Caveats: Islamism = Islamist’s, Jihadists, conservatives. Atheists = anti-theists and atheists for brevity. I am aware of the nuances and Maajid’s definitions. I recognize the kinds of atheists herein are the minority. This is not about agreeing with liberal interpretations of Islamic scripture, it’s about delegitimizing those that do and taking focus away from reform.
The terror attacks in the US during 2001 has muddied the waters – of an age old problem – referred to herein as Islamism. From this slimy swamp the wretched dregs of liberalism emerged to form a maleficent subsection, newly and aptly labelled the Regressive Left. While others attempt honest dialogue, they aim to undermine and distort. Years on, the victors in the court of public opinion are the Regressives, who invariably view the world via the narrow lenses of colonialism and modern Western imperialism, and deny non-whites their human agency. Their patronizing logic boils down to this “Behavior of brown people is dependent on the behaviors of white people”, which is itself racist. When a member of the “hapless browns” challenge their uncritical support for the victim-hood narrative – and refuse to fit their brown angry profile – they short-circuit, and ironically fling bigoted pejoratives like “House Muslim”, to quash dissent.
The fact is – despite stubborn denial – beliefs matter, and Islamic scripture (historically and presently) enables beliefs that wreak havoc across the globe. Commentators who point out what should be an uncontroversial connection, are often shouted down, defamed and denounced as bigots. This month the former Islamist turned liberal Muslim Maajid Nawaz and reason advocate and atheist Sam Harris, released their collaborative effort titled “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”. The easily predicted attacks on Maajid’s character were personal and vitriolic from both Islamist’s and Regressives seeking to delegitimize him. Sadly, another group is now delegitimizing Maajid’s voice – albeit not in that fashion – my fellow atheists! We’ve long bemoaned the fact that not enough Muslims acknowledge the link between scripture and harmful behaviors. Well Maajid is one of our most important allies in this respect. I’m dismayed by the tone of atheists who argue Maajid isn’t sufficiently Muslim because his liberalism doesn’t conform to their perception of Islamic scripture. This should be music to our ears. Instead, in recent times it’s been met with harsh criticisms of his intellectual integrity.
However, as an atheist I understand the impulse. Surely, if one truly believes the creator of the universe revealed the one true faith to the prophet Muhammad, then all of the edicts in the quran and hadith are valid – to the letter. The prospect of gods’ wrath and awaiting hell-fire makes scriptural literalism a reasonable strategy to avoid damnation. Unfortunately for us, Islamic scripture has much to say about infidels, which is set out in alarming detail – ad nauseam. Additionally, an omniscient and omnipotent deity could have provided clarification in ensuing centuries when it became clear his followers had misunderstood jihad, or at the very least, inform them that murdering infidels only applied to a specific period – alas, clarification hasn’t been offered us. Moreover, an omniscient deity should have anticipated these issues! Therefore, atheists, including Sam Harris (and myself), view ISIS, not as perverters of Islamic doctrine, but rather – given what is prescribed in the text(s) – a very logical and inevitable manifestation among those that truly believe Muhammed was privy to, and tasked with the dissemination of, the perfect word of god. And because Maajid’s interpretation is light years away from scriptural literalism, well he might as well not be Muslim at all, right?
Amusingly this is what Islamist’s believe, “he is non-Muslim, a kafir”. It appears Maajid is not just a “native Informant” as Regressives would have us believe, he’s an undercover agent as well. Of course he isn’t the only believer to be accused of this. Bill Maher – far from an Islamist – uses similar tones when he claims the seemingly liberal positions held by Pope Francis indicate covert atheism (a clandestine atheist Pope is unlikely given the failures of the Vatican’s PR campaign to date). Regardless, such claims fuel the idea that believers who unshackle themselves from scriptural literalism – and are best placed to reform the faith – cease being legitimate. This method is often applied by Islamist’s to silence calls for reform, and on the other hand, pernicious Regressives deny the agency of reformers by branding them the puppets of privileged white men (talking monkey anyone?). We needn’t compound this kind of delegitimization just because we find moderate interpretations of Islamic scripture (or any other) logically incoherent.
Some atheists do applaud reform efforts, but would much rather debate Maajid on the existence of god. Whilst an interesting conversation to have. In the current climate, our priority should be reform. After all, belief in god when detached from harmful doctrines, is significantly less detrimental than the current state of affairs. Further, I’ll preemptively parry likely counters about creationists bastardising science, by noting that creationism, also stems from scriptural literalism, and I’d include this in my definition of harmful doctrines. Therefore, on this score I can only appeal to the infinite wisdom of our savior. The late Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him). During the rewarding conversation between the famed Four Horsemen, Hitchens stunned Richard Dawkins when he remarked “would I want this argument [god/religion] to end? …no I want the argument to go on”. In other words, given the chance to eradicate belief, he wouldn’t do it. In keeping with this sentiment, if there is one person’s faith I’d be happy to leave intact, it would be Maajid’s.
Lastly, the term “new atheism” is a misnomer. Modern atheists belong to a long tradition of critical and secular thinkers. It’s our patience and willingness to keep silent that is at record lows, and – thanks to freedom of speech (don’t get me started), and social media – outspoken atheists are at record highs. We’re also more attuned to the plight of atheists abroad who are risking their lives just to be heard, this is an inspiring time. But what can we do to help those living under the yoke of Islamism? Is it even possible to reason religion from the world? Probably not, and even if possible, many would have perished in the interim. It’s more practical, at this time, to form alliances with religious moderates that are honest about the problems with their faith, and it is important not to continuously undermine them to the glee of our basest opposition. In order for atheists worldwide to challenge Islam in a safe environment, let alone debate the existence of god, reformation needs to occur. We won’t get there by delegitimizing our most valuable allies. ~ Blogidarity!