Opposition to Islam on Principle not Bigotry

A lot of opposition to Islam comes from a religious place. For many Christians, Islam is the rival religion. Christians who see it this way don’t really care about the basic moral character of Islam because their beliefs have the same essence: the subordination of women, fear and loathing of homosexuals, the promise of eternal live for slavish devotion to a deity, and the threat of eternal damnation for denying the truth of myth. What they care about is that there is a competitor horning in on their business. They fear sharia not because theocracy is against their beliefs, but because sharia means law based on Islamic value and not on Biblical values.

It is crucial to differentiate between opposition to Islam from religious corners and opposition to Islam from a principled stance against oppressive and divisive ideologies. My opposition to Islam flows not from any religious point of view (I am an atheist), but from my opposition to any ideology with the political and “moral” character of Islam. From the standpoint of secular humanism, a moral person opposes patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism. And reason demands that any ideology that promises eternal life for slavish devotion to a deity or eternal damnation for denying the truth of a lie should be condemned. Any human progress made while wearing the chains of irrational belief can only be accidental. And history proves these shackles retard the development of a just society. Freedom and democracy thrive where these views and views like them have been suppressed.

We need to speak about this matter frankly. Religious ideology does not get a pass because of the appeal to the spiritual and claims about the supernatural. This rationalization obscures the essence of theism and tricks people into supporting truly vile beliefs. Islam falls within the category of ideologies that includes Nazism – and not merely in general form. Indeed, some of the statements about Jews in the Koran foreshadow the antisemitism that would later burn through Europe. For example, passage 4.161 of Koran, “…their taking usury though indeed they were forbidden it and their devouring the property of people falsely, and We have prepared for the unbelievers from among them a painful chastisement” casts Jews as materialists not unlike that characterization of Jews made by Hitler in Mein Kampf. Elsewhere in the Koran, in a fashion similar to the Catholic Church, Jews are condemned for not recognizing the Messiah (Jesus or Isa in the Muslim faith) and the last prophet (Muhammad). And, generally, Islam is like Nazism in the desire to establish a New Order based on idealist notions under which all people shall exist and be of the same mind and spirit.

Throughout my life, I have been more critical of the Judeo-Christian tradition than I have been of Islam. The imbalance in criticisms of Islam and of Christianity has been the product of my experiences. For most of my life, Islam had no impact on me and I did not really know about the situation of women and homosexuals under Islamic rule. The consequences of religion in my world were exclusively the result of Christian teachings and attitudes. I never hesitated to pin the blame for abortion clinic bombings and the murder of physicians and staff providing abortion services on the Christian teaching that abortion involves the murder of innocent life (still don’t). I recognized that anti-homosexual sentiment in my culture is largely the product of Judeo-Christian teachings that homosexuality is sinful. My desire is to see Christianity ideology chucked onto the same scrapheap as the other defunct religious systems (although the myths are interesting, so we should keep the good stories as we did with Greek and Norse mythology).

In the meantime, I have learned much about the world, and ideas and practices from other parts of the world have been increasingly affecting me and those around me. I have learned about the situation of women and gays in the Islamic world. I am horrified by what I have learned. Islam’s view of gender and sexual relations is seriously warped. And the problem of violence in the name of Islam is now at my doorstep. I was in denial following 9-11, when Islamic terrorists murdered more than 3,000 people, focusing on the behavior of the United States and other Western powers in creating the context in which Islamism could spread and thrive (still true), instead of fully recognizing the proselytizing character of Islam and the political ambitions of Islamists, who represents a significant proportion of the Muslim population. Moreover, whereas most Muslims are not involved in jihadism, I am completely unconvinced that most would resist the Islamization of the political system in which they live. Most Muslim-majority countries adopt various aspects of sharia already, ranging from some to all. Some is intolerable. All is tyranny. Some of these countries even incorporate hudud crimes, where the penalty (stoning, beheading, amputation, flogging) is fixed by Islamic law.

I would be a hypocrite if I did not carry the same capacity for judgment to Islam that I have carried to Christianity. That would make me prejudiced towards Christianity. I would be dishonest if I failed to admit that, at this point in world history, Islam is much worse than Christianity in violating civil and human rights. The progress that, first the Jews, and then the Christians have made over many centuries in appreciating secular values and civil rule (condemned as materialism by idealists and spiritualists) has largely escaped the Muslim world. Indeed, much of the Muslim world has been regressing. To be sure, there is still a long ways to go for Christianity. Too many Christians stubbornly cling to anti-homosexual sentiment and the desire to subordinate of women. But to deny progress in one and regression in the other would be to ignore history. And to fail to say these things out of some misguided notion of tolerance or ecumenical desire would be irresponsible.

At a dinner party several years ago, in a discussion about the Murfreesboro Islamic Culture Center (i.e. mosque), I argued that the appearance of mosques in America is a good thing because it helped break up Christian hegemony. That argument was in error. The appearance of Islam in America has not weakened Christianity but has turned up the ecumenical spirit that contribute to the persistence of religious influence in my life. Rather than tolerating oppressive and divisive ideology, a secular country should strive to diminish and eliminate the sources of religious sentiment, both in marginalizing the institution of religion itself and by ameliorating the conditions that cause people to turn to superstition and the supernatural. But the idea that this critique is an example of religious bigotry is absurd. The critique does not hail from a religious standpoint. Moreover, the notion that criticizing and even condemning hateful, divisive, or oppressive ideology is any form of bigotry would mean that opposition to Nazism would be a form of bigotry. That is obviously preposterous on its face.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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