mean, of necessity, that us white Western opponents of Islamic idiocy do need to add careful qualifiers when speaking about Islam that are not necessary when discussing Catholicism or Protestantism.
That’s OK. There is an unavoidable asymmetry in our relationship to the various world religions. It should not prevent us from making that liberal critique of religions outside our shores.