ReligionSkepticism

When The Feared Have the Most to Fear

Despite being an ex-Muslim, i.e. someone who learned so much about Islam that she was appalled enough to leave it, I’ve been accused of being an apologist for Islam.

Incidents like the actions of the New York Police Department are what make me sound like I love Islam rather than have left it.

A year ago, accusations began to fly concerning the New York Police Department’s chosen methods for combating terrorism done by Muslims. Specifically, it was alleged that, as part of training, officers were being shown The Third Jihad, a film intended to spread the idea that American Muslims present a grave threat to the United States. The NYPD denied the allegations, claiming that the film in question was shown only a few times and then by mistake.

This turned out to be a lie. The film was used rather purposefully by the NYPD as part of officer training. Currently, the department does not intend to counter the film with anything that questions its inflammatory tone and serious accusations against the Muslim American community. The New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has since apologized for his involvement with both the film and the incident.

I’ve seen The Third Jihad. Professor Ken Hearlson taught the final class I took as a student in pursuit of my Bachelor’s degree, and, though he has been cleared of the aforementioned allegations made against him, he is not exactly known for having a balanced perspective. In a class that was allegedly about US Government, he spent most of the lecture period ranting about how gay people want to teach fisting in schools and how, when it came to Muslims, “I just don’t trust ’em” (direct quote).* He showed the film as part of his class.

If Muslims in the United States had as much super-secret power and influence as The Third Jihad alleges, then they would not be subjected to such films in their classes and as part of their official police training (as, in the end, it was two officers, one of them Muslim, who blew the whistle on the showings of The Third Jihad). Instead, the backlash against American Muslims, all in the name of fighting terrorism and Sharia, continues led by those who have the actual will, might, and voting power to actually implement theocratic laws.

*This made me wonder that if he were to keel over with a heart attack due to working himself up to such a high blood pressure with his rants, would he refuse treatment from a Muslim doctor? There are a lot of them.

Both images are courtesy of Chris Rojas (Crux Photography) via Flickr.

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Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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21 Comments

  1. Despite being an ex-Muslim, i.e. someone who learned so much about Islam that she was appalled enough to leave it, I’ve been accused of being an apologist for Islam.

    Incidents like the actions of the New York Police Department are what make me sound like I love Islam rather than have left it.

    Alas, too many liberals in the secular movement embrace the totalitarian ‘with us or against us’ mentality with regards to this. Don’t let them deter you however.

    1. Not really sure what you’re saying with this comment. That conservatives in the skeptic movement don’t? Or that it’s especially unfortunate that liberals do, considering their comparatively anti-racist/anti-homophobia stances?

  2. Been having this conversation over the last week or so… the fact that while “Islamophobia” can be used as a catchphrase by extremist Muslims to silence critics, there is a real thread of bigotry, hatred, and really irrational fear of Islam as some monolithic force that could destroy Western civilization at a moment’s notice running through much of the discussion. So then you have three things happen:

    1) Well-meaning liberals adopt the rhetoric and lies of the bigots as true.

    2) The right-wing bigots ride on the coattails of those liberals, pretending to care about women’s rights and ending terrorism but really just promoting hate and fear.

    3) You get cooler heads saying “Hey I hate Islam as much as the next guy, but this is just fear-mongering crap” and then being attacks from the right AND the left as being somehow pro-Islam or weak on liberal values.

    I’m a liberal… and my liberal values are expansive enough to hate religious tyranny AND religious bigotry. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Plus, I’m embarrassed for (and by) the liberals who show such cowardice in the face of a non-existential threat that they either cave to the Islamic extremists against liberal values, or join with the Christian and Jewish anti-Muslim bigots against liberal values.

    1. That sounds about right. Here’s a great example:

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2012/01/16/aclu-how-can-you-simultaneously-defend-sharia-and-rights/

      Notice how she doesn’t address the ACLU’s stated reasons for their position or give any indication they even have a reason (beyond being multicultural nihilists, of course). Then, she resists all attempts to get her to consider the legal issues or history of the bill. If you oppose any anti-sharia law, you’re for imposing Sharia and you’re a traitor to liberalism and feminism.

  3. This is part of the problem I sometimes have with a lot of secularists generally, who don’t seem to differentiate between the powerful and the powerless, and can’t seem to get their heads around the idea that religious groups can be oppressed minorities in one region and not another.

