Some readers might take my statements against Sam Harris, atheist author and pseudo-philosopher, as an indication that I am a theist. I am not. In fact, I take any opportunity to assault religious thought to its maximum. However, some anti-religious arguments are absurd, and much worse, others accidentally endorse extremely anti-human thought.
That second category has been skillfully, masterfully brought to a glorious apex by Harris, most of all in his recent writing on Islam. The mainstream discourse on the topic of religion, especially in regards to what is “politically correct,” is very blurry. Before excavating the blatant stupidity of Harris’ writing, it will be necessary to dispel some of the falsities built into the discourse in which he and most Americans are operating.
It is a credit to the propaganda machine of elite institutions that such confusion can exist in a society of literate people. One glaring and ridiculous mistake is that people either assume that criticizing Islam is always Islamophobic or it never is. The real answer — that some criticisms are, while others are not — is somehow never conceived.
This is at the core of many arguments. When someone calls a certain analysis Islamophobic, the automatic response is something like, “Oh, so we can’t criticize Islam, eh? You are the PC Police, blah, blah, blah…”
The trick in that response is that they force the false assumption mentioned above, that either all analyses are Islamophobic or none are. Most people aren’t quite quick enough to beat this dirty move in the heat of an exchange, so it wins.
Clearly, certain types of analysis are Islamophobic; this is beyond question. So, now that we have this stock response of Harris and his ilk out of the way, we can ask the two natural next questions — what is Islamophobia and what are the characteristics of an Islamophobic analysis, as opposed to an enlightened critique?
Both of those questions yield so much fruitful thought that I will not come close to answering them in full. But briefly sketching out what a reasonable answer might look like will show the horrors and the lack of rigor in Harris’ thinking.
Islamophobia is not merely a hatred of the religion of Islam and what it preaches. Harris, Fox News pundits and other American imperialists will insist that their hatred is merely directed at the views in the Quran, and if that is Islamophobia, then they’re happy to be Islamophobes. Their mistake is that they end up attributing barbarism to Muslims broadly, and they slip between criticizing the belief and the belief holder, probably without realizing it.
One week ago, on April 11, the UC Davis campus was disgraced by the Ayn Rand Society’s “Islamist Rising” event. A quick search on theaggie.org for “Islamist Rising” will show a list of the hate-filled, xenophobic, racist zealotry of some of our fellow students, those that put on the event. Like Harris and the Fox News pundits, they don’t know that they’re racists. They’re sure they aren’t.
By repeatedly denouncing those views as necessarily barbaric, Harris ends up saying that everyone who holds these beliefs is barbaric. Now, once again, Islam can be critiqued in a way that does not do this, but these shifts between critiques of ideas and critiques of people are the core of racism.
When he says “all civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth,” in his piece “The Reality of Islam,” he does imply very clearly that being a Muslim necessarily entails holding militant, terroristic views.
Furthermore, a speaker is responsible, even if he does not mean his view to be taken as hate-speech, to ensure that it will not. Even if I critique Islam in a legitimate way, it is upon me, so long as I live in such a xenophobic society as this one, to ensure that I am not legitimating Islamophobic views.
For example, if I say to an audience that Islam can be a catalyst for terrorism, in fairness I must qualify it with a statement that informs the audience that this should not lead us to believe that many Muslims support jihad or that “those people” are terrorists. Extensive polling shows that only a small fraction of Muslims support terrorism.
Glenn Greenwald, in his recent column in The Guardian, already elucidated the implicit racism espoused by Harris. But reframing the discourse is a must for any of us who are interested in challenging illegitimate power.
The real payoff for the elites is that Islamophobia legitimates murderous, criminal U.S. policies in the Middle East. This is what hate-speech towards Muslims does. It makes killing their kids with drones seem legitimate. It isn’t.
BRIAN MOEN hates religion, but he also hates racist versions of anti-religious thought. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.