I don’t regularly read The Huffington Post or Slate, but in the last few weeks a USian friend has sent me a series of links to increasingly egregious examples of apologists for Islam on their websites. There is not doubt that especially in OECD countries, Muslims are increasingly adopting the Enlightenment values that many theists like Christians and Jews already have. There can also be no doubt that this is a positive development for humanity. All international indices show that those countries most steeped in Enlightenment values are also the most successful on every level whether we look at wealth, economic freedom, peace, openness, women’s rights, LGBT rights, democracy, support of the disadvantaged, or anything else.
However, this process is being interrupted for Muslims in the OECD in two ways. Firstly, there are those on the left who apply the bigotry of lowered expectations. Their reasoning is that criticism of Islam the religion is the same as criticizing all people who are Muslim. Despite the fact that there are around 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet they seem to see them as some amorphous lump to which generalizations of all kinds can be applied. Their standard comment of “nothing to do with Islam” whenever an act of terrorism is committed by extremists who are members of the religion, for example, is what leads to the second problem: anti-Muslim bigotry.
The fact is that all the negative things that people say about Islam are as real as the positive aspects of the religion and denying them is counter-productive. Whether it’s jihadi Islamists committing acts of terror or Shari’a councils operating within Muslim communities in Britain that sometimes produce verdicts that don’t treat women as equals, the problems do have something to do with Islam. When people say it doesn’t, it denigrates and depreciates the work of those Muslims who are trying to make their religion more open, tolerant, respecting of difference, and secular.
We are, for example, told over and over again by the apologists how much women are respected in Islam and that any comments to the contrary are blatant Islamophobia. Of course, there are many Muslim men who respect women and treat them as equals, but the religion itself cannot make the same claim. Women who do not wear hijab or worse, a burqa or niqab, are often made to feel they are not properly modest and are letting their religion down by both men and other women. The Qur’an mandates that women receive a lesser inheritance than men, and the way the hadiths are interpreted in several jurisdictions means it is virtually impossible for a woman to even accuse a man of rape and if she does, she is often prosecuted for a “crime” such as being out without a suitable male escort.
Last week MEMRI released a clip from a show that broadcast on Palestine TV on 19 May 2016. In it Mazen Sabbah, an Islamic Law professor from Palestine, is discussing a recently released report about polygamy. In Palestine polygamy is legal for men but only with the permission of the current wife or wives. A women is allowed to divorce her husband on the grounds that he married another woman without her permission. A man is required to treat all his wives equally (though a 2005 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found that “23.3% of women who had ever been married reported that they had been exposed to physical violence, 61.7% to psychological violence, and 10% to sexual violence).” They are also required to provide all wives with separate dwellings, which is often done by the different families sharing a compound or central courtyard. The report being discussed in the clip suggests that women shouldn’t be able to prevent their husbands from marrying another wife. Professor Sabbah explains why (and prepare to be disgusted):
Full transcript (via MEMRI):
Mazen Sabbah: Sometimes a man needs more than one wife.
Interviewer: Of course.
Mazen Sabbah: If he is told that this is illegal and that he must make do with one, this might lead him to leave home, take mistresses, and act in a despicable manner. This would cause him harm.
Interviewer: That’s why he should take another wife.
Mazen Sabbah: This would cause harm to him, to his family, to his wife, and to society. According to the principle of jurisprudence, harmful things must be avoided. How should it be avoided? By permitting polygamy. […]
Women are held in high esteem, but are you and the viewers aware that the husband has the right to forbid his wife from going out to work? Islam permits her to work – in keeping with some restrictions – but a husband may waive [his right] to keep her at home in favor of her going to work, because there is a strong bond between the couple, and together they are building their common life.
Interviewer: Right. […] In the report, we have seen the view that the woman is primarily responsible for her husband taking another wife. Let’s talk about how the wife should behave to create a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere at home, in order to prevent her husband from marrying another wife.
Mazen Sabbah: The home is a kingdom, and the wife is its queen. It is necessary for her to run the home well. [The hadith says]: “Each of you is a shepherd, and each of you is responsible for his flock.” The woman is shepherd of her husband’s home. One of the basic things that a woman must understand is to bear her responsibilities, as well as to bring happiness. The woman is the key to happiness and the key to misery. She can either bring her husband happiness or cause him misery. She can do it by means of a good word. She may be lacking in beauty, yet be adept in making her husband happy, in making the home a happy place, and in educating her children. On the other hand, she might be of outstanding beauty, yet unable to make her husband happy, in which case he may marry a second wife, of lesser beauty but with whom he is happy. Why? Because he receives a good word from her, a pleasant attitude, happiness, and joy. […]
So because a man is having difficulty remaining sexually faithful, which is his wife’s fault, he should be allowed to marry an extra wife in order to prevent him committing the sin of adultery. An affair would cause him religious harm, so to be a good wife and fulfil the role Allah assigned to her, she should allow her husband to add a wife to his collection, no matter her own feelings.
This professor clearly does not, because of his religious views, consider women to have equal rights to men. There is no talk of a relationship being a joint responsibility with each person working at it for the enrichment of the lives of both. He is probably unable to even consider that he might prefer a more equal relationship with his wife. The attitudes displayed here are not acceptable in a society where men and women are equals.
