Squaring the Panic over Misogyny with World Hijab Day

I have been criticized for mocking the burqa and niqab. I commented on a widely circulated image of a women in a niqab taking a selfie (the image is shared below). I asked, Whats the point? Some expressed surprise that a man of the left would post such a thing. Im not a good social justice warrior.

I am always a little surprised that anybody who knows me even a little—or who cares about women, frankly—would be surprised or dismayed by my criticism of Islam. To be clear, I understand why progressives think this way. Defending the Islamic way of life is how leftwing identitarians establish their progressive bona fides. Its still always a little surprising. Disheartening is probably a better word to use here.

I am a vocal antitheist. Have been for most of my life. An antitheist is not merely an apostate or an atheist, but someone who has become convinced by reason and evidence that religion is a malevolent force in history and society. An antitheist openly advocates disbelief in supernatural things in order to save human beings from the oppression and violence that follows from such beliefs. Religious ideologies—in particular Catholicism and Islam in our time—are analogous to fascism and racism. They run on similar social logics and are responsible for widespread pain and misery.

One commentator asked me how, as an academic, that I could engage in such a crude act as mocking the niqab. But the conclusion I draw about modesty dress is the product of critical historical social science reflection. I wouldnt be using my sociological training to proper ends if I allowed myself to participate in an ideological project to mainstream irrational belief systems by denying the reality of the structure and function of religion. Moreover, I have a responsibility as an moral person to criticize oppressive ideas and practices.

As a humanist, I dont just reject religious belief for myself; I want to see religion marginalized to the point where it does not affect any significant number of people (ideally, the point at which it affects no one). Irreligious criticism and ridicule is central to the secular humanist project. And, as a feminist, I abhor the erasure of women. I would be a hypocrite if I remained silent in the face of such blatant oppression of my sisters. What do progressives say about the effect of failing to stand against oppression? Well, I know what a liberal said about it: There are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice, said apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Or, as Leonardo Da Vinci put it, He who does not oppose evil, commands it to be done. It is not always true that silence is consent, but in the case of Islams treatment of women it is.

And its not just straight women who suffer under Islam. Watch the video below by Ex-Muslims of North America concerning the predicament of gay ex-Muslims. The video focuses on Omar (not his real name) and his story of growing up in a country where both homosexuality and apostasy are met by death (this is true of many Muslim-majority countries).

It has always troubled me that progressives selectively condemn religious systems that subordinate girls and women and persecute homosexuals. When it comes to Christian oppression of these groups, progressives are eager to criticize, mock, and ridicule. But when Muslims engage in oppression of these groups, they not only fall silent on the injustice, but attack those who speak out. Why do so many on the left resist extending to others the blessings of liberty and protections of rights they enjoy for themselves? We do they attempt to marginalize and suppress the voices of atheists, feminists, and homosexual activists who criticize Islam? It is a bizarre expression of racism that I analyze in my essay Whats Racist About Islamophobia? Not What You Think.

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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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