    Really, it’s no different than when my grandmother was accused of being an agent for the Japanese. Because she was Japanese, and you can’t trust ’em you know.

    In the US in particular, Islam has also been racialized to a degree I’ve not seen since the days when anti-Semitism was respectable.

    You can criticize Islam (or any religion). But there is a vast, gigantic, gaping difference between saying “Islam, like many religions, can have serious negative effects on women” and “Muslims hate women.”

    It’s also important to remember that in the US religious identity can have varying distance from personal identity. I identify as Jewish (among other things). When some secularists talk about how silly religious beliefs are and start talking about Jews, they forget that Jews do not and cannot always separate the religious identity from the personal in the way that Christians can (this is a subset of unexamined privilege, as well as a difference in history and theological perspectives).

    Of course there is another problem I often see in skeptical communities — at least whenever I go to PZ Myers, certainly — the idea that any religion is terrible ever and always because religion is itself an unmitigated evil. I will tell them to go to a black church and say that. There’s just a kind of blindness to the messy realities of social identity and strategies people have to use in order to survive. People sometimes just don’t engage certain realities.

    I don’t think religious belief is in itself always good or always bad; it kind of depends on a lot of context-dependent definitions, to start with.

    Here’s how I tell people to check whether they are being bigots: Replace the word “Muslim” with “Jew” or “black” or “latino.” If it sounds racist with those other words in there, bingo!

    And for Dog’s sake, an apologist would be talking about how Islam is still wonderful even though it has problems, not decrying the oppression of a marginalized group that happens to be religious (and is marginalized because of it.

    Apologist? No Heina, you are not by any stretch. You’re a decent human being.

    1. I disagree. I say that all religious belief is bad because it is based on faith, and faith is believing without a good reason. I consider that to be a bad thing no matter what specific beliefs are being accepted for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean that all religious people are bad people, or that all of their beliefs are bad, but they ARE held for bad reasons.

      I mean, I love my dad and he’s a great guy… but if I find out he’s making decisions based on throwing darts at a board, that’s a bad thing. It is a pretty small bad thing if he’s using the dartboard to choose lottery numbers and spending $100 a year on tickets. It is a pretty big bad thing if he gets cancer and uses darts to make medical decisions. In no way can “making decisions by dartboard” ever be a good thing.

      But other than that… yeah, there’s a space where you can reject a religion, criticize the hell out of it and even its followers, and not fall into bigotry and fear-mongering.

      1. Don’t want to derail this too much, but the reason I say religious belief per se isn’t always terrible is that there are situations where it works.

        For instance, many pre-Christian and Native American belief systems are just wrong — that is, from a scientific standpoint they fail. Yggdrasil (Norse) is not the world tree, and it’s pretty clear humans did not emerge from the ground in Arizona (Hopi).

        Yet in many cases a set of beliefs about the world allowed for people to live in a reasonably sustainable way with their surroundings — a pretty good outcome. There’s no direct observational reason to treat animals, plants and rocks as though they are imbued with anything like spirits, but for the people involved it worked. This does not mean we should abandon science, either, and lord knows I’m not one to mysticize or mystify various belief systems just because they are held by more traditional groups.

        I’m just saying that I think the typical atheist (or PZ Myers-like) response is overly simplistic. It ignores history, it ignores context, and it comes with an awful lot of unexamined privilege-type baggage. See my point about black churches. I mean, there are serious issues there with sexism, to name one, though it is complicated by many other things. Is the religious belief bad in that context? It provided glue for the community and it’s no accident that the churches were the among the centers of resistance to oppression.

        The American Indian Movement was in many ways a religious one, as it focused initially on protecting sacred sites. But it was the basis for a very important step in Native people gaining dignity, self-respect and political representation.

        You just have to engage those realities, you can’t say “all religion is stupid” and leave it at that, not if you want to convince people of anything (except that you don’t understand them and never will). And this is even more important when dealing with marginalized groups.

        1. I don’t have to engage in any superstitious stupidity to know that it is wrong. Believing in things that are wrong is always worse than believing things that are true. I don’t have to twist my brain into a pretzel the way you have to find ways to pretend that religion is somehow good. The best you can possibly come up with is “not as bad as it could be” but that’s not good enough for me.