And no-one ever considers that if it’s okay for a man to have more than one wife, it’s okay for a woman to have more than one husband. (Except for the Denobulan Dr Phlox in the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise. 🙂 )
The interpretation of Islam displayed in the video is unfortunately still the majority one within the religion – that the primary role of women is to make men happy. There are Muslims who are trying to reform their religion, but too many of them simply don’t know any other way to behave. Men and women have been brought up to take certain roles in their society and it does not even occur to them to act differently. The result of this was seen in such infamous episodes as the sexual attacks on women in Cologne, Germany at New Year.
Muslim women who live in countries where they are not equal under the law are being let down every day by my fellow liberals who do not call out those Muslim men who do not treat women equally. I posted the Jesus and Mo cartoon below in a recent post and even when I spelled out that there was a point in including that cartoon, there were some amongst the regressive left who missed it entirely. Just to make it clear, it is the trump line in the final panel: “Besides it’s not really discrimination if it’s against chicks.”
Because this is an attitude that I’ve seen time and again amongst the regressive left. They’re so busy trying to show that they’re not racist by being inclusive of Muslims (even though Islam isn’t a race) that they fail those within Islam who are suffering every day because of that religion – most obviously women and LGBT people. We even saw the ridiculous situation at Goldsmith University where former Muslim Maryam Namazie’s talk was opposed by the University’s Islamic Society, and the Feminist and LGBT groups came out in support of the Islamic Society! Namazie’s reasons for leaving her religion include its treatment of women and LGBT people in law. However her apostasy and frequent harsh words opposing political Islam have seen her labelled an Islamophobe by many and that’s enough for some regressive liberals to try to stop her speaking, which they have succeeded in doing in some cases. (To be fair, some Muslim groups who have labelled her an Islamophobe nevertheless do NOT support bans on her speaking.)
One of the articles my aforementioned friend referred me to was ‘5 Common Stereotypes About Muslims, Debunked‘ by Kareeda Kabir in The Huffington Post. It was clear where the article was going from the start. From the first paragraph the author declared her distress that the attacks in Nice, France on Bastille Day, and Würzburg, Germany four days later, were labelled “terrorist attacks.” She was watching the Nice events unfold over social media and I watched via television, but at no time did the media I was watching, some of it right-wing, make any assumptions about what was happening. But we need to look at the words that are missing so far in this paragraph – “Muslim” and “Islamist.” Because even Ms Kabir didn’t comment that she saw anything that connected the attacks to Muslims specifically – she seems to have made that assumption herself simply because of the word “terrorist.” She herself is the one that applied that bigotry of low expectations.
She went on to outline five ways in which she says people stereotype Muslims. In my experience, it is only the most ignorant on the far-right who hold the stereotypes that she outlines: that all Muslims hate Jews and Christians, that they also hate LBGTQ people, that they don’t believe in God or Jesus, that they wear turbans, and that Islam promotes groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. With the partial exception of the last one, most non-Muslims don’t believe these things, and the reason some believe the last one is the fault of those whose constant refrain is, “It has nothing to do with Islam.”
The regressive left complains that prominent New Atheists like Sam Harris, Bill Maher and, before his death, Christopher Hitchens, focus on that part of the Islamic faith that encourages or at least supports Islamist jihadists. They suggest that they are providing fodder for right-wing bigots like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen. But New Atheists always differentiate between Islam and individual Muslims and never make sweeping generalizations about members of a whole religion. On the contrary, the ones that are creating the problem are those that say, “It has nothing to do with Islam.”
Both Muslim and regressive leftist apologists for Islam trot out the “nothing to do with Islam” trope. As Maajid Nawaz points out above, it actually does have something to do with Islam and denying that creates an environment where the religion doesn’t need to own the issue and move forward. Those who are trying to reform Islam from within are thus abandoned, along with those who are suffering and whom liberals should be supporting in their fight for equality – women, LGBTQ people (including LGBTQ Muslims), cultural but apostate Muslims, and non-Muslims living in countries where that status makes them second-class citizens.
Because it is an issue that in several Muslim-majority countries being homosexual makes you guilty of an offence punishable by death. (It really is a good thing no one has yet identified a “gay gene” or some of those countries would likely be at least considering state-sponsored infanticide.) Atheism is also illegal in several countries governed by Shari’a and punishable by death in thirteen of them. Apostasy too, whether to atheism or another religion, is, or is widely considered to be, something that is punishable by death in several countries.
On the far right, denying none of this has anything to do with Islam just pisses people off. It is obviously not true and as is often the way with extremists, in denying that it has nothing to do with Islam they take the position that it has everything to do with Islam. At that point ridiculous and discriminatory policy positions like Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims begin to look reasonable by a certain portion of the population.
Islam needs to be treated exactly the same way we treat every other religion, and religion should he treated in the way we treat every other idea. It should be fully open to discussion, criticism, and praise. As a society, there is already a certain deference given to religious ideas that isn’t given to other ideas; when “closely held beliefs” are religious many think that should give them special status. If a person’s “closely held beliefs” were racist, for example, no one would consider the same. But even amongst religious ideas many hold the view that Islam should not be subjected to the same standards. The result of this is that right-wing Muslims think killing someone for drawing a cartoon is a perfectly acceptable reaction, the regressive left make excuses for the reaction, and right-wing conservative Christians, most of whom have probably never met a Muslim in their life, consider all Muslims Public Enemy Number One.
It’s time for everyone to start acknowledging that Islam is part of the problem. That is the best way for the religion itself to move forward and to undercut the growing anti-Muslim bigotry coming from the far-right.