Friends, in the wake of the recent atrocity in France our collective conversation has again been dominated by discussions around Islam.
Inevitably claims that Islam causes terrorism will be espoused by people who failed maths at school, and Richard Dawkins (but more on that later).
And the discussion of the potential link inevitably segues into talk about Sharia law, forcing people to wear burkas, and homophobia.
It has taken me far too long to work out precisely what this style of argument is actually trying to do, and for that I apologise.
But I’m back now, and I’m pretty confident that I can demonstrate that a lot of the people who argue in that style are desperately trying to cover up the fact that they just don’t like Muslims.
I’ve spoken at length about why it’s silly to argue that Islam causes terrorism. The religion spans the globe, and has been around for centuries. This current trend of terrorism affects a relatively small part of the world, and has only been going for a tiny length of time.
It just feels bigger and longer because the media blows it out of proportion (and distorts most of the facts). This does nothing to reduce the suffering it causes but it does imply that religion is not the key factor. Religion is a factor, sure. But it is by far the least important factor next to politics, economics, and history.
Anyway, let me say what I’m not going to do.
I am not going to defend Islam.
I’m an evangelical atheist. I think that all religions sit somewhere on a scale from ‘quaint and encouraging’ to ‘batshit loco’.
The Islamic holy texts are, just like the holy texts of Christianity and Judaism, filled with demands to kill, torture, and destroy.
Luckily (as with the other two Abrahamic religions) the vast majority of Islam’s adherents ignore those passages.
They are still pretty damn conservative worldwide, because worldwide most people are pretty damn conservative. But I’ve already spoken about that. The short version is that most of the world’s countries are conservative, sexist, and homophobic, regardless of which religion predominates.
Here is a really good article that tries to walk the line between condemning mindless Islamaphobia and still offering legitimate criticism of Islam in general, and I think you should all read it. The short version is that while almost all Muslims do condemn terrorist attacks, and Islamaphobes are wrong, Muslims also need to start candidly saying that their religious texts are open to interpretation, since it’s pretty obvious that they are interpreting them, and not taking them literally. They also need to be more vocal not just in condemning the various forms of bigotry that some commit in the name of religion but also in taking those people head on and reforming the religion from the inside.
I think he’s absolutely right. All practitioners of all religions (all organisations in fact) have a special responsibility to criticise and condemn extremists and bigots within their own ranks.
And this quite obviously includes Islam.
So, if I have genuine problems with the religion of Islam then why am I condemning links between Islam and terrorism?
Because it really is just a cover for mindless bigotry. Let me explain.
Over the past few years I’ve had versions of the following conversation more times than I can count:
Bigot: Islam causes terrorism!
Me: Well, that’s clearly not true because Islamist terrorists are a tiny fraction of Muslims as a whole.
Bigot: Well what about Sharia Law?!
Me: Uh…what? Well, obviously there are parts of it that I completely disagree with but that’s not…
Bigot: What about the homophobia?!
Me: Well, it’s definitely bad. It’s bad no matter who does it. I don’t see…
Bigot: AND THE SEXISM!!!!
Me: *backs away slowly*
Me: *falls over*
As I said above it’s taken far too long for me to figure out what’s happening in that ‘argument’.
Let me simplify the conversation:
Bigot: Here is something about Islam I don’t like.
Me: That’s not caused by Islam.
Bigot: Alright, here is something else about Islam I don’t like.
Bigot: And here’s another thing about Islam I don’t like!
Me: I thought we were talking about the causes of terrorism?
Bigot: And another thing about Islam I don’t like!
See, what is actually happening in conversations like this, and the ‘Net is full of them, is that the bigot doesn’t actually care what causes Islamist terrorism.
They don’t even care about homophobia or women’s rights (at least not in this conversation).
What they are doing is battling to find a reason, any reason, that will justify the fact that they just don’t like Muslims.
They’re not starting from a position of wanting to understand terrorism they are starting from a position of hating Muslims. And they’re not going to let anyone or anything push them away from that position.
It isn’t even about reasoned criticism of Islam itself. That would look like the article I linked to above. If the bigot was really interested in a rational discussion then when it was pointed out that the key causal factor of Islamist terrorism is not Islam, but regional history, they would admit that they are wrong, and abandon the point before moving on to others.
But they don’t.
They don’t admit that they are wrong to say that Islam causes terrorism because having a rational discussion isn’t the objective.
The objective is justifying hatred of Muslims.
Which brings us back to Richard Dawkins.
I’m still sort of a fan of Dawkins, or at least parts of him.
He is probably going to win a Nobel prize for his work in evolutionary biology and I have ‘The God Delusion’ to thank for pointing out to me that atheism is the most rational choice about religion.
But he’s an Islamaphobic bigot (in addition to being a sexist who blames rape victims for daring to consume alcohol).
That tweet was in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and in it Dawkins blames everyone in Islam for what the terrorists are doing.
He doesn’t lay the blame on the terrorists, he lays it on “one religion” i.e. the entirety of Islam.
This is a man who has acknowledged that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, and condemn the actions of terrorists.
But he carries on implying links between Islam as a whole and the terrorists in particular.
And he does this because he is not interested in having a fact-based discussion. He is only interested in attacking Islam.
He will use accurate criticisms (such as the inherent problems in having any nation that does not place a separation between religion and state) and then move on to things that he has admitted are not accurate.
Look at that tweet again. Saying that ‘Islam’ hasn’t ‘given up violence’ in response to a terrorist attack is quite transparently an attempt by Dawkins to say that Islam as a whole is responsible for terrorism, even though he knows that this is not the case.
He’s grabbing every possible criticism of Islam, whether rational or not, and repetitively throwing it out to justify his own biases.
And due to his popularity and visibility this argument, which is just a version of ‘throw enough mud at the wall and some of it will stick‘, is cropping up all over the place.
In technical terms he is doing what we scientists refer to as ‘generalising from a non-representative sample’ so the fact that an empiricist of Dawkins’ caliber will constantly do it is a pretty clear indication of how badly his bigotry is blinding his judgement.
So the next time you start arguing about the causes of terrorism and someone starts talking about burkas politely bring them back and try to resolve that one question before moving on to the others.
Because putting a whole bunch of criticisms of Muslims in a rhetorical basket and then throwing it at someone is not rational criticism.
It’s an attempt to rationalise bigotry.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]