          If you want to see how really wrong you are, let’s look at black churches. White people have used Christianity to promote racism for centuries, including the African slave trade. They then sold Christianity to their slaves as a way to pacify them further. Even after slavery, white churches preached racism, and black churches preached that the suffering would be rewarded after death. So you’ve got Christianity as the cause of the harm, and then also selling itself as relief from the suffering that it causes. That’s like if I were to beat you about the head and shoulders with a medium-sized halibut, and then offered to sell you some aspirin and dry cleaning for your shirt.

          1. “I don’t have to engage in any superstitious stupidity to know that it is wrong.”

            Dang it, I wasn’t saying you *should* believe untrue things. Just that sometimes when people do it isn’t because they are fools. But you seem to think so. But please be my guest, tell everyone at the AME Church in Harlem just that.

            I’m aware of the irony of forced conversion on the Africans brought here. But the point I was making was that you are dismissing a set of beliefs without trying to understand why people have them or what role they play. It’s akin to saying that people are just fools for believing certain political positions without addressing why it happens. Can you imagine discussing the rise of fascism without considering the history of Europe? The fact that Germany was defeated in WW I? That Italy was an economic mess too? That Japan was a rising power? ‘Course not – you’d say I was an idiot if I said “people were stupid” and ended it there.

            My point is that religions of any stripe don’t appear in a vacuum, and their effects are highly dependent on the situation you are in. I just gave two examples of when it had its benefits. You gave one where it didn’t. That would say to me (aside from your philosophical position about truth) that context matters a lot.

            If you want to build a building, of course you want to make your decisions based on true things like compressile strength and how much money you have and what materials you use. But if you are building a political movement, or trying to maintain community cohesion in the face of oppression, “truth” takes on a bit slipperier meaning.

            This is why I have a rule about discussing religious belief with people when I am face-to-face: never, ever call them stupid. Think of it as a subset of DBAD. Many times certain rituals serve a very specific purpose that isn’t stupid and is helpful to the person involved.

            Let me put it another way: alcohol is a toxin. Yet I bet you drink it. But so what? As long as you aren’t going on a bender every day odds are you’re fine. Yet alcohol IS Bad for you — there is no amount that does *no* harm. Yet I bet you’ll agree it depends on context.

  4. Hard to express how much of a breath of fresh air this post is, given what I’ve been seeing lately. It’s nice to know my reservations about some of the writing on Islam and Muslims might be justified, rather than me being one of those multiculturalist dupes I keep hearing about.

  5. I really can’t believe that any college would employ him after that video. I’m surprised you even sat through the class – no matter if you agree with him in general or not, the video itself is a disgusting use of bigotry and hatemongering and it’s the least academic thing I’ve watched outside of The Green Lantern.

    It’s just another example of how, like the Japanese (as has been mentioned) during WW2, Muslims are the convenient Other right now. It’s easier to try to blame all of our troubles on Terrorists ’cause ‘Merika is perfect rather than being critical of what’s succeeding and what’s failing. Especially when said failures are tied intrinsically to the very platform of one political party.

  6. I’ve actually found myself defending Islam quite constantly recently.

    What really did it, I think, was reading the Bible. (The whole thing!) In reading through and discovering that neither modern xianity nor even modern Judaism were at all contained in the pages, I realized that religion really is mostly a cultural product. It does not derive full-fledged from any holy book.

    Most people have this misunderstanding that the “essence” of a religion is contained in its holy texts. A lot of times we criticize Islam by picking out nasty verses from the Qur’an. And yes, there is some unforgivably horrible stuff in there. But of course there is plenty of unforgivably horrible stuff in the Bible. Modern Christians do a great job ignoring or re-interpreting it. Why do we think Muslims can’t do the same?

    Look at Catholicism. Unlike Islam, it has a formalized hierarchy and a dude at the top calling the shots. Yet even within there is significant variation: look at the South American traditions which are very syncretic.

    So the other fallacy is that Islam is a *monolith*. This completely ignores the Shi’ite/Sunni divide and secular blocs in Islamic countries. Ever think that maybe the angry mullahs given places of authority in London neighborhoods MIGHT NOT speak for all Muslims everywhere? And why do we assume that all Iranians approve of Ahmajinedad? That would be like assuming all Americans love Dubya. There has to be sizeable variation of thought and opinion in any Muslim country.

    So the driving problem behind all this, and the issue always completely ignored by conservatives and libertarian atheists, is… politics and history. Here’s the deal, the horrible truth: a lot of muslim people do not like the west (united states/europe/israel), FOR A REASON.

    Gasp.

    I think the inability to accept/understand this fact is what drives a lot of the hysteria. Why do they hate us? It must be… something inborn in their religion! They must be fulfilling some dictate in that book of theirs!

    No, people (who happen to be muslim) hate us because of imperialism and occupation and coups and wars and support of dictators who oppress them. It is a completely rational disliking.

    So take a large population of oppressed people with an easy target and there are going to be some religious nutters. The venn circles for “person angry at the west” and “religious nutjob” will eventually intersect and you’ll have crazy nutjobs committing terrorism (or getting homicidally upset because of a cartoon of Muhammed.) It’s as simple as that.

    1. People think this because modern evangelical Protestants mostly allegedly follow the doctrine of sola scriptura: the idea that the Bible itself is the only source of religious authority. This was adopted to keep people from just making shit up that benefited them and saying it was from God, which was a major problem. Unfortunately, as you discovered, sola scriptura is a preetense. The Bible was mostly not written with the intention of being a holy book and isn’t really an adequate basis for a religion, especially one that flourish in modern society as opposed to being an underground religion in the Roman Empire 1900 years ago. It’s vague and contradictory, so there’s plenty of room to read in whatever you want, especially if you are willing to quotemine, which people generally are. Lots of prominent doctrines (the rapture, for instance) are based on picking verses here and there from three or four books, then declaring they are talking about the same thing.

      Since your average Christian doesn’t read the Bible thoroughly, just the snippets that turn up in sermons, it’s easy for them to think they are following a religion that hasn’t changed in almost two thousands years and which is laid out in detail in a book. From there, it’s a small jump to figure other religions are doing this, too, but their books suck. (Never mind it’s even less true about other religions than it is about Protestantism.)

    2. What the NYPD did was disgusting and it is good that the author of the article exposes this. I hate, however, how some of the commenters on this forum have the need to turn this into Islam apologetics.

      I have done enough criticism of Christianity in my life that I do not need to be reminded of the sins of the Catholic church every time I say something about Islam! You are not making a point.I am not a Christian so bringing up Christianity doesn’t expose any sort of “hypocrisy” on my part.

      Criticizing an aspect of Islam or certain crimes committed by Muslims (like the fatwa against Rushdie) does not automatically imply that I think all Muslims are blood-thirsty killers. The Quran is an extremely bloody book that contains commandments to conquer and terrorize non-believers, endorses wife-beating, and marital rape. This does not mean all or even most Muslims do these things. Some do, thought, and they are the authentic practitioners of their religion. “Angry mullahs given places of authority in London neighborhoods” do not speak for all Muslims, but they sure have a pretty good grasp of what the Quran really says. Luckily, like all people, Muslims have a conscience that leads many to being hypocrites about their own religion. This is good!

      Another point:

      “No, people (who happen to be muslim) hate us because of imperialism and occupation and coups and wars and support of dictators who oppress them. It is a completely rational disliking.”

      This is a true point misapplied. Islamism is not a anti-imperialist ideology. It actually is an extremely fascistic form of imperialism. Bin Laden and others were motivated by way more than just legitimate historical wrongs. They want to set up a fascist theocracy, the “caliphate,” and declare any Muslim who disagrees with them apostates and kill them. Of course, any non-muslim who opposes them also has to die. Trust me, these people don’t throw acid in women’s faces because they care about the Palestinians.

  7. I think it’s not really difficult to defend Islam against the most common criticisms against it, that it is anti-woman and jihadist. The Catholic church remains to this day adamantly anti-women, and is out and proud about doing so. It doesn’t matter whether the discrimination comes in the form of a veil or a refusal to allow a person to take up a role within an organisation based on gender.

    The second criticism is just as simple. The Christian bible which Gideons gleefully put in the hands of school children and unsuspecting hotel patron contains a command to genocide far more explicit and direct than does the Qua ran. If it’s OK for one, it’s OK for the other.

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